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.

The Big Push vs Regular Time

Two approaches to getting work done:

The Big Push

The Big Push works well for defined tasks with clear deadlines. Block out some time, gather what you need, and thrash. Get the job done.

It works especially for urgent tasks – a sales or funding proposal – and there are plenty of other tasks that it’s worth giving a Big Push just to get them done:

  • Creating a new service or resource
  • Filming a video
  • Launching a new website
  • Prepping a presentation or event
  • The Annual Report

Regular Time

There are other things, though, that are important (though probably not urgent) that benefit from regular attention. These are usually jobs that are open-ended by nature. You can’t finish them, but they’ll cause a crisis (or at least, damage your capacity) if you don’t identify them and set aside regular time to work on them:

  • Financial structures
  • Maintaining and improving policy documents
  • Investing time with your team for both management and team-building
  • Keeping a website up-to-date
  • Making contact with potential partners and seeking out opportunities to share about your work
  • Non-urgent supporter relations

Little and often.

Drip by drip.

A downhill slope (find others)

If you’re in a book group, social pressure is going to get you to read that book. The act of joining the book group is the hard part. Once you’re in the book group, the books are going to get read, because now you’re playing a game. It’s a game you’re enrolled in, it’s one you want to move forward.

The easiest way to start creating this game dynamic is to form a group. To find others, to find others and challenge those others to play the game with you. Because we all know that solitaire might be a little fun, but solitaire isn’t the kind of game we dream of when we dream of games.

We do better when we do it together.

Seth Godin – Akimbo – The Wedding Industrial Complex

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Make it happen. Find others. Say the words.

Team Performance (1)

I’ve just been listening to Richard Hackman on teams and team performance. His first lens for evaluating team performance is straight forward:

Delivering the goods

Did you get the job done? How well did you do it?

Who is the legitimate receiver, user, reviewer of this performance and what to they think of it? Did you serve the client first?

At a non-profit leader you might have several ‘customers’: the people you serve, donors, the team itself. If you can’t keep everyone happy, where do your priorities lie?

I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 9

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

Rule 9: Become ever more professional

Professionals do it right, they make it work, and they don’t take it personally.

Seth Godin

Of course your non-profit organisation should be professional.

You need to: 

  • Show up – be there for the people you seek to serve
  • Show up – it takes time to get good at what you do
  • Show up – you need to go deep in the context that you’re serving, know your clients and their context really, really well. Few people do this
  • Show up – for your clients and your team, especially when you don’t feel like it today
  • Keep your promises
  • Do good work that no-one else can do (if only because no-one else will)
  • Make it work – which might mean going beyond your technical contribution and paying attention to the necessary ‘wrapper
  • Understand the full stack of skills that make your organisation’s work possible, and get a working knowledge of as many of them as you can
  • Specialise
  • Find partners, colleagues, friends who complement your skills and personality
  • Learn to get help, delegate
  • Do you work in the right way – find lasting solutions that don’t sacrifice things that are important to you on the way
  • Stay client-focused – there might be a ‘show’, and you might even have a big role, but it isn’t about you
  • Stay honest – the professional pushes back against donors with ideas that won’t work, or won’t help even if they do work, or that aren’t really about the clients (see Rule 1)
  • Stay honest – be clear about what you do and don’t, explain what’s not working, own your mistakes
  • Find the right price for your work – a price that enables you to do it sustainably and with space for human connection, ensuring of course that your work is worth more than people pay for it
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Communicate clearly – you have to take responsibility for knowing your audience, for being clear and convincing, for stopping from time to time to make sure you’re being understood
  • Build assets – deliberately do things that will make it easier tomorrow
  • Be there early
  • Start on time
  • Stop on time
  • Stopping on time means, with enough time to talk to people afterwards
  • Create boundaries that allow you to do good work, and to be generous
  • Be committed – overcome The Resistance (ala Pressfield)
  • Read and learn – all the time
  • Read within your field
  • Read outside your field
  • Read fiction, poetry – they’ll enrich what you do
  • Apply what you learn – try new things
  • Understand how new technologies have and are changing your work
  • Try to see the future
  • Think about what you do
  • Write about what you do
  • Connect with others that do what you do, or things like it
  • Be generous – share what you know

I’m stopping writing now, so that I can go and show up for some people by making pancakes.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 8 (bonus episode)

This is the eighth-and-a-quarter 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

Finishing the last post triggered a final thought – the most important boundary you set for yourself might simply be, “How much is enough?”

