100,000 Fully Engaged
Tutors for Foundations,
When the whirlwind passes by, the wicked is no more,
But the righteous has an everlasting foundation.
— Proverbs 10:25 (NKJV)
Foundations are typically the beneficiaries of private philanthropy intended to achieve some public purpose over many years. Foundations seldom directly operate any socially beneficial activity, but, rather, serve by directing funds and technical support to those who will serve the public.
Some foundations specifically aim to survive for many generations, doing their work by only drawing on part of their investment income, leaving the rest of their assets and income invested in hopes of maintaining or increasing the foundations’ purchasing power for the long run. Other foundations seek donations in addition to conserving their capital so that resources continually grow and the foundation can do more work over more years.
Some organizations choose to be established as foundations because governments (such as in the United States) provide tax advantages that allow donors to stretch their money to accomplish more. Still other organizations are set up as foundations to help attract more participation by public-spirited leaders, experts, participants, and donors. Yet other foundations use this legal structure to ensure independence, bolstering credibility that permits them to accomplish more.
In the last few decades, foundations have sought to become much more effective in accomplishing their purposes. Some foundations have chosen, for instance, to emphasize pilot programs that, if successful, other people and organizations would be delighted to implement on a larger and broader scale. In this chapter, we focus on how tutors can add value to improving foundations’ effectiveness.
Some other foundations have chosen ways of operating that enable their expenditures to create vastly multiplied ongoing benefits for others (such as the Wikimedia Foundation’s financial support of Wikipedia’s Web site and small staff that allow millions of volunteers to share and improve online information). In almost all cases, foundations are making more and more measurements of their activities so they can understand what results occur because of their involvement and uncover where improvements can be made in what they do.
Most foundations specialize in one aspect of providing public benefits as one way to become more knowledgeable and effective in achieving their purposes. Narrowing a foundation’s focus can also ensure that resources are directed to needs that no one else is serving. When a foundation’s focus remains constant, the attention of those who want to work in that field is more likely to be gained, and better projects will be proposed for the foundation to support.
The good that foundations do can be long lasting and substantial. Here’s an example that’s close to my heart. When I was a youngster, the main library in my hometown of San Bernardino, California, had been built with the assistance of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. Since a good part of my original interest in developing advanced practices was fueled by my youthful reading of books checked out from that library, an important portion of what has been accomplished by the 400 Year Project in the last fifteen years can be credited in part to the foundation’s provision of $27,600 toward the establishment of that library and to the hard work of local leaders way back in 1902.
Assuming that a foundation’s originators have selected an excellent purpose, the staff’s abilities are what matters most in accomplishing worthy results over the long run. Staffs design programs to attract worthy projects for the foundation to support. Staffs also do the evaluations that narrow the project choices to just the best ones. Without excellent staffs, foundations would be no more effective in serving public purposes than any unspent, invested money is.
Foundations are operated with as few expenses as possible so that more funds can be applied to serve their purposes. There is a good reason to be frugal: Chances are that several dozen worthy proposals are received for every one for which there is enough money to support.
As a result, the burdens on the foundation staffs are usually substantial. Tutors need to keep that in mind as they consider how they might best assist foundation staffs to accomplish breakthroughs.
What roles are there for tutors in enhancing foundations’ effectiveness in making multiplied, complementary, exponential improvements in performance (referred to in the rest of this chapter as “multiplying more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits”) through supporting pilot projects? I see these possibilities as being worthy of consideration:
• Help foundation staffs understand the potential benefits of supporting projects that will simultaneously multiply more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits.
• Assist foundation staffs to better educate those who propose projects about how to devise ways to simultaneously multiply more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits.
• Increase staff capability to help proposal writers and project leaders multiply more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits in their proposals and plans.
• Redirect foundation assistance toward projects that successfully multiply more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits and will be very rapidly expanded by others beyond their initial scope.
