A lyric in one of my favorite Avett Brothers songs (featured in Tim’s Library – Songs - April, 2010) states:
"When you run, make sure you run, to something not away from”
It’s a lesson I’ve had to remember many times in my life.
The first that I recall was quitting cigarettes. Like most smokers, I’d quit several times unsuccessfully. But this time I convinced myself that instead of “stopping”, I would start running which I’d done as a kid. The result was simple – every time I ran, it made it harder to think about smoking again.
And I had a positive goal; first 500 yards, a week or two later a mile, until over a year or so I’d ramped up to 2-4 miles every other day which I did for 23 years. (My knees gave out, now I bike.)
“Run to – not away from” has come up again over these last four years as we’ve continued to build The Business of Good to a more scalable level.
In 2007, our foundation had been around and helpful in serving those who serve the poor but we suddenly had more money to invest in our mission.
My first thought was to build a non-profit business center – bricks and mortar; a place where non-profits who served the poor could pay reduced rent and enjoy shared services to decrease their operating expenses.
As is my custom from a career in marketing, we first did the research and found this idea has been done many times around the country. In fact, there is a national non-profit business center network started by the famous Tides Foundation in San Francisco.
So for more than a year, we met with interested non-profits and developed strategic plans, drawings…..we even hired full time people and bid on a building to rehab. Eighteen months into our work, we’d spent tens of thousands of dollars. In the end we found that “serving those who serve the poor” was not fulfilled by spending millions in becoming (essentially) a landlord. We had to stop.
When you run, run to something not away from…….
In a board meeting, my good friend, Carl Walter said, “Why don’t we forget bricks and mortar and instead build a series of strategic and business services?”
He titled this idea the “Virtual Social Business Center” and we started running to it.
In the couple years since, we’ve made three major thrusts to the virtual center and away from the bricks and mortar:
1. We built a series of filters to be sure we were working with the right non-profits.
2. We collaborated with several consultants and educators to find people we could “bring to the party” rather than hiring our own full-time advisors.
3. We created a process from which strategic plans can be built.
But after another eighteen months of development, we found the idea was no more scalable than our bricks and mortar idea because we could only provide our own counsel. We needed more. So, again, after a ton of investment, we felt we had to stop.
When you run, run to something not away from……..
Early this year our director, Bill Leamon, nailed it. He said, “Let’s pursue a ‘non-profit navigator network.’” It’s just a project name for now but Bill is pointing us in a direction that brings together all the learning we’ve had over these four years of chasing our dream.
Here’s the simple explanation.
In trying to develop the Virtual Social Business Center, we found that it takes a village to raise a functional non-profit. That is, no one entity holds the key to assure the success of good ideas in the social business world. (Not even The Business of Good. J)
There are non-profits that need better guidance.
There are universities that want to foster more and better social business ideas.
There are grant-makers who want to fund social businesses.
There are businesspeople who would like to provide guidance but don’t know how to get involved.
We have a government that wants to invest more effectively in social business but doesn’t know how to.
If only they could all find a way to collaborate more effectively.
And so that’s what we’ll “run to” for the next couple of years, at least. We’ll find a way to create a network of like-minded people from all these groups who are willing to collaborate. Our job is then to convene them and facilitate their collective efforts.
Our first efforts are around micro-enterprise lending and keeping first generation college students in school through an internet based mentoring program. We are experiencing some early success.
So, whether you’re quitting smoking or trying to serve those who serve the poor, the Avett Brothers’ advice applies.
Don’t think about where you’ve been, except to learn from your mistakes. Think instead about where you want to go.