My father will not pass on an estate to me. There is no family fortune. Instead what my brother and sisters and I have inherited is the desire to see that things are done the right way. It plays out in each of us differently, but the common purpose we share can best be summed in a classic piece of Rene Maldonado, Sr. advice: “If you don’t like the way things are, then do something about it.”
(Whether we have the ability to “do something about it” is another matter. As you might imagine, I think each of us kids feels a bit like a superhero but with really useless special powers. It’s frustrating. And I’m about to tell you what we struggle with the most.)
A blog post in Harvard Business Review got me thinking about this again. The author, a leader of Echoing Green, a nonprofit that provides seed funding to social entrepreneurs, calls it a “moment of obligation”:
Everyone is moved this way from time to time, but what sets those who help solve the world’s biggest problems apart is the decision to turn that feeling into action. They say, “Someone has to take responsibility for this problem. And that someone is me.”
In Austin, pick a problem. There’s something here for everyone: Homelessness, education, lack of opportunity, lack of food, lack of family, a general lack of philanthropy (that’s my problem) … But first I urge you, do the research. Find an organization that already addresses what you want to address.
If you find yourself frustrated by a nonprofit and the opportunities it gives you to get involved, don’t run off and start your own organization. You’ll be wasting your energy on red tape and Excel spreadsheets.
Dig deeper with that nonprofit. Chances are they want to solve this problem, too. Find the person in that organization who can help you start or improve a program. It can be a staff person or a board member, doesn’t matter. Get an advocate on the inside. And listen more than you talk. Chances are that nonprofit knows more about the issue than you do, and they also know more about the obstacles.
I’m telling you guys, THIS is the hard part. Starting a new organization is a pain but it’s not the hard part. Working with people…. that is the hard part. They’ll make your hair fall out in frustration, make you want to give up and go back to watching Murder She Wrote (or whatever) all night because it’s just not worth it.
But it is worth it. It’s called leadership.
Yes, take responsibility for the problem — be the change you want to see in the world, etc. But don’t try to do it alone. It won’t work if you do it alone. And more than anything you want it to work, right?
You want to do something about it, right?