Category Archives: Non-profit

About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Collective Impact is multi-sector approach to large-scale collaboration that is authentically inclusive of citizens in its development and implementation – in particular citizens who have life-experience with the big problems or issues being addressed, such as poverty, climate change, family violence, and so many more.

Collective Impact is not an approach aimed at creating program changes among a few agencies or undertaking collaboration in order to compete with other community initiatives. Rather, it tends to be focused on efforts to leverage talents, existing services, innovations, and resources in order to effect significant changes to policies and systems and where needed, significant programmatic changes. Such changes might occur within governments or government-run institutions, within education and health institutions, within business, or within service providers.

At recent sessions and workshops I held in Vancouver (Community Change Institute) and in Edmonton (Upside Down Thinking) , I shared a perspective on three types of problems identified by Brenda Zimmerman and how they connect to three types of change, three types of learning, and various types of thinking required in addressing each type of problem. My intent is to help our collective thinking about significant problems/issues facing our communities.

Simple problems are those we can fix easily and are sometimes called kaizen (the Japanese word for “continuous improvement”). Solutions to these kinds of problems are akin to tweaking a recipe or adjusting a process to improve quality or reliability of performance. Typically such changes are incremental.

When confronting these types of problems, we tend to focus on learning how to do things better (to do things right). A primary way to think about these problems is via event-oriented thinking, which is about focusing on events in sequence. This type of thinking is generally about undertaking changes to an “event” that impact the behaviour of employees in their delivery of a service to others. While important to achieving kaizen, this type of thinking limits its scope to causes of the event and does not involve looking at the overall system. Continue reading About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Why are we here?

Such a simple question, four small words that get at the core of our community change work.

It’s not a question confined to a step in a visioning or planning process. It’s place is with us, no matter where we are going or if we are standing still.

It’s not just a question about purpose or vision. It is also inquiry into who we are and how coming together around something that matters to all of us might change us. After all, change of any size is made by people; the changes they make only occur because of the changes within themselves.

Of course, it is a fitting question when we are contemplating a collective aspiration or vision. It’s a question that is also about right now. Why are we here, right now? What do we understand about the moment we are in? Have we made the time to connect with those around the table so that we can know them beyond their titles and their organizational roles and authorities?

As is true for all compelling questions, they produce additional questions. If we prefer a jargony label, one could call it a prime example of generative inquiry, but that’s  just a fancy term for the fact that good questions lead to more good questions. That’s easy to understand.

When groups are stuck or, worse, when their members are at odds with one another, this question has the potential to be a game-changer, if people are willing to abandon their positions and certainties and turn together to answer the question. The question is not asking for an argument, but rather implies a need to understand ourselves and one another and, as much as possible, those we represent.

This can be where groups go wrong: failing to devote sufficient time and energy to connecting with one another as human beings, not just professionals with organizational ties and confinements. Getting to the human part of the question is important because our humanity cannot be governed by an organization, but we can and I daresay we should try our best to share who we are as we talk about why we are here.

It’s hard to do. And it takes a lot of trust, which also requires time to form and nurture. Trust is an exchange between human beings, not professionals. Either you trust the person or you don’t. There is no such thing as half-trust. Lack of trust leads to blaming and closing doors. It causes us to deflect ourselves from grappling with what matters most and devote our waning energy to process details, rules of order, and snipes – sometimes to such a degree that the only common agenda is the group’s dedication to its own dysfunction.

Those of you who know me understand my sensitivity to addressing capacity when setting strategy. Our tendency is to take on more than we can effectively handle – or should I say, “juggle?” That said, when groups do not understand and embrace why they are here it can result in the claim that “we lack the capacity” to do this stuff. “We have to do this off the corners of our desks.”

It is true that capacity considerations must have a strong presence in strategy development and even more so when forming implementation plans. But in my many years of consulting with leaders and community change practitioners I can’t recall a group that understood why it was “here” and why each individual was, too, ever stopping itself from doing anything because of a lack of capacity.

The purpose of factoring in capacity challenges is not to identify what will defeat us, but  to first recognize and then do something about the capacities required to move forward on the shared aspiration.

