Friday, November 30, 2007

5 Problems I Have with the Non-Profit Industry

Every 'how to blog' post recommends writing lists with titles like the one I gave this post. It's supposed to bring in traffic--and it does work. Does that mean I should only talk about what can be said in a list? Or that I should spend hours reworking a topic into a list? Do you feel I've tricked you with this title if I don't follow through with a list? That's the point. It's a formula. It works. But that doesn't make it good.

Something is bothering me about this whole non-profit industry. I read a lot of blogs about non-profits and we belong to an association or two. The bloggers promote books, schools and software about the best formulas for fund raising, PR and marketing. I get 3 or 4 emails a day inviting me to a local seminar on the secrets of grant writing or how to use social networking. More formulas.

Yesterday, I got a friendly note from a local non-profit. When I went to their website, the list of staff seemed huge for what they do and how old they are. And then there's the Red Cross. These well-respected non-profits follow the formulas and get the funding.

Is anybody doing the work? How many on the staff of the typical non-profit ever spend time with the people the non-profit is supposed to be serving? And what about those who want to do something really world-changing but aren't very literate or can't afford a seminar? If they can't pay someone to write a snappy grant proposal, do they get funded? All the guidelines for fund raising say philanthropists want to see a proven track record, good governance, measurable objectives. That means a lot of new ideas don't get considered. Sure, there's fiscal sponsorship. But we just discovered that concept two weeks ago. How is someone without many resources but with a passion to serve supposed negotiate the maze?

It seems to me that a lot of good is not getting done because non-profits have become big business. Valuable money and other resources are going to support the bloat rather than the mission--no matter what the published ratios say. When there is debate concerning several organizations who are rating the charities, something is wrong.

To help us with Scrollworks, we have purchased some books like "Fund Raising for Dummies". I tried to follow their steps, but it just seems wrong. So many of the requirements go against my gut instincts of what we should be doing. It's great to have a plan, but it isn't great to spend three years coming up with the plan--and the bureaucracy that supports it. It seems better for our project to sketch out a plan and then be ready to adjust instantly to what we encounter in real life.

Perhaps that means we will struggle for funds. So be it. Are there any donors out there willing to risk their money on an experiment? I don't know. I think the potential benefit makes the risk worthwhile. We need about $85,000 for the first semester of Scrollworks. I'm donating my IRA to get us started. That should be about $35,000. Hopefully some others will understand what we are trying to do and chip in.

And I am going to be thinking about the big business of non-profits. Maybe we need the charity equivalent of the Grameen Bank--some place where people can easily and quickly get funding to try a new idea. After all, it's like what Nick says about the orchestras: it's a numbers game. We need to start 300 students to get 30 into orchestra. We need to try 300 ideas to get 30 that change the world.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


'Courage is love as action--love on her silver steed, forcing change in the world, rising to challenges, negotiating life with skill, and confronting others with care and wisdom. The qualities that courage draws upon--hardiness and resilience, as well as the ability to bend and alter course when faced with difficulty, to commit oneself to a cause, and to find inner power during times of pain--are all associated with mental health. We need a deep, tensile strength to face the tough times in life, to speak out persuasively against injustice, and above all, to love others wisely and well. To love at all is a risk that requires courage--we risk our safety, letting ourselves be raw and vulnerable; we accept our share of compromise and weather disappointment and despair...

Courage takes many forms. For some, it means changing the world, even risking one's life to do so. For others, it requires standing up for oneself, speaking out in your own relationships...

Courage is the hallmark of every human who has changed the world, from Jesus to Joan of Arc...

Courage comes from the Latin for "heart" (cor). Courage is also contained in the word encouragement--literally, giving heart to another...

Hardiness is the core trait of courageous individuals...hardiness is composed of the three C's of courage: commitment, control, and challenge.'

From Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Power Move

"The first move that sets these energies into motion, like cutting a stretched rubber band, has been called a “power move” by systems thinker Barry Oshry. The power move then is one in which tremendous energies are unleashed.

What’s more, it is usually an individual who, waking up in the middle of the night, gets the idea that he or she must do something. Oshry claims that this thought of what to do comes with great clarity—and is often seen as a betrayal. (As Oshry points out, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat and Yitzak Rabin are good examples of leaders who went beyond their official mandates in order to change a situation that was dramatically stuck. All three were shot for their troubles.)

