It is not hard to slip into a scarcity mindset this time of year. The world can seem flat when we get tired. (Luckily Memorial Day Weekend is right around the corner!)
Which brings us to Part 2 of our conversation about the scarcity trap. I wrote last week about the research on how poor people make decisions. I imagined how this research could inform how we work with small, underfunded nonprofits. Specifically, what if we could take what we know about tunneling, slack, and bandwidth in poor people and use it to set small nonprofits up for success.
- AUTOMATE GOOD DECISIONS
People who exist “within the tunnel” have a hard time making good choices. They don’t have the luxury to stand on that proverbial balcony and look over all of their options. They see what is right in front of their face.
How do we put something in front of their face when they are ready to see it?
How do we help them to “opt in” to what we want them to do, to their benefit?
Forms: The IRS revised the Form 990 in 2013. In doing so, they took steps towards automating good decision-making by including a list of board best practices on page 6. I train people on nonprofit finances. Folks generally want to answer “yes” to questions on official documents. Simply including that list improves nonprofit behavior.
Fees: Every nonprofit in Washington pays a fee with their annual corporation registration. A portion of this fee is returned to the sector through basic training. While an individual nonprofit may not choose to invest in learning, that investment is made for them. They can access free, low cost, and on demand learning only possible because of pooled funds.
Some new ideas:
Nonprofit Kit: “I’ve been running this nonprofit for five years. I wish I knew that there were resources to help me!” (said at least 50 people when they discover that there is a state nonprofit association.) Once an organization is founded, it is up to the founders to scramble and find everything they need to know. Many of them have no idea that there is an array of organizations that exist to support them. The Nonprofit Kit (or “Nonprofit in a Box”) idea resembles the correspondence kits of the past, or the kits that a school classroom receives when kids are studying one aspect of science. Why not deliver (via email or hard copy) the basic lessons and tools of nonprofit governance to every new nonprofit in the state?
Nonprofit App: Want to add meditation to your day? There is an app for that. Need a book from the library? There is an app for that. Want to modify a photo to add a mustache to your cat? There is an app for that. Need to add reflection, tools, and a modified agenda to your nonprofit life? Not an app for that. But there could be.
Video games: 65% of households in the US have at least one person playing video games 3 hours or more a week. 31% of gamers are female, and they are on average 37 years old. 1 in 3 Americans over 50 play video games. Social interaction is a primary reason people play. (Research here.) Imagine 1 in 3 Americans playing “Call of Duty: Animal Rescue” or “Grand Community Impact.” These people are potential board members. There is no better way to put something in front of their face and have them “opt in” to learning than to show up where they are.
- SAVE TIME
Having time begets more time. By reflecting, being careful, and doing something right the first time, we save time. Not having time means no deep thinking and long term planning, which shortchanges us later on.
How can we help nonprofits save time and build slack into their schedule?
Document vaults: Don’t make nonprofit people ever have to look for stuff. I know that there are a million ways to write a job description or a conflict of interest policy. But when you need to get started crafting something, you really only need 2 options to look at. There is a lot of research around narrowing choice to get better decisions. Putting what they need right where they will find it saves time.
Online learning: People are busy. They want to learn when they want to learn, not when we are offering a workshop. Much of what they want to learn can be considered “on demand” knowledge, meaning that they need to know how to fix their bylaws when they are ready to fix their bylaws. They want to know how to raise money because they need money (now). We can save time by creating tools for them to learn online—with ways to bring these tools into their meetings for deliberation.
Micro-learning: Time often shows up like pocket change, not enough to buy a sandwich but valuable nonetheless. Micro-learning takes many forms, but the main purpose is to deliver important, needed content in small form. One idea that I am playing with involves cards with discussion/idea prompts inspired by these Behavior Change Strategy Cards by Artefact Group. We know that boards and staff could probably squeeze 10 or maybe 15 minutes into their meeting? How do we help them to use that time for learning?
Go local: Every time we save them travel, we save them time. Rather than having big statewide events, go as local as possible without sacrificing quality.
- REDUCE BANDWIDTH
There is only so much information your brain can process. We spend just as much effort managing bandwidth as we do time. Having a lot of information to process can have the effect of making us dumber.
How do we narrow the amount of information people need to know?
How can we simplify to environment in which they are working?
Networks/communities: Nonprofits working alone need to know everything. Nonprofits working together need to know whom to call when they need help. The more we invest in networks or communities of nonprofits and in the leadership programs that shape cohorts of leaders, the more we can manage the limited bandwidth issue.
Nonprofit “on call”: You don’t need to know right now how to dissolve a nonprofit. You need to know that when your nonprofit about to dissolve. Why take up brainpower with information that is rarely relevant to the average organization? Having a quick response “doctor on call” system allows leaders to focus on the most important issue in front of them now.
Capacity building collaboration: Let’s face it. A lot of confusion is created by all of us trying to help. The more the individuals and organizations trying to help nonprofits collaborate and communicate a clear message of who does what, the more we save bandwidth for nonprofit people who have a lot more important things to do.
Good communication starts with consideration of the receiver. Powerful education is anchored in the learner. Effective programs are designed around the end user. With the vast majority of nonprofits being small and undercapitalized, it seems like small innovations on our part could go a long way in helping them thrive.