A counterintuitive approach to pressure can help you manage the moment

If you’ve ever let pressure take control, you’re not alone. Working on behalf of a nonprofit can create all sorts of potentially stressful situations. But no matter the scenario, Performing Under Pressure’s Hank Weisinger emphasizes the importance of managing the pressure you feel rather than try to resist or ignore it. In fact, Weisinger encourages us to befriend the pressure-filled moment.

I recently read an article that emphasizes Weisinger’s point. According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the most helpful mindset towards stress is viewing it in a way that she calls “protective.” She adds that:

The three most protective beliefs about stress include:

Trying to see your body’s natural response to stress as something that’s helpful

Recognizing that you can handle the stress in your life “and even learn and grow from” it

Keeping in mind that stress is something all of us encounter

So, what does it mean to befriend the moment?

Befriending the moment is one of 22 strategies to alleviate pressure that Weisinger and his coauthor, Pawliw-Fry, explore in their book. They say, “Think of pressure moments as a challenge or opportunity/fun.” This strategy must be used frequently to reduce your threat perceptions, which can cause choking. Seeing situations as threatening drains your energy; reduces your self-confidence; impairs your judgment, attention and short-term memory; and increases impulsive behavior to avoid failure. Feeling challenged, though, is an “inherent performance steroid” and can lead to enthusiasm and positive energy. People do not thrive on the pressure, but they revel in the challenge, making statements like, “I want to see how good I can be.”

Get smart on pressure: If you find yourself losing the battle to pressure, learn more about Weisinger’s strategies for how to manage it in his new online course.

See more titles and summaries on this topic:

Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Image credit: Entrepreneur.com

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Why is failure your ally and how do you get better at it?

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.02.02 PMWe recently added Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner to our summary library because it addresses a critical gap in the body of work around failure. According to coauthor, Kara Penn, Fail Better explores HOW failure is a path to success. We asked Penn about how you can make failure your ally, and more importantly, how to get better at it.

Kara Penn: Failure is useful as tool for learning and improvement, if we are open to learning from missteps. But learning from failure is not guaranteed, so we have to work at it.

I imagine most of you can recall a situation in a work or personal environment when failure occurred. We all do it! And it’s memorable. And like touching a hot stove, we tend very much not to ever want it to happen again. But if we can craft and increase control over how we fail and in service of what, we are receptive to a very powerful tool.

The Fail Better Method offers three practical stages to our project work where we can plan for smart mistakes and prepare for greater successes:

 

Launch: At the outset of a project or initiative, think about setting the groundwork for both project success and learning—combat common failure modes like not having Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.00.49 PMthe right resources or skills lined up for the project to succeed, not setting up a strong foundation of communication, or not building enough buy in to your efforts through key partners who can champion your work. In addition, this is a great time to think about how your plans and proposed action for moving forward in launching a program, service or idea tie to the actual outcomes you want to achieve. Logic models or Theories of Change are tools common in the nonprofit sector that can help organizations think through this. These tools allow you to see if you’re building your approach on sound or faulty assumptions and can be used as a diagnostic tool later when needed to see what went right and what was off track.

 

Iterate: Use implementation to test ideas, and be willing to have those efforts not be successful in service of learning. For example, in a fundraising campaign,Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.00.58 PM many of nonprofits use an end of year appeal letter as a way of reaching out to donors. However, this is a perfect place for experimentation using a technique that many software developers use—A & B testing—try out two or three different versions of letters or even methods of engagement, and see which one gets the best results and brings in the most responsiveness and donations. Use this information to build a better approach for next time. It’s relatively low risk and low cost. And gives you a lot of valuable information. Piloting programs instead of launching them outright at full scale is another way of minimizing risk and learning along the way so mistakes or failures are captured early and addressed, while successes can be scaled up. And finally:

 

Embed: As efforts draw to a close, we often fail to reflect on our work, review the data we’ve collected and share out our Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.01.06 PMfindings and insights with larger audiences. This lack of investment in learning at the end is VERY common, in nonprofits but all sectors. We are all busy, rushing into the next thing, but a lot is lost by not doing this and we prep ourselves to lose valuable insights—including pieces that were successful that we want to build on, and things that weren’t that we want to correct or improve for next time. Nonprofits can make time for this by employing a concept used by the U.S. military—an After Action Review—where teams involved in a project huddle up and document what went well, what went wrong, why, and what should be done differently next time. Documenting this information and creating some next steps to share and apply these insights can be a quick way for an organization to learn and improve.

