Social impact and mission myopia

Image Credit: Sam Catchesides

The origin of this post first came out of reading Marketing Myopia, a Harvard Business Review classic from 1960, for my MBA Venture Analysis course. But the theme comes up over and over again for me. Good drill bit companies don’t sell drill bits, they sell holes.

Focus on the purpose, not the product.

An aside: Yesterday was the final day of the third core course in the Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement program I’m taking. The course, Citizens Engaging Citizens: Issues and Practices, was facilitated by Charles Dobson, author of The Troublemaker’s Teaparty: A Manual for Effective Citizen Action and The Citizen’s Handbook, both great resources for social changey types, especially Canadian ones.

Part of our work today revolved around ideas that people had for citizen to citizen engagement in their own lives. We were outlining goals, objectives/campaigns, strategies, tactics and actions. The hard part was the objectives bit.

People were often inclined to describe a project output (product) as an objective. For example, “the objective of this project is to create a community asset map/hold a conference for animal rights activists/make Trina chocolate cupcakes.”

However, the true objectives were often related to a change in attitude, a change in relationships, a change in state: some sort of social impact.

Social impact ≠ output

Social impact does not occur because a video gets produced, an art project is implemented, a conference happens, or Trina gets her chocolate cupcakes. Social impact occurs and is measurable because change happens.

If organizations frame their mission, or plan their projects, around an output, measuring success is a check box. Did the the conference happen? Check. Did the asset map get created? Pat on the back. Did the resource get published? Can I has some more funding puleez? Did Trina get her cupcakes? Where are my bloody cupcakes?

If organizations frame their mission, or plan their projects, around an output, they risk becoming irrelevant to their clients. Times change. People change. Needs change. Focusing on the output, the program, the product, is what I call mission myopia: Losing sight of what is really important, and not adapting to the needs of your clients.

Does your organization sell drill bits, or holes?

Instead of the product, think of the need of your clients, your community, that you are satisfying. If you want to create a community asset map because you want to increase community connectivity (which would be important to define before you get going, btw), success should not be defined by the creation of the map.

I would challenge the above in this manner:

  1. If you created the map, but community connectivity didn’t increase, would that be success?
  2. If you increased community connectivity, but the map didn’t get done, would that be success?

Organizations that sell holes would agree with #2.

Practical Implications for the BC Society Act

Making sure your organization defines itself by its clients’ interests rather than a specific program description is incredibly important when writing out the purpose of the organization in your consitution as a part of registering under the Act. If your purpose is related to selling drill bits instead of selling holes, you may find yourself operating outside of the realm of your constitution as times change in the future. Find out more about appropriate purposes in Appendix A of Information for Incorporation of a British Columbia Society (pdf).

Read more on social impact

Other Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance articles on social impact:

Anyone want a strategic management report?

This summer I’ll be completing some of my last master’s courses to complete an MBA in Community Economic Development. One of the courses, Strategic Management, requires a final project that assesses a variety of characteristics of an organization. I’ve figured that rather doing a report for distant company or organization XYZ, I’d like to do one for a nonprofit that might find value in the results of the report.

The topics the report that I need to produce for this course include an overview and analysis of topics such as:

  • Organizational life cycle
  • Organizational and governance structures
  • External operating environment
  • Financial indicators
  • Operational strategies
  • Marketing, financial, and research & development strategies
  • Leadership
  • Alliances and partnerships
  • Performance measurement tools

The report will include suggestions for changes (if any) to strategy or structure that may enhance the success of the organization in fulfilling its mission, along with a time frame for these changes.

There is no limit to the type of organization, but the organization does have to be large enough to have a variety of programs/activities and possible partnerships. I also need to have access to financial statements.

Obviously this report is limited in the sense that I am expected to include pre-determined sections, whereas an interested organization may only want a few areas to be examined. I could provide a complete or abridged report if this is the case. Or perhaps an organization is willing to support a graduate student by providing information to help inform such a report without any interest in the actual report.

In any case, if this is of interest to you and/or your organization, be in touch by the beginning of July.

Twitter: An engagement tool, not a fundraiser ticket-seller

I’ve had multiple conversations with friends and former colleagues about Twitter recently, particularly it’s use in promoting special events. (Who hasn’t? To be honest, the number of blogs and articles about Twitter could make a person twvomit. So now I’m adding to the gag reflex. Alas.)

Most of my responses follow along the lines of a phrase I hear over and over again on Twitter from people like @rootwork. Twitter is a tool, not a strategy. Twitter-less doesn’t necessarily equal boat-missing.

Should we use Twitter to help sell tickets to our upcoming fundraising event?
What’s your online relationship with supporters? If you communicate with donors, volunteers and other supporters through good old Canada Post, Twitter is probably not the next logical step to communicate with them and get them to buy tickets.

But we want to connect with new supporters too. What about Twitter for that?
Are possible new supporters on Twitter?
If you want them to come to your event, or if your cause is a local one, you’re likely looking for geographically-close people. Geographically-close Twitter users. If you’re trying to raise money to build a knitting museum in small town Salmon Arm, BC … sorry, my Grandma’s not on Twitter. (Actually, my Grandma probably wouldn’t come to your event anyway.) However, your target demographic might be a nice fit with Twitter users (Gen X and Y communicators, on average).

So how do I reach out to these possible new supporters?
Engage them. Add value. If your Vancouver-based environmental organization is having a fundraising event at which young local “green” entrepreneurs are being recognized, you’ll need to build a Twitter following that includes people that are into this sort of thing. To do this, you’ll need to tweet about things and be a part of the conversation related to corporate social responsibility, environmental issues, entrepreneurism, etc.

I need specific examples. Vague phrases like “adding value” and “engagement” are annoying.

  • Tweet about interesting articles you have read (eg More demand than supply for green graduates – Vancouver Sun
  • Support others doing similar good work by tweeting about them (eg Vancouver entrepreneur wants to “green-up fleet vehicles”
  • Find people on Twitter that are already tweeting about this stuff, follow them, and hope they reciprocate (eg do a Twitter search of “environment vancouver” or “green vancouver“)

Alright, I think I’m ready. Giddy up!
Whoa. Keep in mind that Twitter takes time and effort. Do you have someone at your organization that has room in their workload for this? Many people and organizations that sign up for Twitter are excited at first (like Oprah and her followers) but soon tire of it and quit. Your reasons for using Twitter should go beyond just selling tickets.

For more ideas: