One of my great pleasures is working with sharp, knowledgeable, dedicated, and determined leaders and Board members of impressive non-profit organizations. These organizations are almost always doing amazing things, but too often I find them feeling totally strapped and constrained by resources. The staff is overworked and underpaid. Most non-profits walk a fine line between hope and despair.
Financial limitations, and the insecurity that creates, lead to way too much focus on money and the wrong metrics. When you focus on money, you devote most of your time to boosting donations, memberships, and attendance. You constantly brainstorm new schemes to attract more of each. Meanwhile, you don’t care who donates, joins, or attends, as long as those numbers are going in the right direction.
The problem is it does matter where the money comes from. That money, and your considerable efforts to acquire it, control how you use your limited resources. Typical consequences of chasing money include:
- You run in too many directions at once.
- You have endless debates about priorities.
- You try to be all things to all people.
- You jump through too many loops in pursuit of unpredictable government and foundation funding.
- You don’t dare stop doing anything.
In short, you are stretched too thin and can’t figure out how to get out of your rut. I’m reminded of a recent conversation with the CEO of an organization who realized that her members joined because they loved to visit the facilities, not because they cared about the mission. Here she was maintaining beautiful and expensive facilities and creating programs the members loved instead of focusing on her mission and having the impact desired.
Perpetually insufficient resources also lead to a scarcity mentality (see “10 Beliefs of People with an Abundance Mentality” to understand that affliction). The chief symptoms are cost cutting and small thinking. You are afraid to spend and afraid to take risks. Unfortunately, you will never leap the chasm to sustainable success with small thinking and cost cutting. The money-capacity vicious circle is a terrible force that will drag you down and suck the energy and optimism right out of your Board and staff.
If you want to leave your money and capacity woes behind, you must shift your focus away from money and capacity focus on value!
Value creates money. Money creates capacity. Capacity creates more value. This is a positive and fulfilling circle. If you want to be truly successful, you must start with value.
- What impact do you want to have?
- How will the world be better off if you succeed?
- Who will benefit directly and immediately?
- Who will benefit indirectly or over time?
- How will you measure real success?
Once you have a clear, focused sense of the impact you want to have, you need to figure out who cares. This is where the money comes from.
- What corporations, foundations, and individuals are a natural fit for your cause and/or your beneficiaries?
- Who will want to be associated with your cause?
- How does your cause contribute to their mission, passions, responsibilities, or industry?
- How do you monetize their interest?
- How can you get them involved so they want to contribute their time, money, stature, and connections?
And when you think you’ve found a great link between your cause and eager revenue sources, don’t go it alone. No organization is an island. Partnerships can dramatically increase your ability to have the impact you desire. Remember, value attracts money.
- What other organizations share your cause or have a parallel cause?
- What other organizations are dedicated to helping the same beneficiaries?
- How can you leverage these overlaps?
- Who has been down the road you are about to traverse?
For example, if you want to help girls envision a life of opportunity and become strong citizens, why aren’t you working with an organization such as the Girl Scouts? If scientific progress is your mission, why aren’t you partnering with higher education and organizations like the Museum of Science? Get out of your cocoon and go talk win-win deals.
I wish you could be in the room with me when my clients get out of the vicious circle of insufficient money and capacity, and see the road to success though the creation of value. The energy surge is palpable. People can’t wait to get started. Chronic roadblocks shrink to blips on a panorama of opportunities. Decisions are easier when the options aren’t all painfully inadequate and the new found energy fuels the hard, but rewarding work ahead.
If you are tired of battering your head up against too little money and capacity, forget both and focus on value.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on March 28th, 2016.