Posts Tagged ‘people making a difference’

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?

Harnessing the Olympic Spirit

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Right to Play in GhanaI am an Olympics junkie.

For a couple of weeks every four years, I live and breathe the thrill of events as diverse as swimming, diving, snowboarding and ski jumping. This year is no exception. I am on the edge of my seat in front of the television every spare minute I have.

The Olympics never cease to give me a sense of warm fuzzies, patriotism and awe that a group of such incredibly diverse people and nations can co-exist for two weeks and celebrate the goodness in human nature. It would solve a lot of the world’s ills if we were able to bottle up the goodwill and save it for times when poverty, ideological and political differences create conflict.

Interestingly enough, there is an organization out there who does just that. Right to Play is an organization, born of efforts in the early 90s by the Norwegian Olympic officials to show support for people in war-torn nations and areas of distress. Today, the organization seeks to improve the lives of children “in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.”

Leading this incredible organization is a former Olympic athlete – 4-time gold medalist Johann Olav Koss of Norway. The organization has expanded beyond the Olympics, but it continues to embrace Olympic ideals of sport and global citizenship as it works to improve the lives of children in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

Last August, Rick had the opportunity to represent Operation Kids Foundation in Ghana as he toured first-hand some of the projects and programs Right to Play has established there. He commented:

Trained Right To Play coaches have the trust and confidence of the children they coach. Based on that relationship and the innocent distraction of “play,” a soccer ball can be used to represent a virus – say HIV – and a simple game can show a child for the first time how the virus spreads. The games address other critical issues such as peaceful conflict resolution which can, in regions where children are forced into military duty sometimes as young as 11 or 12, be the difference in whether some of these children experience a childhood in any sense, or go on to a normal adulthood. The simplicity of the Right To Play model is the genius of it, and to see it first-hand is inspiring to say the least.

It is hard to imagine, by American standards, how critical these simple concepts and programs are to a generation of children who bear the hope of their collective nations for a brighter future. We may look to sports as a way to obtain personal success, fitness, economic prosperity, recreation or geographic bragging rights, but to those Right to Play serves, sports can be lifesaving – the difference between dying young and going on to help their nations rise above status quo. Through these programs, individuals with a passion for sport are helping create a healthier, safer world for children – translating the Olympic spirit into everyday action items.

The Olympics certainly are an inspiring time – when the world feels good and right, and it comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of young adults who have dreamed of this fleeting moment all of their lives. It is hard not to sit back in the easy chair and bask in the warm glow of the Olympic spirit.

I challenge during the remaining days of Olympic competition to individually bottle that “warm fuzzy” feeling and put it to good use. We may not be able to capture it to use as a global panacea, but if each of us paid a little bit forward, we could make an enormous collective impact on the world.

As you cheer for your favorite curling team, hold your collective breath as Lindsay Vonn hits the slopes or gasp at each gravity-defying snowboard trick, remember that feeling of goodwill and resolve to share it with others. Spend a little extra time teaching a child something new. Give a little more to your favorite charity. Be a little more generous with your time. Take a few minutes to chat with your neighbor – the one who might be just a little different than you. Revel in the diversity of the human race. Celebrate goodness and hard work in your community.

Harness the Olympic spirit to make the life of one other person a little better.

-Sara Brueck Nichols