Post by Chaz Thorne
I recently had a discussion with a colleague in Los Angeles who works as a strategist for nonprofits. In discussing the work we do at The Give Agency, he told me he has been inundated with phone calls since January 20th from people in his network that have essentially one question: “What can I do?”
This is not only about giving funds. Compassionate, worldly and engaged individuals have been shaken by recent events around the globe and are looking for hands-on ways to give back – to feel like they’re “doing something”. Sharing videos and online petitions in the echo chamber of social media doesn’t cut it.
It seems as though there has been a karmic shift in the West. Much has been written about growing nationalism in the United States and Europe and, to anyone who has read a history book, this is and should be disturbing. In the “True North Strong and Free” we are not immune. Two female Members of Parliament have recently been subjected to some of the most racist and misogynistic personal attacks imaginable as a result of their presentation and defense of Motion 103 that seeks to combat Islamophobia. Troubled times indeed.
So, what’s the antidote?
Too “hokey” for you?
Let me delve a little deeper.
After a successful launch last year in Halifax, earlier this month we ran The Give Agency for the first time in Toronto. Basically, we pull a bunch of really smart people we call “Givers” together for a week to rapidly ideate on the challenges of 5 different charities/non-profits (one per day) in a tightly facilitated, results-oriented workshop process we call “Barn Raising”. This is an opportunity for talented professionals to put their expertise to work for good in a well defined ask – one day of their time. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors like Sun Life Financial and our volunteer Givers, we are able to offer this service for free to these important and compassionate organizations. In a show of just how many people are looking for opportunities to support others, we had to turn away over 100 potential Givers when we ran out of space to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate.
To say our week in Toronto was fulfilling would be a massive understatement. We spent our days rapidly coming up with ideas to help with fundraising and awareness for five extremely worthy groups who are making a significant difference in their city and the world. The level of enthusiasm in Miami Ad School Toronto where we conducted the workshop was palpable. Our charity clients walked away from their giving days with enough creative horsepower to run multiple campaigns over several years. I am still receiving emails from Givers and clients. The feelings of accomplishment live on and many Givers have reached out to the organizations from their “Giving Day” to further offer their talents.
What does all this have to do with the state of the world?
The diagram above depicts the Diffusion of Innovations, also sometimes referred to as the Adoption Curve. Everett Rogers, an American communication theorist and sociologist, put this theory forth in 1962. Though it is normally thought of as the process that a new product goes through in penetrating the market, Rogers saw it as being equally applicable to the spread of new ideas.
The concept of “skills-based giving” is at the core of the work we do at The Give Agency. And it is catching on. Like any idea, we are now at the “Innovators” stage of the Adoption Curve. But it is growing. It is truly a win-win for both charitable organizations and those who donate their skills.
Be an innovator.
Ask yourself, “What skills and interests do I have that would allow me to make a significant difference if I applied them in the service of others?” Are you a runner that has a large running group? Start a run in support of education in areas of the world ravaged by war. Are you an operations professional that can lean out an organization in your sleep? Offer to do an operational assessment on your nearest food bank. Are you an awesome website designer with some extra capacity? Offer to build a new site for a local animal shelter. Do you throw amazing parties? Offer to chair a fundraiser in support of a non-profit that supports the environment.
Philanthropy is one of the most meaningful ways that we show the world who we really are and demonstrate alignment with our deepest held beliefs. Then you have something REAL to post about on social media with the hope that it will encourage others in the early adopters segment to practice compassion by giving their skills for good. As the momentum builds and the early adopters share their experience, they can convince some of the early majority to join in and so on.
Voilà. A movement of practiced compassion.
That is how you can fight back against the negativity and hate that seem to be dominating our worldview. And won’t it make our social media feeds significantly more inspiring to read?
Every movement has to begin somewhere.
What can YOU do?
Post by Chaz Thorne
“Strategy” is probably the most overused and least understood word in organizational culture. At one point in time, every single one of you has rolled your eyes after being informed of an upcoming “strategic planning session”. This contempt has been well earned.
Everyone gets together and bats some ideas around. If consultants are engaged, maybe a large report is generated with lots of data and some colorful charts. If facilitated well, it may even be fun! However, all too often, nothing fundamentally changes. The energy that may have been palpable in the room quickly dissipates into the ether.
Though there may be a litany of reasons for this ranging from apathy to entrenchment, often times it comes down to an issue of process. That is, the foundation on which the strategy development was built was flawed from the beginning and doomed to fail.
Beyond Keeping The Lights On
In our work at The Give Agency we find ourselves frequently working with non-profit and charitable organizations whose resources are increasingly stretched thin as they compete with more and more causes all battling to engage the same audiences. For many of these groups, having the time and focus to be able to do strategic planning is a luxury. However, the sustainability proper planning provides is imperative for their survival.
We don’t believe in wasting anyone’s time. Not our non-profit/charitable clients’ and our sponsors’, and certainly not our many “Givers’” who volunteer their time and ideas for a day to help these vital organizations. Though it is extremely enjoyable to get together a collective of really smart people and dream up dozens of great ideas that is not the point of The Give Agency. To create the real change we are striving for, these groups need to be able to successfully implement the ideas we provide.
The Importance of M.U.S.E.
To make sure we accomplish our stated aim of real change, we apply a level of discipline to our process utilizing a framework we developed called M.U.S.E. (I know, strategists love acronyms…) M.U.S.E. is the gauntlet that every recommendation we make must successfully run.
If a recommendation is not measurable there is no way of knowing its effectiveness or how it may be adjusted to bring about greater success as new information is revealed. A word of caution here: quantitative measurements are not the only metrics that matter. Sometimes the creative development of “soft metrics” is required to measure things like societal or cultural impacts.
Ideas need to be shared with a variety of people throughout the organization with varying backgrounds and skill sets to achieve buy-in. As a result, they should be written in straightforward and approachable language. Graphic representations of strategy have also been shown to greatly increase retention and understanding.
Recommendations need to come from somewhere. When a path is proposed that was inspired by a successful implementation in another organization or industry that justification should be highlighted. Creative “benchmarking” is often the most powerful form of idea generation. This does not rule out “blue sky” thinking due to the uniqueness of a challenge. In the case of truly original thought, propositions should still be substantiated with an argument as to why there is a belief in this particular course of action.
Though ambitious goals are important, there is no point in presenting recommendations that are outside the realities of what the client has the ability to accomplish. The first step is to look to make the most of present resources unless an opportunity with an extremely promising return exists to justify increased financial investment or capability acquisition.
At The End of the Day…
Once all is said in done, we are not the ones who bring the ideas our Givers and we provide to life. That responsibility ultimately rests with the client organization. However, by applying discipline to the process with M.U.S.E. we are significantly increasing the likelihood of successful implementation.
The fundamental goal is to allow these wonderful organizations to keep the lights on and shining for those they serve. In doing so, they are making our communities that much brighter.