This is a door that swings both ways.

Never Enough

If we’re not careful, our tendency is to always want more. There’s always someone more successful, richer. There’s a great Thomas Hobbes quote about this that’s escaping me at the moment.

Determining success – determining ‘enough’ at the outset can help keep things in perspective.

Boiling a Frog

The flipside is the danger of staying in the game when it’s time to cut our losses. Whether it’s a charity or a business, we need to ask deep questions about what’s most important to us. At what cost am I willing to succeed?

What level of financial loss am I willing to risk, and when will I write off my losses and move on?

What boundaries will I create for my social mission, which by its nature is unlikely ever to be accomplished? What values – what still-greater loves – will enable me to flourish in the face of need-without-end?

Ask yourself: to what extent am I willing to sacrifice:

  • My health?
  • My relationships?
  • The well-being of others?
  • The environment?

Count the cost, define the terms, as early as you can – and only change them very deliberately.

Now about that frog…

The saying goes that if you drop a frog into a pan of hot water, it’ll leap straight out. It knows that hot water will hurt it.

But they say – and please don’t try this at home – that if you put the same frog in a pan of cold water and turn on the heat, the frog will stay in the pan until it boils to death.

Set your boundaries in advance, and keep your eyes open to compromise.

Don’t be the frog that slowly boils to death.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 8 (part 3)

This is the eighth-and-a-third 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

Where should you focus?

A big part of the answer to this question is the choice we always face between now or later – the well known tension between the urgent and the important, a la Steven Covey’s Seven Habits which, incidentally, was the first real book on personal development that I ever read.

As my friend wrote, the answer is usually now and later.

If your house is on fire, put it out.

But as soon as you can, install a fire alarm, and find and eliminate the cause of the fire.

Start focusing on the important, non-urgent things that will make things easier tomorrow. Plant seeds. Enrich the soil. Give gifts to your future self and to others.

Creating the right kind of barriers for yourself and your organisation is essential to getting the deeper tasks done:

  • I choose not to answer messages about work outside working hours so that I can recharge and do better work during work hours
  • I don’t automatically take jobs with low pay or unreasonable deadlines, just because it’s a job – other people’s rush doesn’t have to become mine
  • I’m learning to give a small, early ‘nos’ to some good things so that I can say a big, enthusiastic ‘yes’ to fewer, greater things
  • My organisation has its own vision and focus. If you want us to help your teachers, let’s talk. If you want us to build schools – that’s not for us, and if that means we’re not for you, that’s fine
  • Planning less in my day so that I can deal graciously with the things that inevitably do come up – and just so that I can greet my neighbour in the street
  • Deciding in advance how much I’m prepared to commit

To finish up, Rule 8 can stay as it is. I’d just add one note: with all of these things, now is better than later, but many of the important and exciting things that happen to us just take time, or only happen at the right time. You can’t force them – so it’s worth setting boundaries in advance for how hard you’ll push.

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.

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 6: Scale is not a Reward (2)

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

Scale and the Free Prize Inside

We left Rule 6 a little watered down: “Scale carefully and find the size that works for your organisation”.

There’s a type of scaling, though, that is a reward: when scaling in a particular way means that you make a free prize for someone (see also here).

There might be a scale at which you are able to give something to your customers (or to people who are not yet your customers – maybe even people who never will be your customers) at no real cost to you. Is there something you own that you can sell cheaply and easily – or give away – that adds tremendous value to them? Could you:

  • Share a resource or planning tool?
  • Grow big enough that you can offer a useful physical space to the community?
  • Thicken the network by connecting different groups of your users so that they can create value for each other – or for someone else entirely? How big does your network need to be to be useful?

If you’re working more in service of a vision (that is, in service of people) than profit, there is more than likely an asset of some kind that you already own that you can share with others.

You might also create a free-prize for your organisation by selling the asset in some way. This isn’t free, but if it allows you to serve more people in a way that creates value for everyone and pays for itself then it’s prizes all round. 

Or you might charge a litlte more, covering some of your overheads at no cost to yourself (prize for you) and allow you to serve more effectively and sustainably elsewhere (prize for the community).

The Business Model Canvas is a great tool for identifying assets that you could turn into prizes…