Watch for future Q&A with Kara Penn about Fail Better when we talk about the circumstances when failure is at its best and how to create a culture that’s open to failure.

See more books and summaries related to this title:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Image credit: Harvard Business Press (cover image), FailBetterNow.com

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5 behaviors that help nonprofits build an innovative mindset

It’s hard to believe that standing on a stage with fellow comedians is akin to brainstorming around a table with your colleagues at work but coauthors John Sweeney and Elena Imaretska argue these two scenarios are using the exact same mindset when at their best.

In The Innovative MindsetSweeney and Imaretska utilize what at first glance seems like an unlikely discipline to illustrate how to pursue innovation. It turns out that the skills and techniques practiced by improvisational actors are at the very core of what leaders need to be the most creative.

Sweeney and Imaretska show you how living in the improv actor’s mindset of discovery can lead you to significant productivity. Here are five behaviors to build your innovative mindset according to the authors.

Diem - Innovative Mindset (2)

 

See nonprofit book summaries related to this post:

The Innovative Mindset: Five Behaviors for Accelerating Breakthroughs

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

The Necessary Revolution: Working Together to Create a Sustainable World

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

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Nonprofits can apply improv to be at their creative best

innovativemindset cover“Honing a mindset of discovery and practicing innovation behaviors on a daily basis is the best way we can ensure that future generations will inherit a healthy planet and sustainable society that supports prosperity and happiness for all its members,” assert Innovative Mindset coauthors John Sweeney and Elena Imaretska.

Serious results created by comedic roots

Sweeney and Imaretska firmly believe a mindset of discovery is a key to success in our social sector. What’s more, they utilize what at first glance seems like an unlikely model to pursue innovation. It turns out that the skills and techniques practiced by improvisational actors are at the very core of what leaders need to be at their creative best.

The authors show you how living in the improv actor’s mindset of discovery can lead you to significant productivity. If you can successfully implement what they call the “Big Five” behaviors in your everyday life, you can:

become a better communicator,

be more comfortable with risk,

build your confidence, and

reduce judging others and yourself.

The Innovative Mindset is a practical guide that lets you integrate its lessons into your day-to-day interactions with people. Yet, only through dedication to your “fitness plan” that develops the “Big Five” behaviors. One of the behaviors I wanted to highlight in today’s post is about deferring judgment.

Deferring judgment means pausing and accepting the potential of ideas and opinions.marketingmag-com

This behavior does not mean eliminate or avoid judgment. You need to judge to make good decisions but waiting to judge allows you to explore new possibilities and potential. Deferring judgment allows us to hold off fear of threats, experience empathy and think more complexly.

Assume the new information is neutral. “When we defer judgment, we create the space that’s needed to allow the next part of innovation to happen.” Often, you buy time to find the good in the situation. The authors give the example of waiting to respond to an email. If you wait, it allows you to check your emotional reactions and see the emailer’s point of view.

Below is the specific advice to defer judgment:

Muscles to exercise: “pausing, employing gratitude, embracing ‘what if” versus ‘it’s not going to work because,’ letting go of preconceived notions and biases, and calming your emotions to let the cortical brain do its work.”gettingsmart-com

Tactics to practice: “1. Take a timed pause before responding [you choose your time frame]. 2. Say thank you—and really mean it—before responding. 3. Say ‘yes, and’ as a conjunction. 4. Survey your body and relax it intentionally. Breathe. 5. Put yourself in other people’s shoes to find value in their points of view.”

Possible deferring judgment workouts: Stage family debates where you argue both sides. Take the implicit bias test from Harvard Business School (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html) and remind yourself with images that address the biases you reveal. Practice meditation and breathing exercises to calm your emotions. Think through a current challenge from the perspective of your friends and colleagues to see how they might solve it.

