Start where you are (with what you’ve got).

Plans are important frameworks for overall direction and strategy – but, as the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with the customer…

So we are really talking about culture here: that people within an organisation feel the ability to spot, develop and pursue opportunities (in line with the mission), to take and be comfortable with risk (and reward), to be creative and problem-solve, to be flexible and responsive in their approach. – Nick Temple, Social Enterprise UK

Some of us are prone to making big plans and then not knowing where to begin while others plod along without knowing exactly why or where they’re headed. Neither approach serves us very well. But “starting where you are” is actually very challenging.

Part of the reason it’s so challenging, I think, is that there often isn’t much to work with at the beginning when a social enterprise is not much more than a powerful feeling that something needs doing that either isn’t being done or isn’t being done well enough.

But somtimes, we have more to work with than we realize. For example, I had a very nice experience this past week when a colleague visited my new enterprise work site. As I explained my hopes for the project, I found myself focusing on the complications, obstacles in the way of getting to the bigger vision. After I finally exhauted myself, he just smiled and said, Look around you, you are not just occupying this space but “activating” it already. You’re doing just fine. Keep going.

I had to admit then that a lot has been happening. There’s movement every day. It may be tiny increments and not always be tangible but things like conversations that spark insight into your purpose or a new take on how you’re doing things, or meeting new people who may turn into essential supporters, allies or partners down the road are a vital part of any business’s development.

Resources are generally thin at the beginning of any project. To build them up, you need more than good ideas and good will. You need to look at what you’ve got like fuel. Good experience  directly relevant to your project establishes your qualifications. Do something with it. Anything, no matter how small. This will demonstrate not only what you want to do but also that you’re committed.

My friend showed me that it’s important to get your feet wet. If people see that you’ve waded in and haven’t found it either too cold or too hot, it doesn’t matter so much what you say or if you say it well or poorly. You don’t have to convince anybody. Your actions speak for themselves. And they’re likely to respond with what you need whether that’s for them to jump in with you, throw you a line or lend you a boat.



What is social entrepreneurship?

social enterprise word map
In the term “social enterprise,” what is the right balance between the “social” (mission) and “enterprise” (profit)?

A lot of people are saying that the key to sustainability in the non-profit sector is entrepreneurship. Centres for social innovation (CSIs) are popping up like mushrooms and “social enterprise” is all the buzz among granting agencies and foundations.

Closer examination reveals a lot of fuzziness around the term “social entreprise;” it means very different things to different people.

For some, entrepreneurship is a generic term associated with energy, innovation and commitment. It’s about drive and the ability to build organizations or even whole movements. Without doubt one has to be a go-getter to champion important causes, often swimming against the current, and have fantastic networking and organizational skills to make real progress. The Ashoka Foundation favours such an  all-encompassing approach, defining Susan B. Anthony as an entrepreneur for her tireless work establishing the equal rights of women.

For others however, entrepreneurship sticks closer to its business roots; it’s about applying business principles and methods to the social, non-profit, field. Charging admission, running a gift shop, perhaps creating your own products, are traditionally part of the non-profit mix of self-generated revenue, and the entrepreneurship here lies also in managing these functions in terms of cost and return, applying business measures and keeping them profitable, etc.

Yet another interpretation, sees social enterprises as businesses that have a distinctively social purpose. Examples on the Ashoka Foundation website include the Montessori school system and the first school for nurses set up by Mary Montessori and Florence Nightingale respectively. It is not necessary that they are profitable or profit-driven; they can be otherwise supported (by the state, individual or corporate patrons, etc.).

Yet for others, entrepreneurship is a precise business term. It means starting and running a business, an enterprise. The word “social” in “social entrepreneurship” means that the business is run by, within or under the umbrella of a social, non-profit, organization and revenues support the social mission of that organization. “Some have advocated restricting the term to founders of organizations that primarily rely on earned income – meaning income earned directly from paying consumers.” (ref: Wikipedia “social entrepreneurship”)

I favour the latter definition. To my way of thinking, the broader interpretations of “social entrepreneurship” confuse things. They seem to be intended more to make the non-profit sector sound better, more exciting, or more like the business community to which it must increasingly turn for support as state funding diminishes and the more traditional forms of patronage become obsolete.

Good things always  come from introducing new language, new ways of talking about what we do. The introduction of terminology like return on investment (ROI), profit and loss, measures and milestones brings clarity to non-profit management, while also making it easier to show potential partners, sponsors and supporters what it is that an organization does.

I hope to follow up this post with some good examples of some different kinds of social enterprises. In particular I will be looking for examples of real businesses operated by non-profits in order to generate income to supporting their social purpose.



Our “there’s only one pitch” pitch.

When it comes to fundraising, how you present yourself is key. Clear and concise is what you want. This is about a succinct as it gets.

