change, charity and control freaks

change, charity and control freaks

Fitbit just bought Pebble.

Pebble, if you didn’t know, is the original Smartwatch. Before Apple Watch, Android Wear and all that other stuff, the folks at Pebble connected with early adopters who embraced their vision.

A couple years ago, HP bought Palm. Palm, if you don’t remember, was one of the first to make PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant). HP released some product about a year after the acquisition and then fully dumped it within weeks. Though it was formidable software, in my opinion, it wasn’t enough to make it last. Today, certain aspects of iOS come from the Palm tech as well as some Smart TV features.

This isn’t a review on tech. It’s only because I’m an avid hobbyist that I know this stuff. But Pebble’s failure to continue on its own has similarities to what I’m seeing in the world of charity.

In North America today, less people are giving, and those who give are giving less. It’s happened in my own family, so this isn’t a complaint. Granted, wealthy benefactors and large not-for-profits (universities, hospitals) increase the average so it seems like giving is up, but the stats that pertain to the working middle class like you and me indicate otherwise. Less of us are giving, and we are giving less.

So what does that mean for smaller charities, the not-for-profit equivalent of Pebble? Well, we’re not in it for profit. In the for-profit world, when it isn’t making money, it ends (or is bought or sold, etc). In not-for-profit, it’s about the cause, so we adjust. We change something in order to continue to work with less even as we work to try and engage new ways of funding the work.

Pebble and Palm were very good products, but that doesn’t mean people bought it. In the same way, a charity’s cause might be good, but people might not support it.

Some might argue that it’s all about marketing, and I suppose that’s a piece. But it’s not as simple as that, because larger charities can market better and as such, get more return than smaller charities. Today, in the charity world, awesome causes are competing with each other for a smaller piece of the proverbial pie. We need to change how we do donor-funded work, because donors are changing and how much people donate has changed.

This morning I read a quote in the book, Getting to Maybe (the author’s are quoting someone else in this quote). It bears repeating here, as it seems to me to be quite relevant.

Our social and economic systems are undergoing a phase transition. We no longer have the luxury of remaining complacent. As Francis Bacon pointed out four hundred years ago, ‘He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.’ Time and the times are indeed presenting us with new challenges and opportunities on an unprecedented global scale.

As Eric Young has said: ‘We know two things with absolute certainty: (1) that in twenty years, even ten, our world will look very different, and (2) that the decisions we take today will significantly shape our emergent future. However, we can have no certainty about what the future will be. It is not a good time for control freaks.

Indeed it is not.

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