After all, we will never bring about significant community change is all we do is articulate all the reasons we can’t make the changes we say we want to make.

Why are we here?

Our answers are worth knowing.


By the way, why do we see juggling many balls as a badge of honour, as if it is a skill to be aspired for? Realistically, if you are focused on juggling a bevy of balls in the air, you can’t do much anything else, can you?

About Crowd Funding

Posting #2 in a series on Resource Development
See # 1, Five Elements of Strategic Resource Development

First, a definition from the Oxford Dictionary: Crowdfunding (a form of crowdsourcing) is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, today often performed via Internet-mediated registries, but the concept can also be executed through mail-order subscriptions, benefit events, and other methods. i

Wikipedia adds this: Crowdfunding is a form of alternative finance, which has emerged outside of the traditional financial system. ii

This latter definition is sometimes called “Equity Crowd Funding” and investors receive equity in the business or venture they are contributing to. This posting is not about this type of Crowd Funding. Rather I am writing about the most common type of Crowd Funding today which allows anyone to donate their money to anything that gets posted on an Internet-based Crowd Funding website. Recipients of funding can be individuals in need, informal groups, performance artists, individual schools, clubs, inventors, product developers, techno- projects, as well as conventional charities and businesses.

Donors to such initiatives do not, as a general rule, get anything in return. Some may get a charitable receipt, but equity is not particularly part of the arrangement. Actually for many, if not most, of the asks being made on sites like Kickstarter or Go Fund Me, there is no equity to be had. Witness two of the appeals below from Go Fund Me, Canada’s largest Crowd Funding website.



The first one is about saving a single mother and her four children from losing their place and becoming homeless as of September 3, 2016. I am writing this on September 4th, perhaps too soon to see if the money raised stopped her eviction. I sure hope so. The other one is about Pebbles, a dog with liver problems and other illnesses who needs interventions that Darlene cannot afford.

I am not saying these are not causes to donate to. I use these two examples only to highlight that Crowd Funding is changing the how fundraising is done, about why it is needed, and who does it. There are the more standard types of appeals on these sites from charities and relief funds. For them Crowd Funding may very well be but one more way to generate support.

Unlike Go Fund Me, Kickstarter does provide some accountability on its site by reporting on fundraising results in a variety of ways, although neither site offers any accountability reports or information on impact, other than showcasing “success stories.”

Kickstarter tells us the following about its funding activity iii:

  • Since its inception in 2006, Kickstarter as generated pledges of $2.58 billion and successfully funded 111,500 projects.
  • Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” venture. If you do not raise all of the goal, you get zero. Unsuccessful initiatives were greater than successful; there are 200,000 of them reported by Kickstarter.
  • Most successful fundraising appeals were small ones, just shy of 75% of them. Just over 14 raised between $10,000 and $19,999. The dollar range categories are much wider than the smaller ones. Those raising $20,000 to $99,999 make up about 13.2% of the total successes. Less than 3% generate funds in the $100,000 and up category. If you are wondering if anyone has raised $1 million or more, the answer is yes. Of the 111,500 projects, 189 of them hit the million dollar mark (.0017%).
  • Those appeals that have the highest success rate are by category: Dance, Theatre, Comics, Music, and Art. Of the 15 categories listed, Food is in the bottom five. There is no category listed for Social Service, Human Services, Community Work, and so on.

In the United States there is another site that caught my attention:, which exists solely to raise money from citizens for class room projects in schools around the country. Most of these requests appear to come from teachers looking for money to support something in their classroom that the public school system doesn’t fund. Most requests seem to be in the hundreds of dollars. Of three I dug into, the highest request was for $296.75 to support teaching 15 kids about cosmetic surgery. Other requests seem to be about getting money for things that one could argue should be paid for by the school system. I will stay silent on that topic, at least for this posting.

Whether or not Crowd Funding is a good thing for the market place has no right answer. It depends on how it impacts the community and community systems. In other words, its value is contextual. For the mother and children saved from eviction, the impact is substantive for her family. But as a business – Kick Starter is a business – its implications include diluting overall giving patterns of donors which may – and perhaps are – hurting other more traditional appeals from organizations who are trying to help thousands of single mothers and their children. Perhaps more importantly, sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe are redefining what help and impact look like; they speak to those who are disillusioned with formal charities or with banks and so on.

