Is your nonprofit constantly looking for more money to do its good work? Do you have enough employees to get all your work done? Would you say your nonprofit has abundant resources to accomplish its mission? The answer might surprise you — you may have hidden resources.
I recently read the e-book The Abundant Not-For-Profit by Colleen Kelly and Lynda Gerty. Their organization, Vantage Point, has discovered hidden resources that will not only create abundance for nonprofits but will also raise entire communities to higher levels of prosperity.
This secret resource is people — volunteers. But not your mother’s volunteers. Vantage Point has taken the traditional model of people engagement and turned it on its side. They even go so far as to say that volunteerism is dead — at least the way we usually think of it. Their contention is that nonprofits that rely on money alone will wither.
Finding New Ways to Stretch the Budget
They use terms like “people lens” and “knowledge philanthropy” to describe new ways of approaching old realities. In fact, the new ways are actually the old ways when you consider the roots of the nonprofit sector stem from volunteers performing significant roles.
So, instead of focusing on what appears to be lacking: money, the abundant nonprofit finds ways to focus on what is available: talented people. Using this approach, nonprofits can stretch their budget to achieve their mission.
A popular author many of us have read, Parker Palmer, has a powerful perspective of abundance and scarcity. He explains, “It is difficult to trust that the pool of possibilities is bottomless, that one can keep diving in and finding more. The irony is that by embracing the scarcity assumption, we create the very scarcities we fear. In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store.”
Our community is full of talented people who are passionate about nonprofit causes and want to donate their time and talent, but there’s a disconnect. The old way of giving volunteers menial tasks doesn’t interest today’s citizens. They want to contribute something meaningful — their strategy, their expertise, their career skills. They want to make a real difference in organizations and in their community.
Jim Collins in his monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, states that “the number one resource for a great social sector organization is having enough of the right people willing to commit themselves to the mission. The right people can often attract money, but money by itself can never attract the right people. Money is a commodity; talent is not. Time and talent can often compensate for lack of money, but money cannot ever compensate for lack of the right people.”
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County — A Local Example of Abundance
We have a real example in our own community of an organization that moved from scarcity thinking to an abundance approach: the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Our Foodbank’s success story is actually featured in The Abundant Not-For-Profit.
I spoke with the Foodbank’s CEO, Erik Talkin, to find out more about his experience with this radical model. Talkin started with the mission statement.
Reinventing the Mission
Talkin believes food banks have, for too long, acted as a band-aid on the problems of food insecurity and hunger, doing just enough to keep the situation under control, but not enough to provide long-term solutions to the problems. He also understands talented people want to be involved in a cause that is achieving tangible results.
To attract community support and involvement, Talkin led the revision of the Foodbank’s traditional mission statement from one that focused purely on the negative of hunger to a new focus on not only ending hunger but creating a positive expression of health and good nutrition that is of equal interest to the entire community. This small change has been a critical step in shifting the organization’s focus to moving people from hunger to health.
Gradually, all of its programs are evolving to balance short-term hunger relief with long-term solutions, such as food literacy, education and empowerment. The Foodbank has a national award-winning series of children’s programs, Feed the Future, which start this self-empowerment around food in preschool.
Their new mission statement is: Ending hunger and transforming the health of Santa Barbara County through good nutrition. We serve the community as a leader and expert in improving the nutritional health of our county through increased food security. Talkin explains the Foodbank’s focus is on community leadership, an approach to volunteerism that gives real power and responsibility to volunteers and puts them on a similar footing to employees — they are just paid with other things besides money.
“Equipped with a new, inspiring mission,” Talkin states, “we decided to view volunteers differently than we had before.”
He and his team rejected their traditional practice of only engaging large numbers of volunteers as surplus labor.
“We began deliberately delegating power and responsibility to people in the community," he said. "We invited them to take a chunk of doing something — whether it was acting as an advisor or running one of our programs.”
As a result, today many programs are led by passionate people from the local community — and a wide range of new knowledge philanthropists are contributing to the mission.
“By broadening our talent team, we’re evolving the concept of what a food bank can achieve,” Talkin said.
Inviting Community Members In
Talkin is convinced the solution to nonprofit abundance does not lie in raising money alone, even though it is much needed. Rather, he is reinventing the work of his organization through a dedication to community leadership, which ironically is both a cutting-edge approach and a return to the original nonprofit model.
Irecently answered the call to volunteer at the Foodbank, sorting food into bags to be delivered to various retirement facilities. I was surprised to discover that the woman in charge of directing the work of the volunteers was a volunteer herself. She is in charge of the team of volunteers.
Transforming the Role of Salaried Employees
Through this model of community leadership, volunteer engagement no longer exists within the silo of one person’s responsibility. Rather, each salaried employee is responsible for delivering more than they can possibly achieve on their own — creating a gap between resources and expectations that can only be filled with talented people from the community. Employees now engage knowledge philanthropists in ways they had not previously imagined possible.
This empowerment of employees has changed the organizational culture in very specific ways. For instance, employees no longer regularly approach Talkin asking for additional resources.
“Employees now understand if their department requires something, it is largely their responsibility to generate it,” Talkin says. “They go the extra mile and figure out how to get people involved to make things happen.”
Results Speak Loudly
Over the last five years, Talkin has led the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to:
» Create more than 30 specific roles for talented knowledge philanthropists
» Engage the entire management team in the change process
» Quadruple the number of programs in the last two years, with the same number of salaried employees — thereby increasing organizational sustainability
» Increase ability and resources to scale educational programs across geographic areas
Clearly Talkin has transformed the Foodbank into an excellent example of Collins’ philosophy that “the number one resource for a great social sector organization is having enough of the right people willing to commit themselves to the mission.”
We are fortunate to count the Foodbank among our many wonderful Santa Barbara nonprofits.
Biographical Information for Erik Talkin, CEO of Foodbank of Santa Barbara County
For the past five years, Talkin’s goal has been to help the Foodbank become an organization that moves people from hunger to working to attain nutritional self sufficiency and health — both for themselves and their communities.
Prior to the Foodbank, he spent six years as the executive director of the Community Kitchen of Santa Barbara. He has a background as a writer and filmmaker and served as a principal in two production companies.