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.

intimate-relationships-connection-you-me-us-we

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

Let’s Take a Break from Doing Good

Preface
Earlier this June I had the delightful experience of being a part of a workshop at Tamarack’s Deepening Community gathering in Edmonton. The workshop was with Al Etmanski and Vickie Cammack. Al called our session a “beauty jam” and both Al and Vicki wanted an “artist” to be a part of the jam. I was thrilled. And our time together was awesome.

The spoken word piece I did was an update of my first version of Let’s Take a Break from Doing Good. The process of editing and rewriting continued after our beauty jam. This is what I love about writing: it never is done. So here’s the latest version:

Let’s Take a Break from Doing Good

Let’s forget our worries and our doubts and walk together unencumbered by the need for a destination. Let’s close the big books of plans and studies and turn down the volume of all that best practice noise. Let’s prefer to have faith in something less predictable and confining.

Let’s agree to never again meet in board rooms or scrawl logic models on white boards. No more sitting in a circle going around the room saying nice things about evaluation that we really don’t mean. And no more stories about the innovator’s dilemma. They all sound the same, don’t they?

Let’s run outside into the blue and green grinning wildly. And kick off our shoes and dig our toes into the dirt and feel what it is truly like to be grounded in Mother Earth.

Let’s walk along the water’s edge and enjoy the rhymes of the river. Watch the way water prevails no matter what sits in its path. How it can wear away mountain stone and heal and nurture all at once.

dandelionsWhen we reach a clearing, let’s stop for a moment and receive the murmur of the forest and wonder about all the beauty that lives there, whether deep in the brambles or swimming in a raindrop on maple leaf. Stop for a moment and listen to everything all at once envelop us in the chaotic music of balance.

Over there! Let’s sit on those cool stones and pray for sunbeams. Let’s scan the shore across the river and if we see a miracle or joy or peace, let’s not ruin it with our analysis and or remind each other than nature is a system.

Let’s think like wild flowers.

Let’s feel life like insects do.

Let’s shut our mouths and let quiet matter.

Then let’s walk together and climb the hill to discover whatever is there for us, open to the horizon, content in the moment. Let’s watch the lights of city streets move and pulse and how starlight sparks against the glass of skyscrapers.

As is always the case, all paths end into a new one. The dirt path transitions to pebbles on crackled tar and then to the slabs of concrete we call sidewalks. This one has been ignored for too long, and unfolds before us with its slabs akimbo from shifting over time. And in each crack and crevice, life grows.

jackhammersFor once, let’s celebrate tenacity of the dandelion and smile at its golden disruption and banish the word weed from vocabulary. Let’s just keep walking until being alone gives away to manoeuvering through the crowd of shoppers, tattooed teen-agers, slow walking elders, and those misunderstood pet owners who dress up animals in the latest of fashion.

Let’s be happy when a dog wraps his leash around our leg and looks up at us with dark eyes that yearn for recognition. Let’s stand before workers with jackhammers like we often stand before street musicians and nod our affirmations in time with their difficult music. How important they are. Without them nothing would change.

Let’s go buy roses at the farmer’s market and hand them out to strangers and wish them a happy day. Let’s stop and drink Fat Bastard at the Thin Lady Café and pretend sitting there is everything.

We can tell jokes to anyone who will listen and laugh from our bellies.
Let’s risk odd looks from others as we roar our joy, spilling on ourselves the excess of our happiness and not even for a moment think of erasing the stain with a Tide pen.

Let’s make silly faces as we read each other stories from the newspaper that the other would not choose to read. Let’s write down our peculiarities on napkins and then leave them for others to read after we leave.

For a short while, let’s pretend to be shoppers and peer into sun-lit shop windows and gawk at the shoppers inside. Let’s gawk like children and enjoy the wonder of discovery.

Then let’s turn the corner and then another and walk down alley ways and enjoy the gardens of strangers and let the colours and aromas kiss our skin. When we see a can over-turned, let’s set it right.

And as the sun drifts down toward the sanctuary of night, let’s sit in that small park named after a minor hero and refuse to look tired and resigned to the small odds of changing everything that is waiting for us to resolve.

Before our pause threatens us with ending our time together, let’s find the busiest of plazas, and in the middle of the chaos of people and neon and honking horns, let’s dance.

tiny dogs

Let’s dance like tiny dogs do

Let’s dance like tiny dogs do.

Let’s inhale everything that is good and uplifting and exhale all of our broken pieces and watch them float away toward the moon.

Let’s forget that we want to save the world.

Let’s forget for a short time that what we do is important.

Let’s set aside our certainty and our egos. Put away our positions and our failures. Let’s forget how afraid we are and defy our tendency to think professionalism trumps personal relationships.