For your organization or group, the questions you likely face if you are thinking of including Crowd Funding in your fundraising program include the follow:

  • Will raising money this way impact other revenue sources, whether support from your donors or from more traditional funders, who might see success as Crowd Funding as an indication of your lack of need for their support?
  • Given that, by far, the majority of projects that meet their fundraising goal receive $10,000 or less in funding, will entering this market place suit your needs and will the effort and the exposure be worth it, especially if you are not successful? Remember, at Kickstarter and other similar sites, it’s all or nothing.
  • Ten thousand dollars is a good amount of money and for some small groups it is big money. The key will be putting an ask out there for something that is compelling and likely to motivate a large number of small gifts that more likely or not speak to each donor’s emotions. While I could find no evidence to support this next point, my sense is that these types of appeals must be of a kind that generate impulse giving.

I will leave it to you to form your own judgements on Crowd Funding and to decide if and when it has a role to play in your resource development activities. My intent here is to provide information that may be of help.

Stay tuned for the next blog posting, About Social Impact Bonds.

i Retrieved from, September 4, 2016

ii Retrieved from, September 4, 2016

iii See

Continue reading About Crowd Funding

Five Elements of Strategic Resource Development

Posting #1 in a series on Resource Development

It’s tough out there for non-profits and social causes when it comes to raising money, especially money for core operations and services. All of the seed grants, innovation grants, or target specific project grants are fine and dandy, but the growth in sustainable funding is not growing, is it? Impact Investing, Social Enterprise, and Crowd Funding are among the more recent methods of financing social good, though the extent of their reach and utility by the sector overall are emerging, not yet clearly understood.

I have read a fair amount over the years on fundraising and other resource development opportunities and one thing I found irritating in most of them was the thesis they presented, which generally was, “if you all do this or that, or follow this methodology, you all will raise more money.” The reality is, as you  know, every organization will not increase their revenues in a given year. Many struggle just to maintain current levels of funding.

Relationships Matter

A colleague of mine recently suggested I write a piece like this, given my “success” in significantly growing two non-profits. For one, I doubled staff and financial resources in about three years; for another agency the growth in revenues was about 70% over 5 years. At both agencies there were significant additions in services, but also large gains in securing sustainable funding and improving operational infrastructure (which is all about capacity). This leads me to my first point about generating resources: Raising revenues significantly takes  a significant amount of time.  Patience is definitely a virtue in this instance. Continue reading Five Elements of Strategic Resource Development

Thinking about the Charity Model and Systems Change Debate

There has been a movement afoot for the past 15 to 20 years that evolved out of a growing dissatisfaction with the charitable sector or more to the point, the Charity Model. Critics of the sector are nothing new, of course. And these criticisms are often based on unproven perceptions (e.g. there are too many charities), biases people have toward “the needy” (e.g. I made it through hell, so can you), and some that still boggle my mind like, non-profits need to be more business-like.

But the conversations I am talking about have gone further than that and very often have been initiated and led by well-respected non-profit sector leaders tired of seeing good work (or what they saw as good work) not really moving the needle of big change. The impact, they say, just hasn’t been good enough, which has evolved into concluding that the so called Charity Model has failed us all.

What I find interesting and somewhat unnerving is that this thing we call the Charity Model is in effect a descriptor of organized helping; it is not and I suggest never has been an actual model in the manner that we tend to think of models or frameworks.  Usually a model has an author or set of authors and has an intended purpose, and governs or guides how you do something. I am not aware of anyone who authored the Charity Model. As a term it represents our attempt to put meaning to what the charitable sector does and why, though we tend to spend less time on the latter.

My sense is that the Charity Model is about our desire to capture and understand how the organized expression of love or kindness is implemented through institutions and systems. It is a term that offers differentiation from the private and government sectors. How that expression is organized is certainly worthy of review and adjustment, if not significant change, but my struggle with the direction many are taking is that charity has become something sector leaders want to move away from while replacing it with something better. Continue reading Thinking about the Charity Model and Systems Change Debate