Thinking Small and the Role of Nonprofits

Thanks to Michele at the Bamboo Project for a great post that got me thinking more and more about thinking small.

I’ve just been having some thoughts about organization growth.  If a nonprofit is not growing, it is considered to be stagnant.  If it’s shrinking, it’s failing.  A growing organization can serve a growing number of people.  Moreover, the bigger the organization is, the more funding it has coming in, making it more stable.  Bigger is therefore always better.  So I’m led to believe.

Tanker and Tug, photo by ccgd on Flickr
Tanker and Tug, photo by ccgd on Flickr

It’s just that with any big operation, be it a government’s military, a University, or an organization, it turns into a complex machine.  The inputs get farther and farther separated from the outputs as workers specialize; the grants and funding aspect in particular takes on a life of its own, and it builds up some serious momentum and stability to keep on going.

To my eye, there are a few major weaknesses in this plan.  The first is that a large operation is much more difficult to change quickly.  The second is that the specialized workers easily lose sight of the big picture.  The third is that more funders have more influence over what the organization does and how.

Maybe I’m a control freak.  Maybe I’m young and foolishly impatient.  Maybe I’m using a poor metaphor when I state that I would rather captain a skiff than a tanker.  I know a tanker holds more people, but that’s another thing, and maybe the crux of it for me when I think about it: you notice if someone falls out of the skiff.

The Ideal Orientation

I just co-ran a medium-sized national service Orientation today.  Objectively, I think it went well.  It did what it needed to do and ended, all in one pleasant day.

Our goals were to convey a whole lot of information, get some paperwork done, set the tone for the year, and foster community.  And we definitely accomplished those things.  Subjectively, however, I’m not totally satisfied with it.  I just think we could have done them all more effectively with more time, and that an orientation to this kind of job should be more than a day long.

I feel like national service isn’t just a job; it’s a really special, intentional way to spend a year.  It frustrates me to not give people more time to ask questions, engage in meaningful dialog with each other, and get to know the program in a more leisurely way.  My ideal Orientation would not be just an introduction to their year; it would be the beginning of it.

Michele Martin summed it up for me when she wrote just yesterday:

Training shouldn’t be an event, but a process.

Yes.  Process.  Exactly.  It’s the difference between planting seeds and nurturing them.

In Emily’s ideal world, a training would be a greenhouse.

Social Media as Fruit Bowl

A common response to all the social media options out there is feeling overwhelmed.  I think people start feeling like they “should” be using all of these new tools, and the rate at which the perceived to-do list lengthens is a little alarming.

So far I haven’t been overwhelmed at the huge variety of options out there.  Don’t get me wrong – I do indeed get stressed when I see the tasks before me growing exponentially.  It’s just that I don’t see social media options as a to-do list at all.

I see the options more as a bowl of fruit:

  • There are lots of different, enticing choices that I can mix, match, taste, or avoid as I see fit.
  • It’s right there, just hanging out and waiting for me to partake.
  • It’s yummy and healthy.  Why not try some?

Do you see social media as a bowl of fruit?  Do the options stress you out?  How can we reduce social media’s overwhelming-factor?

Facebook is Not a Mini-Skirt

I was talking to my mom about Facebook the other day.  She said she’s not on it because it would be creepy and tacky if she were.  It’s not for middle-aged women, it’s for young people.

She said that when she was younger, she would see middle-aged women wearing mini-skirts as though by wearing the clothes of young people they could be young again.  They thought it was working.  She said it was kind of horrifying to see, and that she swore that when she hit middle-age she wouldn’t do ridiculous, age-inappropriate things as some sort of weird effort to hang on to her youth.

I very much respect that my mother doesn’t wear mini-skirts, and I really appreciate being around someone who was stoked to turn 50 and who fully embraces and celebrates her age.

But mom, Facebook is not like a mini-skirt.  It is not just for kids.  Yes, it’s possible to use it distastefully, i.e. friending 13-year-olds you don’t know, or posting pictures of you and dad totally wasted.  But you can use it to connect with old friends from previous jobs and schools, to support causes you believe in, and to keep with your daughters’ profiles!  It can really be useful for anybody.

I think that’s one of the beauties of social media in general – you can use it to act your age.

If it’s not like a mini-skirt, what would you liken it to?  How does the message of welcome get to people who think this is not for them?