In their hands

Make something people can use.

Put it in their hands.

See what happens.

If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.

Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.

If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.

What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?

You’ve got it when they’ve got it.

You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.

Starting line

Where’s the starting line?

Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us:  we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.

We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.

How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?

What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?

When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?

 

*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

 

Podcast: a few minutes to worldwide distribution

It turned out that when I got to 121 minutes I wasn’t too far off worldwide distribution and an audience (okay, potential audience) of billions.

Not that I want an audience of billions, but it’s amazing to think about it. Pow – you have distribution that the biggest media companies in the world could only dream of a couple of decades ago.

Back to the podcast – the morning after this post I installed the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin for wordpress, and their stats add-on (both free) muddled through with filling things in, and then found this excellent article from elegantthemes.

And now I have an RSS feed that makes my podcast downloadable or streamable to anyone with a web browser or a podcast app on their phone.

I’m not on itunes or Google play yet – they’re not exactly the point, and take some extra registrations – but I’ll get there eventually.

For now, here are my amazing stats:

DC podcast stats

iphone users show up as iTunes downloads. I’m not actually on iTunes yet – I just serve a classy demographic.

Leadership: say the words

Boy: “Are we going to give something to help the people in Palu*?”
Me: “Good idea – how much do you want to give from your pocket money?”
Boy: “Hmm…”
Me: “You choose an amount, and we’ll add ten times that amount.”**
Boy: Names an amount a little over one week’s allowance
Me: “Done.”

And so at 6.30 this morning my eldest son went to school with his own donation, and 10x his own donation in an envelope to send to Palu.

If he hadn’t said anything, nothing would have happened. If I hadn’t said yes, and told him what I’d give if he went first, he might have found it harder to give. We made it easy for each other, and everyone won.

If you’re with the right people – people who share your values, people who are ready to be led – sometimes all it takes to make a change is to say the words.

Even if people might not share your values, and might not be ready, it’s often worth saying the words anyway, because they might come with you, or at least be more likely to come with you next time.

Do you want to lead? Say the words.

Want to see change happen? Be listening for the right words, and be ready to say yes.

* (see this article if you’re not sure what he was talking about)
** I knew roughly how much he had in his piggy bank

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 6: Scale is not a Reward

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

Seth says:

Scale is not its own reward. Grow when it helps you serve the people you seek to serve. That’s the only time you should grow.

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This is another rule that follows from Rule 1: Real Work for Clients First.

Work out who you seek to serve, and serve them as well as you can in an impactful and sustainable way. In any business or non-profit, the word “sustainable” here carries a lot of baggage.

Depending on your business model, there is likely to be a sweet spot that allows you to serve enough clients (decide early how many is enough, and always start small) and to generate the income you need to be around and keep on having an impact for the long haul.

In a small business this might simply mean having enough clients to earn what you need to earn once you’ve paid yourself and covered all your costs (see, for example Profit First – this episode of Read to Lead is a good introduction – or if you’re a freelancer, this excellent podcast on the bare minimum you should be charging clients).

In a non-profit, finding the right scale can be more complicated. All other things being equal, you probably want to serve as many clients as possible, but you’ll need to grow carefully to make sure that you continue to serve your clients well.

Another complication is that your clients may pay for themselves in the same way that they should in a business. You likely depend on other income streams, and particularly donation income, and finding the right size for your organisation with respect to your donors (two-sided markets again) will depend on your particular circumstances.

If your charity implements for a particular trust or company, they may largely dictate your budget and the scale of operations.

But if you’re funded by general donations, you need to demonstrate sufficient impact in terms of both quality and quantity for people to think you’re worth supporting. You might need to reach a certain size to justify overheads and capital investment – that is, you need to spread your overheads over enough clients to be seen as good value for money. Or it might be that you need to serve clients nation-wide in order to access particular funding opportunities.

Rule 6 of bootstrapping the non-profit

Scale carefully and find the right size for you.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 4: Resist the urge to do average work for average people

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

Be a “meaningful specific” rather than a “wandering generality” – it’s the principle of concentration of force and energy to get work done.

Rule 4 ties into Rules 1 and 3 – “real work for real clients” who are “eager to pay” – and if you work at a non-profit organisation it has implications for how you work with both clients and donors.

Rule 4 and clients

For your clients, it means your service is for them. Not for people in general, and it might help your clients… but a specific product or service for their specific needs.

Take education in Indonesia as an example. There’s a huge need for teacher training and resourcing. This is true across the age-range (from pre-school to university level), across different types of school (private and government-run schools), across the whole archipelago, and in any subject area. Within each of these ranges are groups of people with different needs, and trying to serve them all will get you no-where. Trying to produce something for the “average” teacher will dilute your energy and make it impossible to make something meaningful for any individual – and your clients are individuals.