Let’s consider these four possibilities in more detail, beginning with helping foundation staffs to understand the potential benefits of projects that multiply more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits. In considering this opportunity, I don’t want to prescribe the precise ways that tutors should interact with each foundation because I suspect that the ideal methods may differ a great deal from one organization to another. For instance, a senior staff member at a large foundation may choose to develop exponential-improvement tutoring skills and directly educate the rest of the organization’s members one by one. Alternatively, a smaller foundation might arrange for an external tutor to provide an in-house seminar for the staff where everyone can explore the subject together. Many other models of possible interactions exist between those two extremes, including mixed cases where both internal and external tutors are involved and the learning groups are of various sizes.
Tutors, Help Foundation Staffs Understand
the Potential Benefits of Supporting Projects
Simultaneously Multiplying More Kinds
of Complementary, Exponential Benefits
Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
— Proverbs 3:3-6 (NKJV)
For a mathematician, an economist, an accountant, or a business school graduate, it might be puzzling why someone working for a foundation would need any help understanding the value of supporting projects that multiply more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits. While the mathematics of the advantages are easy to appreciate in the abstract (for a thorough discussion of this subject, read Chapter 11 of Adventures of an Optimist), I believe that the full implications of the calculations often escape even the most highly intelligent and experienced people who are familiar with quantitative analysis.
From seeing reactions to my sharing of information about the advantages of multiplying more kinds of exponential benefits with those involved in nonprofit organizations, it’s clear that there is an important subclass of stalls (bad thinking habits that delay improvements) that can close minds to the significance of multiplying more kinds of complementary, exponential benefits in the projects that foundations support.
One common stall is arithmophobia, the fear of large numbers. At some point an individual with this phobia simply cannot stand to deal any more with the large numbers involved. This reaction is especially likely to occur when the numbers are expressed in mathematical notations that are unfamiliar to the person who has this fear.
Another common stall is related: being uncomfortable with any numbers (also often called arithmophobia). This reaction can be caused in part by some mental difficulty in processing quantitative information, such as dyslexia.
A potential stallbusting solution for either of these stalls is to substitute physical examples that accurately represent the numbers for the numbers. Here’s what I mean. If you let one drop of water represent the benefits from one exponential solution, you can assign 20 drops of water (about one cubic centimeter) to represent the benefits from two complementary exponential solutions; 400 drops (about 20 cubic centimeters) can stand for three complementary exponential solutions’ benefits; 8,000 drops (about 4 cubic meters) can indicate four complementary exponential solutions’ benefits; 160,000 drops (about 80 cubic meters) can be the benefits from five such related solutions; 3.2 million drops of water (about 1,600 cubic meters) can signify six complementary solutions; 64 million drops of water (about 32,000 cubic meters) can represent seven complementary exponential solutions’ benefits; and so on. I suspect that such physical representations will probably work better than only numbers even for those who appreciate and are comfortable with quantitative expressions, by leaving behind a more dramatic and lasting impression.
The best way to share these physical examples will be to show them in person. If that’s not possible, a visual or verbal presentation can relate the physical examples to some rough equivalents that people have observed or experienced (such as the amount of water in a tablespoon, a pail, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool).
A third stall is related to the well-known Disbelief stall. I call this stall, “Assuming Declining Benefits.” In many circumstances, most of the potential benefits are gained quickly. If you put a lot more effort and resources into such an activity, the rate of return from the added efforts and resources rapidly declines. Students often allude to this point in reference to the value of studying harder when they cite the old joke, “What do you call the person who graduates last in a medical school class? A doctor.”
The first step in a stallbuster for the Assuming Declining Benefits stall is to ask people whether they believe that benefits can continue to increase more rapidly than the added effort and resources … or if the value of benefits always decreases relative to added effort and resources in any given situation. The answer will tell you whether you need to address this stall.
For those who believe in always-declining benefit returns from more effort and resources, you can help improve the accuracy of their perceptions by making a distinction based on examples from their experiences. For instance, many foundation staffs realize that putting more effort into polishing the prose of a given project’s proposal may make it easier to understand and to implement, but that the benefits from such polishing eventually grow smaller and smaller with more and more effort. At some point, it’s hard to notice any benefit from more rewriting. Help staff members to distinguish that familiar circumstance from the geometric advantages of changing a project to add one more class of complementary, exponential benefits that would not otherwise have been present. In doing this, be sure to provide an example based on their experiences.
