A Question of Scale
As we approach the end of our fifth year of philanthropy as Catalyst one of the things we are becoming more confident about is how we are best able to help. We’ve had experience with charities large and small, some brand new and others with long established history. We’ve also done some things that have worked out quite well, and others we hope to never repeat. One of the things I’ve begun to understand is that the way we seek to raise the bar on leadership doesn’t work with every organization. There are particular stages of development where we can be most impactful, and situations where we probably can’t be of much value. For example, while we have much appreciated our work with World Vision Canada over the last several years, we understand that our budget and expertise isn’t enough help Canada’s largest charity make significant strides forward. Instead, we’ve connected with the Canadian Programs department, where the fit seems to work. In a different way I’m realizing that there are some charities that function largely as the personal project of a single founder, often as a meaningful retirement project. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of projects some of these organizations can complete. Their leaders are inspiring, entrepreneurial, and unburdened by a lot of bureaucracy as they pursue their dreams. They are skilled in leveraging their personal networks and can work very closely with a small core of donors who are engaged with the founders energy. They just get stuff done. The challenge for me is that these types of organizations are so dependent on their leader, and the opportunistic style of leadership that is usually at work, that it can be quite difficult to clearly understand the vision and strategy involved. The role of the board of directors tends to be little more than satisfying legal necessities and adding their own wealth and network. If not for the regulations surrounding charities these would be exciting start up companies driven by strong personalities, who are simultaneously the strength and the limit of organizational capacity. As long as the founder maintains interest and ability there are likely to be some great stories to share, though leadership transitions are predictably challenging. Catalyst is rooted in that kind of entrepreneurial vision. We are realizing that unless we add solid strategy and necessary infrastructure we too can be hard to understand and explain. We’ve determined that to fully realize our dreams we need to refine our approach and be able to satisfy the expectations of both additional donors and the charitable sector. It’s going to take some time, but there are things we’re beginning to roll out in the next few months that will help us grow to increase both impact and joy. Do you know what needs to happen for your organization to fulfill your dreams? Are you putting enough strategy and structure in place to get there? What kind of growth is right for you? Will you be able to keep your current staff and strengths or will they prove to be your weaknesses at some point?