Why Should Nonprofits Choose Abundance (and Breathe) | Beth's Blog

Why Should Nonprofits Choose Abundance (and Breathe)

Networked Nonprofit

Flickr Photo by TheeErin

Is that a Zen graffiti artist?   Did he run out of paint before spraying the letter “e”?    Who knows, but if nonprofits embrace abundance, wouldn’t it give them more time to breathe?   Trying to do everything, a scarcity model,  is such an exhausting way to work.

Marnie Webb has been thinking about how the nonprofit sector might be different if organizations believed in abundance and re-thought their organizational structures and how they delivered programs as a result.   Marnie points out that working in a networked way and using social media can help actualize that belief in abundance.    She says, ” Social media, and the robust search and listening tools available to us today, can help us find the people who are talking about, the people who are supporting our causes.  Networks can help us build the capacity to take advantage of different institutional skills. ”  Marnie talks about the importance of data aggregation and synthesis skills as a new competency for nonprofits.

Marnie asks a great question about the organizational structures needed to actualize abundance:

So, if we are building organizations on the abundance of goodwill, energy and eager hands — and if we are thinking of ourselves, organizationally, as platforms for change rather than agents for change. If we thinking that way, what are the organizational structures that we have to build?

In a follow up post, Marnie answers her own question or rather begins to noodle on it.   She says that organizations should support the good work that is happening elsewhere.   She uses the word “curate” which makes me imagine nonprofits as museum curators.     Museum curators have expertise in a particular area of art, they know the ecosystem around the art – the artists, the patrons, other collectors, and other museum curators interested in that art form.  When they create an exhibit,  they pick the best examples and put them together in a new and exciting way — the institution lends it support to give the works visibility.    The museum itself does not create the art, but puts into a context and connects with a broader number of people.

Marnie suggests that nonprofits need to bring curator skills to their program work:

This means you have to be able to find projects, you have to be organizationally egoless in finding out what you can do to help these projects, you have to be as non-disrutptive to the actual work as possible.

She also admits that shift from artist to curator is not an easy one for many nonprofits because of the way they are structured.

Nonprofits are built to take ownership of the tasks that lead to the change we are trying to bring about — the tasks of feeding people or providing job training ….  And, sure, those tasks need to get done.  But maybe we should start taking ownership of the impact and the change — describing it, pointing out the gaps, getting more resources to fill holes, and we should ask for more help on the tasks. We should find other people who are doing those tasks and build on it.

Marnie points out how nonprofits need to build out new structures so they  work effectively with “free agents” or as she puts it “enabling the energy around them.”   She describes this as part of the “gig economy” and gives us description of how these new nonprofit entities might work.   Sounds more like a network than an organization?

Nonprofits-as-venues needs to be about project curation but also about providing the support and structure that may be harder for free agents, individually or together, to do.   This may be things like seeking and managing funding, writing checks to necessary contractors or suppliers. But it might also be about long-term evaluations. It might be about stitching together the lessons and impacts of various projects to talk about a whole issue or present a picture of an entire community. Nonprofits can build a platform of community impact data and feed that back to the world at large — informing funding trends, municipal government decisions, and the next set of projects taken on by these collections of free agents.

Marnie has shared a lot here and it raises lots more questions than answers …

  • Is there a hybrid version where nonprofits do a combination of curating and doing?  Or are we talking about all curation?
  • What needs to change in the way that nonprofits are structured and their culture to make this happen?
  • Are there good examples of organizations working in this new way that can inspire us?

13 Responses

  1. marnie webb says:

    thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Beth. I think your questions are dead on — we do need good example organizations (I keep pointing to DC Central Kitchen as an example). And we need to understand the role curation and direct service each play and how they work together. I tend to think that a hyrbrid model is the way to go.

    I also think there are elements that fiscal agents have traditionally done that are a part of a new model.

  2. Evonne says:

    We’re required to be both spotlight-holders for our own work and spotlight-sharers for the partners and free agents who help us reach our goals. Curation and actively sharing in the success of others is a part of that!

    I think Jumo has the potential to be a spotlight-sharing service, but for now at its heart it is a passthrough donation engine to encourage giving to causes. It’s not set up for dynamic engagement, measuring non-monetary contributions or to help answer practical questions to make those goals real. In that way the Jumo creators are keeping it simple but maybe missing the real problem they could be solving: creating abundant partnerships between free agents, organizations and the people who are in the trenches daily. To do that Jumo would need more connecting tissue between people and a lot more heart in the way it tells these stories.

  3. Jane Gonzalez says:

    Thank you for this information Beth.

  4. John Rougeux says:

    Great points, Beth. Your example of a museum as a “platform” for sharing information and putting it in context is an interesting one. The example that comes to my mind is Microsoft’s transition from making custom software to building the Windows platform that allowed the PC industry to become what it was. I completely agree that so much more could be accomplished if organizations were less focused on “owning” projects they participated in.

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  8. This is a very different way of thinking about “abundance”, Beth, although what you said about thinking of organizations as platforms resonates with me, too. But I can’t easily turn off my “parent” side, and, so, for me, abundant thinking means saying “yes”–I find, with my kids, when I stop looking for reasons to say no to what they want to do, we all have more fun (and better relationships). In professional life, when I let myself say yes to the projects and people that really excite me, I find that I have more time to make things happen than I would have thought and, not surprisingly, that good things come my way. That doesn’t mean wantonly throwing myself at every request that comes my way, but it means not answering “busy” automatically, when someone asks how I am (because they might have an opportunity that’s really appealing, and because it’s just an annoying way to talk to people), and pursuing interesting ideas that don’t immediately reveal themselves to be “profitable” or aligned with my current strategies. I think organizations that embrace abundance are open to the serendipities of saying “yes”, too.

  9. One more thought on this, Beth (maybe our approaches to “abundance” are closer than I originally thought): if we turn our organizations into platforms that allow us to leverage the collective wisdoms and energies of others, then it creates the space where we can say “yes” to those opportunities that excite or challenge or inspire us. So, then, being organizations, and individuals, that view the world through a lens of abundance allows abundance to enter our lives, too.

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