I have a new post up on the Stanford Social Innovation Review and this is a special post because it’s actually a book review.  Hildy Gottlieb, a colleague (but really growing into a friend) sent me a copy of her new book, The Pollyanna Principles.  I read it on the plane to and from N2Y4 (11 hours from London to San Francisco!) and have filled the edges of the pages with notes and ideas and questions.  You can find the review below, or on the SSIR Opinion Blog.

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Hildy Gottlieb’s new book The Pollyanna Principles is a handbook for starting a revolution in social benefit organization design and practice, but it isn’t the revolution. What’s the catch? Well, it is going to take everyone, whether you are part of an organization or receive services from one, whether you are a philanthropist or a volunteer, whether you work for a for-profit business or are a community member. For social benefit organizations to truly “work” we all need to be part of the design, the process, the success.

“When we assume we are separate, we build systems that reinforce that separateness.  When we assume we are interconnected and interdependent, we build systems that reinforce those connections.

The Six Pollyanna Principles

There are six core statements that represent The Pollyanna Principles and they include:

  1. We accomplish what we hold ourselves accountable for.
  2. Each and everyone of us is creating the future, every day, whether we do so consciously or not.
  3. Everyone and everything is interconnected and interdependent, whether we acknowledge that or not.
  4. “Being the change we want to see” means walking the talk of our values.
  5. Strength build upon our stengths, not our weaknesses.
  6. Individuals will go where systems lead them.

The Pollyanna Principles boil down to a similar premise I have blogged about before: we are creating organizations that

  1. are vested in the social issues they work towards ending in such a way that they require those issue to persist
  2. are built in a bubble
  3. are consistently missing opportunities to succeed by operating like a business (with competition) instead of as a living part of the community.

You can find previous blog posts (with great conversations in the comments) here, here and here.

Why I’m excited about The Pollyanna Principles

We have a huge opportunity before us to remodel our social benefit organization structure. There is so much talk both online and offline, from inside organizations and from outside, that “nonprofits are broken.” We’ve done step 1: admitted that we have a problem. Now, what?  Well, as Hildy explains, we need to start driving our work with our vision of how we want the world to be, instead of what the problems are before us. What does that mean? Well, imagine that your organization said you wanted to have a public education system in your state that provided opportunities for all students to learn, fair pay for both teachers and staff, opportunities for growth for students, teachers and staff, and an entry point for all students to enter the “real world” prepared. You can imagine that by operating under that vision (instead of focusing on drop-out rates, teacher pay scales, or job skill training) that partnerships with the community, new opportunities for learning exchanges and career paths, and much more start to take shape organically, naturally.

Collaboration is a huge focus of mine: Finding ways for organizations working in the same sector to share calls to action to amplify the impact, helping organizaitons understand where their work aligns to cross pollinate across their networks, and so forth. Reading the Pollyanna Principles was like finding a twin I had been separated from at birth!  But, that isn’t to say it’s the complete conversation. This is truly a great starting place from which we can all move the conversation forward.

There are still many questions I have and that I imagine all organizations, boards, volunteers, community members will have when they read the book. But I want to, am ready to, ask those questions and answer them as a community. Questions like:

  • How do we truly create community planning opportunities as funders that include all members of the community when the “community” of interested people is often limited to the grantee pool?
  • How do we begin to change the cultural view of nonprofits in society/by the community so that the public, those who use the services or are otherwise affected by nonprofits’ work can have a stake in the responsibility to create organizations making real change and all of the community is shaping its future?
  • How do we help organizations redefine their “community” to understand the entire ecosystem in which they operate?
  • And many more…

What’s Next
The Pollyanna Principles is about social benefit organizations, but it’s really about community. Community is the most important thing to me, and I truly believe that we can’t create any amount of change, any amount of real world impact, or any lasting effects without participation, ownership, and shared responsibility by community members in the work these organizations do. This means we have to have community members represented in building and implementing an organization’s work, as well as building grant programs from funders. We need to have those receiving the services and those delivering them in constant collaboration.  We need people in the community to expect organizations to succeed and take a stake in making sure they do.

So, what’s stopping us from doing this? Hildy says it’s the Culture of Can’t that we are all accustomed to operating within that holds us back.  Can we move to the Culture of Can? Are we ready? What are the Can’ts holding you or your organization back?

I’m ready to start: to start asking questions and coming up with answer, to think and share collaboratively, and to really focus on the vision we share for a better world and work towards that goal instead of focusing only on the problems – are you?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

You can learn more about The Pollyanna Principles at: http://pollyannaprinciples.org

Visit the Stanford Social Innovation Review opinion blog to join the conversation there, too!

New on SSIR: The Power of Vision, Review of “The Pollyanna Principles”
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