While the authors acknowledge that deferring judgment is one of the most challenging of the five behaviors to master, the results are worth the effort. Try deferring judgment in your next meeting when creativity is called for and agree upon it with your colleagues before you start.

How did it change the tone of your meeting and the number of ideas that were generated? For more information about the Innovative Mindset, visit the the authors (http://johnsweeney.co/books/ or https://www.linkedin.com/in/imaretska) or learn more about our Page to Practice book summary.

See also:

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

 

 

 

 

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Put your own stories to work when winning others over

business2community-comPeople tell stories all the time and don’t realize it. “This book is actually designed to help you pay better attention to the stories you tell, so you can teach, build vision, share a process or introduce a new idea more effectively,” says storytelling thought leader Annette Simmons.

Influence, persuade, inspire

Simmons explains why storytelling that is used to influence others is more than a tool for the marketing professional or fundraiser. Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins is widely applied by leaders to influence, persuade and inspire. In Whoever Tells, you’ll learn how to build consensus, win others over to your point of view, and foster group decision making by using six kinds of stories.

These stories are often the reasons why donors give, why board members act, why stakeholders advocate or why people collaborate. Annette Simmons not only explains why this skill is so critical to everyone, but also how to learn and develop what many people mistakenly believe is a rare gift only a few of us enjoy.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins takes you step by step through the process of identifying and choosing stories from your own life, experience and knowledge, and then linking them, fully and authentically, to the themes, messages and goals of your workplace.designpm-com

You’ll gain skills in how to influence others, improve collective decision making and leverage the approval of ideas you’re presenting. Simmons helps you accomplish these goals by using six kinds of stories:

Six kinds of stories

1.     Who-I-Am Stories: People need to know who you are before they can trust you.

2.     Why-I-Am-Here Stories: People can be wary so you must disarm them by sharing your agenda.

3.     Teaching Stories: Some lessons are best learned from telling a story that creates a shared experience.

4.     Vision Stories: The idea of a worthy, exciting future can reframe difficulties and diminish obstacles.

5.     Values-In-Action Stories: Tell a story that illustrates the real-world manifestation of a value.

6.     I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking Stories: These stories address possible suspicions and dispel them to build trust.

Working definition, how to identify good stories and Simmons’ approach

Simmons defines “story” as a “reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listeners’ imaginations to experience it as real.” There are many other definitions but this one is helpful because it keeps you focused on stories that influence and change perceptions.

She adds, “Stories replenish information with the food of human connection and reignite powerful motivations stimulated when we feel the sense of our shared humanity.”

According to the author, once you know how to find and tell stories that feel personal to you and your receivers, you have what you need to acknowledge, connect with and emotionally move others. The best storytellers understand how to use their own emotional responses as indicators of what will resonate with others.

Why you must tell stories from the inside out

Most storytelling advice instructs you to tell the story from the outside in. All stories have a beginning, middle and end. They have a plot, character, setting, conflict and resolution. These elements are all true but they don’t generate an emotional connection.

Conversely, telling personal stories teaches you storytelling from the inside out, which puts emotion and personal connection first. “Unless you bring a beating heart to your message, it is dead. But when you tell your own heartfelt stories about what is meaningful in your life and work, you get the hang of finding stories that frame life and work in emotionally meaningful ways for your listeners.”

Why you should take a closer look at Simmons’ book

If you find yourself in any situation where it is essential to engage a listener, audience, prospect, board or task force, you will find Whoever Tells exceptionally useful. Simmons’ well-researched and example-rich chapters help you build a foundation of stories that will become useful to you in a variety of settings. The book is well-written, clearly organized and an enjoyable read. In storytelling terms, there are no cliff hangers. Rather, Simmons provides you with heroic ideas and satisfying endings to each chapter.

See books and summaries for related titles:

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Image credits: designpm.com, business2community.com

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Nonprofit decisions: Complexity made clear with matrix mapping

According to a recent Nonprofit Finance Fund’s State of the Sector survey, “Forty-two percent of organizations reported that they do not currently have the right mix of financial resources to thrive over the next three years.”

This level of economic uncertainty requires the kind of adaptive leadership and system-wide reckoning that feels like a daunting task until now. Authors Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell have introduced a proven method for change management called matrix mapping. The matrix map cultivates sound decision-making that embraces the entire organization’s capacity rather than one program or person.

