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Ami Dar, Executive Director of Action Without Borders/Idealist.org

Idealist

  • a nonprofit portal where organizations and people get together
  • 70000 nonprofits use, 50000 visit every day
  • started 1995 – staff of 2 for five years. 60 in staff now, half in Argentina, half in Portland and New York


Everything I've learned in 10 years, in 20 minutes

Money

  • money matters
  • there's this irony in nonprofit and academia – some people have an aversion to money, profits - go into nonprofits because "it's not about money". It's quite a bit about money – nonprofit world is more obsessed about money than for-profit world
  • nonprofits need money, so becomes more about money rather than products & services
  • you have to pay the bills
  • knowledge and accounting literacy
    • people are passionate, but don’t know about signing contracts, finding an office, hiring, getting lawyers
    • learn accounting – it’s the blood, you need to know it
    • learn more about money

Funders

  • Funders aren't great. I was debating whether I should say "Funders suck". I guess I just said it.
  • some great people work at foundations
  • take a great person, put them in a foundation, then weird things happen to them
  • system is not great – the way big foundations work is not great
  • great work, but not a great system
  • some will treat you wonderfully. some will treat you like no other human being treats you
  • they're human beings doing their job: hand out 5% of foundation assets every year
  • you're their opportunity and tool – we are the tool for expressing themselves in their work
  • power dynamics are horrible
  • keep your expectations low, do your best, get the money

People who help you along the way

  • contacts, opening doors
  • if you're just dreaming, you have lots of time for yourself
  • the successful people you want to meet with are busy
  • "I want to change the world". "Great, talk to my assistant."
  • Be patient, persevere
  • you are not the number one item on people's to-do lists
  • most important: if you ask for meeting, and you get it, come in ready – do your homework
  • demonstrate you know the basics – you're in to get the next 10%
  • don’t take it personally if they don’t meet you, they don’t even know you
  • if they meet you, then don't meet with you again, then you can take it personally

Organizations

  • ego matters – organization ego matters
  • world is full of idealistic people. organizations, team, structures, tend to be selfish by nature
  • think what's in it for them
  • the post meeting meeting is not idealistic – they’ll work with you because it works for them
  • top management of most organizations care more about the institution than of the field or issues
  • it's often about growing lists, making more money, growing staff
  • care about themselves, their growth
  • don’t just talk about the issue – address institutional interests

Duplication

  • people say don’t duplicate
  • some wheels are bad, go ahead and reinvent them
  • if you think you can do it better do it
  • if you step on someone's foot – know what you're doing – don’t go around just stepping on people's feet
  • surest way of annoying people is pretending you know everything when very clearly you don’t know anything

Boards

  • most managements don’t like their boards
  • 4 kinds
    • 1st is the kind you're delighted with: helpful, do things for you; don’t meddle and annoy you; support you
    • 2nd supports and meddles
    • 3rd doesn't help, and just annoys you
    • 4th – does neither
  • very difficult to have a board that is incredibly helpful and doesn’t meddle
  • really focus on what you want, make board selection trade-offs intentionally:
    • if you want to be left alone, you'll want them to not support you so much, so as to not meddle
    • if you really want their support – they'll probably meddle
  • remember, the law is simple: those three people you put on your board have the power to fire you the next day
  • choose them carefully, they have the legal power to separate you from your dream
  • hard to fire a board person – have an advisory board first – select people from your volunteers – see how they behave in groups
  • people change when they become members of boards. "I'm a board member now"

People

  • "hire the best you can" – hard to do
  • hire people you like personally
  • we spend more waking hours with people in the office than with those at home
  • really important to develop a system to hire people you like
  • have a long interview process – will we share a house with this person?
  • who gets married after two dates?
  • you have a few interviews, person comes in to work, in 2-3 weeks you know if it was the right thing, every month you like them more
  • when things don’t work out, when you realize you made a mistake:
    • Jim Collins – difference in great companies is not low turnover – it's how quickly the great companies make a decision on people who are not good fits
    • takes a year on average to get rid of someone
    • it's the right thing to get out of it quick, solve it quickly
  • if you hire a carpenter, give her a hammer. Give them the good chair, get them good stuff if at all possible. Give them the tools they need to do the job

Technology

  • you can do Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Craigslist – it’s all free – it's crazy – 15 years ago - $10,000 for a quarterly newsletter. Now it's free.
  • lots of technology is free
  • no excuse for good idea not coming out

Word of encouragement

  • "if you have an idea go for it"
  • should be more like: "if you have a bad idea, don’t do it, give it up immediately, don’t waste your time"
  • key is to know the difference. who's to tell? try to recognize your bad ideas asap!
  • you're not going to get there if you're not going anywhere

Q&A:

Q: How do you get passionate board people who don't meddle?
A: Get passionate passive people. Keep in mind what you want. Keep surprises to a minimum. What is the profile you really want? Days of rich old ladies are over.

Q: How do you find the right people to work with?
A: What's your goal, where are you trying to go, who can help you get better? Find the people, make a pitch that makes sense to them in terms of where they're at. From their point of view, does it make sense to do? Be sensitive to personal and organizational ego things. Among many nonprofits, they may have the same cause, but they hate each other.

Q: If people don't fit, how make that clear without legal problems?
A: Put emphasis on how you bring them in. Imagine yourself spending days with them. When hiring, really emphasize that, then getting rid of them will not be an issue.

Q: Your organization should be called "Realist". What are the next visions and challenges for Idealist?
A: We chose "Idealist" because "Cynic" and "Jaded" were taken. Next step: turn it into a real-world network (beyond a virtual community). Very special moment in history. Lots of problems, lots of tools didn’t exist two years ago. Time for the world's idealists to work together truly. Create mechanics to connect the dots, the dots are all there. How do you connect them? How do you make that happen?

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