When I was a young management trainee in the Steel industry I can vividly recall a crusty senior manager constantly asking “Do you have your three ducks in a row?” Whenever he was checking on the status of a project. You see he had this theory that any project, endeavour or business has three primary elements and they must be aligned for it to be successful – 1. A sound and clear reason for doing the activity; 2. The people, systems and resources to accomplish it and; 3. The cash to fund it.
This simple question has stuck with me ever since and it is the first thing I ask cause-based organisations I am involved with because invariably if they are having problems it is because their three ducks are out of whack. In the cause-based sector the three ducks are:
Cause– The organisation’s reason for existing
Capability – The sum of your competencies that enable you to deliver against your cause better than anyone else in your region, state, country, planet.
Cash – Robust revenue streams, whether they be from Government, private funders or community fundraising, to sustain and grow the organisation.
When the three are aligned all is good in the world. The cause is underpinned by the organisations capability which assists and encourages the cash generation. On the other hand when one or two of the ducks are out of line trouble may be brewing. For example:
If cause is out of whack: An organisation may have a sound funding base and great people, systems and programs but just can’t focus on a core purpose. This will lead to what I call “cause drift” and usually occurs because an organisation puts its hand up for every dollar of funding on offer irrespective of whether it is aligned to the purpose. It can also occur when an organisation is in a growth mode or wishes to mitigate risk so consciously decides to diversify without fully evaluating the consequences.
If the capabilities are out of whack: How often do you see an organisation with a great cause, assure funding from a government contract but it just can’t deliver? The next time I hear a CEO or Board member say “we will worry about the people and systems we need after we win the contract”, I’ll scream!
If the cash is out of whack: So you have a great cause and can deliver fantastic results but financially just can’t make ends meet. Regrettably a fairly familiar story in our under resourced sector.
There are various other combinations of “duck misalignment” and in some cases two or all three are in crisis. Most commonly, however, I find that it is the “cash duck” that is the major issue. When it becomes stressed it almost totally consumes Board and management time and forces one into a mode of looking for quick fixes. These fixes too often involve attacking the other ducks – let’s reduce our program staff, don’t upgrade the out-dated IT system, forget about that marketing program; or let’s go after that government program over there. We will learn how to do it and find people to deliver and by the way it’s worth $250,000 over two years!
Can you identify with any of the above?
Look it doesn’t have to be like this. Take a breather, soak in the serenity of ducks on a pond and consider how these three little ducks can align in your organisation. Reconsider your cause if necessary and how you position it. Is it one that can generate government, philanthropic and or community support? Is it one that you can deliver on better than anyone else? Are your funding streams supporting not diluting your cause and capabilities?
Get your three ducks in a row and you will astound yourself with the level of social impact you can achieve. You will be equally thrilled with the amount of stress it takes off you and your organisation
Author – Chris Gandy, Director, Cause and Effective
Duck image from Ducklover Bonnie