Ever since our founding, everything about Creating the Future has been an experiment to discover and share systems (i.e. “the way we do things”) that bring out the best in everyone. With that mandate, one of the systems that has repeatedly cried out for change has been the variety of systems for funding social change.
Because we are not just experimenting out in the world, but, importantly, experimenting on this organization itself, we have wrestled with what this means for our own funding.
If our mission is to help build a more equitable, humane, joyful world, what systems would align our funding / resource development with those lofty ends?
With equity as such an integral part of our mission and values, are we willing to sacrifice those values in the name of “survival,” to participate in a funding system that is actually creating the mistrust, competition, scarcity and fear our mission intends to correct?
We have tested and demonstrated that the heart of the resource question lies in the principle of Collective Enoughness that is at the heart of our work – the knowledge that together we have everything we need. That has certainly proven to be true during the formative first few years of this effort, where support has appeared when it’s been needed, over and over again.
An angel investor who provided much-needed start-up funding without our even asking for it (an angel in so many ways!).
A small inheritance that allowed one of the founders to infuse cash when it was needed.
And a broad community of individuals who give of their dollars, their wisdom, their sweat.
On January 1 of this past year, after six years of building the foundation, we launched the 10-year clock of our mission. That step has included a great deal of reflection about what we’ve learned from the approaches we’ve taken during these formative years.
One thing we are realizing is how much good has come from our determination not to seek traditional funding. Had we sought funding in those early days when we had no track record, the most we might have raised would have been a few thousand program dollars here and there. That small amount of money would have required tremendous dedication of time and energy, both in seeking the funds and reporting on the use of those funds. And the moment one grant was gone, we would have been back on the hamster wheel, chasing our tails as we chased after funding. Every moment spent on those activities would have been moments NOT spent on delivering on our mission.
Instead, we have spent these years experimenting, learning, sharing what we learn, building community, building programs and participation in those programs, and making a difference in people’s lives.
Now, as we step into the build-out of our mission – with the 10-year clock officially ticking – we have a track record. We have relationships. We have growing awareness of our efforts to recreate everyday systems so that “the way we do things” in workplaces, communities and life in general is “being the joyful, humane world we want to see.”
Towards that end, we are exploring what systems would best scale Creating the Future’s mission from a founder-driven effort to become a global network for change. And that means diving back in to the discussion of funding.
Taking a 3-Pronged Approach
This summer, what began as a small group having casual conversations about these changes became weekly meetings, focusing specifically on the funding part of the equation.
Catalytic Thinking has guided these conversations, as we have considered what is possible, and listened deeply for the values we want to uphold. What is emerging is a plan for three distinct approaches that both fit with our values and help us make huge leaps towards our mission.
Funding Approach #1: Increase earned income by expanding education programs
To date, in addition to the infusions of cash noted above, Creating the Future’s efforts have been supported via program revenues. This is truly our mission in action!
Solidifying our education programs is not an expansion strategy; it is a strategy for keeping current bills paid – a critical component for furthering our mission!
That said, a large percentage of our education offerings are free how-to videos and blog posts. In addition, teaching our workshops and online immersion courses requires a degree of intensity for which tuition alone could not fully compensate our faculty. And tuition for current classes obviously cannot provide the capital for significant expansion of those educational offerings.
Expansion of our earned income is therefore a critical mission-driven strategy for keeping our current work flowing, while simultaneously expanding the ripples of our mission and solidifying a base level of programming.
Funding Approach #2: Partner with Institutions for Specific Program Needs
To expand our current programs and to begin building new programs, we will be seeking foundations and other institutional partners who see that expanding our programs may benefit their own programs.
Examples might include the infrastructure to expand our free educational video library, or a reboot of Hildy’s “Making Change” podcast about the factors that create social change. It might include providing infrastructure to expand our educational offerings overall, or the build-out of our website to help people find each other within the Creating the Future ecosystem. In each case, we will look for situations where expanding our programs benefits our potential partner – a real partnership rather than the norm of “silent financial partner.”
There are so many forms this might take. Perhaps providing our educational or convening programs within their environment. Or doing a pilot project together. Or maybe even a direct grant to expand our programs. Once we begin exploring this program-by-program approach, we will know more about what is possible.
What we do know is that each of these programs has a proven track record, which makes partnering possible. Without that, we would be in that hamster-wheel situation of inequity and power dynamics, asking people to take on faith that these innovative approaches work. Having invested our own time (and dollars) in turning our theories into practical, repeatable results, we are now able to come to the table as equal partners. The key will be to stay true to our values while acknowledging that many of our potential partners are stuck in their own systems – systems we may be able to help them move beyond.
Focusing on true partnership (vs. the transactional approach of seeking funding) will be another example of accomplishing our mission while supporting the mission. This approach is also critical for moving these programs beyond the founder-driven model, to build systems for delivering programs more broadly.
And as we document what we learn from this approach, other groups can apply that learning to their own situations – significantly multiplying the mission impact of our efforts.
Funding Approach #3: Partner with Innovators for Our Whole Mission
Lastly, we will begin building relationships with partners who get excited about furthering the big, hairy, audacious goal of our larger mission.
This will mean exploring who is doing innovative work at the edges of “social change,” moving the definition of that term beyond specific tax statuses and specific missions. Finding that nexus where “changing how we think” and “translating changed thinking into action” is the heart of our mission to change systems!
Partners who are eager to explore that biggest possible definition of our mission may provide funding, and they may provide other resources – skills, thought frames, life experience. The practice of Collective Enoughness teaches us that focusing on money as the end goal (and seeing relationships simply as a road to money) creates scarcity. And that focusing on whole people – with their passions and wisdom and experience – creates enoughness in more ways than we can imagine.
Like the other two approaches, simply having those conversations and building those relationships is our mission in action – accomplishing our mission while supporting the mission. And again, as we document what we learn in those relationships, we will be creating mission benefit as people apply that learning to their own situations.
The last week in August, our ad hoc team will gather in person, spending several days applying Catalytic Thinking to build out the plans for these approaches.
As we use Catalytic Thinking to prepare for that planning, we will be asking, “What could this planning make possible? For whom? And what are the conditions that will lead to that success?”
Logistics are making it tough to stream live this summer, including the fact that Hildy is on sabbatical. We will be sharing our work in as real-time as possible, though, posting the recordings of those shorter meetings, plus summaries of our long days of meetings, all right here at the blog.
Because this is an experiment, and we are all exploring together, we invite you to add your wisdom to the mix.
- What funding / resourcing approaches have you seen, that avoid the power dynamic of “He who has the gold makes the rules”?
- Do you have ideas beyond the three we’ve shared here, as broad-stroke approaches to take to funding our build-out?
- As you read these approaches, what questions arise for you? The more you ask, and the more we practice answering, the better we will get at articulating what we’re aiming to do!
Thank you, one and all, for being part of this journey with us.