To make my point clearer, here’s an example of what I mean by adding another class of complementary, exponential benefits. Let’s assume that a project is intended to provide clean drinking water at very low cost in arid countries where most people are very poor. As conceived, the project is intended to demonstrate the physical and chemical effectiveness of the technology for enabling the intended users to clean the water in a certain environment. The planned project will not, however, test whether people want to use the technology.
Experience teaches that many low-cost technologies don’t help much in practice because the people they are intended to benefit don’t want to use the technologies. If the project as conceived is expanded to include testing the willingness of people in arid regions to use the new technology compared to the existing alternatives in light of their intended costs to the users, the project can help those who are working on developing improved technologies to learn a great deal about what factors make methods attractive and unattractive to the intended users. After gaining such insights into usage preferences, thoughtful technologists will focus their future work on technologies that are more consistent with the characteristics that potential users desire. As a result, future development work will be exponentially more productive in readying technologies that will receive widespread acceptance and use through seeking to achieve better conceived objectives.
A fourth stall is Boredom. Many people find it much more desirable to work on a number of projects at once than to keep tweaking a single project to make it better, even if much greater results are being accomplished from the tweaking.
Erasing boredom isn’t easy to do. An effective stallbuster can be to vastly increase the number of people who review the most interesting projects to gain more ideas for how additional classes of complementary, exponential benefits can be added. One possible role for tutors is to suggest to foundations opportunities for adding more benefits by encouraging such reviews by large numbers of knowledgeable people. I also encourage tutors to prepare written materials that include templates for helping project reviewers to identify more potential opportunities to provide benefits from redesigning a project.
A fifth stall is Impracticality. While any given change in a project may be perfectly simple to do for someone who has the necessary expertise, the more kinds of expertise that are required to succeed, the greater the likelihood that a project leader cannot be effective in accomplishing all those tasks without finding and engaging a lot more people. Involving more people makes projects much more difficult to manage, slows them down, makes them riskier, and often geometrically increases their costs. In many cases, the project leader won’t even know where to get the right kind of help. As a consequence, foundation staffs need to be cautious about what they choose to encourage proposal writers and project leaders to add.
A useful Impracticality stallbuster is for tutors to assist foundation staffs to understand what’s involved in adding various kinds of complementary, exponential benefits so that the staffs will be cautious in what they suggest where risks and difficulties are high and aggressive where risks and difficulties are low. I also believe that tutors can be of service in educating foundation staffs by developing written materials and lists of resources to share with proposal writers and project leaders who are asked to engage in activities that are unfamiliar to them for adding complementary, exponential benefits.
With time and experience, I’m sure that tutors will identify many other stalls that need to be overcome while educating foundation staffs about the value of multiplying complementary, exponential benefits. To facilitate this learning about other stalls and how to overcome them, I encourage tutors who work with foundations to share their observations about stalls and their most successful stallbusters with others who do this kind of tutoring through a developing a body of practice.
Let’s now shift our discussion to consider how tutors can best assist foundation staffs to educate proposal writers and project leaders concerning how to add many more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits.
Tutors, Help Foundation Staffs to Educate
Proposal Writers and Project Leaders in
How to Devise Ways to Simultaneously Add and
Multiply More Kinds of Complementary, Exponential Benefits
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
— Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)
A common tutoring mistake is to believe that if one person understands something important, the person with understanding can successfully explain the point to anyone else. While successful learning may often follow such explanations, differences in education, experience, and culture can be such huge barriers to comprehension that sometimes important information has to be explained in entirely different ways that are easier for learners to appreciate and apply.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Some people prefer to read to learn something, while others only want to discuss a subject, while still others only care about having the direct experience of doing what is being learned. Some other people prefer to learn in two or all three of these ways. A wise tutor will assume that almost everyone will learn better by combining all three of these common learning preferences, and the tutor will help foundation staffs to learn to communicate in that way.
