The board of directors of our United Way recently went through an exercise to develop a ‘risk strategy’, because that is what a responsible charity does. I know, yawn! But we challenged ourselves to think about risk differently. Of course, we need to consider risks to our revenues and operations and mitigate and prevent these risks. This is where a typical risk plan ends. We wanted to go further. We wanted to find a way to embed what we believe and what we hope to see in others in policy.
There are two unique features to our newly adopted approach to risk: we have to ask ourselves annually if we’ve taken enough risk to achieve the goals we have for our community AND we must put the wellbeing of our community ahead of that of our own organization.
Here are a few examples of what this means: If there is an opportunity that can benefit the community but reduces funding to our organization, the greater good prevails and we support the greater good. This is scary stuff but a way to make what we believe real.
Seven years ago the board of our United Way knew we needed to make big changes to remain relevant and achieve the greatest outcomes possible. We knew the changes would be unpopular with some, for instance changing our funding model, and we might see some setbacks. And we did, for 1 year. We have seen 30% growth in revenue and developed many new partners as a result of the changes we made.
It would have been so easy and so tempting to hunker down and take a year or two to settle into our new ways of working. I think the days of finding that magic solution or idea to last a decade are gone. Even after making profound change, we have to keep iterating and adapting our approaches, or we begin falling behind again.
I feel like we’ve reclaimed risk, which is so often seen as a bad thing. Lets not always take the safe path, the one we know and understand, but at the same time, lets not pursue risk and initiate change for change’s sake…it’s a fine line.
So two questions to ponder: 1) Have you taken enough risk lately? and 2) What would be different if you put the needs of the whole (whoever that whole is to you) ahead of our own needs?