The first move, an act of self-nomination, is profoundly undemocratic. It is “paradigm shattering” because it changes the rules of the game. It is a move made by an individual tired of endless committee meetings and discussions that change nothing. It’s the move made by someone who is profoundly tired of being subject to power, the logic of which is beyond their rational understanding (think of all those moments of anonymous bravery during periods such as the Holocaust). To make the first move is to risk everything; it is to make the ultimate wager.

Fraught with risk and danger, the first move is made by someone who sees, in a moment, that he or she actually has the capacity to change a world. The defining act of leadership, the first move, increasingly, is rarely practiced by those who call themselves leaders and is more frequently found amongst those that don’t."

"The defining moment in the life of any group is that historic moment where they are called to act in an instant, with perfect trust and co-ordination."

From The Six or Seven Axioms of Social Change: Margaret Mead's Gift by Zaid Hassan

Core Practices of Life-Affirming Leaders by Margaret Wheatley

A summary:
Know they cannot lead alone.

Have more faith in people than they do in themselves.

Recognize human diversity as a gift, and the human spirit as a blessing.

Act on the fact that people only support what they create.

Solve unsolvable problems by bringing new voices into the room.

Use learning as the fundamental process for resiliency, change and growth.

Offer purposeful work as the necessary condition for people to engage fully.

Ambiguity and Uncertainty

Ambiguity and uncertainty are befriended in this work. To follow a sense of calling, in the company of others, aware of a diverse world, from a spiritual center and with an awareness of assumptions, is to let go of control. There is simply no other way. Doing all of those things throws the doors of ambiguity and uncertainty wide open.

A choice each of us can make is whether ambiguity and uncertainty open a pathway to fear or a pathway to balance. When we think we are supposed to be in charge, when our self-confidence is based on being able to predict what will happen and how things will turn out, then ambiguity and uncertainty usually invite our fear to rise up and bite us.

When we are able to release ourselves into the uncertainty, we are invited to become explorers, to discover what lies ahead as we work with others to create that future. Cire Kane put it well:

“Today, the path is still unclear. It is literally invisible, and yet my heart is often being moved and my soul split open. My lovely work is taking me every day on a journey of new experiences. These experiences are opening my heart to the unimaginable beauty of life and community around me. Every day I awaken to a new day. I go out into the world with a feeling of excitement and joy and a feeling of being at home, everywhere in our diverse supportive community. I do my work with engagement and joy, with lots of downs and still many ups. I break for prayer, sometimes meditation, often to be with my parents or to hang out with friends. I love my work. I love my community and I love the life I’m living. I will persevere through uncertainty and fear about my ability to carry out the mission before me.”

-Landmarks for Leaders by Bob Stilger

Two for Scrollworks

Learning the Score by Alex Ross

Slouching Toward Flatland by Zaid Hassan

These two articles are amazing. Read them if you're interested in our Scrollworks project.

Puppies Play Games, People Play Music

Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark has a chapter on the scientifically proven benefits of feeling gratitude. Henry Fountain writes in the New York Times about his attempt to keep a gratitude journal.

Jennifer Crossley reviews Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks in the Shoals' Times Daily. This book demonstrates that music is inextricably part of being human. It seems to me that we are making a serious mistake by putting it so low on our educational priorities. Our sports undoubtedly hearken back to the universal competition for food and territory, and the instincts and strategies involved are also primitive. Puppies play games. Music, on the other hand, is intertwined with language as higher-level skills not available to even our nearest primate relatives. Dr. Sacks describes research showing that infants have a grasp of music and rhythm, but the Thai Elephant Orchestra really does not. Our society will have achieved true maturity when we see children eagerly turning in their cleats and bats because they choose to play in any kind of music ensemble--and they are widely celebrated for their choice.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Love is a Rose

I am now reading Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark. This book is full of scientific research confirming the health and mental benefits of giving. I became interested in this subject after reading that research indicates that givers receive back $3.25 for every $1 they donate.
The preface by Reverend Otis Moss, Jr. says all that needs to be said:
When you are in a desert, plant a rose. Plant a rose of liberation. Plant a rose of peace, a rose of reconciliation, and a rose of faith, hope, and love. And the desert will blossom.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lighting up the brain

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks emphasizes the importance of music to our humanity. In writing of the range of musical talent, he states:
"It has been said that even a brief exposure to classical music can stimulate or enhance mathematical, verbal, and visuospatial abilities in children--the so-called Mozart effect. This has been disputed by Schellenberg and others, but what is beyond dispute is the effect of intensive early musical training on the young, plastic brain. Takako Fujioka and her colleagues, using magnetoencephalography to examine auditory evoked potentials in the brain, have recorded striking changes in the left hemisphere of children who have had only a single year of violin training, compared to children with no training."

