Share Our Strength has been on an incredible journey of growth over the past few years. From 2008 to 2011, we’ve gone from being a $13-million organization to a $34-million organization. In the past year or so, we’ve more than doubled our staff size from 65 to 140.
But we have not grown for the joy of feeling bigger and more powerful. We have grown because we were determined to confront a social problem on the scale that it exists. We pledged to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. And we could not keep our pledge without growing.
This is the last in a series of posts that have attempted to tease out key ingredients from this exponential growth. Each of these posts has examined one of 11 key ingredients, each of which builds on the others and none of which would have brought successful growth in isolation.
These ingredients have not been rigorously evaluated in comparison to the experiences of other organizations. They are not “proven practices.” But they do reflect critical components of Share Our Strength’s story. For the past two years we’ve witnessed first-hand how these ingredients have translated directly into millions of dollars in increased revenue and measurably greater impact in the fight to end childhood hunger. This growth has changed who we are, how we operate and what we can accomplish.
I encourage you to review and reflect on the context – “A Look Back at Getting Unstuck” – and each of the ingredients we’ve explored together over the past few months:
- Take a “Leap of Imagination.” Acknowledge that “good” is not good enough.
- “Go Big or Go Home.” Commit to shifting away from short-term incremental progress and instead focus on long-term transformational change. Set a bold goal. And get your strategy right.
- Invest in capacity, because “Capacity Equal Impact.” Assert and defend the direct connection between your capacity and your impact.
- Invest in people first, because “Talent Trumps All Else.” Everything flows from it. Great ideas, great strategy, and great execution will not flow from a less than great team.
- Continue to invest in people, because “the most important audience for your new strategy is sitting next to you.” Unity and alignment does not just happen by itself. Others will not believe the credibility or the criticality of your strategy if your own colleagues do not.
- Relentlessly increase the number of shareholders that have a stake in creating the impact you seek. Actually changing the world takes a lot more than a small group. “Margaret Mead was wrong.”
- Build political will to amplify and scale your impact. “Social entrepreneurship without public policy is like a garage band without amps.”
- “Learn to play offense and put financial instability behind you.” Diversify your revenue stream. Be mindful and strategic with expenditures. Create Community Wealth.
- “Be collaborative but also competitive.” To compete at any level you must compete at every level.
- Hold yourself accountable to specific social outcomes. “Accountability is a powerful differentiator in a crowded, competitive marketplace.”
- “Pay attention to what matters most, not what others think matters most.” Donors, partners, foundations, and media do not always have expertise in solving the specific set of social problems your organization was created to solve.
In these posts, I’ve tried to codify some of what we’ve learned in the hope that it will be useful to Share Our Strength in our continued pursuits. But I also hope this series will be useful to others who devote so much of their heart and soul to working in a sector that is often frustratingly hobbled by lack of resources, tools, and training to get the job done. Some of those constraints will be easier to overcome by pursuing the paths described above.
There are of course many other necessary ingredients of success as well. They include all of the usual suspects: good customer service, strong execution, knowledge management, entrepreneurship, risk-taking, incentive compensation, commitment to staff development and investing in your team.
But the 11 ingredients listed above all contributed to our organization becoming more market-oriented and market-directed, leveraging the powerful market forces necessary to sustain and scale what works, and in some way compensating for the lack of natural markets that exists when working on behalf of those who are voiceless, vulnerable and marginalized.