Far, far better to concentrate on the needs of a specific group (helping pre-school teachers at small charity schools to teach reading more effectively) and do it well. If you’re good, you might end up with something that grows and can be made more widely applicable.

Rule 4 and donors

The same principle applies to your donors. It’s hard to go to the world and persuade them that your cause is important, and that they should give you money. It’s much easier to find people who already think what you do is important, and convince them that you do it well enough to be worth supporting.

Again, be specific – who are you helping? Why those people? Why this service? What difference is it making? Tell stories of change in the lives of specific people to explain the work that you do.


Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 4 of 4)

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

Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 4)

In a nutshell, Seth says that if someone isn’t eager to pay, they’re not your client. You get to pick. So work for people eager to pay.

Seth Godin on non-profits and two-sided markets… part 1

While it’s tempting to believe that non-profits are generally funded by large numbers of philanthropists giving small amounts of money, in general it’s not the case… A non-profit is almost always bootstrapped because the founder goes to two or three or four passionate individuals and says, “If we could work to solve problem X, is that the sort of thing that you’d like to support?”

And so it begins with one side of the market, which is the donor and the founder deciding to take on a problem.

Seth Godin,  Akimbo“Thrash Now (and ship early)” Q&A@22mins

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Seth’s Q&A answer offers a different way to look at Rule 3. I’d been thinking of the non-profit organisation as the link in a two sided market, with clients on one side, donor on the other, and the organisation in the middle, which is more or less accurate…

But you have to start by looking for those donors who are eager to pay for what you do – so eager to pay, in fact, that they’re prepared to join you, so that whatever you’re doing becomes a problem that you take on together.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 3 of 4)

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

Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 3)

In a nutshell, Seth says that if someone isn’t eager to pay, they’re not your client. You get to pick. So work for people eager to pay.

Eager to pay, donors, and two-sided markets

It’s often the case for non-profits that the people who pay for what you do aren’t the people who benefit directly from it. The client always pays, of course (see part 1), but someone else is also providing some of the cash you need to operate.

There are two risks here – the first is that you make an excellent product that your donors love, but that your clients aren’t willing to ‘buy’. This happens when you allow yourself to become accountable to donors wishes (and possibly whims) first, rather than being faithful to your clients’ needs, and what works for them. It’s easy to slip into this when you’re short of cash and start serving donors who are not-quite-eager to pay for what you do, but happy enough to pay for something different but similar – so you drift, and compromise, and end up being pulled in all directions, wasting time and money and pleasing no-one.  See also Rule 1: Real Work for Clients First.

The second risk is when donors are eager to pay for part of what you do – usually the last-mile, bit that happens on the ground part – the impact – but refuse to pay for overheads or administration – the delivery.

Yes, you are ‘selling’ your impact, and you want to be efficient – but you must sell your real work as it is, which probably involves an office. Educate potential donors about what it takes to do your work well, and to work for the long term towards significant and lasting change. Explain to donors who want cool-sounding statements about their impact (‘100% of my donation went towards food that appeared magically and for free in front of hungry children’) that of course you have administrative costs – including your crappy office – and that without them, there would be no program.

Be as clear and as real as you can about everything you do, and why, and find those donors who like you, and like your work, and trust you, and are eager to pay to be a part of it.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 2 of 4)

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

Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for what you do (part 2)

In a nutshell, Seth says that if someone isn’t eager to pay, they’re not your client. You get to pick. So work for people eager to pay.

Eager to pay and scaling the non-profit

This is where the bootstrapping mindset comes into its own in the world of non-profits and social programs. If you can find clients who are not only eager to “pay” time, attention and effort to user your product or service, but to actually pay money… you know you not only have a product that they think is valuable, but one that can cover some of its own costs – or better, cover all of its own costs. Or better, cover its own costs, with a little left over.

We’ve pretty much reached this point at the literacy non-profit I work for in Indonesia, and the potential is huge. Instead of looking at our bank balance and asking how many groups we can help, we’re looking at ourselves and asking how we can get better at what we do so that we can serve more groups – because the growth is paying for itself.

Our program is far from polished and perfect, but it seems to be working. In the old days we had a list of people waiting for our program – waiting for us to find the money to be able to train them. Now the people on the waiting list are finding their own money – and the wait is a lot shorter.

In fact, doing it this way has allowed us to serve more groups as a gift – not ‘for free’ but ‘at our expense, as a gift, because we love what you do’ – than we did back in the day when it was free.

Finding the clients who are eager to pay might well help you get your product or service to more of the people who are eager, but can’t.