Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Creating Meaning

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

As human beings, we crave belonging and seek to find a meaningful existence. Very often, that feeling of meaning comes from helping others. One of the many reasons that people start nonprofits is to give meaning – to life, to a memory, to a person, to a cause.  Having a nonprofit creates a structure and a platform from which one can elevate a message and aim for a solution or a cure or an answer.

There are nonprofits staffed with some of the most eager and idealistic people the world has to offer. Nonprofit work is not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. In the best situations it causes people to look at the world differently, to find solutions beyond the obvious and to work harder on behalf of those whom the organization represents. Nonprofits, in their very purest form, can create meaning.

However, nonprofits are plagued with the same challenges as any other organization in the global marketplace. Every day there are new nonprofits competing for the same donor dollars. Generally, nonprofits’ intents are purse Most of the motivation is selfless. So what causes one to create lasting meaning while another is left behind?

Last week, I attended a seminar by marketing guru Seth Godin. He spoke on his new book, Linchpin, and the new economic marketplace. His focus was on individuals, but some of what he said (and what is in his book) resonated for me in regards to creating meaning as a person and as a nonprofit organization. In his book, he writes of the new “American Dream”:

Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas.

He writes that the new dream is about “vision and engagement.” As nonprofits we have an already have a vision, or we wouldn’t exist. Most nonprofit organizations seek to engage the world to come together to create art (solutions). We celebrate the remarkable. We generously give money and time and information to those whose lives we seek to improve.  We make judgment calls – determining how we can attain the most good for the greatest number of people with the limited resources we have.  By virtue of working to serve some sector of the population, we aspire to connect people and ideas.

Organizationally, we might (at least on paper) have it right. Yet how many of us who work for nonprofits are engaged in the same path of creating meaning? How many of us have a vision? How many of us seek the things Mr. Godin suggests? Do our employees exude the same passion that our brand does? Do we seek to create real, tangible meaning in our day-to-day work behind the scenes?

Or do we settle for average?

I thought a lot about it as I read Linchpin. A nonprofit organization doesn’t set out to be average. Average doesn’t change people or save the world or find cures or save the whales. However, while the organization’s vision may not be average, it will only truly fulfill its vision if the people behind the scenes are extraordinary.

Mr. Godin has this to say about that very thing:

“The only way to win is to race to the top … An organization of indispensable people doing important work is remarkable, [successful] and indispensable in and of itself. What the [organization] really wants is an artist, someone who changes everything, someone who makes dreams come true. What the [organization] really wants is someone who can see the reality of today and describe a better tomorrow.”

What the organization really needs is people who are as committed to creating meaning as much as the organization. Together, with a solid vision and a group of employees creating real, tangible meaning each day – we have the opportunity to truly change the way things get done. To have more resources, more bandwidth and more ability to impact our neighbors, our communities and our world.

How do you create meaning at your organization?

Perhaps Not All News is Bad

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

It should come as no surprise that donations from America’s most generous donors dropped considerably in 2009.

Since 2000, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has compiled an annual list of America’s most-generous people.  According to the Chronicle, donors on the Philanthropy 50 donated a total of $4.1 billion to nonprofits last year.  An impressive figure, but a drop of nearly 75% when compared to 2008’s total of $15.5 billion.  This year’s total also represents the second lowest year since the newspaper began tracking a decade ago.  For those on the list, the median gift in 2009 was $41.4 million compared to $69.3 million in 2008 and $74.7 million in 2007.

While these figures only confirm that 2009 was a dismal year for nonprofits, the recession may have catalyzed other trends which could ultimately strengthen the sector as a whole.  One of those trends, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, is the fact that a growing number of donors are no longer content to simply write large checks.  They are seeking ways to become more engaged in the process, and they are interested in finding organizations or strategies that can provide measurable returns on issues important to the donors.

The Journal emphasize this point with a quote from Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle, who stated: “Wealthy Americans increasingly see philanthropy as way to catalyze big changes in society, rather than choosing only to write a check for a new building or to further existing projects…. More and more top donors now put their money, clout and vision into fueling the development of new ideas and shaping future leaders–whether in education, business ethics, economics or climate change.”

Another interesting trend was also highlighted by the Journal in an article posted at the beginning of the month.  The author recounts how the recession has forced a number of nonprofits to close and more significantly, it has catalyzed the merger of others.  While not always an easy process, these mergers have resulted in cost savings and higher returns for a number of organizations.

These themes of mergers and greater collaboration among nonprofits is also finding a foothold among donors.  As noted in the article, funders like the the Lodestar Foundation, started by Arizona entrepreneur Jerry Hirsch, now awards a $250,000 annual collaboration prize to encourage nonprofits to increase efficiency and eliminate duplication by joining together. This spring, world leaders and philanthropists will meet at Oxford University for former eBay President Jeff Skoll’s annual forum on social entrepreneurship with the theme being: “Catalysing Collaboration for Large-Scale Change.”

In my perspective, these two trends are important to identifying new solutions to timeless social problems as well as increasing the efficiency of a sector not always know for effectiveness. While 2009 will definitely go down in the philanthopric record books for being a terrible year, perhaps it did not bring only bad news.

-Christopher Lindsay