Zimmerman and Bell have accumulated a deep understanding of how the matrix map tool is working for nonprofits thanks to five years in the field with their first book, Nonprofit Sustainability. Today, The Sustainability Mindset builds on the candid self-reflection and bold decision making created by the first title.

Introduction to the matrix map

Simply put, the matrix map allows organizations to view both their impact and profitability at the same time. Often, during a strategic planning meeting, organizations will look at the success of their programs in one conversation and then their budget in another. The map gives them a combined look so they can make better decisions. For example, if one program shows high impact but low income, the organization can turn to other sources of income that can cover the expenses. To see a sample of the map, click here.

Zimmerman’s favorite example of the matrix map in action

We asked Steve Zimmerman to tell us about one of his favorite case stories where the matrix mapping process brought to light the critical observation of impact and profitability simultaneously.

CausePlanet: Would you tell us about your favorite case study that implements the matrix map?

Zimmerman: One of my favorite uses of the matrix map is to help organizations make decisions that have been put off for too long. An example of this comes from a 100-year-old social service agency that had offered mental health counseling for their constituents among several other programs including financial literacy, job training and a day care program.

Over the years, the counseling program had fallen on hard times, but because it was the founding program of the agency, they kept re-tooling it and bringing in new supervisors to improve the program. When the matrix map was completed, it showed counseling, financial literacy and job training operating at financial deficits. However, counseling also was considered a low-impact program.

Deeper analysis showed that while the program was important for the organization’s impact, there was a lot of competition for quality counselors and the organization couldn’t match competitors’ salaries. This led to poor outcomes. What is more, the job training program showed very high impact but was relatively small because the organization didn’t have enough resources to grow the program.

The organization used the matrix map to engage in a robust discussion about the future of counseling and decided to close the program. Because it was still an important component of the organization’s overall impact, it partnered with another agency in the city to deliver those services to constituents. It then invested the money that had been utilized to subsidize counseling to expand the job training program. This included partnering with local corporations for job placement on a fee-for-service basis.

The opportunity cost of decision-making

This example demonstrates using the matrix map to highlight the opportunity cost of decisions. The leadership often thinks in terms of “Should we offer Program A or not?” when the correct question is, “Should we invest in Program A or Program B?” By investing in the high impact program, the organization was able to increase its impact and financial viability. It would not have had the resources or capacity to do so unless it focused its program offerings. By presenting the map in this way, even those leaders who strongly supported the counseling program came around to see the organization and its constituents were better off as a result of this decision.

If you’ve historically looked at your budget and your programs in isolation of one another, Zimmerman and Bell would argue that this kind of decision-making will only lead to poor sustainability for your nonprofit. Get a copy of The Sustainability Mindset and turn complexity into clarity.

See also:

Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability

The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

Image credits: julianreese.com, vbpm.org, wallbasehq.com

 

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Four villains prevent you from making smart nonprofit decisions

“If you study the kinds of decisions people make and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity does not have a particularly impressive track record,” claim Decisive authors, Chip and Dan Heath.

Nonprofit organizations and the businesses that support them are not in short supply of critical scenarios that require smart decisions. Unfortunately, when our causes or clients need the best decisions from us, we seek out information that supports us and downplay information that doesn’t.

The Heath brothers explain that being merely aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem. In Decisive, you learn how to adopt a process for overcoming these dilemmas. The first step to fixing the problem is understanding the four villains of smart decision making.

Villain one–Narrow Framing: Steve Cole is the VP of research and development at the HopeLab, a nonprofit that fights to improve kids’ health using technology. Cole and his team wanted to find a firm that could design a portable device capable of measuring the amount of exercise kids were getting. Rather than choosing the “winner” of a giant contract from seven or eight bids, Cole ran a “horse race.” He hired five different firms to work on the first step—a much smaller portion of the project. Cole knew what he’d learn from the first round would make the later rounds more efficient. Furthermore, the firms would create “multiple design alternatives.” “Cole is fighting the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, which involves the tendency to define our choices too narrowly, to see them in binary terms.”

