Social Sector


As social sector enterprises, many of us work on the frontier. We address problems so big, complex, under-represented, or unique that business has seen limited ways to monetize a return on investment. So, we work at the edges of the map, cobbling together resources, scouting the landscape, engaging those with news from different geographies and cultures. It is not an romantic endeavor but a commitment of community. We invest, partner, fail, endure, and succeed.

How might we learn from the leading practices of a frontier mindset? How might we correct course before we adopt a perspective that we are first to encounter the challenge and there is only one approach to move forward? How might we set other up for success and be of service?

Human Needs Translated to the Social Sector

Tony Robbins proposed there are six human needs. He defined them as follows:

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

If we overlap the six human needs with the social sector, there are interesting alignments.

Certainly= endowment, balance budget, founder still engaged, sustainability, cautious resource allocation.

Uncertainty/Variety= Executive Director transition, new program launch, board member rotation, deficit budget, mergers, new grant application

Significance= awards, accrediation, recognition from political and business leaders, bequests, waiting list for board service, sold out programs

Connection= strategic partnership, social media followers, gala fundraiser, requests to partner with other organizations, online groups

Growth= capital campaign, hire more staff, expand geographic service area, expand board, new organizational lifecycle

Contribution= annual report, services and programs, community engagement, grants, financial aid, free programs

What would you add to the list?

Aspiration to Transformation

Larry Page stated he would rather donate his estate to Elon Musk than a charity, triggering a compelling conversation.  Just ‘doing good’ is not sufficient to be a beneficiary of other people’s treasure.  Our work in the social sector is being measured against the progress of innovators and impact of entrepreneurs.  We can claim to inspire but do our aspirations result in transformation?

If you we are asked to present our work in a show-case showdown against other enterprises in our community and region would we be able to articulate our niche.  Would the investors on Shark Tank fund our project?  

I do not suggest that we turn to business metric in mass.  Permission to pause and preserve the landscape that serves as our backdrop is critical, even when its existence is hard to quantify.  We select arduous journeys and attempt to scale peaks that are compelling because it alters something inside of us.  As extreme athlete and runner Kilian Jornet said, ‘A summit is a memory.  It is an emotion stored within us.’  The summits I have occupied in my life continue to echo.  The more challenging the climb, the closer the memory (even if I laid on my stomach to look over the precipice).