Phillip Smith

From entitlement to enterprise

A certain amount of my work -- more than none, but less than all -- is dedicated to helping organizations explore the deeper questions of organizational strategy. Sure, they contacted me because they had a technology initiative in mind, or wanted some help with improving their online activities -- but, more often than not, I come back to the fundamental realization that technology can't solve inherently human problems. And it's here that I have to admit some vanity: quite simply, I'd rather invest my time in projects that have a chance of succeeding, surviving, and sustaining themselves for the years to come. So, on occasion, I sense that a client is asking themselves "why is Phillip asking all these tough questions about how our organization works, and what our role -- as staff, directors, board members, etc. -- is in relation to the problems at hand." The questions are tough and at times uncomfortable, but they are necessary to get to the root of the issue (and to unearth the real opportunities).

Well, it was in one of those sessions recently, that I stumbled on something new (to me anyway). A staff member of this organization proclaimed "... it's because we run it like a non-profit, and not like a..." -- and, no, the next word wasn't business (I'm tired of hearing that too). What came after was the real epiphany; she went on to describe the organization's "sense of entitlement" as one of the bigger issues for her.

For me, a light went off. If entitlement is at one end of a spectrum of change (not the end that we want our example organization to be at), then what's at the other end? Enterprise.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a social enterprise buff. I'm not all goo-goo eyed about the "social economy." I certainly don't feel that non-profits should all sign-up for an MBA, or start hiring CEOs to keep things running. But what I do feel is this: Enterprise doesn't mean "business," it means moving away from entitlement and toward bold new ideas.

That may mean exploring revenue diversification or earned-income activities. But it could just as easily mean taking the bold action necessary to move from crisis management into strategic leadership, or from ad-hoc budgeting to a solid financial plan. And, more importantly, from a sense of entitlement (the "please help us because we have a mission") to one of enterprise (the "we are creating the change we want to see in the world -- join now.").

The face of change is evolving quickly in our networked world. Organizations like Ashoka, Echoing Green Foundation, Knight Foundation, and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation are funding "innovation," and innovative strategies for addressing social problems. New ideas are emerging all around us and unexpected players -- social entrepreneurs and new types of mission-based organizations -- are changing the field of change.

Entitlement is not the strategy that I'd be betting on.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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