Happy Birthday, America — with Lessons for Our Good Work

Happy Birthday, America. I must admit, on your 236th birthday, I’m concerned for your future – and I see lessons in your challenges for all of us who plan projects to help our organizations do their good work.

Principles that our country was founded on and that helped her grow into the greatest nation on earth are being severely challenged. What has happened to important concepts like civil debate and incremental change for the common good? Regardless of our political leanings, it should give us pause to consider.

Today rather than actively seeking out all sides of a debate and working to craft a ‘win-win’ solution, we’re seeing more ‘my way or the highway’, all-or-nothing demands that seek nothing from those who disagree other than surrender. And the cultural change in our expectation of how political processes work has caused us to forget how the U.S.A. was built into a country where when her doors were flung open, people flowed into the country and not out of it as is the case in so many other nations. Rather than seeking to take a step or two toward the world we envision, today we demand complete change – NOW. We’ve become a nation of emotional toddlers.

There are lessons in these challenges for us, who help our organizations do their good work in the world:

1) Seek to bring all sides of an issue to the table when planning projects, not just those who agree with you. While it’s not as comfortable or as fun as having everyone in complete agreement on how to approach a project from the outset, it helps ensure that your project won’t be damaged or even flat-lined by an influential naysayer down the road. As a former grantmaker, I’m suspicious of proposals that contain no discussion of the project’s potential challenges or that show no evidence of having sought out a logical variety of partners for the project.

2) Plan your projects in small steps — and leave something for a future project. Most grantmakers prefer to fund a new project — or some type of expansion of an already-successful project. Not many want to fund ongoing expenses for a project previously funded by someone else. So think of your next project as just one building block on the path to fulfilling your organization’s mission, and leave something to ask for tomorrow. Ask yourself, “What will I ask this grantmaker for next time?” and build your proposal to prepare that pathway.

Happy Birthday, America.

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