If there is one thing that is constantly hammered into business school students, particularly those focusing on sports teams and properties, is that you should always make sure to have a positive impact on the bottom-line or the flow of resources coming in to your organization. At the end of the day the lofty ideals, passionate team members, and goals to change the world will not pay the bills and keep the doors open –at least not on their own. This doesn’t mean our motivation should become simply to make money; we are not a for-profit business after all. Instead, the challenge is to make sure to tie in our ideals/mission side to the more practical let’s-keep-the-doors-open side.
First, we need to start by boiling down what we’re doing here at GEN into the simplest terms possible and go from the macro to the micro and see where each of us fits in. So what are we trying to accomplish at GEN at the end of the day (days?)? In the broadest terms, we want to eradicate youth poverty around the globe. How are we going to do that? By working with some of the most disenfranchised and vulnerable youth around the world and teaching them/giving them the tools to start their own business, hence pulling themselves and their communities out of poverty. Great, what does that look like? At the point we’re at, it looks like development/education centers and a loan portfolio. To blow that up, we need to a) ensure our model/curriculum is working and then b) expand into more countries and more areas inside those countries so we can affect a larger number of youth. OK, so how do we get there from where we are now? Well, we need to make sure our current fellows are doing well (the programs side) and then that the rest of the pieces of our organization are supporting the work of our fellows and that GEN has the ability to keep its doors open.
If we are to focus more on the doors-open side, then we need to ask ourselves if our funding model is working. In general, most non-profits remain afloat through organizational grants or individual donations. Lately there has been a push for more of the social-conscious type businesses that merge a mission of social good with a for-profit side that allows the organization in the end to fulfill that mission. I don’t think GEN has the ability to that for the moment, but it’s definitely something we should consider later on as we plan for the long-term health of the organization. So then, what has all this rambling been about? In short, if we don’t find a more efficient model in the short-term, GEN might not be able to keep its doors open for much longer.
On the marketing front, we had worked for a while on the big picture items of brand building, growing the name recognition, improving our network and connections, but perhaps we lost track of making sure we were also contributing to the short-term health of the organization. While making sure we have a ‘seat at the table’, a more impactful and well-crafted message, and a larger audience is great – that won’t mean much if the organization isn’t around to enjoy that ‘big stage’ moment. At least on the marketing front, I believe that for the moment we have to go lean and really focus on what our absolute best stories are and how we can turn that into funding/support – and in general, this might be a good thing to keep in mind across the organization.
Considering that on the operational side other than actual dollars our most important resource is time/people, we have to be as efficient as possible in the projects that we focus on. Individual small-dollar donations might be great but right now probably won’t affect the bottom line enough to make it worth it on the time/effort side. I believe we have 3 main options we can evaluate and focus on:
1) Family-type trusts
2) Partnerships with high net worth individuals
Hopefully this blog post can start a conversation within our organization as to which is the best approach. Personally, I believe the companies/sponsors route might be the most interesting. Could we perhaps establish some CSR partnerships with major companies established in Nigeria or looking to break into that market and position our organization as either a) a sort of grassroots-type consulting because of our familiarity and closeness to these particular populations or b) an opportunity to marry our network of fellows as avenues to distribute/feature their products?
At GEN we have an amazing group of committed individuals and hopefully this post might kick-off a conversation that allows us to establish what is best way forward in ensuring the short-to-medium term well being of this special thing we have going.
All the best,