Category Archives: Possibility

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.

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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?

Tonight

I am a tree reaching up
toward the moon while
the skies are storming
not all that far away.

My arms are branches,
shivering, my fingertips
10,000 leaves touching
a galaxy of stars.

My veins are roots,
my blood the earth. I reach deep
into the earth so I may stand,
resolutely yet willing to bend.

My skin is strong, but I have
my share of scars.
Nature can be unkind.
Still, I love it so.

Within me, the sapling that
persevered — hunger and drought
among the countless reasons
I can kiss the sky.

I am home to creatures that kill
so that all of them can thrive.
Together, we are community.
We do nothing on our own.

If allowed a favorite,
mine is Gray, the Owl. I love to
watch her scan the umbra,
patiently, for possibility.

It’s been a while since someone
rested against me or climbed
as high as I allow. Perhaps
tomorrow will be different.

I once held five children.
Their energy made me creak.
I worried one might fall
if I could not keep still.

Last week my leaves endured,
assaulted  by hail, all of us
terrified of lightening,
shuddering in thunder..

So many storms yet here I am.
If I compare this one to all
I battled, it’d be nothing
but an inconvenient distraction.

Tomorrow might change it all.
I’ve seen so many friends chopped down,
so many lost to consumption. Still,
I will welcome the morning.

But tonight, I am a tree waving
at the universe. I am singing
a song of longing  to the stars. I am
swaying to the music of the storm.

Everything runs its course.
Our best hope is to turn reality
into our way of being real, doing
our best to make it better than before.

Tonight I am
a tree. Tonight
I am a tree. Come.
Stand tall with me.

LIFT YOUR FACE UPWARD

Lift your face upward.
Feel the sunlight.
Let yourself just be there.
Breathe in endless possibility.

Stop worrying about cancer or going blind.
Stop worrying about all the bills
or all the work you’ll never finish.
Just stand there, on your own.

Dance a slow dance on the lawn.
Move your body like a tree.
Push your feet into the ground.
Wiggle your toes in the cool grass.

Face the heavens like sunflowers do.
Let yourself out through your pours.
Let yourself drip down your brow
and sting your tightened eyes.

What good is doing good
if you can’t stand tall beneath the sun
and look it straight in the eye?
What is good about not feeling whole?

Be still. Feel the breeze.
Scratch the dog’s ears
and smile at magpies
no matter what they do.

Taste the scent of clouds.
Hear carrots dig deeper.
For once in your life, don’t
wave madly at angry hornets.

When you are gone, most will
forget you, in time. Make sure
those who love you cannot.
Make sure you don’t want them to.

Lift your face upward.
Feel the sunlight
Let yourself just be there
in the shine, unworried.

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 Five Elements of Strategic Resource Development

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.