When Success Depends on Failure
By Morgan Hansow
March 3, 2010
The other night as we were discussing the potential funding for a documentary we’re beginning to work on, it was suggested (by someone outside of LGH) that we make our situation as an organization look more desperate, more needy and more vocal regarding our “desperateness.” That unless we begin to communicate how needy our organization is for donations or specific donors, we cannot expect people to get behind our organization or cause. Needless to say, I was a little disheartened and here’s the weird thing: It wasn’t for Light Gives Heat (LGH), or myself but for the very limited and boxed-in view of nonprofit work that most people tend to have.
Since we started LGH three years ago, we have never claimed to have the answers to this life or how to run an organization in either the U.S. or Africa. But one thing we haven’t wavered on is our commitment to be people who point out the best, the hopeful and the beautiful instead of the worst, the despair and the neediness. Maybe making that commitment has closed some doors for potential support/donations, but we refuse to take the road where our success rides on the failure of Africa, even if it’s a harder road. The easier road would be playing the sympathy and charity cards. Yes, we would get support and donations, but we wouldn’t be doing the amazing people we work with justice they deserve. The truth is, they are incredibly beautiful and talented people who daily inspire us to be hopeful, selfless and grateful.
If someone asks me how things are going with LGH, I am quick to reply that aside from being busy (and still too busy at times), things are going really well. And it’s true. In the last two months, we’ve welcomed three new American staff and two volunteers (actually, one is from the U.K.) on the ground in Uganda, hired on two part-time employees to help with daily operations in Colorado, doubled the number of tailors in our Epoh project, and we’re launching 11 new products as well as a whole new website/shopping experience. Oh, yeah, and in two weeks we’re getting ready to travel to Africa to film the documentary we have been dreaming about. I share this not to boast but to communicate that things really are going well and I believe a lot has to do with the surrender of the organization I wrote about in the last blog. Daily, we are blown away that this is our life. God is good, and I say that not as a cliché but with deep sincerity.
However, just because things are going well doesn’t mean that there aren’t needs. As soon as someone hears that things are “going well,” they tend to immediately think they aren’t needed. At first I was tempted to listen to the lies and believe the success of LGH and our programs have actually worked against our cause to some degree. That the countless long hours, the endless brainstorming, the stress on our family, and all the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of invested volunteers as hindering our efforts in both Uganda and in America had actually hurt our efforts somehow. But then I realized I was measuring our organization by the same mold we have worked so hard to break.
Maybe in a traditional fundraising sense we aren’t as successful as other nonprofits, but in light of our commitment, we really never set ourselves up to be traditional. In fact, the perception that we aren’t needy is actually false. We are needy, but it’s a different type of need, one that arises out of tremendous growth, love and impact—not survival. And it turns into a catch-22 because the generations that tend to have the money and liberty to donate have been conditioned to look for specific attributes—namely, neediness and low operating budgets—when considering where to give. Not only do people tend to focus on what they are trained to look for, but usually people find what we are looking for, too. So maybe it is time for a shift in the way we run, view and support organizations?
As an organization, LGH has found tremendous freedom in thinking outside of the norms and finding alternative ways to fund our projects, such as sales, which creates a cycle of funds going directly back to our mission/vision of economic sustainability and inspiring storytelling. I am willing to take some ownership of the fact that as an organization, LGH has tended to stray more on the side of pushing sales than raising donations. Maybe we have not been as vocal or straightforward with our needs, but honestly we get way more excited about getting an amazing trend-savvy product coupled with a story in front of someone than a pledge card. Plus when we’re buying 700-1,000 necklaces a week, we have to figure out a way to sell them!
In the end, LGH wants to challenge what seems to be the norm—the fact that people tend to only help or get behind something when they feel bad enough or guilty enough to help. Join us in being people that are more inspired, more moved, more willing to give/act when HOPE (truth), not despair, is presented.