Steward Leaders: The Story we tell when we ask for money

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2The way a steward leader talks about finances tells a story. Recently, I have heard a number of nonprofit and faith-based leaders making a pitch for funds. Many of those conversations start off something like this: "Our expenses are rising, but our main funders don't seem to realize that - they're cutting our funding from their budgets. We need money to pay staff, keep up facilities, and run our programs. We're running short, so we're asking you to help."

This same speech, or variations thereof, can be heard in appeal letters, video clips, newspaper ads, and news stories with near-constant certainty. The problem is that it sends all the wrong messages, over and over again. Here are a few things that people hear in these contexts:

  1. Our primary funders (donors) are shortsighted people who are incapable of helping us. Give us money and become like them!
  2. Even though we are subject to the same economic pressures as everyone else around us, we're struggling to make ends meet more than everyone else. We aren't capable of managing what we have well.
  3. We're having trouble prioritizing what to spend (y)our money on.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  4. We can't tell you why we're valuable to you if you don't already believe we are valuable.
  5. A big gift doesn't matter. Just a few bucks will get us to the next paycheck. Do you have a few pennies?
  6. We're poor - even though thousands (or millions) of dollars pass through our hands.
  7. We're ungrateful for what we have, and we'll drag your name through the mud if you quit giving to us. So please, give us something!
  8. Our business model isn't working and we don't know how to fix it. We're not entirely competent.
  9. The primary solution to our problem is to throw more money at it.
  10. You should feel guilty because you don't give us enough for us to do our job.

Who is going to give to that? 

No, that's not what we mean to say. Of course that's not what we mean to say. We don't mean to say that all about ourselves, our donors, or our constituents. Unfortunately, that's the story that people often hear when we start the conversation with increased expenses and decreasing revenue.

The story that people hear is that the donors, who should be helpers, are really opponents - getting in the way. And yet we're asking our audience to become donors. Will we be considered helpers or a hindrance?

Financial Roles Get the map! Since there is no vision, there is no clearly stated purpose for the funds, except to keep the machine grinding along. There's no value proposition.

If we want to strengthen our financial future, and increase our capacity to do the work we know to be important, we need a new starting point.

When asking for money, begin with the vision:

We believe the world can be ________. 

Then with values:

This is important to us because we believe ________.

Then with mission:

To that end, we do _________.

Finally, need and action:

We see that the world needs ________. To address that, we'd like to do _________. Will you join us?

How does this make our donors sound? What messages from above seem to recede into the background?

(Related: Changing your organizational narrative through the power of parable.)

Steward leaders have the capacity to change the tone of the story by starting with vision. And vision will draw others in to help so that valuable work can be accomplished.

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Topics: steward, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, Speaking About Money, steward leadership

Telling your Steward Leadership Story: Character Roles

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2As we tell our steward leadership story, we discover there are several common roles in that story.


The Owner (or owners), who has some set of Resources, to be developed into/acted upon to deliver benefit to some Beneficiary or Beneficiaries (sometimes the owner(s) him/herself, often times others).


The Steward Leader is the Owner's Agent through which the Resources will be developed or acted upon to ensure delivery to the Beneficiary/ies.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! The Steward Leader as Agent has Helpers along the way, co-Agents, sub-Agents, outsiders, friends, positive character traits, other resources, to assist the Agent in delivering the Resources to the Beneficiaries. He/she also has Opponents - people, villains, "-isms", character flaws, lack of resources - that prevent the Resources from getting to the Beneficiaries.


Thus we see the conflict. Every good story has conflict that draws in our readers/hearers/viewers in. We can arrange these characters (or sets of characters) to illustrate the conflict at the heart of our story as follows: 




Once again, how we tell this story depends on our audience, and what we hope they will do with the story. Do we want them to see themselves in the story? (If not, why are we telling it?) Do we want them to see themselves as the Owners, the Resources, the Beneficiaries, the Agent, the Helpers or the Opponents?


We may have particular reasons for trying to help our audience relate to a particular role in the narrative structure of our story. Most of the time, though, it seems that putting the audience in a place where they can best relate to the agent will draw them in to the best place to be willing and able to act upon the conflict our story sets up.