Tutors can be most effective when they serve as teaching models for staffs to follow. For instance, if the tutor explains to foundation staffs about the importance of adding more types of complementary, exponential benefits through using all three learning preferences, it will never occur to most staff members to use any other method.
Many people also have difficulty applying principles they learn to a given situation. Even after that hurdle is overcome, almost everyone has initial trouble in transferring the principles being learned from the first application to one situation into making an appropriate application to another situation. The most effective tutors will develop learning methods for foundation staffs to use that make it easier to overcome these common problems.
An interactive learning method containing lots of coaching can help with adding skill in applying principles. Here’s what I mean.
To begin, ask the foundation staff learner to provide a few examples of projects under consideration. In addition, tutors should ask the learners about the backgrounds and skills of the people who propose projects to the foundation.
Tutors should develop templates for applying the thinking processes in the context of these projects and the characteristics of the proposal writers and project leaders. For example, if the proposal writers’ and project leaders’ backgrounds are often very technical in any way, it will help the foundation staffs if tutors modify any general templates to reflect that kind of technical perspective. For instance, you would most effectively explain adding more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits much differently to an autism specialist than to you would to an electrical engineer.
The tutor should then explain the customized template to the learner. After the foundation staff person understands the template in the abstract, the tutor’s lessons should expand to demonstrating how to apply the template to the examples. After going through somewhere between five and ten examples, most foundation staff learners will begin to see patterns for how to consider the issue and begin to devise their own methods for applying the template.
At the point a learner begins to “get it” and feels comfortable applying the template, tutors should ask learners to apply the template to other project opportunities without help. Tutors can then review the results and provide encouraging feedback. The learner then applies the template to yet another project opportunity and receives more helpful and encouraging feedback. The process of developing solutions and getting constructive, encouraging feedback continues until the person’s skill in applying the template reaches an effective level before the tutor reviews what the learner has done.
In my estimation, the following templates are likely to be needed to help foundation staffs become more effective in educating those who propose and lead projects:
• the value of adding more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits
• how to identify attractive opportunities to add more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits
• how to validate apparently attractive opportunities before committing to engage in them
After the foundation staff person is performing well in applying these templates, a good follow-on activity is for tutors to observe the learner performing the same process while other foundation staffers with limited knowledge of the subject play the roles of proposal writers and project leaders. Between role-playing sessions, the tutor can coach the foundation staff person in how to improve. In the next subsection, I explain more about how to conduct such role-playing-based learning.
Having outlined these potential approaches for tutors to help staffs become more effective in educating proposal writers and project leaders in devising ways to provide more complementary, exponential benefits, let’s now consider ways that tutors can assist foundation staff members in working with project leaders to add more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits to their proposals and plans.
Tutors, Assist Foundation Staffs
to Increase Their Ability to Provide
More Valuable Help to
Those Who Propose and Lead Projects in
Adding Ways to Simultaneously Multiply
More Kinds of Complementary, Exponential Benefits
Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God,
nor is he who does not love his brother.
— 1 John 3:10 (NKJV)
I’m sure that each foundation will have its own ideas about what role staffers should play. Some foundations may prefer that all help for proposal writers and project leaders come from outside the staff so that staffers can remain more objective in evaluating proposals. Other foundations may want some staffers to play more of a role as helpers than as evaluators. A few may even want staffers to decide when to bring in tutors to help proposal writers and project leaders. Whatever the choice is, tutors need to be flexible in being sure that proposal writers and project leaders get the help they need to add more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits.
In addressing this tutoring role, I’m assuming that those who are proposing and leading projects know their subjects a lot better than foundation staffs do and that foundation staffs know a lot more about the projects’ subjects than the tutors do. Even if that hierarchy of knowledge is not the case, I suspect that such a humble set of assumptions will be useful to making “help” more attractive and useful to those who receive it.