  1. This is who we are
  2. This is what we do.
  3. And we’re good at it.
  4. We have a challenge, born of opportunity.
  5. If we seize it, magic happens.
  6. Which benefits all of us.
  7. We’re almost there. (what we have accomplished/raised already)
  8. You have what’s missing.
  9. And this is what we can do together, starting here.

From Geoff MacDougall‘s One Pitch web page:

Allies or associates? Challenges facing representative organizations.

The American Association of Museums recently changed its name to the American Alliance of  Museums.

What’s in a word? Quite a lot as it turns out. From the AAM’s website:

“The change from “Association” to “Alliance” may seem simple, but it embodies the organization’s primary mission as it grows into its second century.

“By definition, an alliance is an entity forged for the mutual benefit of all,” said Meme Omogbai, chair of the Alliance board of directors and chief operating officer of the Newark Museum in New Jersey. “That is the essence of the new American Alliance of Museums – to re-ignite an organization into one whose aim is to benefit all: our museums, the individuals who work in them and the communities they serve.

“With the adoption of the Alliance strategic plan in 2009 – dubbed ‘The Spark’ – the organization systematically surveyed the range of its membership to determine how it could best serve America’s museums.  This feedback informed an entirely new museum membership structure and a new Continuum of Excellence. Details for both the three-tiered membership structure and the Continuum of Excellence are available on the new Alliance website (

The new museum membership structure reflects the Alliance’s belief that it needs to be more inclusive. Uniting the field is a priority. Among the changes they have created a basic membership tier designed for the thousands of smaller institutions in the U.S. to  “pay what they can,” mirroring the inclusive policies and practices of museums large and small to promote community access and build audiences. They have also created what they call the Continuum of Excellence, a mark of distinction obtained through accreditation. This process has also been designed to encourage wider participation, with the goal of both building membership and promoting the  credibility of museums generally to both government and the public.

In my view the most profound impact of the name change is in the word itself. “Alliance” presumes an agreed upon agenda serving common interests. It’s an active word. Allies do things. They have loyalty, a common purpose and they work together where they have a common goal. For associations, while they may do exactly that in practice, or aspire to, the word “association” is much more passive, bureaucratic sounding. It conveys credibility via status (“Look, we’re an organization!”) instead of action.

The AAM name change is an excellent response to shifting economic and political forces. American museums, like others in the arts and culture sector, need to strengthen their presence, which requires better, more professional and effective advocacy.

In Canada, associations in the arts face challenges that name changes alone cannot address. After a period of unprecedented government support over the past five decades – the exception being that terribly dark period in the mid-90s – representative associations in Canada have grown in number and size. Within the past few years however, the federal government has been rolling back its support. Through the Canada Revenue Agency, it has sounded warnings about active lobbying, casting a shadow across a role that many associations, and in particular their members, assume to be their primary purpose. The federal Department of Canadian Heritage last year de-funded the Canadian Conference of the Arts, whose historical raison d’être was to advocate on behalf of the arts. Last year the Department also reconfigured how it supports the Canadian Museums Association, moving them from operating to project-based funding, forcing them to run harder after less money.

Both moves suggest that government wants to get out of the business of funding representative organizations in the arts. They may well be looking for comparison at other industries where it is much more common for businesses and individuals to finance their organizations out of their own pockets. Notwithstanding the policy pros and cons of change in government’s approach, it is a model worth considering: independent financing gives representative organizations a degree of autonomy that is both liberating and energizing. Members expect to their organizations to get them somewhere when they are personally paying the fare.

Published by ASAE; 152 pages; ISBN: 0880343567

But government funding is only one, and possibly the least, of the challenges facing Canadian associations today. The Canadian Society of Association Executives recently sent an email with the provocative subject line: Will Your Association Still Exist in 5 Years? The email was announcing a new publication, Road to Relevance. While changing an association’s name is not likely to be included among the five strategies for relevance identified in the book, becoming more effective by actively aligning communities of interest in the way the AAM is doing, must be.



Capturing organization history

It has always been challenging for arts organizations to write and then keep their histories current:

  • Organizations are paid to deliver programs today, not reflect on the past, so there’s precious little time to dig around in the archives.
  • Organizations don’t usually have a historian or archivist on staff either. Sorting out what’s important from the dross of organization work is difficult.
  • The purpose of a history is rarely clear and never urgent. For grant applications, it’s useful to have a brief description of the organization that includes when it was founded and perhaps its original mission, but beyond that the usefulness of a fuller history is not readily apparent. Who started an organization, their motivations and how the organization evolved over time appear to be of mostly academic interest.

