Teach ‘Em To Fish

There are a lot of amazing non-profit groups in the world, doing amazing work on fewer resources than often seems possible. Long hours, minimal staff, board and donors to answer too, constituents to serve, with a mission far greater than a budget to support it. Often a faction of the very people a non-profit exists to serve meet them with distrust, anger, impatience or outright hostility. They are frustrated by their condition or disease, what it has done to their life and how slow progress is – because if you are living a life interrupted, progress is always too slow.

Yet daily a lot of great people put their full effort into making thing better, if just for this one community, for just a day or for a lifetime. They receive about half to 2/3rd as much pay as they could get in a corporate job. They work nights and weekends, because that’s when the volunteers are available. They reuse manila folders and paperclips, print on the back side of paper used once already, and buy their own pens all to save a few dollars because they know it all adds up and the funds are needed more elsewhere – in research or a program.

It has always been unfathomable to me that many not in this sector often think, “Those that can, work corporate; those that can’t work non-profit.”  The very best in the non-profit sector make exceedingly hard work in very challenging conditions look easy, so their work is often minimized. But the easier they make it look, the better they are. If you work in this arena, remember that every time someone acts as though your job is simple and anyone could do it, it is a huge compliment.

Every industry has flakes, flops and fakers – just because someone works for an Association, Foundation or Society with a 501c3 they are not miraculously fabulous. But a lot of them are. A lot. Every once in a while they just need a hand, or a little help seeing the forest through the trees; that’s when many decide to hire a consultant/contractor.

Over the years, I have worked with  several consultants or contractors. Many were really good, some not so great. A few I’d put in the “thief” category because they inexorably tie the non-profit to them, creating systems, structures and programs that ‘required’ the contractor to fulfill them, while the results were not what they could be with a different, more incorporated process. All too often, the non-profit is left with a huge bill and an un-executable plan sitting in a binder on a shelf collecting dust.

After two decades of back-breaking, heart-breaking and soul-filling non-profit work, I decided to start Altimeter Consulting. Despite my protests when life is a 5-ring circus, I like fixing things. I am good at finding magic in the mayhem and bringing order to chaos, or just taking something that is really good and helping find a way to make it great. I love to fly at 30,000 feet and survey the landscape;  review what’s behind, see what’s ahead and chart the best course for success. But I am equally adept at landing the plane, executing the tactics, building a solid plan of action that can then be passed along for the next leg of the race.

Most consultants want to do one of two things: catch the fish for you or leave you a lengthy instruction manual on how to catch the fish yourself, without ever getting in the boat. I want to get in the boat together, direct you to the richest waters, show you a different or improved way to cast the net, and stick with you until you are ready to fill the nets in this new or improved way on your own.

I believe in the work that you do. I know how challenging it is and I know how rewarding it can be. If I can help a few more of you catch your breath and reset your altimeter for the brightest horizon, that’s a good days work.