Dani Robbins

Lens, Conclusions and Generative Governance

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on February 27, 2014 at 9:38 am

There was a piece on NPR just before the Olympics began about the economic benefits to cities hosting the Olympic Games. In case you missed the piece, it illustrated that it wasn’t a good investment for cities economically, and also that economics should not be our only lens.

Hosting wasn’t economically viable for reasons other than you might imagine. The reason it wasn’t viable is because to win the prize the cities had to keep out topping each other and what they had to promise was so expensive that they lost even when they won. It is a great illustration of lens and also of leadership choices.

The Olympics, in case you didn’t know, is a nonprofit organization, as is NPR. As such, that makes the story well within our bounds for blog posts, even one that looks at decision making through an economic development lens.

If your job is to lead your city, your organization, or your community than getting into a bidding war for the privilege of spending billions of dollars to host an event at some point becomes a zero-sum game.

It is a perfect opportunity to ask some strategic and generative questions:

  • Does hosting the Olympics have to be economically beneficial for it to be beneficial in other ways?
  • If it does, why would the community leaders follow that path?
  • Why is that our lens?
  • What do we gain and also lose?
  • ‘What produced this race to host?
  • Where does it stop?’
  • “Do we want to pass or play?
  • If we play, what are our principles?”Governance as Leadership: An Interview with Richard P. Chait

In case you’re wondering, the answer was no. Hosting the Olympics is not economically beneficial and cities shouldn’t present it as such; there are other benefits to be achieved and other goals that are met.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofits?

Nonprofits aren’t economically viable; that’s why they’re nonprofits. If they were for profits they’d fail, and that’s not our goal anyway. Our goal is to change the world.

That means that the boards of our agencies need to set metrics that are aligned with the goals of our agencies, and goals that are aligned with our vision. As you know, I am a huge proponent of strategic plans being used to align the work of an organization.  I am also a huge proponent of generative governance.

Generative questions will help you frame the issue, which will help you set the lens, which will help you make better decisions.  If where you sit determines where you stand, then it’s also true that the lens you set will impact the conclusions you reach.

If you are looking at the success of your agency through the lens of income, then you will be judged based on revenue success, regardless of impact.

If your lens is membership, then you will be judged based on numbers regardless of quality of service to those members.

If your lens is impact, then you care less about the numbers and more about the quality of your programming and its impact on the clients you serve.

A Boys & Girls Clubs Exec I knew when I first joined the movement used to say “we can throw a basketball out in the gym and serve a lot of kids, but we’re not impacting those kids.”

You have to consider the lens to gauge the success.

What’s your lens?  Is it the right lens?

What’s been your experience in framing the question to generate the information and the answers you seek? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

  1. […] As such, that makes the story well within our bounds for blog posts, even one that looks at decision making through an economic development lens. If your job is to lead your city, … Governance as Leadership: An Interview with Richard P.  […]


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