Successful Nonprofits: Going Beyond the “New Normal”

Should your nonprofit have a double or triple bottom line?

Should your nonprofit have a double — or triple —bottom line?

The world is changing — in a good way.  Here in the Twin Cities, and around the globe, there is a growing trend to use social enterprise to accelerate change — and make nonprofits more financially viable.

Social enterprise is not really new.  In fact, many local nonprofits have been operating one for decades.   What is new is how many are launching, innovating and scaling!  While they serve highly diverse missions and operate a variety of businesses, what they have in common is a double bottom line: social mission and profits.

Undaunted by “the new normal”  — major reductions in government funding or philanthropy’s reluctance to fund general operating costs — these innovative nonprofits are changing the way nonprofits “do business” by operating one. 

  1. Did you know that CityKid Java operates a $2 million coffee business? You may have seen it at Cub or Target.  Coffee sales made it possible for them to “donate” $45,000 to fund Urban Ventures youth programs.  They’re revved up and well-positioned to scale their “business” with a major rebranding underway, thanks to a pro bono team from General Mills. A targeted expansion is planned for specific markets across the country.
  2. With the Genesys Works “business model,” less than 25% of their budget relies on donations or grants.  What’s more, they are expanding nationally — achieving a 50% growth rateGenesys Works trains a highly diverse group of economically disadvantaged high school students.  In their senior year, they have an internship with businesses that are seeking technology-proficient employees. It’s a real win-win.
  3. Last year, PPL Enterprises merged with Rebuild Resources and then underwent a rebranding. Under their new name, Momentum Enterprises, they generate approximately $6 million in revenue from light manufacturing, recycling, and more.  With a new leadership team, they are well on their way to increasing profitability so they can achieve greater social impact and serve more participants.

Should your nonprofit start one?  If you have one, how can you make it more effective?  A smart organization does their homework.  So I encourage you, your board and senior staff to attend the national Social Enterprise Alliance Summit, which will be held in Minneapolis May 19-22.  It’s a great opportunity to hear directly from innovators and experienced leaders.  Choose a 4-day or 1-day registration. Go behind the scenes to find out what makes these social enterprises successful with Summit Tours.

Can’t attend the Summit?  If you’re in town, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to  network with 50 social enterprises at the first  Twin Cities Social Enterprise Marketplace, May 20, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.  It’s free and open to the public, thanks to the Greater Twin Cities United Way.  As the new president of the Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities, I encourage everyone to get involved and help us participate in building a thriving social enterprise community right here.

The Social Enterprise Alliance Summit in the News: MinnPost Minnesota BusinessStarTribune

Naturally, Mentor Planet will be part of the TC Social Enterprise Marketplace.  After all, we’re a social enterprise that mentors social entrepreneurs so they can accelerate impact!  Please stop by to say hello and meet some of our Mentor Partners.

Engage Your Touch of Genius

Stay Focused

Stay Focused: Click on the photo, then focus. You’ll start to see the trees. 

You’re smart. You work hard. You’ve got a dream. You have a glimpse of an idea, a way to make a difference in the world. Maybe you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re making real progress and you want to make more impact. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and uncertain about the future.

Today ideas and technology change every minute! Check out this infographic about what happens on the internet every 60 seconds.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. — Albert Einstein

So engage your touch of genius.

This January take a time-out instead of writing a long list of all your New Year’s resolutions. Take an hour (or an afternoon) to eliminate the distractions and seriously think about what you really care about.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

Decide to pick just 3 things for your Dream List. With only 3 things, you’ll be able to remember them and commit to them. Focus. Focus. Focus. (What if you can’t pick just 3, read What to Do With an Avalanche of Choices.)

I have to admit, I had a very hard time narrowing my Dream List to 3. Yet I felt a big sigh of relief after I did. I even surprised myself by eliminating something I thought I “should” do and replacing it with something that is more fun and positive. I’m confident eliminating a “should” will likely make it easier for me to achieve #1 and #2!

