Building Program Strength by Building Upon Assets

Construction workersLast week, Creating the Future began its first Asset-Based Resource Development plan. As we begin developing new programs, we are soon going to be engaging in Asset-Based Program Development as well.

Because all this planning is being done live online, and because folks will be able to follow along (and learn from) that planning at our Walking the Talk blog, we thought we’d take a moment to provide an explanation of that planning framework.

Unlike cash-flow / revenue development / fundraising plans or traditional program development plans, Asset-Based planning is a framework for identifying the assets a group already has, and then for each of those assets, asking “How can this asset be activated, to support and further our mission?”

The roots of this approach come from the frustration felt by social change groups who spend as much (or more) time worrying about how to fund their efforts than time spent actually changing the world.

In our quest to find more sustainable approaches, we realized that there is indeed a proven approach to sustainability. It is the approach wealthy individuals use to sustain their wealth – building wealth upon what they OWN rather than what they DO. Wealthy individuals don’t rely on their hourly wage to survive; their income comes from the assets they already have.

We quickly saw that every social change group – from traditional “nonprofit” community benefit orgs to social enterprises to socially conscious business – have four types of assets upon which they can build:

Physical assets: The stuff we have – real property and fixtures such as computers and buildings; intellectual property such as books or ideas

People assets: The people we know – moving from the innermost circles, to the next ripple, and the next

Mission assets: The work we do, broken down into its functional components

Community assets: The physical, people and mission assets of everyone else in the community!

The following are two simple frameworks for building and sustaining programs by activating resources all groups already have.

Asset-Based Program Development
The most effective way to build sustainability into a program is from the beginning, when that program is in the thinking stage. This is where community assets will be invaluable.

As you are thinking about all the moving parts that will come together to be your program, create a flow chart. No need for fancy computer modeling – on a white board, create boxes with arrows to show “This will happen, then this will happen, then that will happen…” and so on.

When all the boxes (and sub-boxes) are drawn and you have the whole complexity of your program sketched out before you, for each of those functions ask, “Is there anyone else in our community who is already doing that function?” Then go find those people and partner with them.

Do you need someone to make deliveries? Who is already making deliveries?

Do you need someone to provide storage? Who already has storage space?

Building programs upon a base of community assets is a way of building partnership and engagement right into the core of your program. In addition to being immensely more cost effective, that interwoven fabric will be far more reliable (and far less redundant) than creating all those pieces on your own.

Asset-Based Resource Development
Like wealthy individuals, the more an organization can build support for its programs by building upon existing assets, the more stable it will be.

It is important to note that we are not just talking about money here. For social change groups, money is a means to an end, not the end itself. We use money so that we can get the work done (vs doing the work so we can get money). That may sometimes mean furthering the mission by using other resources than cash.  That is especially true of “people assets” – as we begin to realize that the whole of a person is far more valuable than just what is in their wallets.

While Asset-Based Program Development relied primarily on assets in the community, Asset-Based Resource Development will rely primarily on the first three categories listed above – physical assets, people assets and mission assets.

The steps are simple:

1) Identify a group’s physical, people and mission resources / assets

2) Determine how each of those assets might be activated, to help support and further the mission

3) Choose the best of those ideas, and matrix them against objective criteria (how much help will it provide, how long will it take, how much work, how integrated is it with the mission, etc.)

What you will find as you go through these steps is that you have far more to work with and build upon than you ever dreamed. Having done this type of planning with groups for more than a decade, we still never tire of watching them move quickly (and joyfully) from “We have nothing to work with” to “We have too much to work with – how will we choose?” Groups who started out feeling desperate are, by the end of the very first session, feeling overwhelmed with the abundance they have had all along, hiding in plain sight.

From that abundance of resources can then flow abundance of support, and most importantly abundance of impact.

Creating the Future as a Demonstration Project
At Creating the Future’s Walking the Talk blog, you will find a series of videos chronicling our own actual planning process (a plan that is still in progress at the time of this writing).

If you are thinking about using these approaches and want to see what that looks like in action, we hope you will join us there!

Photo: Courtesy of US Navy, via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “Building Program Strength by Building Upon Assets”

  1. This is so intuitive and on the mark. I have been working toward a very similar approach for years now. But I have been looking at it through the lens of understanding why engaged “relationships” are so important to resource development (ambassadors, matchmakers and rainmakers). Your focus on people, places and things as “assets” provides a very powerful way to conceptualize, explain, and implement these insights! And now I see there have been academics and others working on ABCD for quite a while. Just makes too much sense! Thank you.


Leave a Comment