Role-playing is again one of the best ways for tutors to assist foundation staff members to increase their effectiveness in helping proposal writers and project leaders. Initially, the tutor can act as an observer while foundation staff members take turns playing the roles of project proposal writers, project leaders, and foundation staffers who are assisting the proposal writers and project leaders.
It often helps to videotape such sessions so that interactions can be replayed to point out particular opportunities for improvement during one-on-one coaching sessions. Tutors should be encouraging at all times, no matter how ineffective the staff members’ efforts are.
A good analogy is to think about how you helped your child learn to say “Mama” or “Daddy.” You assumed that your child would learn, and you were excited about the opportunity to speed that eventual accomplishment. You should do no less for foundation staffers who are learning to help proposal writers and project leaders. The staffers will eventually be very effective, and the results will be wonderful.
After proposal writers and project leaders pick what complementary, exponential benefits to add, it’s important to check that everyone truly understands and agrees. Staff members will probably make more accurate progress with increasing understanding by first asking the proposal writers and project leaders to explain what they have in mind. As the improvement idea is explained (whether in brief notes, short presentations, a conversation, or through a joint activity) by the proposal writer or project leader, the staff person should be encouraging. Provide the right encouragement, and many good results will follow.
A second method for checking on mutual agreement and understanding is to ask clarifying questions that help expose issues that the proposal writer or project leader hasn’t noticed and any potential conflicts among different aspects of the proposal. While many people are inclined to think that the narrow questions are the best for turning up potential problems, the opposite is usually the case. Broader questions can reframe perspectives and help the proposal writer or project leaders to apply more of her or his helpful knowledge and experience.
Let me give you an example of what I mean about the scope of questions. A narrow question might inquire about why someone who wants to add a test of user acceptance for a new technology isn’t going to use a questionnaire. A broader question might instead ask how the proposed approach will answer the question of user acceptance. With the former question, you can be sure you’ll end up with a questionnaire … whether or not that’s the best method. With the latter question, you may end up with a questionnaire when that’s appropriate in addition to lots of ways to measure user acceptance so that more will be learned from conducting the project.
Agreements can still lead to wrong results. Misdirection is especially likely to occur when ineffective or inappropriate action steps are added to implement an aspect of a project. Foundation staffs should carefully check the soundness of the planned action because some proposal writers and project leaders will simply add an activity to help gain foundation support without understanding whether the activity will help or hurt the intended result.
Since the project will now have lots of new activities, the risk of poor implementation will always be present. Foundation staffs can be more helpful to proposal writers and project leaders if they develop expertise in evaluating plans and suggesting alternative solutions that are likely to be more helpful and easier to accomplish.
If developing on-staff expertise is not possible (especially for a small foundation), the best alternative will be to point proposal writers and project leaders to best practice information. Here’s another place where tutors can assist by identifying effective, low-cost sources and directing staffs to experts who can effectively perform proposal and project reviews at a reasonable cost.
Perhaps the most valuable role tutors can play is in helping foundation staffs establish methods of measuring how effective they are in “assisting” the proposal writers and project leaders to add more dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits. Such measurements should begin with determining how much of the intended benefits from such assistance is gained and end with confidential feedback from those who received the assistance concerning how the process could have been improved.
Some foundations may also want to set up a process allowing proposal writers and project leaders to ask that more expert help than staff members can provide be made available by the foundation at no cost. That opportunity to shift where the help comes from can supply a face-saving way of reducing an ineffective staff member’s involvement while ensuring that the project receives the necessary support to add more complementary, exponential benefits.
Let’s discuss next redirecting foundation activities and resources towards the projects that will go the fastest from successful demonstration of many dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits into extremely widespread, effective use.
