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“Tough Times”

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Every one of us has been to a meeting, a gathering in the last six months where that phrase was somewhere in the title. And well it should be. As the saying goes, deal with reality as it is, not as you wish it were. One measure of that reality is the sense that, in past economic downturns, some of us might say we knew someone that knows someone adversely affected. This time, I think every one directly knows someone that’s been significantly impacted. I know I do. And yet …

… And yet, for the past few weeks, I’ve had this rumbling in my gut. We cannot walk away from the day-to-day reality and challenges so many people in our communities face. Indeed, it’s why we do what we do. But we also have to find ways to alter the lens through which we view our world. In times like this, some people find the determination and imagination to look forward and upward. Since SVP has been through the dot-bomb and other ups & downs the last 11 years, we’ve learned that good organizations not only make it through tough times, but come out the other end ready to accelerate at a faster speed and more effectively than organizations that hunkered down. I’ve been trying to piece these separate thoughts together until …

… until I recently spent a day at a conference where the keynote speaker was Jim Collins.  Collins is a 200-mph burst of energy and optimism, grounded in real life, not theory. He was there to talk about his great little book – Good to Great and the Social Sector © (get a copy if you haven’t already or we’ve got a few copies around the office). I didn’t really hear what he was saying about the book; instead he was firing questions and concepts that helped resolve the uneasiness in my gut and clarify that lens through which SVP can view the world today. How so?

“In these times, there are massive opportunities” – easier said than done, right? But true. I twittered last week about a meeting SVP was in with 20 funders and 10 more on the phone. It was an intense discussion about how we can help build the capacity of the sector and non-profit organizations, right now and in the longer-term. Wow! We have come a long ways; 10 years ago a capacity-building conversation would have included birds heard chirping during frequent silences. Today, the PNW funding community is committed to building stronger non-profit organizations (not just programs). Out of this is going to come significant new institutions and support for effective nonprofits. SVP will help play a meaningful role. Stay tuned.

“It’s the Who, not the What” – amen to that. The April newsletter sent out Tuesday proves the point beyond the shadow of a doubt – Susan Loosmore and Tanya Kim, Neal Myrick and Sari Pascoe, Kevin Phaup and Kim McKoy, Rogers Weed, Yoram Bernet and Maya Kanzler. And Jeffrey & Paige Wilder. Read what they’ve done and you will know that we will make it through the tough times better and stronger than ever. Like most challenges, the solution is right there, in our own hands, our heads, and our hearts. One of Collins’ core ideas is Level 5 Leadership.  So many of our Partners and the people we work with are on their way to “Level 5 Social Sector Leadership,” * especially that vital element of humility. Who will be the next SVP Level 5 Philanthropic Leaders?!

“What Must You do and what Can You do?” What SVP must do is execute with better precision than ever, be more financially conscious than ever before, and pay even closer attention to our investees and fellow Partners and strengthening the community we’ve built amongst us. What we can do is find rays of optimism amidst the clouds of challenges, be a leader by raising our sights to take on new initiatives when it seems hardest to do, and move ahead with a sense of not just what is tough today, but what is possible tomorrow. Come to the Spring Partners’ meeting on June 2 and we’ll raise our sights together and see what is possible.

Not one single word here is meant to diminish or ignore the hardships that so many people in our community feel. The tough times are real and for some people, they are life changing. Collins left us that morning with a story …

… a story a few of you may know … Vice Admiral James Stockdale was one of the most decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy and was the highest ranking officer to serve as a POW in Vietnam. He was held for seven years, locked in leg irons in a bath stall, routinely tortured and beaten. His story goes on and it is unfathomable. He survived and made it out in 1972 because he was, he said, a realist, not an optimist. Other POW’s were convinced they’d be home by the next holiday and eventually succumbed to their dashed hopes. Stockdale dealt with the brutal facts, not blind faith. But the most profound thing he did, in his own words, was to decide that “this would be the turning point in my life.” …. One has to absorb that statement for a moment before you can even believe it.

None of us have to even remotely deal with what Vice Adm. Stockdale did, but we can and we must take that kind of inspiration and make these tough times a turning point in our lives and for SVP. A turning point where we move into new terrain to help strengthen the state’s early learning networks, where we build a stronger and more vibrant SVP community, where we invent new opportunities to more effectively and creatively help our investees and the non-profit sector not just survive, but succeed. Those are all tangible, real plans that will come to fruition in 2009, because of who we are, not just what we do.

I went back and re-read our 5-year vision and plans last night for inspiration. What do you think we can and must do at SVP? What do you think can make us great? We want to hear from you. 2009 is the massive opportunity in tough times to be a new turning point for SVP.

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