The Future of Service: Idea Throwdown Results

On June 6 at the Points of Light Institute’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, Scott Henderson and I hosted an Idea Throwdown focused on the future of service.

We brought together a diverse group of 40 leaders to create a new framework for how organizations who are focused on supporting service – companies, media, nonprofits, government – can better address the challenges that exist today. Our discussion focused on three simple questions. Here are the three main questions we posed and the ideas generated by the group:

What’s Not Working?

- Redundancy (too many organizations duplicating efforts instead of complementing)
- Scaling effective models (and understanding scale properly)
- Large scale service events
- Retention (of volunteers in particular)
- Incentives (not matching up, or motivating – need to understand true motivation)
- Language/framing (movements… for example)
- Accountability (not measuring and responding based on what’s working/not working)
- Problems are not getting address
- Serving causes vs. solving causes
- People not in the right jobs/roles – need better matching to talents
- Collaboration… not happening, not cross-sector, not global
- Learning/knowledge sharing – especially when there are successes
- Virtual access to gatherings, conferences, conversations – too much emphasis on location
- Organizations are hoarding data, silo-ing activities within organizations
- Nonprofit/service community is talking mostly to itself, to believers
- Using language that community understands, but not others
- Not adapting to larger changes in society (with funders and what works especially)
- Storytelling is not focused on impact.
- Lack of quality/efficient market for solutions
- Funding the wrong things – projects people like vs. projects that deliver outcomes
- Lack of understanding of ‘scale’ (and adapting to needs of communities)
- Lack of understanding about what social entrepreneurship really is about
- Service is not an end – it’s a strategy, a sector
- Government/nonprofit partnership
- Brand/nonprofit partnership
- Media/nonprofit partnership
- How capital flows into the system

Things To Stop Doing?
- Stop being reactive
- Stop building models (instead of building systems)
- Stop playing it safe
- Stop asking for money (only)
- Stop running campaigns, without looking at the data, analyzing performance and making adjustments
- Stop throwing $500k galas to raise $600k.
- Stop focusing on fundraising, engagement, etc. without considering need for policy changes, systemic impact.
- Stop blaming other sectors (government, media, business) for not changing
- Stop requiring signups (and focusing on organization building first) to access information, tools, or support action
- Stop over-collaboration internally (the echo-chamber)
- Stop running contests because other people run contests (e.g. trying to be like American Idol).
- Stop looking for magic magic bullets (or what Kathy Sierra called pixie dust) – commit to working hard.
- Stop focusing on social media (vs. being social)
- Stop broadcasting (too much noise)
- Stop listening, without hearing
- Stop measuring activity (only) – start looking at impact, achievement of goals
- Stop romanticizing social entrepreneurs – and assuming that success in one sector qualifies someone to address serious issues and causes.
- Stop talking, holding events, etc. without an invitation to action
- Stop building new organizations
- Stop settling for less than significant outcomes
- Stop competing/cannibalizing similar efforts – find ways to collaborate, go in together.
- Stop pulling punches; show funders, others there are alternatives
- Stop moving on to the next idea, project, opportunities so quickly
- Stop having meetings and events that don’t challenge people to change
- Stop cheerleading projects that aren’t delivering results
- Stop writing two year plans (and start writing 20 years plans)
- Stop blaming ‘cultural apathy’ for the lack of progress on serious issues – don’t buy into the story that people aren’t engaged or willing to commit.
- Stop talking about nonprofit ‘sector’
- Stop waiting for entire space/sector to change – start focusing on your individual opportunities for change, within your organization, small efforts you can make
- Stop focusing on wrong metrics (e.g. followers instead of impact)

The First Step You Need to Take
- Call out the problems and challenges
- Connect as organizations – around issues, to solve specific problems
- Identify the true challenges, the root issues
- Be patient
- Be goal driven – talk about your long-term goals, hold on to them
- Matchmaking – take small actions/create small alliances (example: AHA helps NCVS to find healthy snacks for conference)
- Demonstrate effective cross-sector collaboration – be responsible for building a bridge (and that is all)
- Create specific alignments to tackle specific problems…
- Be honest about collaboration, how much you want to get out of it
- Buy Shift & Reset
- Be an expert at something, or ask for help
- Give data a seat the strategy table
- Align with other conferences (e.g. PDF and NCVS)
- Be more specific about outcomes from a conference (solutions sessions)
- Tell your funders to shove it
- Stop thinking like a nonprofit (pity party)
- Have nonprofit staff rate performance of nonprofit groups
- Make a clear difference between nat’l service and community service (explain)
- Need to focus more on talent, and young talent in particular
- Need to fire people
- Cut features, think like a startup
- Push public leaders (and celebs) to be more authentically involved in service
- Educate political leaders
- Call three competitors and suggest a project to explore together

What answers and ideas would you like to add? Do you disagree with any of these?

This was cross-posted on Scott’s blog.