Thursday, March 01, 2012

The high cost of "success"

I've been aware of the reality for quite awhile now. 

And, that fact doesn't make it easier or more comfortable to write about it! 

You see, the truth is in my world, the non-profit sector in a city like Dallas, the more success you enjoy the higher the stakes for survival!  Yes, that's right, survival. 

Most entrepreneurial leaders and endeavors understand the risk and the necessity of what I call "strategic over-extension."  You take risks to achieve significant gains.  You decide not to "play it safe."  In my case, the needs of hurting people fuel the risk taking, at least in part.  I'll grant that some portion of the approach is defined and shaped by who we are as individuals.  Personality types, strengths and weaknesses, psychological makeup, experience in life, all play a part in one's leadership style and pace.

Over-extension leads to more funding.  More funding leads to more people engaged both in terms of meeting needs, strengthening communities and organizing low-income folks for action and growth in confidence and self and collective efficacy.  More impact in these areas leads to more attention from other non-profit organizations and leaders and more place in local media. 

Success leads to options for partnerships.  All these factors combine to push growth.  As the growth track continues, you find yourself pushed up and out even more.  In due course, the process repeats itself in something of a dynamic swirl, but with even higher risks and stakes.  The cycle upward can repeat itself again and again, depending on how much risk a leader is willing to take, as well as how much stamina he or she draws upon. 

Outsiders who observe the growth part of the process begin to make assumptions about organizations that grow, innovate and expand.  At the top of this list of assumptions is the notion that the growing, "successful" organization has everything under control, needs very little to continue and can be regarded as established and without need. 

Of course, nothing could  be further from the truth! 

The more an organization grows, increasingly taking on higher stakes risks, the more that organization needs entrepreneurial investors, supporters and partners. Rather than seeing "successful" organizations as the most logical place for continuing investments, many folks turn to smaller organizations or to "start up" efforts, I suppose in the hope that such groups offer new solutions or easier access for personal engagement.  Closer investigation of the older, larger organization will dispel such myths.

Other observers lead their own non-profits.  The smaller nonprofit organizations approach often to investigate the prospects of receiving assistance from larger organizations in one form or the other.  At CitySquare we like to remain open to such collective efforts, but the assumption that we are "flush" with readily available resources is far from the truth! 

We encounter these realities again and again.  As a result, we continue to adjust our approach to resource development.  We keep trying to find new venues for telling our story.  At the same time, we reach out to trusted, long term partners to keep them posted on our successes, but even more on our struggles. 

An example of our dilemma can be seen in our current efforts to develop a new community, one-stop-shop resource center in historic South Dallas-Fair Park.  Located at the southeast corner of I-30 and Malcolm X, we call it the Opportunity Center.  We are in the midst of a $13 million capital campaign.  At the same time, we are attempting to fund an annual budget of even more than that! 

Forget our success to date.  We find ourselves in an updraft of real risk:  we need help! 

Sure, we've enjoyed some success and we've touch and lifted thousands of people since our beginnings in 1988.  But, still, we don't have everything figured out! Not by a long shot.

We continue to need loyal, long term investors.  We need partners.  We need new sources of funding.  We need help building viable, conservative cash reserves--an unheard of luxury in many anti-poverty organizations. 

So, don't be fooled by our appearance or our supposed milestones. 

The game is not over. 

The deal is not done. 

And, most of all, we need the help of people just like you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mo' munay, pleeuz!