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Understanding the Nonprofit “Imagination Gap” (Part II)

Brian Reich September 17, 2014

CDS Global is delighted to feature Brian Reich as a guest blogger. Brian Reich is founder and managing director of the information strategy firm little m media, and author of Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society. He is well known for his expertise in new media, Web 2.0, social networks, mobile, community, ecommerce, brand marketing, cause branding, and more.

Click to access the recorded webinar!

Click to access the recorded webinar!

This past July, I co-presented a webinar with Chip Sugrue from the American Heart Association entitled “Future-Proofing Your Nonprofit: Closing the ‘Imagination Gap’ by Focusing on the Big Picture.”  And in an earlier post, I outlined six areas that nonprofits should focus on in order to begin dismantling barriers to innovation, and close the imagination gap.

In this post, I want to provide some practical suggestions for how you, or your organization, can get started.  Here you go:

  1. Solve problems… shift your focus from activity to problem solving. Break big problems into a series of smaller problems. Make sure that you are successful before moving forward.  Example: Instead of counting up (how many donors do we have? how much money have we raised?), count down (we need X donors at $500 each… and we aren’t successful until we get that).
  2. Stop being mediocre… you can’t be good at everything, and you shouldn’t be spending time on efforts that you can’t do really well. That’s true for individuals as well as organizations. Being mediocre only hurts your ability to succeed, and ultimately damages your credibility.  So prioritize the activities that you, or your organization, can do uniquely well – and build your strategy/model/approach around those.
  3. Get Nerdy… use data to inform your decision-making, to help determine which activities are worth the effort, and whether they are successful.  Measure everything. More importantly, use data to predict and shape future efforts, not just look at ways to be more efficient.  It helps to have benchmarks or standards that you believe work for your efforts, but if they don’t exist, or if your work doesn’t align, don’t be afraid to establish your own benchmarks.  Its important to have an organizational culture that embraces data, and measurement, and thoughtfully integrates that into your organization – and its even more important use that nerdiness to support your focus on innovation, and anticipate opportunities, not just do a better job managing your current operations
  4. Reverse engineer… problem solving requires a non-linear approach. You have to consider all the different challenges that exist, how different factors influence your ability to be successful.  So start at the end, not the beginning.  Step one is to define exactly what you want to see happen.  Step-by-step.  Figure out each thing you want to see happen, what you want your audience to do – and as you go, look out for what barriers/challenges might exist, what problems you need to be prepared to solve – before you start doing the work.  It is far better to anticipate what will happen and plan accordingly than start working only to find yourself facing a problem and not having many options for how to respond.
  5. Pivot constantly… things will go wrong, you will make mistakes, ideas that once seemed good will fail badly (and that will happen quickly, without warning).  So get comfortable with abandoning what isn’t working, adopting new strategies, experimenting with different tactics, even changing out the team that is working with you.  Being comfortable with changing course, more quickly and intelligently, will put you in a position to handle any issue or take advantage of any opportunity that comes along.
  6. Ask questions… don’t make assumptions. Don’t guess. Don’t be comfortable doing something simply because you have done it before – but don’t feel like you need to figure out how to chart a new course on your own. Think like a scientist – ask questions to flesh out potential scenarios, to take each idea to its extreme (in discussion, on paper – where it’s safe), so that nothing surprises you when you start to execute.  Seek out input from people with different perspectives and experiences, whether they can be found across your organization or somewhere outside of your universe. We are all learning as we go, but only some people are smart (and brave) enough to ask the right questions.

The most powerful forces in shaping and motivating people’s behaviors are imagination, knowledge and leadership. The information and experiences that people have are processed into knowledge – and that knowledge is used to inform people’s behaviors.  The smarter someone becomes, the more capable they are of making decisions and taking actions.  But most importantly, people need a vision for how to move forward – and their imagination allows them to create a path towards achieving their goals when one doesn’t exist.

For more detail and methods on how to start implementing these six strategies, you can watch the full webinar via Fundraising Success here. You can also read part I of  this post on the CDS Global blog for more ideas.

Any other comments? Let me know on Twitter: @BrianReich.