We’re proud to sponsor Amy Eisenstein’s video series! Be sure to check back on our blog for more conversations with some of the top experts in the nonprofit sector. To see other free resources that we’ve collaborated with Amy on – like research studies and webinars – please visit https://bloomerang.co/resources/.
Jay: Hello, I’m Jay Love with Bloomerang, and we’re delighted to bring you the following video. One of the things I wanted to point you to is our website where there’s additional educational materials that we provide on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s a weekly webinar, ebook downloads, various blogs, etc. from experts across all the world that will help you be better with your fundraising. Enjoy the video.
Amy: Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein and today I’m delighted to have Marcia Cone here with me. She was a speaker at the AFP conference and she is an advocate for women and a disrupter. And I am absolutely delighted to have her here. So welcome, Marcia.
Marcia: Thanks, Amy. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me today.
Amy: Great. So today we are going to talk about being a disrupter. What does that mean? Tell us about that.
Marcia: Well a disrupter is somebody who goes in and really is focused on changing things. And not changing things for the sake of changing because that can be distractive. But a disrupter is really thinking about “Where can I take this organization? Where can I take this work and how do I get there?” Rather than constantly tapping back into the status quo, which is just so easy to do, right? So a disrupter is really clear and concrete about how to move the ball forward.
Amy: That’s great. We need more disrupters, don’t we?
Marcia: We do need more disrupters. Especially in the nonprofit sector.
Amy: Yeah. Why do you think that is? Why are people afraid to shake the status quo or think out of the box? I don’t know, whatever you’re getting at.
Marcia: Yeah. Well so you know human beings are innately designed and wired to fit in, right? Centuries ago that was a survival. You had to do it. Otherwise you would perish, right?
Marcia: So we’re looking to fit in. We’re looking to understand the norms. We’re looking to understand how things work so we can find our way in that. And often times organizations are really rigid about that. This is the way we do things. This is the way . . . so even if you’ve been brought in to be the disrupter, the culture says you’re not going to be a disrupter. You’re going to follow the rules. And so then we wonder why we’re not being as creative or innovative as we could be. And that’s really why the nonprofit sector is here, is to be creators and innovators to solve complex social problems.
Amy: So how does a disrupter play a role in that? What’s some constructive disrupting? Give us an example of what that might look like.
Marcia: You know, often times when you start doing brainstorming activities, and immediately people freak out, “Oh well we can’t do that. We’ve never done that. We’ve tried that.” The disrupter says, “Well tell me more about that. What worked? What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? Is the situation or circumstances we’re in now different? Might it work now?” How do we take what we’ve learned from what we’ve tried and apply that?
Disrupters are also good at sharing vision and making people understand how to move that vision on the ground. Which I think is true leadership. It’s not just about vision and it’s not just about moving things on the ground, it’s the combination of the two. And those are the most disruptive people I think.
Amy: So how do we give people permission and maybe the courage to be disrupters? How do we encourage that at our organization? You cited brainstorming and not squashing ideas as one example, what’s another?
Marcia: You know, I think that there’s a process by which we brainstorm that allows everybody’s voice and idea to get into the room. And there’s an opportunity then to sort of as a group narrow down and decide what things we’re actually interested in pursuing. And that kind of collaborative cooperative process enables people to feel really bought in to the idea.
So who likes change? Toddlers don’t like change, 80 year olds don’t like change. None of us really like change and we don’t like to be told, “Here’s what you’re going to do.” We like to be brought in. We like to understand why the change. We want to participate in making the solutions and then really understanding our role in that. And often times we forget to do that part of the process which then really leaves people reacting to change rather than responding to change.
Amy: I think that’s a good point. I mean a lot of the nonprofits that we’re working with haven’t succeeded in making real change. And so that is a real challenge. They’ve been working on these issues for years and years and we’re not seeing real results. And I’m wondering what your thoughts on that? Why we seem to be stuck and how we get out of that to make real change?
Marcia: I think this where the status quo comes in. We start to think about, “Well what’s our mission?” And so often we spend so much time talking about our mission and our values and then we put them away and put them aside. And if you pull those out and you really live your mission and your values every day, and your job is actually to put yourself out of work. To achieve the mission means you’re no longer are needed or at least not in the way you were once needed.
Marcia: And I think people get a little afraid of that. Like there’s a little self-preservation in that and there’s also how far outside of the box can we be and have our donors follow us? And so there’s this kind of always hedging how much is enough. And when you play that game with yourself you go to the defaults. You always go back to the default and that doesn’t help us.
We actually need to just keep moving forward with, “How do we achieve our mission?” How do we do that in the best way possible and then what’s the next iteration of our organization when we achieve the first part of the mission? Because then it brings other new opportunities.
Amy: Yeah, I think we are afraid maybe to be too experimental or think outside of the box. We’re worried that our donors won’t approve. But the reality is that they’re investing in us to make real social change. And inching along in the way we have been . . . I mean I can only think of one nonprofit that I know of that has put itself out of business because they succeeded in accomplishing the mission.
Marcia: Yeah. And I think that kind of success is exhilarating. And I think a lot of us are really afraid of success and I think when we think about well what fear is associated with really succeeding, with really putting yourself out there? Some of that is about being seen and heard in a whole different way as a leader. Some of it’s about, what do I do after this? So I think really allowing ourselves to be experimental with ourselves and kind of allow ourselves to be more playful with who we are and what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish opens up possibilities.
Amy: Yeah. So what can we do to break free of this cycle and what’s one thing that maybe a Development Director or CEO Executive Director can do in the coming weeks, months, year, to be a disrupter?
Marcia: A few minutes ago you mentioned giving permission and permission granted and . . . which is a book I’ve recently published, and we need to give ourselves permission. We need to give ourselves permission to go in and do the jobs that we were hired to do. We need to give our self permission to advance the work. We need to give our self permission to ask why and to challenge our leadership and our teams to really say, “Why are we doing this?” and “Is this the best way that we can do that?” There’s so many ways to go in and be an individual contributor to disruption.
Amy: Right. I love it. So what parting thoughts would you like to share?
Marcia: I’m passionate about social justice. I want to live in a world that there’s equity for all, especially for women and girls, especially women and girls of color. And I think that all of us if we commit to being an individual disrupter can really advance the work and move things forward. So give yourself permission and then make a plan and follow that plan through.
Amy: Wonderful. Thank you so much for being here. I really enjoyed our conversation.