Funding Social Change Part 2: Why We're Doing This

Shadow - Crazy This is Part 2 in a series inviting social change funders and investors to participate in a demonstration project, to recreate how social change is resourced, to align the values of means with their intended ends.  To read this series from the introduction to the project, head here.

“Are you guys crazy?”

That’s the question most people dance their way around when we answer the question, “How is Creating the Future funded?”

More typically, the question sounds like this: “You guys are SO fundable! Why aren’t you getting grants or venture funding?”

And here’s what they’re really wondering:

Why would a new organization with an innovative approach to creating massive social change – an organization that could easily be funded by traditional means – opt NOT to seek that traditional funding?

Why would an organization choose to forego paying its full-time working founders – choose even temporarily to scrape by on a mix of small donations and earned income – as it puts the pieces in place for an experiment in reinventing social change funding?

Why would an organization bet its financial future on an experiment with no guarantees of success?

In this post, I will answer those questions. And as with everything when it comes to systems change, the answer is a layered one.

Answer #1: Someone Has to Be Willing to Try

When it comes to current funding systems, everyone is frustrated. People at all ends of the traditional philanthropic world and people in the new world of social enterprise and social capital and social business – everyone meets at the intersection of “That’s all well and good, but where will the money come from?” and “There’s only so much to go around.”

There are individual funders who have, over the years, bucked the traditional systems and proven that different approaches to funding can be highly successful. The problem is we don’t learn from those efforts, because most of us don’t even know about them.

Did you know that the Community Health Endowment in Lincoln, Nebraska completely solved the problem of hospital emergency rooms being used as primary care by low income people?

Did you know that St. Luke’s Health Initiatives has a model for funding absolutely every single group that wants to get capacity building assistance?

Coming from the fund-recipient side of the equation, many organizations talk about what it would take for funding to be more aligned with the ends we want to see in our communities. But pursuing those approaches with prospective funders takes time, and it doesn’t serve the mission of a Food Bank or an Arts organization to take that time, or to take on the very real risk that their experiment might fail.

So Answer #1 is that if we want to see changes in the fundamental systems that support social change, someone has to be willing to be the guinea pig.

Answer #2: That is our job.

It is not the job of a Food Bank to demonstrate more values-aligned systems for resourcing their work. For them, funding systems are a means to the end of supporting their mission. For Creating the Future, though, changing those systems IS our mission. Our job is to experiment and demonstrate what is possible.

Creating the Future is a living laboratory with a 10 year mission – to change the questions embedded in the day-to-day work of individuals and organizations, to create a world filled with communities where everyone naturally brings out the best in each other and in our world.

We know such a future is possible, simply because it is not impossible. But we also know this:

Creating the world we want is not a matter of finding the next innovative action; it is a matter of rethinking the assumptions that go into those actions.

Assumptions are the questions we are answering that we don’t even know we’re asking. Therefore, the most direct line to changing our assumptions is to change the questions that guide our work and our lives.

Rooted in research in the fields of neuroscience and behavioral psychology (individual behavior) and history and sociology (group behavior), along with 15 years of our own experimentation, Creating the Future’s 10 year mission is to see a tipping point in the questions that guide day-to-day living and work around the world.

That mission is being addressed through four interrelated efforts:
• Research and Development and Experimentation
• Demonstration (learning together and sharing what we learn)
• Education (sharing what we learn)
• Convening and engaging new conversations.

(For a more comprehensive description of our theory of change and our approach to Changing the Questions that will Change the World, head here.) 

And so, Answer #2 to is that designing new systems for funding is a big part of our job.

Answer #3: What is the best possible outcome?

When we consider the highest potential outcome for this effort, it almost makes us giddy. What could a demonstration project to rethink how social change is resourced make possible?