An article by Matthew Westwood in The Australian quotes Clive Robbins, a music therapist:
"When we are involved in music, more areas of the brain light up than in any other activity," says Robbins, who was visiting Australia last week from the US. "We are so full of rhythm and pitch," he says, emphasising the intonations of his speech...
"Somehow, music is all about companionship, even the infant babbling with its mother - it's a very early form, an innocent form, of companionship - all the way to sophisticated chamber music, where people are living in the almost chess-like intricacies of composition.

"Why music? All the intricacies of our minds, and our needs from the basic to the highest, are there in music."

I cannot think of anything I have heard or read that denied there were benefits to music education. Please let me know of any such arguments. I'd love to look into them.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saving Children

Marie Leech's article in the Birmingham News about the many gaps between Birmingham schools and the suburban schools-performance, technology, etc.--makes our efforts to kick off the Scrollworks program in January seem timely and even urgent. If we can duplicate the results of El Sistema, the benefits to the children are clear:
"...students who go through the sistema become more productive and responsible members of society...
...Studies link participation to imporvements in school attendance and declines in juvenile delinquency. Weighing such benefits as a falloff and school dropout rates and a decline in crime, the band calculated that every dollar invested in the sistema was reaping about $1.68 in social dividends." (New York Times, 10-28-07)

"...the most important aspect of El Sistema is that it is literally saving children's lives.

Every one of them has a story to tell. "I'd either be dead or still living on the streets smoking crack like when I was eight," said a french horn player.

"I'd be like the other 17-year-old girls in the barrio - hanging with the gangs and pregnant," said a violinist.

"Joining the orchestra changed not only my life but my whole family's. My father was drinking far too much, and my brothers had dropped out of school. When I got hooked on my instrument, my father stopped drinking and, one by one, my brothers went back to school," said a trumpeter...

...Wouldn't it be marvellous if some big organisation - for example, one of those same tabloids that delight in lurid headlines such as "Anarchy!" and revelations about the sex lives of Big Brother participants - decided to back a scheme like this and make a real difference to our children's lives?

Any takers?" (Julian Lloyd Webber,, 9-6-07)

We've got teachers. We've probably got a location. We've got a budget. Now all we need is funding.
We'll get back to you on that!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Two Kinds of Youth Orchestra

I've just watched the 'Tochar y Luchar' DVD for the third time. Looking into the eyes of those children, how can we not bring this here, bring it to every child?

Which is better?
A youth orchestra that impresses because the parents sought out and paid for the best instruction, the best instruments; because the students practiced many hours at their parents' behest or to satisfy their own ambition; because each member strives to be better than the others, waiting with churning stomach for the results of the latest competition.

A youth orchestra that lifts up the heart and spirit of the audience because the students can only afford to give their own heart--and give it all; because the students practice the music for the love of it and perform with passion for the beauty of it; because the orchestra members care for each other and help each other succeed.

I believe there is a place for both kinds of youth orchestra. But I also know that the second orchestra conveys significantly more benefit to its members, its audience, our society, and the world. And it's the kind that we will strive to create. Join us.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The total sum of stories people tell about you

Simplified Map of London
Originally uploaded by Nad
Nick recently had a 'state of the orchestra' discussion with MYO. One point he made was that the orchestra and our organization must serve the needs of everyone involved. A show of hands demonstrated that only 10% of the members plan to major in music. The rest are participating for other reasons. It will be impossible for us to serve every need at every rehearsal and performance. We hope we will be able to serve them all over the course of the season. (Talk to us about it any time.)

The "Really Terrible Orchestra" has obviously filled a need for its members. What's amazing is that its '"really terrible" concerts are always sold out. So it must fill an audience need as well. To me, this orchestra and its followers are an example we should follow. Maximizing the joy of music throughout the performance hall is what we want to do more than anything. If there is a slip in formality or a dip in quality, but there is that spirit of joy bonding the musicians and the audience, we have been successful beyond measure.