Let’s embrace on the sidewalk for all to see.

Let’s communicate like dolphins and hold on to one another.

Let’s hold onto one another like couples do at the end of a sappy romance. Like grandmothers do when their grandchildren run to them for love or because they are frightened or for any other reason at all.

And then, let’s get back to work.

There is suffering everywhere and while we may not ever end it, God help us if we ever get to the point where we just give up and accept that suffering is inevitable and something we just have to learn to live with. Let’s never do that.

Let’s never do that.

 

Was that you I saw standing on the edge?

I was the Lumber Jack size of a man with his toes on the precipice just a stone’s throw away from you.  My toes were nearly hanging over, which meant my belly extended even further over the edge.

The other side – that place beyond the chasm where I wanted to be – wasn’t all that far away. I imagined if I backed up 20 yards and ran fast, I could make the leap with room to spare.

Were you thinking the same thing?

I tried not to look down or at the jagged rock face that would be my ruin if I missed my mark. I tried to keep my eye on where I wanted to be, on the prize so to speak. But truth be told, I stood there on the edge alternating my eyes between the perils below and the possibilities that waited for me “over there.”

We looked at each other a few times, quick glances as if each of us offered the other some solace, some sort of connection about the individual choices that we were facing. Would it help to stand side by side?  Could we help each other understand the risks and the rewards we might realize by leaping over the void?

Of course, we weren’t alone. Down the way from each of us were others standing on the edge as well.  Young and old, women and men, people of all colours. I think I saw a mother carrying her child and a man in a wheel chair.

There we were, all of us on the edge of who we were at that moment, wondering about the possibilities over there, our fears swirling beneath us, dark and dangerous.

That’s when I woke up.

It was the strangest dream.

Like many dreams, this one lingered for a while as I went about my business and then dissipated over the next few days. I had forgotten all about it until I started writing this piece. I remember thinking, “that dream could be a great introduction to a book.”

As an activist, writer, musician, father, and partner, I have stood on the edge of who I am many times. Sometimes I leapt over the darkness below and carried on with my journey on the other side until, as you likely anticipated, I ended up on another ledge, facing another chasm separating me from possibility.

Other times, I turned around and walked away, either not ready for what I might find “over there,” or just too damn afraid to risk the fall. As well, there were times when I realized that the possibilities of where I was were still unrealized and that leaping from one cliff to another would have smacked more of escape than exploration.

In all of these cases, one thing was certain and constant, namely that there was no certainty I could rely on. Staying put may have offered me comfort and safety, but if I am honest there was no certainty that my current location would serve me best. And the possibilities offered across the way – or perceived to be offered – were only that, possibilities. Nothing guaranteed was waiting for me.

This uncertainty was simultaneously unnerving and exciting. It seemed like every choice facing me was terrifying and yet I felt rich with choice.

While the dream was mine, the experiences it painted are, I suggest, part and parcel to our humanity, our human condition.

In the context of my work to end poverty or within the frame of being a creative person (writer, musician, artist), I am constantly faced with choices and few, if any, offer me a predictable outcome.

Reflecting on the dream, I see it as a story about change and its many risks and possibilities. The dream sparked my thinking about my own resistance to taking chances and my all too frequent desire to just let what is be good enough. I am comfortable with good enough, with my routines of living. I know what to expect or at least think I do. My guess is you get what I am trying to say here. There is often something heartwarming about the status quo.

There are many, many people testing new waters, crafting ideas, launching innovative actions. I am blessed to know so many incredible leaders and thinkers, risk-takers and catalysts, and passion-makers and boat-rockers. But even the best explorers get lost, prefer calm waters, and hesitate.

I have said more than once: transformative ideas require (and deserve) transformative practice. They must weave together if we have any hope of our ideas coming to fruition. To create unique, beautiful music goes beyond the composition. Creativity, passion, and experience are put to practice (technique) and what we hear is all of that, not just the notes the pianist is playing. In other words, often, if not all the time, new music requires new technique in order to act on the possibilities of our creativity.

And for a pianist to create new music, does she not have to redefine who she is as a pianist, if not a human being?

Think of the risks jazz musicians take when they sit together and jam. For such interplay to work well, each of the players has to trust their skills and techniques while being open to possibilities that unfold during their session together. Even the best musicians experience times when the magic doesn’t happen. Even the best player can miss a note or go sideways while the others head off in a common direction.

The risk goes beyond embarrassment for missing a note. Mistakes and misses are also about the person making them and the more innovative we try to be, the more likely we will fail along the way. How do we incorporate a value of failing within our identities? How can we find sustenance from one another when our quest for the new and better way to do things, tumbles us to the ground.

