Monday, October 19, 2015

Opening the Nonprofit Helpline

There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you can help someone, but having no way to do so. I go through this too often at One Street as I connect with leaders of bicycle nonprofits, find out about their struggles, then lose them. They say they’ll call back. They promise they’ll follow the steps I offer, but too often I’m left with only silence.

For all the frustration, I still love being here for their calls and emails and knowing that at least I gave it a try. And for every one that vanishes, I enjoy ongoing discussions with nonprofit leaders who keep at their work to increase their effectiveness. These success stories keep me going, but the ones I lose keep me fired up to do more.

I founded One Street eight years ago to offer a safe haven where leaders of bicycle organizations would feel comfortable going for advice and assistance. Over those eight years, I have worked with our board and partners to develop resources and coaching methods for building influential organizations that never waste energy spinning their wheels. Most of these services we offer for free because helping them equates to increasing bicycling.

The idea came to me after recognizing in the bicycle movement the same patterns of infighting and wasted energy I’d seen in other nonprofits over the previous 33 years. Whether their mission was to defend the rights of animals, save a wetland, battle poverty, or offer wilderness trips to disabled people, they were all prone to the very same derailments.

I have a particular affinity to the bicycle, not only as a sleek and efficient movement machine, but as a canary that can warn of a community’s inhumanity by its absence. As I formed the idea for One Street, I realized that all this new nonprofit organization would have to do to make an enormous impact for increasing bicycling around the world would be to help existing organizations avoid these common traps. Easier said than done.

This blog is the second result of my frustration. The first was to write the book of the same name, Cures for Ailing Organizations, for any nonprofit organization. The book captures the patterns of ineffectiveness I’ve found over my 40 years of working with nonprofits. Tapping my work through One Street to define and break these patterns, it shows readers how to diagnose their own organization’s problems, then walks them through solutions so they can get back to their important work.

The problem with a book is that people have to actually read it for it to do any good. We’ve sold many copies, mostly through this office, sometimes in lots of ten or twenty. But nearly every sale comes with a note of enthusiasm about who the buyer is going to give the book to. At first I hoped these comments would be few and far between, that buyers would finally start buying the book to read themselves. Unfortunately, Cures for Ailing Organizations has turned out to be a book that people buy for other people. And I fear that a free book from a well-meaning person is not going to reach the top of the to-be-read stack anytime soon.

So, let’s try a blog!

This should be fun. I’ll have a chance to offer parts of the book in bite-sized chunks and then embellish them with stories and current happenings. I hope readers will jump in to offer their own experiences, perhaps even argue my points, and bring in other perspectives.

Blog posts are easy to read and forward. Perhaps this blog will provide the means I have been longing for to reach and help many more leaders of nonprofits, bicycle or otherwise, and offer them my hard-won experience from guiding nonprofits out of common struggles.

You, as a reader, are the most important element toward this blog’s success. Please read. Please comment. Please forward. Let’s get these difficult, yet essential discussions out there!

Thanks for taking part.