Not knowing what you’re doing is more and more acceptable in this complex and fast changing world we work in.

But pretending and preaching that you know what you’re doing is dangerous. For you. For your organization. For your clients. For the future of our sector.

I’m increasingly convinced that making bold predictions, spread-sheeting three and five year plans, and signing off big budgets and purchase orders is a relic of a dying age and an absolute recipe for failure in the future.

So, next week The Agitator will launch an occasional series titled Starting Over. Our goal is to answer this critical question:

How would you build a growing, sustainable nonprofit from scratch in today’s fast-changing and challenging environment?

Some of the content in this series will come from the research Kevin Schulman of DonorVoice and  I have been conducting in preparing a new book tentatively titled, The powerful fundraising magic of STARTING OVER.

And hopefully some will come from the generosity of Agitator readers like you who are willing to share data and specific testing results.

Not Giving UpWhy are we launching this series? Tom and I have been increasingly concerned that The Agitator is fostering what reader Dan Kirsch calls the ‘echo chamber’ effect. That’s where well-meaning, knowledgeable people (the ‘saved’) agree and close ranks against those who don’t.

But … as Seth Godin so wisely warned in a post titled, Closing the Gate:

“Sooner or later, tribes begin to exclude interested but unaffiliated newcomers.

“It happens to religious sects, to surfers and to online communities as well. Nascent groups with open arms become mature groups too set in their ways to evangelize and grow their membership, too stuck to engage, change and thrive.

“So much easier to turn someone away than it is to patiently engage with them, the way you were welcomed when you were in their shoes.

“There are two reasons for this:

* It’s tiresome and boring to keep breaking in newbies. Eternal September, the never-ending stream of repetitive questions and mistakes can wear out even the most committed host. Your IT person wasn’t born grouchy — it just happens.

* It’s threatening to the existing power structure. New voices want new procedures and fresh leadership.

“And so, Wikipedia has transformed itself into a club that’s not particularly interested in welcoming new editors. And the social club down the street has a membership with an average age of 77. And companies that used to grow by absorbing talent via acquisitions, cease to do so.

“This cycle isn’t inevitable, but it takes ever more effort to overcome our inertia.

“Even if it happens gradually, the choice to not fight this inertia is still a choice. And while closing the gate can ensure stability and the status quo (for now), it rarely leads to growth, and ultimately leads to decline.”

So in the spirit of “overcoming our inertia” and challenging the status quo and all the vested interests of the consulting and preaching class, we’re launching this Starting Over series.

Our approach to Agitator readers will be to offer you information and insights on how to raise more money, simplify your life, and stop wasting time and money on things that don’t matter and donors don’t like.

I’m optimistic that we’ll succeed. But only  if we all just take to heart Mark Twain’s sage observation:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”


P.S. If you have suggestions for answering the basic question behind our exploration — How would you build a growing, sustainable nonprofit from scratch in today’s fast-changing and challenging environment?  please send them on. Thank you.





This article was posted in: Fundraising philosophy/profession, Innovation, Nonprofit management, Research, Starting Over.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.