My natural inclination is to think about all the connections, possibilities, alternatives, and more. So something simply had to go! I revised my Dream List again and again, trying hard not to be vague. That’s the worst, because vague goals can’t be checked off the list. So unsatisfying. Yes, I need to exercise more, meditate more; but I know that if I’m making progress on what matters to me I’m more likely to accomplish other things that are good for me.

So dare to embrace all the uncertainty and get going. Yes, you need to be smart about it. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be successful. You’ll need to manage the risks. By narrowing your focus, you will increase your chances for success — something any management consultant worth their salt will tell you.

Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox… The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow. ― Tony Schwartz

Keep your eye on the prize.

Excellence can be obtained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible. — Unknown
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If your Dream List includes finding a mentor with real-world experience to support you on your way, here are tips to choosing one who’s right for you.

Mentor Planet offers 1-to-1 mentoring relationships for 6-12 months for only $99/year.

January is National Mentoring Month. Considering being a Mentor Planet Mentor and help someone reach their potential.

For more information go to MentorPlanet.com.

What to Do With an Avalanche of Choices

We like having lots of choices.  Yet with each option, there is always the lurking possibility we’ll make the wrong choice.  And, we hate being wrong.

Which is the absolute right choice?

In her book, Being Wrong, author Kathryn Schultz points out that, “As a culture, we haven’t even mastered the basic skill of saying “I was wrong.” Instead, we justify our choices and actions with false apologies and rationalizations: “I was wrong, but” … or “mistakes were made.”  She explains that, we do it so that we can “distance ourselves from responsibility.” (Schultz references statements by Nixon and Reagan.)  Yet our choices continue to impact our lives.

What’s more, she says, “Our default attitude toward wrongness — our distaste for error and our appetite for being right — tends to be rough on relationships.”  (Here’s her intriguing Pop Tech video.)

Given our distaste for being wrong, what can we do to make better choices? 

What can we do to increase our success and happiness — at work, in our relationships, and maybe even improve the world a bit along the way?  

1.  Limit your choices.  Yes, it seems counter intuitive.  But Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, makes a good case. But it’s not easy to do in a world of seemingly endless choice where you’re faced with literally dozens of toothpaste options or hundreds of dating choices on Match.com. She says, “more choice leads to less satisfaction or happiness.”

Meaningless minutia” bogs us down so that every little difference matters way too much.  We end up constantly second-guessing our decision: “How do I know that there isn’t something better?”  Your enjoyment of this avalanche of choice, Ivengar contends, “will be diminished by your regret over what you had to give up and leaving you less satisfied than you would have been if you had had less choice.”

The perfect is the enemy of the good. — Voltaire

Fearing that you’ll make the wrong choice, your anxiety increases. “We exhaust ourselves in the search,” she warns us.  “Even the most unbiased source can’t promise that a new finding tomorrow won’t reverse recommendations. The more information we seek out, the more confused we become.”  In a study involving 401k investments, “more choice, had, in fact, lead to worse decisions.” Of course, there are times where we really need more choices and do our research, such as weighing job choices or considering surgery. (Check out Iyengar’s TED talk.)

In Acquired Tastes, author Peter Mayle takes you on a journey with the wealthy and their choice dilemma. He says, “I’m not at all sure that they enjoy themselves as much as we think they do.  And why?  Because, damn it, something is always not quite right.”  He explains, “expectations tend to increase in direct proportion to the amount of money being spent, and if you are spending a fortune, you expect perfection.  Alas, life being the badly organized shambles that it so often is…perfection is rare.  Details that we would consider trivial assume enormous significance: the breakfast egg is inedible because it is marginally under boiled…the list of maddening blots on the landscape just goes on and on.”

Regardless of our financial situation, this search for perfection infects most of us. Not only do we hope to find the perfect job, life partner, or doctor, we expect to find perfect all around us:  the perfect cell phone contract, romantic restaurant, or pair of shoes.

