Even When You Have All the Resources

Traveling to Seattle this winter, I had the privilege of meeting with experts in the world of early childhood education. Their knowledge, curriculum maps and facilities are among the best in the United States. One of the major supporters of the school’s work at the pre-school level is the Gates Foundation. Over lunch, one of the leaders remarked how the the original intention of the Gates Foundation was to reform the public school system. The foundation’s financial grants and programs were transformative in their size and approach. What the Gates Foundation did not anticipate was the general resistance to change in the education system and the obstacles created by bureaucracy. After evaluating their impact, the foundation decided to change its strategy. It did not leave the field of education but rather jumped forward on the timeline to focus on opportunities within early childhood education. The reception to their efforts and programs has been dramatic. They are now collaborating with the leaders in the field to create new programs and share their discoveries.

Sometimes all the money in the world will not help you meet your mission (do not tell your Director of Advancement or Development) because the obstacles that exist are not ready to budge. Seth Godin describes this as the ‘Dip’. If the Dip is too big you may never get to the other side during your organization’s life cycle. If the Dip is not big enough, then lots of organizations can get to the other side and your enterprise and its programs are no longer remarkable. But you can look for a new entry point. For the Gates Foundation, the move upstream, closer to the educational headwaters shifted the educational paradigm. The foundation’s mission did not change but their approach did.

Is your organization committed to executing your mission despite the resistance and results? How do you evaluate how your organization might best achieve its mission? Are you finding the best place to cross the swift current?

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