Who’s who?

How do you talk about who’s who in your organisation, and what does it say about your values?

One Acre Fund is an organisation that spends about US$100 million per year on their program, with 8,300 staff serving  760,000 families (or more than 4 million people) in more than six countries.

They are doing excellent work, and my impression is that they have excellent leadership, and top-level leaders worth making a noise about.

But look at their leadership page. There’s no org chart with the big fish at the top, there are no job titles until you hover-over – just a set of faces that represent the organisation ordered alphabetically by first name.

Who’s who isn’t immediately clear – but we learn a lot about ‘who’ One Acre Fund is, and what’s important to them.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 8 (part 2)

This is the eighth-and-a-half post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 8: Create Boundaries for Yourself

Many of the boundaries that we face are immovable, like limits to the time available to us, or being able to be in one place at a time, or the limited nature of our knowledge, no matter how much we know.

There are other boundaries that we can shift: the resources we have at our disposal, the number of people we partner with or serve, who we partner with, our skills, and the skills of our teams.

In service of the right vision, many of these boundaries are worth shifting.

But where to start? Concentration of force counts: pushing in all directions weakens the force we’re able to apply, and results in slow, frustrating change – if any. Pushing in all directions at once is usually exhausting.

So we decide – even within the immovable boundaries, we make our own, choosing where to apply our effort. This is a helpful way to think about boundaries – not as restrictions that hold you back, but as tools to help you focus.

Making your own waves

With a backlog, you’re paddling hard for a wave that’s leaving you behind – you might just catch the wave, but it’s rarely what you were hoping for, and more often than not you end up exhausted from paddling, and still behind – like in the first few seconds of this clip:

With a frontlog, you’re building an asset and making your own waves. Your frontlog puts you in the right place at the right time.

It makes you feel like Wingnut:



Frontlog

A frontlog is way better than a backlog.

It’s when you get things done and dusted ahead of time – either finished well and entirely off your plate, or loaded and ready to go to the right people at the right time.

A backlog slows you down, puts you in a pinch, makes you rush, gives you tunnel vision, means that you have no time to connect with others, to take a bit longer with things – and most importantly, with people – that need your full attention.

A frontlog puts you in front of the curve, brings its own momentum, gives you space to breathe, to look around, to take care of others, to spot what’s interesting, to take a detour, to do the job right, to notice the things that make it worth doing.

A frontlog makes it hugely more likely that you’ll enjoy it, and that the people you’re taking with you – customers, clients, colleagues – will enjoy it too.

Remember: when you’re building a frontlog you’re showing up for the people you serve and giving a gift to your future self by making things easier tomorrow.

Remember – the work that you do to build up a frontlog 

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 8 (part 1)

This is the eighth post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 8: Create Boundaries for Yourself

Create boundaries for yourself.

What do you do?

What don’t you do?

This is a variation on “It’s not for you.”

Any work we do is in tension with boundaries.

There are boundaries we don’t want. Limits to:

  • The number of clients we an reach and serve
  • The number of clients who want to engage deeply with us
  • Funding
  • The number of people we can manage well
  • The number of the right sort of people to manage
  • Our time, and the time of our team
  • How hard we can work
  • Our skills
  • The speed at which we can learn
  • Our ability to spot problems
  • Our ability to fix the problems we do spot
  • How much other people care
  • How much we care
  • Attention
  • What we can get permission to do
  • Add another ten of your own

And then there are boundaries that we choose for ourselves:

  • Given that we can serve a limited number of people, who will we try to serve first?
  • That is to say, who will we serve now, and who won’t we serve now?
  • Given that there aren’t enough of the right people, will we hire any people? Who won’t we hire?
  • How hard won’t we work ourselves and our team?
  • What values won’t we compromise (integrity, quality of product, quality of relationship, health of our team, the environment)?
  • The same logic applies to all of the above

It all comes down to decisions – I like the understanding of ‘decision’ as a ‘cutting off’ of possibilities. We need to acknowledge what we can’t do and identify what we won’t do so that we can focus on what we can do and will do – and do those things.

Identifying boundaries and limits is a really helpful flipside in the process of thinking through your what’s important to you (values), the change you wish to see in the world (vision), and what’s possible now.

Backlog

We all know about the backlog:

  • The work we never quite catch up on
  • The to do list items that have fallen off the bottom of the page
  • The promises large and small we haven’t quite managed to keep
  • The dread of knowing that you could put in a hard day’s work today and still start tomorrow behind

Backlogs are horrible. They create emotional drag, a constant friction through our workdays.