Villain two–Confirmation Bias: Our traditional habit in work and life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that supports our belief. This problematic habit is called the “confirmation bias” and is the second villain of decision making. For example, when the dangers of smoking were less clear in the 1960s, smokers were more likely to express interest in reading an article headlined “Smoking Does Not Lead to Lung Cancer” than one entitled “Smoking Leads to Lung Cancer.” This would be similar to an imagined scenario where bosses more often read an article entitled “Data That Supports What You Think” versus “Data that Contradicts What You Think.”

Villain three–Short-term Emotion: The third villain of decision making is short-term emotion. According to the authors, “When we have a difficult decision to make, our feelings churn.” We revisit the same arguments in our head and kick up so much dust that we can’t see the way forward. In these moments, we need perspective, assert the Heaths. In his memoir, Only the Paranoid Survive, Former Intel president Andy Grove recalls a dilemma in 1985 regarding the elimination of the memory chip line to focus on microprocessors in the business. He and the leadership deliberated for months. He asked his Chairman/CEO, Gordon Moore, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, claiming the new CEO would get Intel out of the memory business. That’s when Grove said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?”

A moment of clarity was gained by looking through the lens of an outsider.

Villain four–Overconfidence: The fourth villain is best understood by looking at a young four-man rock and roll group called the Beatles. They were invited to audition for one of Britain’s top two record label companies, Decca Records. “We were all excited,” recalls John Lennon. “It was Decca.” After playing 15 different songs, they anxiously awaited an answer. In a letter to the Beatles’ manager, Dick Rowe of Decca declared, “We don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” Dick Rowe learned the fourth villain of decision making is overconfidence.

After the Heath brothers discuss the villains of good decision making in the introduction, the book is divided into four main sections, each focusing on one strategy to overcome smart-decision inhibitors.

It comes as no surprise that our daily work lives are full of opportunities to put the Heath brothers’ advice to work. Many of our decisions are mundane while others are very critical. How can we do better? Chip and Dan Heath have gathered an exhaustive amount of decision-making literature and introduced a four-step process designed to counteract these biases and improve our outcomes.

See Page to Practice book summaries related to this title:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Image credits: Chip and Dan Heath, wikipedia

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Nonprofit technology doesn’t need to be a burden

There are co-ops for everything from farmers to food merchants, and many have existed for decades or longer.  So why not technology cooperatives for nonprofits ?

The simple response to this question is – there already are technology co-ops.  Sort of.  Large hospitals and universities have been quietly operating technology-oriented co-ops for decades.  Not far from where this is being penned there is a substantial cooperative whose members are nonprofits such as hospitals, universities, colleges, a health insurer and a private high school.  What they have in common is that all or a large percentage of each of their operations are within the area served by the co-operative.  This mutual proximity doubtlessly made it easier to initiate and cheaper to run the co-op, a lesson we should apply to other similar ventures.

The institutions that belong to the co-op are mostly large, highly sophisticated nonprofits.   In effect, they succeeded because they were adequately capitalized and served a ‘closed’ market.  No one needed to carry out an expensive advertising campaign because the members themselves decided to build a shared platform and created the co-operative as a way of accomplishing this.

But what about the vast majority of nonprofits, the ones whose smallest bank accounts don’t have six zeroes behind the first digit?  The story is very different for these groups, which are the majority of nonprofits in the country.   Yet their need for technology is proportionately the same and perhaps even greater.  There are three aspects of this riddle that need to be solved in order to improve technology use and access for nonprofits that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a complete program on their own.

Fixed costs

Fixed costs are one of the quietest of the Budget Devils.  Most costs rise or fall in some kind of coordination with the demand for a nonprofit’s service.  Direct staff, for example, usually increase if the need for the organization’s service grows.  These are called variable costs, because if one were to chart the arc of growth in the need for an entity’s services, the volume of direct staff hired would almost certainly vary according to the arc of the demand.

By contrast, in an ideal world the growth in the need for administrative services should not be comparable to the growth in service demand because administrative costs tend to be a ‘step function’.  This means that growth in administrative resources is likely to come in ‘spurts’ and frequently over time administrative staff can actually lower the overall administrative costs by creating efficiencies greater than the growth in demand.