As we are developing Scrollworks and telling you all about it, we are examining our core beliefs. Doing what is right is the essential principle that led us to found this organization. Good things have followed. From the Church of the Customer blog:

The best PR comes from the smallest of actions by the root-level people. They smile when they first meet you. They call you by your name. They compliment competitors. They don't blame you for their system's misgivings. When forced to make a decision, they always, always, always do the right thing, even if it's not in the economic or political interests of their employer. They break the rules when it's obvious they must.

That's real PR. It's the total sum of stories people tell about you.

I was glad to see that my niece, Lauren Hewson, completed her obligation to the Estes Park cross-country team despite not enjoying the sport.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Enthusiasm and momentum.

"Enthusiasts believe that the best way to predict the future is to create it." --Stephen Covey

I apologize for the lack of posts. MYO, and now Scrollworks, is never out of my thoughts, but I have been consumed by major life adjustments: learning, growing, and changing. The trigger was the book "Life on Purpose" by W. Bradford Smith, which I thought was going to be pop-psych fluff. Assumptions can be dangerous!

For those who need it, "Why Does He Do That?" could literally be a life saver. This is helpful, too.

I am tremendously grateful to you all, but especially to those who have extended open ears, open arms and open doors. Thank you. And Nick, you're the greatest.

"It’s time for us to shift from despair to dreams."--Peter Gorrie paraphrasing Chris Turner here.

Look out, Scrollworks, here I come. We've got momentum. And we are unstoppable.
"When you can give yourself to work that brings together a need, your talent, and your passion, power will be unlocked." --Stephen Covey

Anyone who's paid attention from the beginning of this blog will know my reaction to the war on whistle-blowers. My heart goes out to anyone in any job who decides to go that route without knowing the facts:
Whistle-blowers lose their cases, the investigation shows, nearly 97 percent of the time. Most limp away from the experience with their careers, reputations and finances in tatters.
And, of course, SBYO grabs attention again:

"The way the Venezuelans play music is exactly how I always thought it should be played," says Joshua Weilerstein, a violinist at the New England Conservatory who was invited to join the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra's current tour after two previous trips to Venezuela. "I think American musicians are incredibly enthusiastic, but there isn't a desperation about the way we play. [The Venezuelans] play as if their lives depend on every note. There's complete passion."

There is also a sense of collectivism and common purpose that might be sacrificed in an emphasis on individual training. "In Venezuela, the most important thing is the orchestra," Mr. Dudamel told The Independent in September. "You create a community, a shared objective."

There's just too many kids slipping through the cracks, not just with health insurance, and food, but with food for the soul, something they desire in equal measure.

And still more:
In selecting Dudamel, the L.A. Philharmonic is also allying itself with a uniquely successful education initiative, of which its new music director is the most illustrious product; this week the philharmonic will announce plans to inaugurate a program, “Youth Orchestra L.A.,” that is directly modeled on a Venezuelan prototype. Youth Orchestra L.A. will begin with youngsters between the ages of 8 and 12 in a disadvantaged district in central Los Angeles, but its ultimate goal is much grander: to provide a musical instrument and a place in a youth orchestra for every young person in Los Angeles County who wants one. Borda says that she was inspired by her visit late last year to Caracas. In vivid contrast to the situation in the United States, where arts-education programs have been snipped from school curricula as unaffordable frippery, the Venezuelan system provides a place in an orchestra for children, no matter how poor or troubled their backgrounds, throughout the country. And the results have been astonishing. I asked Borda if she was surprised by anything she had seen during her Venezuelan visit. “I didn’t imagine I would be in tears as much as I was,” she told me...

...Unencumbered by family obligations or material possessions, he has dedicated himself to a utopian dream in which an orchestra represents the ideal society, and the sooner a child is nurtured in that environment, the better for all. Sometimes Abreu emphasizes the spiritual enrichment that music brings to the individual; at other times, he points to evidence that students who go through the sistema become more productive and responsible members of society.
The most remarkable feature of the Venezuelan music-education system is its instant immersion: the children begin playing in ensembles from the moment they pick up their instruments. Their instructors say the students are learning to behave as much as they are discovering how to make music. “In an orchestra, everybody respects meritocracy, everybody respects tempo, everybody knows he has to support everyone else, whether he is a soloist or not,” explains Igor Lanz, the executive director of the private foundation that administers the government-financed sistema. “They learn that the most important thing is to work together in one common aim.” Across Venezuela the sistema has established 246 centers, known as nucleos, which admit children between 2 and 18, assign them instruments and organize them into groups with instructors. Typically practicing for two or three hours every day, the children are performing recognizable music virtually from the outset...