There are ways to work against this – setting the bar low and just doing it now, and starting small are good places to start.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 7 (part 4)

This is the seventh-and-a-quarter post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 7: Charge a lot (but be worth more than you charge)

A last argument for applying this rule in non-profit context is that if your clients pay, your resources go further, and you can serve a lot more people. We covered this principle in Rule 3 (see ‘Eager to pay and scaling the non-profit), but it’s worth repeating here.

I’ve just been listening to an interview with One Acre Fund‘s Andrew Youn on Rob Reid’s After On podcast where Andrew spoke about the importance of a revenue model in their work, where the farmers they serve receive credit, but ultimately pay for the services they receive:

Rob Reid: Some people might say that these folks are extremely poor, why don’t you deliver these services for free? Part of it is that there’s only so much money in your organisation, and that 98.5% payback means that you’ve got a lot more dollars put to work. What percentage of One Acre Fund’s annual budget comes back to it through repayments?

Andrew Youn: Most of One Acre Fund is core program delivering all these services… Within that core program, about 70% of our budget is covered by farmer payments, and 30% from donors.

RR: You’re literally serving three times as more as many people as you could if you were a purely charitable organisation.

AY: It makes us so much more cost effective… we can serve three, four times as many people by charging for our services. I think it also makes us a little more beholden, as an organisation, to the customer that we serve. So we use, for example, repayment as a customer service quality metric. [see Rule 1 for more on this idea]

After On Podcast, Episode 35

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So here’s the final reformulation of Rule 7:

Rule 7 of bootstrapping the non-profit organisation: Find the right price (and be worth more than you charge)

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 7 (part 3)

This is the seventh-and-a-third post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 7: Charge a lot (but be worth more than you charge)

How does this rule apply to what a charity charges its clients? Is it ethical to charge your clients a lot?

Shakespeare’s Prospero said it best:

This swift business

I must uneasy make lest too light winning

Make the prize light.

The Tempest, Act 1 Scene 2

I’m not a subscriber to the argument that free things are always un- or underappreciated, but there’s truth in the sorcerer’s words: we value what is dear.

Or perhaps we should say, we value things that cost a lot as long as long as they’re worth more than we paid.

Think about the times you’ve felt frustrated by a cheap purchase that wasn’t worth it. Or the more costly, high-quality item that brought you satisfaction each and every time you used it. Rule 7 follows this logic – just as it’s possible to be cheap and still rip people off, it’s possible to charge a lot and still be generous.

In fact, charging a lot might be what gives you the space to be generous. It’s hard to give people the time and attention they require if you’re cutting corners and pinching pennies. Rule 7 asserts that it’s fine for a charity to charge its clients for its services – even to charge ‘a lot’ – as long as the client makes the most profit from the transaction.

And the fact is, even if the service that you provide to your clients costs them nothing in financial terms, they always pay something – time, attention, the effort of showing up.

When your clients pay a bit more of those things for what you provide, they think more about whether they really want it, and take it a bit more seriously. And just as if you’d charged more money for something, when people have bought in to what you’re doing, there’s a lot more that you can do, so you open up a lot of extra ways to create value for and with them.

As another poet put it,

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 7 (part 2)

This is the seventh-and-a-half post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 7: Charge a lot (but be worth more than you charge)

The point here is that your organisation’s selling point – we’re still looking at things from the perspective of donors and supporters – should never be how cheap you are (your price), but how much value you create for your clients.

It doesn’t matter what your price is, as long as you’re worth it – or Seth would say, worth as long as you’re worth more.

This might be about how many people you serve and how many things you do.

Or it might just as well be about how you do what you do – the values that you bring to the table that make you special. The things that would:

Make peoplemiss youif you were gone.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 7 (part 1)

This is the seventh post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 7: Charge a lot (but be worth more than you charge)

This is a counter-intuitive but powerful lens for thinking about non-profit work. For now, let’s understand what you ‘charge’ as being how much your program costs.

All other things being equal, being low cost – getting things done for as little as possible – is a virtue.

All other things being equal, using resources well (efficiency) is a Good Thing.

But the thing is, all other things aren’t equal. It doesn’t matter if you run a tight ship (are efficient), serve a huge number of people for little money (are low-cost) if you don’t make an impact – the biggest impact that you can make.

This is definitively not to say that you need to ‘go big or go home’ – scale is only one way to measure impact, and as we saw in Rule 6, it isn’t a reward in itself.

It is to say that you should be aiming to make the biggest impact you can for the people you seek to serve, and according to what’s important to you.

Effective is different from efficient, and definitely not the same as cheap. Doing the wrong thing efficiently and at low cost is still the wrong thing.

If charging a lot, if being expensive, helps you to make a bigger impact, find a way to make it work, and be expensive.