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The Robin Hood Approach

If you didn’t catch the Robin Hood Foundation segment from the May 5th episode of “60 Minutes,” please take a few minutes to watch it below.  It is both revealing and inspiring.  And it speaks to the incredible achievements that are possible when some of the brightest and shrewdest business leaders turn their attention to our society’s most pressing challenges.

I’ve heard it said many times that “non-profits need to operate more like a business.”  And while there are numerous, critical differences between how profit-seeking firms and charities operate, I do believe that tactics proven through business successes also have application in the world of philanthropy.  Foremost among those principles is the simple practice of risk.  To be successful, you first have to try.

In his “60 Minutes” interview, Paul Tudor Jones shares the experience he had early in his philanthropic pursuits to turn around an entire class of underserved students.  His investment of huge sums of money failed to help those students achieve.  But he didn’t give up.  He put into practice the same resolve, discipline, tenacity and analytics that helped him achieve great things in business.  Ultimately, the outcomes improved, and today his philanthropic investments through The Robin Hood Foundation benefit from the development of best practices discovered through continuous trial and error.

The vast majority of non-profit organizations operate in a stiflingly risk-averse mode.  This is a largely a function of scarce resources available for ventures that may not lead to outcomes.  But the practice of risk-taking is not just about money.  It’s as much – or more – about having the courage to think differently.  This is where non-profits stand to benefit so greatly from highly-engaged members of the business community.  It’s why charities fill their Boards with CEOs and other senior executives of large corporations.  Pushing back against convention is what brought success to these individuals’ business ventures, and this same energy can bring about great strides in social enterprise as well.

Too many non-profit leaders fail to look beyond the fiduciary role of their Board members (particularly those who are business people) and truly engage them in conversations around mission advancement and problem-solving.  You would be surprised how anxious these individuals are to share what they’ve learned in business and to adapt those approaches to advance your cause.  In fact, isn’t one of the spoils of success knowledge?  That wisdom transfer is invaluable in a mission-driven environment where non-profit leaders need support and encouragement from their volunteer leadership to take appropriate risks.  Imagine the potential payoff.

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