Tutors, Help Staffs to Redirect Foundation Support
to Projects That Successfully Add and Multiply
More Kinds of Complementary, Exponential Benefits
That Will Be Very Rapidly Expanded by Others
into Extremely Widespread, Effective Use
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
— 1 Corinthians 3:6 (NKJV)
It’s easy to imagine that everything a foundation can accomplish is done after lots more complementary, exponential benefits are added to already attractive projects. Certainly, most foundation staffs will feel that they have done good work and that they have reason to be pleased that the foundation’s resources will be used more fruitfully. In stopping improvement efforts at that point, a foundation staff can fall victim to the Satisfaction stall, viewing their task as simply improving results rather than improving results from the use of foundation resources as much as possible.
In practice, no two seemingly desirable projects will resemble one another in their magnitude of public benefits. Let me explain why.
Even if two projects offer the same number of complementary types of exponential benefits, the absolute value of those benefits will differ. That’s true because the value of each complementary, exponential benefit will be different. For instance, one project might avoid 100 childhood deaths as one of the exponential, complementary benefits, but have little impact on avoiding lifelong suffering. Another project might avoid 10,000 cases of lifelong suffering as one of the exponential, complementary benefits, but save no lives.
As you can see, comparing those benefits is a lot like saying that apples are better than oranges (or the reverse). Saving lives and avoiding suffering cannot be equated. They are different kinds of benefits. I can only observe that reasonable people might come to different conclusions about which benefit is more valuable in what relative quantities.
Even if the type of benefit is the same, the absolute level of what’s provided may differ. One project may offer the opportunity to avoid 100 childhood deaths while another one will avoid 1,000. Here, it’s clear that the absolute numbers can help provide some guidance.
Because projects provide many complementary, exponential benefits, comparing their potential benefits will often be more art than science, with more “apples and oranges” situations than situations where the numbers for comparable results can be related to one another.
In addition, it will usually be quite hard to know what the benefits will be in advance of completing a project. No one will want to choose one project that makes aggressive claims over a more worthy project simply because the latter makes very conservative claims.
Foundations will differ in how they sort out all of these comparisons. Most foundations already have methods in place to consider the kinds of issues I’ve been raising. But if a foundation hasn’t addressed those comparisons, tutors could certainly be helpful in identifying ideal practices for making such distinctions where different kinds of benefits are involved for competing project proposals.
In reality, the biggest differences between two projects usually don’t involve the issues I’ve been describing at all. Instead, the value of one project relative to another is primarily determined by how rapidly and widely each project will be implemented by others after a successful demonstration.
Tutors can be a valuable resource in addressing the likely future expansion through studying past experiences of successful demonstration projects. Here are some of the valuable perspectives that could be gained from such investigations:
• Identify factors that encourage and discourage further expansion of demonstration projects.
• Investigate how projects can be designed so that faster expansion can be encouraged.
• Develop measurements that can provide some accuracy in predicting the speed and scope of future expansion of a successful project.
• Improve information access about demonstration project successes for those who might be interested in expanding the application of the methods.
Unless care is taken to develop such perspectives, estimating future expansion potential can easily become just someone’s (or some group’s) guess, making it more likely that staff-favored projects that will probably deliver fewer long-term benefits will receive funding rather than higher potential projects that don’t have as much staff support. That descent into subjectivity would be unfortunate in many cases where highly valuable projects don’t receive foundation support.
Undoubtedly, each foundation will discover that it has specific tendencies in being overly optimistic or pessimistic in certain circumstances. Tutors can help foundation staffs to identify their tendencies and to develop methods to improve the accuracy of advice to proposal writers and project leaders and recommendations to foundation decision makers. Where projects are turned down by a foundation but eventually receive funding from another foundation, there will be excellent opportunities to add to the perspective of how well advice and predictions work out in practice.
While foundations are a very important source of encouraging innovations that can deliver many dimensions of complementary, exponential benefits, they aren’t the only institution that plays a valuable role in making breakthroughs. In Chapter Eight, our attention shifts to one of the newest and fastest growing sources of breakthrough innovations, the social enterprise. Leaders of such organizations establish the total value of improved social impacts as the goal to be maximized, rather than traditional business measures of profit-and-loss, discounted cash flow of the enterprise, and increase in owners’ wealth.
Copyright © 2011 by Donald W. Mitchell. All rights reserved.