At its economic simplest, technology is a fixed cost.  That computer server has the same price tag if it is going to be used 24 hours a day or just a portion of each day.  The upgrades to the wiring system to power the thing also had to be incurred even if it was just intended to be a backup system.  That finicky server needs just the right blend of temperature and humidity, which drives up the utility bills.  And the additional Computer Guy’s salary and benefits are inescapable.  Members of co-ops can better manage the costs by collaborating at the infrastructure level (servers, storage, etc.) or at the software level.  Or both.

Fixed costs abound in technology which is one of the reasons it is so hard for most nonprofits to develop a robust technology platform.  Large nonprofits such as universities and hospitals can absorb a substantial amount of these fixed costs before their budgets start to complain, but smaller nonprofits find it difficult if not impossible to take on such fixed costs.

Capital

Having the financial resources (or ‘capital’) is a second technology hurdle.  Economists refer to technology as a ‘capital-intensive’ operation, meaning that one has to buy a lot of assets such as computer equipment.  Here, capital means something akin to ‘reserves’, or cash that’s not needed for day to day operations.   The problem for nonprofits is that, unlike for-profit businesses, nonprofits can’t invite outsiders to invest in the operation in return for a share of ownership.  The only way a nonprofit can gain resources for capital acquisitions is through profitability or donations (development specialists: which ask would you rather make – requesting that a potential donor ‘buy a few computer servers’ or ‘invest in kids’?).

Productivity

The third need is to run a productive and economically feasible operation.  This is more difficult than one might imagine because staff productivity is not necessarily an automatic must-have unless a nonprofit operates in certain areas of health or human services.  Large for-profit companies, by contrast, often demand a certain number of ‘billable’ hours from each employee whether the company is a law firm, an internet cable company, or a medical laboratory.   No matter what the tax status, low productivity is a Budget Devil itself.

The Co-op Model

The obvious solution to this dilemma for most nonprofits is to buy as little as one can get away with, at as low a price as possible.  But this can lead to disastrous trade-offs in which an organization makes too many compromises.  The formula is to minimize variable costs while managing fixed costs as

tightly as possible, and this is where the co-op model comes in.  In effect, the co-op carries the fixed costs and the burden for falling short of revenue goals (as does any for-profit service provider).  They also assume responsibility for hitting productivity targets.

The co-op model can be viable in this setting because it is not like a drugstore, with items sitting patiently on the shelf, waiting to be scooped into shopping baskets.  Both parties must make a commitment to each other, and it almost certainly will take the form of a written contract.  The composition of their client base gives the co-op not only funds for operations but – if the market co-operates – some level of capital accumulation as well.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are already a number of cooperatives accepted by the IRS, such as co-operatives serving hospitals and educational organizations – and even farmers (who helped originate the model two centuries ago).  This may be good encouragement to begin a technology co-op in your area if there are no comparables in existence.  Perhaps more likely, a nonprofit is free to go out of the sector to find companies that provide these kinds of services.    Whether your information technology supplier is an actual co-op or a for-profit company offering professional services should be largely immaterial: good service is good service.  What is more pressing as a new client is what you will get for your money.  Note that if you and your peer organizations decide to form a co-op you should automatically have an advantage in the value-for-payment transaction.

The models we have sketched are most likely to succeed in an urban or suburban setting because it’s easier to achieve the desired productivity levels when your customers are located relatively near each other.  Sixty percent productivity for your field staff should be a good starting point, though it may be possible to push it higher.   More intriguing is that finding the capital may be easier than you think.  After years of promoting collaboration in general, some major foundations are beginning to experiment with funding certain aspects of collaborative processes.  Program Related Investments may be an option from savvy, well-established foundations.  L3C corporations were designed for social enterprise ventures, and they can be an invaluable structure on which to build a robust new service for the nonprofit field.  And the B Corp, or ‘Benefit Corporation’, offers traditional for-profit businesses an opportunity to convert to a different status as long as they can prove that they seek to create a ‘public benefit’ in tandem with private gain.  In fact, we know a for-profit entity that recently completed just such a switch.

