IPA Blog

"Never Waste a Good Crisis!"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

“Never waste a good crisis.”

As we focus on leadership this month in the IPA blog, I’m reminded of that rather wise advice many foundations and nonprofits heard during the years of crawling out of the Great Recession’s rubble. Never waste a good crisis. Clearly, this pithy line isn’t trying to convince anyone that the crisis itself is intrinsically good. Crises are, by their nature, difficult, painful, and often create long-term effects that can cripple organizations and people.

However, crises, or emergent ruptures in “business-as-usual,” can force organizations and individuals to grow. They can create of necessity an ideal opportunity for innovation, for creativity and high-reward risk-taking. They can allow us to gain a new perspective on a system we thought we understood. The ground that is ruptured by crisis can be the ideal field for re-imagined fruitfulness in our philanthropic efforts.

We asked Dr. Una Osili, Director of Research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, what changes in leadership the recently released GivingUSA data seemed to reveal, as national giving is recovering. “We are seeing changes in how nonprofits and funders alike are thinking about their funding,” she said. “There is an interest in collaboration among funders, where partners are thinking about how they can move the needle on an issue, developing creative partnerships instead of going it alone…We are seeing when we look at the largest foundations, many of them are trying other tools beyond grantmaking to address issues. It is not business as usual, because the climate has changed.”

These questions are strategic. Because of recent history, is it important to diversify your funding stream? Should you experiment with impact investing or social entrepreneurship? Are the sector’s leaders going to be more or less security-focused going forward? There is no predicting the kind of reaction different individuals and organizations have to an income-stream reduction of the size and scope that the sector experienced in 2008.

“There is more caution,” Osili says. “But there is also a willingness to perhaps take some risks around solving longstanding problems.

This is the challenge of leadership. Balancing risk and responsibility, learning from past events and forecasting likely futures, keeping an eye on the big picture while attending to the bottom line. Our role at IPA is to help Indiana’s philanthropic leaders balance these priorities, by providing them with networks of peers, access to both national and local resources and best practices, and expert guidance. Connected, Indiana’s philanthropic sector can exercise wise leadership – and can refuse to “waste” any crisis that comes our way. 

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