2.  Know who you are.  This sounds ridiculous at first.  It’s not the trivial choices that require you to know yourself; it’s the decisions without any easy answers.  Just think about the decisions you’ve had to make recently — about healthcare, a mortgage, a job change, or a relationship conflict.  All too often we don’t know what we want until a situation arises.  Ivengar says, “we don’t bother to mull over the tough questions until we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, and by that time, we’re in no shape to give the answers most beneficial to us.”  We’re so busy racing around that when the time comes to make a tough choice, we’re usually too overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed. 

Often there isn’t an obvious right or wrong choice. So “it becomes exponentially more difficult” to choose.  Paradoxically, she says, asking for more options proves that we don’t really know what we want.

For important decisions, Ivengar recommends that we do some honest soul searching — and be open to thinking and acting differently.  But that takes time and reflection.  Most of us aren’t willing to do that.  Then we only have time to react, and fall back into our “I was wrong, but” excuse.  While keeping the status quo seems easier, it’s unlikely to improve our choices — or our happiness. Habits acquired over the years don’t change easily. It is hard work! If we are truly interested into thinking better and improving our decisions, it’s worth it.

3.  Get your automatic brain under control. Ivengar reminds us that, “even when you know what you ought to be doing, what you would prefer in the long run, you can find yourself distracted and dazed by options that set off the automatic system.”  So you over-indulge at the dessert counter, or worse, sabotage a relationship and end up paying the price for a bad decision for years.

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, refers to the automatic brain as “the elephant.”  It’s enormously helpful because it effortlessly, subconsciously, operates our bodily functions and more.  But for many key decisions, you need more — logic and reason — or what he calls “the monkey” brain.  Your logical brain is “completely absorbed in looking out for problems and opportunities.”

Unless you make an effort to control the elephant brain, your automatic thinking will kick in about 95% of the time according to Gerald Zaltman.  The elephant brain can get you into trouble — reacting instinctively to pleasure (over-indulgence) and danger (anger). Oscar Wilde said, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”   Imagine how much happier and successful you’d be if you could just engage your logic and reason a bit more often.

4. Learn to be an expert in the process of choosing. It sounds complicated, but it is easier than you might think. Ivengar recommends borrowing the knowledge of others because they can help you develop insights and expertise more rapidly than if you attempt it on your own.  Find a mentor to help you test your thinking.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your judgment — but rather test your judgment where you know it needs improvement.

Ivengar says you need to “find reasons not to choose what you’re immediately drawn to. Have a heavy dose of skepticism about your own thinking.”  Work with your mentor to probe into how and why you make choices. Start by paying attention to your decisions (which is easier said than done!). Brainstorm about ways to reduce your reaction mode.

Having an outside expert doesn’t solve the problem of your having to choose, she warns. “Given how many ways one can go wrong when choosing, it’s tempting to pass off a choice I’m supposed to make as an opportunity for another person to express an opinion.  This way, I don’t have to take responsibility for the choice, and the person I ask often enjoys giving advice.  Your mentor can’t make decisions for you — or make perfect recommendations.  They can probe deeper, recommend alternatives, and share decision-making successes and failures.  Over time you “can learn to simplify, prioritize, and recognize patterns.”

Don’t start with your most complicated choices.  Instead, begin with something easier so you’re willing to take risks and it will be easier to see progress.  Simplify your decisions and decision process. Invengar and others recommend limiting your choices to 3 — or groups of 3s. (McKinsey consultants apparently use this with their clients.) In a New York Times article, Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, says, “When looking for a new camera, limit yourself to 3 Web sites.”  (That makes sense, unless you’re a photographer.) Or if you’re wrestling with something bigger, such as a career change, break down the decisions into groups of 3s.  Instead of thinking of all the possibilities at once, consider categorizing them into types of organizations:  nonprofits, government, or social enterprise.  Then repeat the process of creating job categories.

No one can make the right choice all the time.  But you can stop wasting time on meaningless minutia.  Instead, invest your thinking time in decisions where you feel that you’re making progress in your life.  Leverage them to your best interest — and best self.  Feel more in control and less on automatic pilot.  Get there faster with a supportive mentor who can accelerate your ability to learn and grow.