Archive for November, 2015

Giver or taker? Find out which nonprofit leadership style is more successful.

Ever wonder what makes some of your interactions successful and others failures?

Give and Take author Adam Grant also wanted to know this answer so he spent 10 years of his life studying the professional choices of leaders from all walks of life.

What he found were givers, takers and matchers. Grant’s startling discovery is that givers dominate both the top and bottom of the success ladder. Grant explores compelling research that illustrates how—in spite of the risk—giving is more powerful than people believe. Grant’s book examines the special behavior that’s characteristic of the givers at the top.

The importance of our interactions

Adam Grant explains that highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability and opportunity. He argues that a fourth ingredient is often neglected. This characteristic involves how we approach our interactions with other people. “Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: Do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

Your mix of giving and taking affects your success

During the last 30 years, social scientists have discovered that people differ dramatically in their preferences for reciprocity. In other words, their desired mix of taking and giving. In order to further uncover differences along the reciprocity spectrum, Grant introduces the two types of people who fall at the opposite ends of the range, as well as the one in the middle. He calls them givers, takers and matchers.


Givers are rare and prefer to give more than they get. Givers are “other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.” Grant recognizes that givers don’t earn this distinction because they give more charity dollars or demand less pay at work; rather, givers help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Ultimately, they strive to be generous with their time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections. To illustrate giving, Grant cites psychologist Margaret Clark’s research at Yale which concludes that most people act like givers in close relationships. For example, in marriages and friendships, we contribute without keeping score.


Takers, on the other hand, have a distinctive signature, explains Grant. Not only do they like to get more than they give, they “tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs.” Grant adds, “Takers believe the world is a competitive dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts.” The author tempers this description by explaining this group isn’t cruel or cutthroat, they are just cautious and self-protective.


In contrast, the workplace produces behavior that’s neither purely giving nor taking. “We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity.” In short, your relationships at work are ruled by an even exchange of favors.

Who is the most successful? Grant discovers a surprising pattern.

Giving, taking and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction but Grant explains they aren’t hard and fast because people can shift from one style to another as they move from one setting to another. Professionally, all three reciprocity styles have their own benefits and drawbacks, states Grant.

However, one style in particular is not only more successful than the others, but can also experience failure if the person is constantly yielding to others or gives to the point of exhaustion. Givers are most likely to land at the bottom of the success ladder, but Grant discovered a surprising pattern:

Givers are also most likely to be at the top. “Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder. Across occupations, if you examine the link between reciprocity styles and successes, the givers are more likely to become champs—not only chumps.”

What kind of connector will you be? Perhaps during this timely week in November, it would be better to think about Thanksgiving than Thanksgetting.

See also:

It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts Into Lasting, Genuine Relationships

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader

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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

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