Here are just some of the items on a very long list of what this project could make possible:

  • Demonstrate relationships of equal partnership vs. relationships rooted in the assumption that money = power.
  • Demonstrate frameworks that shift from assumptions of scarcity to assumptions of collective enoughness – that together we have everything we need, and that it is only alone that we face scarcity.
  • Demonstrate frameworks that bring out the best in each other as individuals, in situations, in organizations and in communities.
  • Demonstrate what work looks like when it is rooted in relationship, potential, and enoughness.

And what would all that make possible?

  • Others would have something to point to, as they try to apply what we all co-learn to their own settings.
  • They would feel comfortable that they don’t have to invent it; that we will have done that for them and showed what works.

Text Box - AristotleAnd what would THAT make possible?

By forming new habits, we would be creating new culture. Approaches that bring out the best in each of us and our communities would become the norm of how we all be with each other.

Cultural change happens all the time, often faster than one could imagine. In 50 years, we went from the struggles of the Civil Rights movement to the election (twice) of an African American president. In ten years we went from the titillating shock of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to the growing acceptance and celebration of gay marriage.

Imagine then the power of what this project could make possible if it were built with the clear intent to change our assumptions about each other and about what is possible, specifically as it relates to money and power and social change?

Answer #4: What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

When fear is making the decisions, all the “best case” scenarios will end up in the compost heap, disregarded in favor of the one fear-based reason on the “con” side of the ledger. Because fear is at the heart of the “Are you guys crazy?” question, let’s consider the worst case scenarios, and meet those fears head-on.

What’s the worst that could happen if we just fund Creating the Future the old fashioned way – by entering into the traditional funding market?

Some of the nightmares on that list include:

1) If no one is willing to be the test case, how will we ever know what’s possible? The systems will never change if no one is willing to put their butt on the line.

2) If we went into the traditional competitive funding arena, “making the case” for our cause (talk about words that are laden with power dynamics!), we would be intentionally going against our values, our vision for the world we want to create, and our mission of asking more effective questions. In the words of one of our founding board members, Mark Riffey, “If we’re not going to eat our own dog food, why should anyone else? If we are not about upholding our own values, why would any of us be here?”

And what’s the worst that could happen if we forestall funding until we can do it in a way that aligns with our values, our vision, our mission?

Some of the nightmares on that list include:

1) We will be broke for longer than we would be otherwise (see Answer #5).

2) We could fail – we could accomplish none of what is in the visionary outcomes noted in Answer #3 above.

Setting aside the answer about being broke (see Answer #5 below), the Thomas Edison quote comes to mind. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Which is to say that when one is learning, there is no failure. Especially given our role as a Learning Lab, the worst failure would be if we fail to seek that learning.

Which leaves only one last answer, the real elephant in the room…

Answer #5: The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

Yes, working with extremely limited capital is no fun. Having started so many social enterprises that we’ve almost lost count, we’ve been in this situation before. And no, it is not a way of life either of us two founders would like to maintain permanently.

But this is not permanent. This past two years have been an investment, laying the foundation so that we would be ready to do precisely what we are doing now.

This effort to fund our work through the very act of rethinking funding overall is rooted in the thought and action frameworks that we teach, and that have successfully created results beyond their wildest dreams for groups and organizations and companies.

“Trust the process; trust the people in the room.”
~ poster on the wall during our immersion courses

The reality is that this feels no riskier than writing a dozen grants, or visiting a dozen venture philanthropists. And that’s because we do trust the process – the thought framework that has repeatedly provided groups with answers to quandaries they had previously thought unsolvable.

Shadow - QUIET (LOW RES)And we do trust the people in the room – those foundation leaders and venture philanthropists and social venture capitalists who are eager for a more aligned way to resource the work of making the world a better place.

So, then, why would a new organization with an innovative approach to creating massive social change – an organization that could easily be funded by traditional means – opt NOT to seek that traditional funding?

Because those traditional approaches perpetuate the very systems our mission is aimed at replacing. And because going back to the old ways feels scarier than moving toward what’s possible. And because we are confident we will find partners who feel the same way.

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