Our desire to act on what is possible relies on all we have learned while at the same time challenges us to move beyond what we know to what might be. It is hard enough to do this by yourself; it is so much more difficult to do this together.

One of the fundamental tenets of my practice as a leader, teacher, and innovator is this: big change is a group activity requiring that we help one another overcome our fears, our personal or professional shortcomings, and our collective tendency to gravitate toward what is comfortable and easy.

We need our edges and our chasms. Without them we are limited in where we can go and what we can discover. But I suggest we should not stand on the edge by ourselves. We have a much better chance of leaping forward if we do it together.

 

 

Does Charity Prevent Collective Possibility?

Could it be that formalized charity actually prevents us seeing and acting on collective possibility?

I don’t mean charity in the classic sense of loving and caring for one another. I mean organized charity, institutional charity which by its very nature separates those who set out to help others and the others who are seen as needing help.

You might protest and say it’s not so, but think about it. How often is it that recipients of service sit on the boards of non-profits? How many sit on advisory committees? How many end up working for non-profits? How often are they authentically included in the design of the services created to help them?

The way we structure things typically ends up in the structure becoming the focus, the priority. By structure, I mean our organizations. We create them to help others, but the more sophisticated we become in our work, the more attention we must pay to sustaining the structure.

This leads us to competing with one another for limited resources – or what we perceive to be limited resources. We begin to see our plans to help people as our organizational plans. We talk about positioning our organizations as the “go-to” organization for this or that.

We may collaborate on proposals, but we also do so to compete with others who will be making proposals to the same funder or stream of money.

We make plans to expand our organizations and tell ourselves it is our right to do so, but most often fail to truly address how accumulating resources for “our” plans could negatively impact others who are also trying to be helpful to others.

Lately we have started saying things like charity is not good enough; we need to focus more on systems change. We don’t really question the very nature of organized charity, do we? Instead we lament that our charitable actions are not solving big social problems like poverty and homelessness. Rather than tackle the divide between people (helpers and those being helped), we turn to mustering our attention to fixing social policy and systems that are not working.

At best we will consult with users of service on these big challenges, but rarely, if we are honest, are we fully engaged with them on what those big changes are. Inclusion means more than focus groups and town hall meetings.

Perhaps systems change is really about how human service organizations are structured, how they exclude the many so that the few can figure out what to do.

Imagine if human service organizations and their funders invested more time, resources, and attention in community development, working in community, with community, perhaps for community to collectively identify community aspirations as well as problems and obstacles to a better life.

Perhaps governments and funders, especially those who talk about “People First” and “wrap around services” and all of our other well-intentioned concepts, should fund  community animation and help communities with the resources they need not just to live on their own but to live and work together on forging and sustaining a strong, health community.

I am not saying we do not need services. Of course we do. The question is not is there unnecessary duplication of services. People need choice and services provided should not be homogeneous offerings or housed in some mega charity akin to a non-profit version of a Wal-Mart.

The question is why do we need so many services? What is not happening that creates such demand for service interventions?

It’s not just that we need more collaboration or more integrated services or mergers and so on, especially if what we are doing is reshaping what is not working into a different version of what is not working.

Could it be that formalized charity actually prevents us seeing and acting on collective possibility?

That’s a wicked question that we need to pay some attention to, don’t you think?

Racism Doesn’t Just Go Away

Cross posted at www.vibrantcommunities.ca

Years back, I hung out for a time most days at a Robin’s Donut Shop. I was self-employed in those days and started each morning with a coffee (Robin’s was better than Tim’s) and a read of the paper. The owners of the small shop were Maggie and Tony, a pleasant couple who had come over from Great Britain a couple years earlier.

Maggie worked long hours at the shop and Tony less though only because he had a second job as a mechanic. There were a few other regulars of course and for some reason I liked the familiarity of the place. It felt easy. Safe.

There was this one guy who was around quite a bit, a suit and tie guy, polished shoes, nary a hair on his head. Sometimes we talked. Mundane stuff really: the Oilers game – well he talked mostly; dodging potholes; and the cost of stuff. Sometimes we just read the paper.

This one time, he was reading the Journal and making lip smacks and offering throat noises that suggested he was unhappy and irritated. Being the conversation-starter that I am, I leaned toward him and said, “You seem unhappy and irritated.”

“Damn straight,” he said. He said that too loudly so that other patrons noticed and turned. It was somewhat comical I guess. Everyone went quiet and waited for what this white guy would say next.

He looked around and said, “Wh-aaaat?”

People went back to their business and he leaned toward me and whispered, “It’s those friggin’ immigrants.” He waited, still leaning, for me to say something, but I didn’t. I hoped he would go away and leave me in peace.

But racism never just goes away, does it? Continue reading