Pit these arguments against those in favour of having a good organization history and keeping it up to date:

  • As they say, those who ignor history are bound to repeat it. Organizations often repeat the same cycles over and over. Usually they are aware they are doing it but also feel stuck, helpless to do things differently. To do things differently, you need to see what was done before so you can identify where it tripped up or failed or where the cycle repeated instead of moving forward.
  • All kinds of goodies are likely buried in your organization’s archives, including hand written letters and notes by prominent community members, fascinating reports on particular dramas or crises, plus charming vintage logos and graphics and nostalgic photos, all of which serve to bring history alive in the present. They show the organization’s depth and add immeasurably to its value.
  • The better the history is, and the more people who have read it, the more likely it will be carried forward through stories and anecdotes to new and younger members, again adding depth to everyone’s experience of the organization.
  • Organization history is the substance of organizational confidence. Strutting your stuff is just hubris if its not backed up by a track record that extends beyond your most recent (albeit amazing) accomplishments.
  • One of the more important, but often taken for granted, roles of organizations is to work together with other organizations. Networking, collaboration and partnerships are more than popular buzzwords, they are actual measures of organizational effectiveness. An organization’s history will show evidence of the networks it belongs to  and how it functioned in them, providing good guidance for present-day community initiatives.

Conclusion: Invest in your history and you are investing in your organization’s health. The rewards may be difficult to measure but they will be unmistakable when you learn to see the effects in the depth of programs, quality of governance decision-making and membership participation.


Language and leadership

This recent article in the Toronto Globe + Mail suggests that women tend to use “we” more than “I” and that this works to their detriment in terms of leadership. According to author Leah Eichler, founder of Femme-o-Nomics,”we,” when used by a woman, may indicate a lack of confidence or indecisiveness, a need to defer to others for decisions. Men, who are most often responsible for promoting staff up to leadership positions, recognize and value the “I” language they associate with male leadership, even when it is used by women. However, the writers quoted in the article also say that this is changing, that management styles are becoming more horizontal (favouring more collaborative sounding “we” language) whether used by men or women.

Is it the language itself that is at issue here or is it more a matter of who is using which terms? Would a man using “we” instead of “I” be similarly regarded as weak leadership material? What happens where senior managers responsible for promotion are women? Might a man using the word “we” be taken to be assuming too much, exceeding his authority by over-identifying with the group or the organization?

To ask the question is to acknowledge only that gender politics in management is complicated. It is no longer a world of uniform magisterial codes where one pronoun, singular or plural, fits all.

For reference

Books mentioned in the Globe article:

Deborah Tannen, Talking From 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, How Women Mean Business

Lynn Harris, Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading in Today’s Organizations,

Is your non-profit ready for the new federal and Ontario not-for-profit acts?

Federally-incorporated not-for-profit associations and organizations need to check their bylaws to make sure they conform to the new Not-For-Profit Corporations Act and re-file their governing documents. The good news is there’s time if you get started now. The bad news is this is not optional. Failure to file what are called Articles of Continuance will result in your organization ceasing to exist on October 17, 2014.

For Ontario-incorporated organizations, there is similar new legislation, but it is coming on more quickly, by January 1st, 2013. Fortunately, Ontario organizations are not under threat of extinction; the new Act will be deemed to override any provisions in existing bylaws that are not consistent. That doesn’t mean assuming governing bylaws are fine because they may not be; Ontario non-profits would also benefit from conducting a bylaw review and making changes as needed to comply with the new laws. Some pointers on how to proceed are outlined below.

While the long-promised Ontario transition guide has still not materialized, the federal government has provided the Act and Regulations and a Transition Guide here:

Act available here:
Regulations available at:
New forms and guidance from Corporations Canada:

A special workshop on how to review bylaws and bring them into compliance hosted by the Canadian Society of Association Executives covered the changes in the Act in detail, pointing out where to look for discrepancies in bylaws, but also outlined an excellent, thorough process that any organization would benefit from.

Michael Anderson, CSAE’s Executive Director, presented the process CSAE is going through as a model. The process, he said, will:
– Require a strong and dedicated effort
– Involve experienced volunteers and senior staff
– Take longer than expected
– Use agendas carefully crafted to keep the work moving forward
– Quickly capture changes to ensure accuracy
– Review proposed changes at each meeting to ensure consensus
– Regularly brief legal counsel, who are clear about their role as advisors, not leaders of the process.

spreadsheet for not-for-profit bylaw evaluation
Michael Anderson showed this sample of a spreadsheet the CSAE is using to methodically evaluate and modify their bylaws.

The CSAE is being very methodical, using a spreadsheet to evaluate their bylaws clause by clause.

All federally incorporated not-for-profits are encouraged to get started as soon as possible because most  will need their members to approve bylaw changes and there is usually but one opportunity a year for that, at the AGM, so members will need one meeting (2013) to discuss proposed bylaw changes, and then another (2014) to approve a final version, in good time for filing of Articles of Continuance by October 17, 2014.

Sure this is all pretty daunting, but “hope is not a strategy.” Being pro-active is, and a thorough bylaw review can be a healthy and rewarding experience for any organization.