“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” -Lao Tzu
Don’t laugh, but I’m the cookie mom for my daughter’s Daisy troop. There are still boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas in the corner of my living room, along with the yummy-but-not-enough-in-a-box-to-justify-four-bucks “Thank U Berry Much” variety introduced last year.
We have to get rid of those extra boxes, and so I read some of the material provided by the Girl Scouts about site sales. What caught my eye was an admonition for the adults not to take over the activity:
“Adults act as coaches who help girls develop leadership skills by using these three processes:
- Girl-led: Girls play an active part in figuring out the what, where, when, how, and why of their activities. They lead the planning and decision-making as much as possible.
- Learning by doing: Girls engage in continuous cycles of action and reflection that result in deeper understanding of concepts and mastery of practical skills.
- Cooperative learning: Girls work together toward shared goals in an atmosphere of respect and collaboration that encourages the sharing of skills, knowledge and learning.”
It’s a fine line between coaching and doing, especially when we all know “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.” Adults certainly organize better, market better, craft better thank you notes. If you left the girls in charge, they might forget to put the cost per box on the sign. They might not pick the best location with adequate foot traffic. They might forget to bring enough change. And they certainly would not sell as many cookies as a group of adults would sell under the same circumstances.
But as the Girl Scouts manual so delicately points out, the larger goal isn’t to sell a bunch of cookies. The larger goal is to teach the girls critical leadership and entrepreneurial skills that they can apply elsewhere. And to accomplish that goal, there is no more important step than putting the girls in charge of cookie sales with adults coaching them.
Among our nonprofit community, I think there is a tendency to forget that the point of our efforts is to accomplish some mission, not perpetuate our organization. In much the same way as well-meaning adults take over cookie sales for their kids, increasing sales when sales aren’t the point, nonprofits have a tendency to cultivate donors as “theirs,” and claim a cause as “theirs,” when owning the cause isn’t the point. Accomplishing the mission is the point.
Instead of cultivating loyal donors to our organization, we should be cultivating passionate advocates for our cause. We don’t own them, we empower them. We are not the end, we are the means.
How many of our strategic plans focus on the infrastructure and financial growth of our organizations, and how many focus on how we’re going to accomplish our mission? How many of our board meetings focus on leadership around our causes and how our efforts are or aren’t getting the results we want, and how many focus on fiscal responsibility and budgets and fundraising?
I have yet to hear about a board that spends too much time focused on the organization’s impact and not enough reviewing its financial report. If your board is interested in becoming more mission-driven (rather than duty-driven), I highly recommend the work of Hildy Gottlieb, whose YouTube videos provide only a glimpse of the passion and wisdom she brings to community benefit organizations.
And next year, my daughter may only sell 5 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. But she will have personally sold every one of them herself.