Grow With the Flow
Focus on creativity
Encouraging the right mindset, whether at nonprofit or for-profit organizations, often is a matter of visualizing tangible goals. For instance, Ross is a big fan of the way 3M Corp. encourages creativity in the workplace.
“They have a simple goal,” he says. “Every two years, 20 percent of their products have to be new products.”
For the most part, nonprofits don’t have to invent new products, but they do have to be flexible enough to come up with new ways of doing business as the world around them changes. Ross’ favorite example of this dilemma is Amnesty International, which still is adjusting to the new world order triggered by the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
“The bad guys in the Soviet Union had a bureaucracy,” Ross says. “They’d lock up political and religious dissidents, and Amnesty would write thousands of letters protesting the violation of the prisoners’ human rights.
“But things are different now,” he adds. “Who do you write to about human rights violations in Rwanda, and how do you protest terrorism? If we knew where bin Laden lived, it would be easy, but he’s not collecting his mail.”
In other words, a nonprofit organization, whether its goal is to save a painting or save the world, has to guard against adopting a rigid mindset. If it doesn’t, it is likely to be blindsided by forces it didn’t anticipate, because the world is always changing.
The mother of invention
Ross cites Greenpeace Argentina as a nonprofit flexible enough to overcome adversity. The organization at some point realized many donations sent through the mail were being stolen, so its managers bypassed Argentina’s notoriously unreliable mail delivery system by switching to online transactions.
“Instead of getting depressed about not being able to do direct mail, Greenpeace Argentina is doing the most interesting Web-based work anywhere in the world,” Ross says. “Instead of being blindsided and saying we can’t do direct response, the manager said, ‘How do we make that work for us?’ The whole organization is online.”