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The Hard Part(s) in small non-profit organisations (1) – Who wants this change?

“What’s the hard part?” is the question that everyone on the team should be able to answer… What is the difficult work that, if it went well, would transform the impact of this project? Where are the projects worth focusing on, the things that would be difficult to outsource in a productive way?

Almost all the cycles involved in creating and building something aren’t particularly difficult. They’re important, certainly, we can’t ride the bike unless it has wheels. But wheels aren’t hard to find and purchase at a fair price.

Seth Godin

This is a great question to ask. In my line of work, in my experience, the hard parts are:

Helping people to want the change you seek

This is first among equals. For teachers, it’s helping the people you teach want to learn what you have to offer. In community development, it’s getting enthusiastic enrollment in the process of change. The starting line varies: people might need to see that change is possible first, then believe that it’s possible for them, then believe that it’s desirable, then believe that you and what you offer can be a step in that journey. Then you can make a start. You may think you have a wonderful technical solution, but if you’re the only person who wants to see it happen, you don’t really have a solution at all.

Ways forward:

  1. Be specific about the people you seek to serve. Rather than “this type of person in this community,” but “this actual small group of actual people.” Start with them.
  2. Identify where their starting line is: do they want the change you’re seeking to make? Are they even aware of the problem you’re trying to solve? Does it bother them enough for them to join you in seeking to change it?
  3. Make something that works for those people that moves them along, that they tell their friends and neighbours about, that they’re willing to pay (attention/time/money) to use. This will likely be an iterative process requiring you to get to know them and their context really well.
  4. Find out how to tell the story to other people who it will help.

This is another way of saying – as uncomfortable as this may be – that the change you seek is first of all a marketing problem.

1 thought on “The Hard Part(s) in small non-profit organisations (1) – Who wants this change?”

  1. This is helpful. ‘Evoking awareness’ in people of change is, I think, the key. How can we ask the right questions sin a way that is genuinely open and non-directive so that people become aware of a need to change, desire it and then seek for solutions. The conflict of interest here of course is that as an organisation you are coming to people with a solution that you have generated. There is a tension therefore here, because your advice and support won’t be entirely non-directive and it may direct people to your solutions rather than theirs. How to marry these things into a properly ‘synergistic partnership’ seems to be the art and beauty of evoking awareness and bringing change. I think your point under 3) is therefore essential – getting to know people well, and as above, working with a group of ‘actual’ people so it isn’t an ethereal dream.

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