Theory of Change or Theory of Opportunity

What happens when our ability to estimate cause and effect is lost?

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How can we calculate relative risk and reward? 

The unprecedented nature of our ever-changing world has altered our certainty that ability if I do X, then Y will happen as a result of my action. 

I spent a week in January at the Tufts School of Law and Diplomacy as part of a pilot leadership program. Our cohort became captivated with the tangible tools presented by Dr. Alnoor Ebrahim from his recently released book on the theory of change, Measuring Social Change: Performance and Accountability in a Complex World. The ability to map out strategy and set forth concrete plans of action intrigued us as we set to work to apply it to our Impact Projects. 

There is comfort in the knowing. Goals can be set, deliverables measured, adjustments made to maximize our impact.  

Our world has shifted on its axis since January. 

Today, so much of our personal, professional, and emotional lives are untethered to our trust in what has been. 

When we can no longer rest in the surety of what will be, do we halt, hesitate, or hope? 

Questions from our nonprofit clients reflect all three. 

Do we cancel, postpone, or reinvent our special events? 

Do we go forward with campaigns, appeals, and special projects? 

Do we reach out to constituents? Will our call be a bother or a welcome connection? 

For many of us, these initial weeks of our new normal have been a dance of halt and hesitate, pause and consider. As we move deeper into this fundamental shift in our reality, our ability to be open to all the possibilities of what could be is the window through which we can let in hope. 

By releasing our expectations that what we project will occur as a result of our endeavors, we shift our focus from outcome to intent. 

If our gala usually attracts 500 guests and raises over $500,000 ~ do we focus on the outcomes and the numbers or the intangible intention to gather as community, to build relationship, to share our story? 

With that shift comes an openness to opportunity. Instead of being focused on what we expect, we widen our lens to see all that is possible. 

By aligning with our core intentions, we may discover that a virtual gathering opens the doors to those beyond our geography. Perhaps highlighting the substance versus the style of the occasion prompts constituents to increase their giving. 

How often have you reflected on the intention, the WHY behind what you do? As a philanthropic consultant and coach, I’ve had the privilege of partnering with clients who have become adept to this call to action through our work together, thus ensuring an institutional or individual embrace of mission.  

When we dig deeper into the force behind our actions, we uncover the power of our purpose. We discover the stories we can tell that help illustrate our cause and demonstrate our impact.  

I challenge you to think deeply about your intentions, what you truly want to accomplish, particularly as it relates to what you value, what you believe in, what you treasure. By shifting the lens from the WHAT to the WHY, you can release your expectations about the outcome. By trusting in your intent, you can be open to the wider array of possible opportunities within which lies hope. 

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