With a little imagination, some energy, and some good financial strategic thinking, it should be possible to develop market-serving entities for information technology purposes and/or find existing suppliers that are effectively doing the same thing.  Good IT may be a cost but it doesn’t need to be a burden.

See relevant Page to Practice book summaries:

Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders

Zone of Insolvency: How Nonprofits Avoid Hidden Liabilities and Build Financial Strength

Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business

Image credits: naturalpapa.com, craftcouncil.org, somdnews.com

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Understanding philanthropic capital: How to invest in social causes and gain financial returns (Part 2)

In my first installment on this topic, I discussed why investors are combining financial and social goals and three social investment tools they could use to accomplish this union of interests: Pay for Success (PFS) or Social Impact Bonds (SIB), Program-Related Investments (PRI), and Mission-Related Investing (MRI)). In this final installment, I’ll explore two more tools: Impact Investing and Social Enterprise.

Millennial influence

The thinking driving the more diverse deployment of philanthropic capital is coming from a range of influences including shifting demographics. The receding idea of separate financial and social returns is largely being driven by the changing attitudes of younger generations.

A recent World Economic Forum report on impact investing cites a “study of 5,000 Millennials across 18 countries where respondents ranked ‘to improve society’ as the number one priority of business. This does not imply that the next generation of investors will not seek market returns … However, the emerging generation of investors is also likely to seek achievement of social objectives in addition to financial returns.”

Impact Investing

So just what is Impact Investing? A clear definition is one of the challenges of this emerging sector and the term can be described in many ways. According to the recently published The Impact Investor: Lessons in Leadership and Strategy for Collaborative Capitalism (2015) by Clark, Emerson and Thornley, “Impact Investing is capital management in pursuit of appropriate levels of financial return with the simultaneous and intentional creation of measurable social and environment impacts.” Many impact investors expect market rate and higher financial returns on their investments, noting that organizations that address social and environmental concerns in their business planning and execution will perform better over time as they reduce risks and create stronger workforces.

Examples of impact investments include a $3 million investment by the Colorado Impact Fund (coloradoimpactfund.com) into Bhakti Chai for expansion. The company sustainably sources fair trade, non-GMO ingredients and practices zero waste environmental standards. The company is growing, adding employment to expand its brand nationwide. Another project example is developing an app to help farmers in developing countries better predict weather patterns. This helps them plant and harvest at optimal times, increasing family income and improved food supplies for their communities. The app is easily accessible on cellular platforms, available to millions of customers worldwide.

Social enterprise

Social enterprise is also on the rise in the US and around the world. According to the Social Enterprise Alliance, a social enterprise is a business whose primary purpose is the common good. It uses the methods and discipline of business and the power of the marketplace to advance the social, environmental and human justice causes as well as earning a profit. Support for social enterprise can come in the form of investments, contributions and product purchases, with each form of capital needed at different times of the organization’s development.

The Colorado Nonprofit Social Enterprise Exchange strives to build the field for social enterprise by working with existing nonprofit organizations and engaging philanthropic, traditional and impact investments. Its Social Enterprise Cohort works to develop a business idea that supports both the mission and finances of the organization as well as creating employment opportunities when possible. Businesses in operation as a result of this program include: Art Restart, which supports homeless women through card sales; the Safety Store, which sells supplies and equipment for child safety; and Strong, Smart and Bold Beans, a coffee shop that teaches young women entrepreneurial and business skills as part of its youth development programs.

Complexity

There is a lot of excitement and energy surrounding all these tools to advance social change, and rightly so. These tools can allow for the engagement of more dollars to address big issues, to support organizations that prove their impact and to advance several goals at once.

However, the use of a diverse range of financing tools does not make problems less complex or easily solved. The development of the right deal with the right partners at the right scale takes time and resources.

But I look forward to the day when I can live in a state of optimism, believing both in our ability to make the changes we need as well as our ability to engage the right philanthropic capital to do the work effectively.

