How risk adverse is your non-profit organization?

Trust the Break

By John Greco
Originally published on July 9, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
elevatorThousands of spectators flooded into the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York City.
It was 1853.
Elisha Graves Otis stood on an elevating platform. As it rose up high above the crowd, Otis took out a knife; it became immediately apparent to everyone that he intended to cut the cable!
The crowd of people feared the same results that they had read about or seen: a quick plunge, to a likely death, or serious injury…
But not this time.
With the cable fully severed, Elisha Otis’s platform did not plummet.  Otis’s safety brake produced a slight drop, until the spring kicked out into the guide rails.  Otis is said to have shouted, “All safe, gentleman, all safe.
Otis sold 42 freight elevators in the two years after his exposition debut.
After his death in 1861, Otis’s company was left to his two sons; by 1873, they had sold over two thousand elevators worldwide.
Adapted from the Otis Elevator Blog

How risk averse are you?
I find it hard to answer that question.  I hedge; it depends.  I’m not sure I would have been an early rider of Otis’s elevator.
That’s a lie, really.  I am sure; I would definitely not have been.  No way!
But when it comes to organizational change, I’m pretty much all in.
I’m afraid that inclination hasn’t particularly helped me over the back half of my career as I’ve pitched changes in structure, policy, process, and culture…  I can paint a pretty compelling picture of the benefits, and I do alright projecting the costs.
But I under appreciate the downside risks.  I, consequently, short change the risk mitigation section of the proposal.  In fact, sometimes I omit it entirely.
The tenor of the responses are wide-ranging, but the result is disturbingly the same.  They don’t relish the ride I’m pitching.  So, no go.  They’re not on board.
I think they were all looking for Otis’s brake.
And who could blame them?  I wouldn’t have went up with Otis … and I’m sure I would have wrestled him down to the platform once I saw that knife come out …
Fear is a powerful emotion.  It stops us in our tracks.  We don’t go forward.
Or up.
Elisha Graves Otis did not invent the elevator.  He invented the elevator brake.
But the brake wasn’t his only innovation.  He innovated in influencing.  He created quite the spectacle to demonstrate the brake’s effectiveness.
Nothing to fear.
The sky is now the limit.
But we needed to trust that brake first.
john greco sig

Is your fundraising program failing? Good!

I opened an email from a dear, old friend this morning. His name is Jim Chambers. We’ve known each other for 20-years and worked together at two different non-profit organizations. The email was titled “Something for you.” The message was equally simple and said, “Hope you are well.  I thought you may like this video.

Needless to say, I couldn’t resist clicking on the YouTube link at 7:00 am this morning.

At the other end of that link, I saw this title:

Innovation Keynote Speaker Jeremy Gutsche –
30 Minute Speech

I then realized that the YouTube video was 28:49 minutes in length. OMG!!!!!! It is 7:00 am in the morning. Are you kidding, Jim?

However, I knew in my heart that Jim knows me better than most people, and there must be a reason he sent me this video. So, I grabbed a cup of coffee and clicked on the link.

I’m glad I trusted Jim this morning because 28:49 minutes later I have more non-profit thoughts running through my head than I’ve had in a long time.  So, I thought I’d take the next few minutes to dump those thoughts out into a bullet point list for your enjoyment and see if it sparks and discussion. Enjoy . . .

  • In times of tremendous economic crisis, chaos and upheaval, history has shown us that opportunity is abundant if you just open your eyes and look for it. What is your non-profit organization doing to take advantage of the chaos? Are you re-inventing your resource development plan? Are you approaching and engaging donors differently? Are you broadening your message or changing your services?
  • Companies that succeed and get stronger during crisis do a lot of experimenting. With this comes a lot of failure, which is what inspired today’s blog headline. What are you doing different? What are you failing at? Does your organization embrace failure and celebrate it with regards to your fundraising efforts?
  • We’re all focused on emotionally connecting with the customer, and fundraising professionals pursue this same connection with donors. However, there is something much more powerful — a “cultural connection“.  Does your fundraising program make this distinction and even try to make this connection? I suspect that the fundraising thought-leader who figures this one out will de-throne Penelope Burk and her “Donor-Centered Fundraising” philosophies as the hottest new thing.
  • Does your fundraising case for support connect with donors or is something just connects with you and your volunteers? The speaker says that messages that connect with people travel faster than your competitors messaging. Are people buzzing about your agency? Is your fundraising message being talked about around the water cooler? Are people echoing your mission and fundraising messaging on social media?
  • When your mission and vision as well as your fundraising activities are just “average,” then that is all it will ever be. What are you doing that is fun, exceptional, and buzz-worthy. How are you communicating that? How do you get your clients, volunteers, and donors excited about anything?
  • Can you define in “7 words or less” what you do? Are you “obsessed” with your story? Is it simple? Is it direct? Is it supercharged?

I am willing to bet that I could go back to that 28:49 minute video, watch it again, and wring another six bullet points out of it, but there has to be at least one thing I shared with you or questions that I posed that has you scratching your head this morning. If that is the case, then please scroll down to the comment box and share your question, answer, or interesting thought.

If you have a little bit of time today, I really urge you to watch Jeremy Gutsche’s video about innovation. It is really awesome and thought-provoking. Here it is:


Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847