Who plays each role in your organization's story? Who is your audience?


I'd enjoy hearing your story - click the button below to send it to me!


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Topics: steward, steward leader, steward leadership

Steward Leaders: Telling your organization's story

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2The way we talk about ourselves can dramatically affect whether others invest in what we do, buy our product or service, join in our cause, or offer us the resource we need. 

As steward leaders, we often find that stories are the most powerful ways to communicate what it means to be "us." Sometimes, stories are as simple as a sentence: "We help organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future," for instance. That sentence tells a story.

The emphasis makes the point: a slogan stating, "Founded in 1852," sounds a lot more moss-covered than "serving our community for seven generations." The first is a historical marker, the second, current action.

(Related: How does your organization fascinate others?)

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Beyond the slogans, we encounter a variety of ways we can tell our story. How are we the main character in our own story? What is our goal? Who helps us along the way? Who are the opponents that keep us from reaching our goal? How does the conflict of opposition vs. goals get resolved? Who comes in to save the day?

Moreover, we might find that it best suits us to tell our story with one emphasis internally (to ourselves); and with another emphasis externally (to clients, partners, business leads, and so forth). When we do this, we must be clear as to which story we are telling to whom. Of course, if the two create dissonance with each other, that might show it's time to work that through.

What stories do we tell ourselves? How about others? 

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Topics: epic story, steward leaders, steward, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, steward leadership

Steward leadership of change capacity to grow your agility

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2As we wrote about last week, agile enterprises are both flexible and responsive, working from high levels of trust and responding strategically to their environments. We find that agility is essential to the basic design of any enterprise at any size in any market. Agility is the result of steward leaders building change capacity into their organization's systems, throughout the entire enterprise.


Agility is particularly essential when dealing with a market disruptor: either another company, or new set of conditions, that causes others' models of work, products, services, revenue streams, customer base, customer expectations, and so on, to change, often radically and suddenly. We have found that the capacity for agility is dependent on leaders' capacity to transform their enterprise based upon new conditions and situations. That is almost always a combination of the leader's personal capacity and the organization's capacity as they work together.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! When a non-agile enterprise encounters a disruptor - including the STEEP sectors (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) - not just (or only) another competitor, the non-agile enterprise requires an adaptive change leader, one who can steward the changes necessary not only to meet the current challenge, but create the capacity for long-term agility in the enterprise as a whole. This adaptive change leader helps the enterprise steward its existing change capacity and leverage it for increased change capacity as it meets the current challenges. Careful steward leadership of this change capacity is needed since the existing challenge will consume some capacity and the transformation toward greater long-term agility will also consume some change capacity. As that occurs, leaders must continue to leverage what capacity that exists to create more capacity, not exhaust the organization.


When an agile enterprise encounters a disruptor, a greater capacity for adaptation already exists in the organization's systems. The agile enterprise still requires an adaptive leader to lead this kind of change. The difference is that the enterprise's change capacity is great enough that the change feels different. And, in many ways, the agile enterprise's change is different: change is designed into the system well enough that it is expected, even if not universally embraced. The agile enterprise has built internal trust high enough that the normal fears produced by change have somewhere to go other than just in to organizationally-disruptive behavior. The agile enterprise must, nevertheless, engage high capacity leaders from the outset of any change, so as to maintain (and perhaps grow) the overall organizational change capacity. The biggest difference is that the disruption often creates less organizational anxiety and anger than the non-agile enterprise experiences.


Agility operates in the paradox and tension of working both as fast as possible and as deliberately as possible, as Mark L. Vincent discussed in his post yesterday. This paradox and tension finds its way into any enterprise's work to build change capacity in to its operations. When disruptors arise, this paradox and tension jump into high gear.


When your enterprise encountered a disruptor, how did you respond? What capacity for agility do you see in your organization's systems? How can you steward  the change capacity you have available to both meet current challenges and increase long-term agility?


We would like to offer a free resource to you - the Tao of Action-Reflection - as a way to help you grow your agility. Check it out by clicking the button below!

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Topics: steward, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, steward leadership, antifragility,, agility