See Page to Practice summaries related to this article:

The Impact Investor: Lessons in Leadership and Strategy for Collaborative Capitalism

Zone of Insolvency: How Nonprofits Avoid Hidden Liabilities and Build Financial Strength

The Nonprofit Business Plan: The Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model

Cash Flow Strategies: Innovation in Nonprofit Financial Management

Image credits: idpfoundation.org, justmeans.com

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Collaborative Capitalism: Positive social outcomes and competitive financial returns

As Millennials move into new leadership roles, they are demanding the opportunity to align every facet of their lives with making a positive difference in the world. A new capitalism, what the authors of The Impact Investor call Collaborative Capitalism, is focused on more than just financial returns to make an impact on the world’s issues.

One tool of Collaborative Capitalism is impact investing–investing that focuses on delivering positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns–is a response to this changing world.

Two years, 12 outstanding funds, four primary practices

In a two-year study, the most detailed release of information on impact investing to date, the authors of The Impact Investor examined 12 outstanding impact investment funds that met or exceeded the expectations of their investors.

In this book, they uncover the four primary practices that make these funds successful and outline the strategies that all investors, from corporate executives to change agents to philanthropists, can apply to their own organizations to achieve high performance in both social and financial outcomes.

We interviewed coauthor, Jed Emerson, about The Impact Investor and what you should consider if you want to take the first steps toward blending social causes with financial returns. We also asked about the most significant obstacles.

CausePlanet: If someone wants to jump into the field of impact investing, what does he/she need to focus on first?

Emerson: The first thing those interested in impact investing need to focus on is to get up to speed with what is already known about the field, its practices and the variety of ways one can become involved. For example, CASE at Duke has a great web site (http://bit.ly/casei3100) with seminal research and insight every impact investor should read. ImpactAssets has its Issue Brief series which presents a set of concise memos addressing various aspects of the field. Finally, The Blended Value website (www.blendedvalue.org) also has a host of resources worth perusing. Attending a few conferences would also be a good thing to do—SoCap or High Water Women are both good places to start. And Cathy just made a great 12-minute video intro to the field: http://youtu.be/zwGCKhTis5s

CausePlanet: What do you really want nonprofits to take from your book? For example, are you giving them ways to attract impact investors or become more of impact investors themselves?

Emerson: Nonprofits should take away many of the same principles as other types of organizations, namely that there is a shift taking place in both capitalism and the arena of how we address social issues, and this shift represents real opportunities for nonprofits to position themselves as providing a unique value to society that is distinct from traditional business or government. There is a growing universe of funders, investors and procurement officers who want to understand how best to leverage this distinct approach and bring it to scale, including through the provision of operating capital, which has been historically difficult to come by in the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits also have an important role to play in driving the impact investing field forward considering two key attributes. One is their attention to stakeholders. Nonprofits are built on the premise that constituencies matter and much of the field of impact investing is taking this lesson into the arena of finance. The other attribute is heightened attention to social outcomes. Impact investors need to manage to specific, intentional outcomes and are often drawing on nonprofit practices to do so.

CausePlanet: What do you think is the most significant obstacle to becoming an impact investor?

Emerson: Perhaps the most significant obstacle is simple inertia, the challenge of overcoming analysis paralysis and actually making an investment. Some folks feel impact investing is new or that people must accept below market returns and so are waiting for it to become so mainstream that the actual investment opportunities may pass them by. The best way to explore and learn about the practice is to make smaller investments, to collaborate with other investors or take other initial steps to simply get going and learn by doing. And in fact, one can become an impact investor now with as little as $20 online, through a site called vested.org, where you can choose the places or impacts that are important to you.

Increasingly, financial institutions and corporations around the world are using Collaborative Capitalism as a tool to generate clear, positive social outcomes in addition to profits. This book will help nonprofits learn how capital can be used to drive social and environmental change as well as how to attract potential investors. Financial tools are increasingly being used to support community vehicles, including nonprofits, cooperatives and social enterprises. The Impact Investor gives a comprehensive overview of the approaches successful impact investors have used to increase their probability of success.

See other Page to Practice nonprofit book summaries related to this topic:

The Impact Investor: Lessons in Leadership and Strategy for Collaborative Capitalism

Zone of Insolvency: How Nonprofits Avoid Hidden Liabilities and Build Financial Strength

The Nonprofit Business Plan: The Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model

Cash Flow Strategies: Innovation in Nonprofit Financial Management

Image credit: blendedvalue.org

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