April 13, 2010

It's About Action

Here's one thing about grassroots grantmaking that sets it apart - it's about action.

So much of what I see in philanthropy is about talk, not action. Especially when "the community" is involved, or when civic engagement is the goal. Don't get me wrong. I believe in the power of "dialogue". But isn't there always more power when action goes along with dialogue?

The ideas that come from community residents are typically about "doing" - connecting with some neighbors to do something. And the money from the grant is typically spent on "things" needed for the "doing" rather than staff or administrative expenses.

The secret ingredient in the grassroots grantmaking equation, however, is often overlooked or under-appreciated. The secret ingredient is the "get going" message that comes with the good news that "your grant has been approved". It's the message that the time for action is here. You've thought about it, you've talked about it, you've dreamed about it - now it's time to do it!

So with this in mind - and a reminder that more "action" is a good thing for both funders and the groups that they fund - here are some simple yet profound "little rules for action" from one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits. And perhaps because I'm feeling a bit mischievous today, I've added some color coding to the rules that I think particularly apply to those in philanthropy:
  1. Don’t overthink. Too much thinking often results in getting stuck, in going in circles. Some thinking is good — it’s good to have a clear picture of where you’re going or why you’re doing this — but don’t get stuck thinking. Just do.
  2. Just start. All the planning in the world will get you nowhere. You need to take that first step, no matter how small or how shaky. My rule for motivating myself to run is: Just lace up your shoes and get out the door. The rest takes care of itself.
  3. Forget perfection. Perfectionism is the enemy of action. Kill it, immediately. You can’t let perfect stop you from doing. You can turn a bad draft into a good one, but you can’t turn no draft into a good draft. So get going.
  4. Don’t mistake motion for action. A common mistake. A fury of activity doesn’t mean you’re doing anything. When you find yourself moving too quickly, doing too many things at once, this is a good reminder to stop. Slow down. Focus.
  5. Focus on the important actions. Clear the distractions. Pick the one most important thing you must do today, and focus on that. Exclusively. When you’re done with that, repeat the process.
  6. Move slowly, consciously. Be deliberate. Action doesn’t need to be done fast. In fact, that often leads to mistakes, and while perfection isn’t at all necessary, neither is making a ridiculous amount of mistakes that could be avoided with a bit of consciousness.
  7. Take small steps. Biting off more than you can chew will kill the action. Maybe because of choking, I dunno. But small steps always works. Little tiny blows that will eventually break down that mountain. And each step is a victory, that will compel you to further victories.
  8. Negative thinking gets you nowhere. Seriously, stop doing that. Self doubt? The urge to quit? Telling yourself that it’s OK to be distracted and that you can always get to it later? Squash those thoughts. Well, OK, you can be distracted for a little bit, but you get the idea. Positive thinking, as corny as it sounds, really works. It’s self-talk, and what we tell ourselves has a funny habit of turning into reality.
  9. Meetings aren’t action. This is a common mistake in management. They hold meetings to get things done. Meetings, unfortunately, almost always get in the way of actual doing. Stop holding those meetings!
  10. Talking (usually) isn’t action. Well, unless the action you need to take is a presentation or speech or something. Or you’re a television broadcaster. But usually, talking is just talking. Communication is necessary, but don’t mistake it for actual action.
  11. Planning isn’t action. Sure, you need to plan. Do it, so you’re clear about what you’re doing. Just do it quickly, and get to the actual action as quickly as you can.
  12. Reading about it isn’t action. You’re reading an article about action. Ironic, I know. But let this be the last one. Now get to work!
  13. Sometimes, inaction is better. This might be the most ironic thing on the list, but really, if you find yourself spinning your wheels, or you find you’re doing more harm than good, rethink whether the action is even necessary. Or better yet, do this from the beginning — is it necessary? Only do the action if it is.
And remember:

"Talk doesn't cook rice" - Chinese proverb

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