Say Goodbye to Business as Usual

“It is our duty to take reasonable risk in pursuit of the systemic change we seek.”

That was the message delivered at the National Capital Philanthropy Day luncheon in Washington, DC this week by the 2017 Philanthropist of the Year, Winsome McIntosh. A board member of the McIntosh Foundation and Founder of Rachel’s Network—an organization of leading women philanthropists—Winsome is a true agent of change.

Her comments about risk taking are particularly important for our nonprofit sector at this time. I’m fond of the phrase, “business as usual tactics will not get the job done.” You may have seen a similar line in some of the copy I’ve written for your organization over the years. J Winsome reminded us of how profoundly true that is.

During her remarks, we learned that it was bold risk taken by the McIntosh Foundation that stopped a pending IRS regulation that would have prohibited foundations from making grants to organizations that lobby. Rather than adopting a “wait and see” attitude, the Foundation sought a private ruling that cemented the right of foundations to support lobbing organizations. It was a seminal moment that continues to fuel the progress of advocacy movements in our country to this day.

So, we must ask ourselves . . . what risk is my charitable organization, my foundation or my social impact business willing to take TODAY to speed the path to true systemic change? There is no question that bold action is needed.

Organizations throughout the globe have recently agreed on a number Sustainable Development Goals to guide progress for the years ahead. Will “business as usual” tactics get us to these goals? Most leaders agree that they won’t.

A Pew Research report shows that 40.6 million people in the U.S. were living in poverty in 2016. Are we taking bold enough action to address the root causes of poverty in our country?

The United States is one of the most charitable countries in the world—donating 390 billion last year! Yet, our nation continues to fall behind on many measures of social progress. Populations of entire cities do not have clean drinking water. We have more kids living in poverty than most developed nations. And wages for most U.S. workers have been flat or falling for decades.

So, as you look ahead to a new year, ask, ‘How can I be a bolder agent of change in my organization and our nonprofit sector?’ ‘How can I encourage smart risk taking for bigger wins?’ Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Reward risk taking. Procter & Gamble’s Heroic Failure award honors the employee or team with the biggest failure that delivered the greatest insight.
  2. Use data to work smarter. The world now creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data everyday. The nonprofit sector must harness this data to make clearer, data-driven decisions to create social change.
  3. Plan a half-day retreat for your team with the goal of brainstorming dozens of groundbreaking, but potentially risky, ideas that could help you accelerate progress toward your mission. Then select a few to implement across your team.

Winsome McIntosh inspired me this week. I hope this blog inspires you to become a smart risk taker in the months ahead. Let us know about your big risks, big wins and even big failures. We’ll feature some in our blogs throughout the coming year.

– Posted by Kathy Swayze

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