1. Jump 2. Build Plane 3. Soar

A friend of mine just jumped off a cliff. He’s hoping to build a plane before he hits the bottom of the canyon. He quit his job and has founded a start up. He’s crazy. He’s courageous. And he’s inspirational. Crazy, because he is well established in his career and has been rather successful. Courageous, because there is little to no safety net for him to land on. Inspirational, because it is that entrepreneurial spirit that so much of the nonprofit sector lacks. And everything that it needs.

The topsy turvy economy of the last decade has hit nonprofits particularly hard. During this time of uncertainty and familiar wells drying up, most nonprofit executives attempted to maintain status quo. Refusing to believe the very writing on the wall, we continued to draw from dry wells believing they would magically refill themselves. Much like the auto industry’s spiraling down was due to a lack of innovation, nonprofits have by and large sat back and only reacted to the shifting environment.

There are of course exceptions. An entrepreneurial buzz word these days is “growth hacking”, which essentially is taking the concepts that computer hackers use and applying them to marketing a startup.

Key concepts in growth hacking include:

– Test the boundaries of what can be done – growth requires the sandbox to be redefined

– Nothing is ever complete, and that it can always be done better – growth comes through innovation and continuous improvement

– Everything is “marketing” – we live in an on demand society and every single thing your organization, your staff, you, and your volunteers is telling your story

– Disruption – upset the status quo to gain attention

– Full socialization – you must connect with the grassroots of your constituents, customers, donors, volunteers, and the general public

The ice bucket challenge created with such amazing success by ALS is perhaps the greatest implementation of growth hacking concepts by a nonprofit. It disrupted the concept of fundraising by creating a simple but shocking visual. It was entirely social but succeeded because it gave a personal call to action. Imagine sparking something of that magnitude not by challenging all to participate, but by challenging just one person at a time. They found something that anyone could do and that would resonate with everyone.

It is this spirit of entrepreneurship that we desperately need in nonprofit leadership today. Not the play it safe, status quo attitude that is so pervasive. But rather to be like my cliff jumping, plane building friend. To be crazy and courageous enough to become an inspiration.

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