The Charity Business

It’s that time of year, that time when the charity business is in full flight, TV Ads, Press Ads, bucket shakers outside your favourite shop. The leadership these organisations offer is questionable, the value they provide transient at best but the business strategy if plain for all, make as much money from peoples guilt as possible.

The ads; watch them, they all seek to personalise the call to action (the process of getting you to give generously) so that some impoverished individual, normally a child but not always pulls at your heart strings and you open your wallet or more accurately now that you send a text message and they get the money. You feel better, you’ve helped some poor sole and all for the cost an inconvenience of a test message. The world has been saved at the push of a smart-phone button.

If only this were the case.

Is charity effective? Does charity business actually work?

The answer depends on how you see charity and what you think it’s for, who you think it’s for I guess. For me charity is part of who I am, I give to charity, not many but consistently via direct debit. I don’t have to think too much, the money just goes to where and who I want it to go to. I suppose it’s a bit lazy, pick a cause, one I find it impossible to give time and effort to and sign up for the direct debit. Like many, job done at the click of few buttons.

The charity business however, is a business. It sells salvation and a clear conscience to those willing to buy (give). The strategy is a simple one, get in front of people and show them something awful then tell them things can be changed with a little of their help and money.

But this is too simplistic a view of charity, it’s the one that I guess we all identify with and is not realistically how charity and aid is really given. There are so far as I can tell 3 main types of charity and aid systems in play, each with a specific way of delivering the aid and possibly each on a different scale.

So here they are;

The personal type; this is the charity where you give to a local cause, say the local sports club for children run by the parents for the children with no other reason than they want their children to enjoy competitive sport. The other local type tends to be a hospice that sometimes a relative or close friend has been treated by. Both you have very personal contact with and maintain often for years after the event or reason you first got involved. These types of charities also often benefit from personal involvement in the provision of the service they offer.

This personal type of giving is motivated by personal experience normally. It’s effective in that funds go directly to the people and organisation you want them to go to. What you don’t have is any say on how they are spent or if they are used effectively. You just hand over the cash and feel good that you’re supporting a local cause, job done.

There is nothing at all wrong with this type of giving and the conversion of cash into good acts I suspect is very effective indeed. I know this because MGL once run a sports club my daughter was involved in. The experience taught me that the people involved were totally committed to the cause and to stay out of the way!

The NGO (non-governmental organisation); these are charities (businesses) that pester you with advertising. These are the professional charities and can be a real pain. You know the type… £3.00 per month fixes just about anything you can name; but it doesn’t cos if it was that simple it would have been done a long time ago. No, what they mean is that your £3.00 buys a sticking plaster (Band-Aid for you Americans). The problem is fixed for now, till the next disaster or calamity comes along.

These are professional charities, often called NGO’s, normally operating on an international basis with paid employees. They also have an agenda they want to push (religiously based, environmental, animal welfare…) and this comes at a cost. The other thing about them is that they will often (nearly always) insist at the recipient nation accepting the aid (and it will be significant aid) will have to use the aid to purchase their services or expertise.

In the short-term when you are faced with a calamity of national proportions and no local talent then yes I can see why this might be best. But honestly, does is always have to be this way? Of course not, the charities could use some of your money that you so willingly gave them to train and teach local people to deal with and PREVENT further calamities happening. But this will mean the charity is potentially no longer relevant so they don’t do this.

I’m reminded of the phrase give a man fish and he will be able to feed his family for a day. Give a man the ability to catch the fish and he will be able to feed his family for ever. Well, the charity business is in the business of selling fish NOT fishing rods.

State Aid; the third and potentially most effective kind of charity is that of national governments to other nation states. Here in the UK we give 0.7% of GDP to other nations. It’s all a bit shady to the regular populace, they haven’t a clue where the money goes or how it might be spent or the reasons behind why it’s even given in the first place. What I can say is that countries such as India and China still get aid from the UK even though there economies seem to be huge to the average man in the street.

But let’s put this into context; the UK is one of the ten richest countries on the planet out of just over 200 countries in total. So it’s safe to say that the UK is richer than over 95% of all other nation states.

I think what might be getting missed is the levels of individual poverty in these countries and mixed with the feeling of selfishness generated by our westernised lifestyles leads to open calls for this aid to be ‘spent at home’ because ‘charity begins at home’ or some other such nonsense.

My point though is the bigger one and not dissimilar to the NGO problem. Governments want the money given spent on expertise and stuff they provide. Not on long-term help with in the nation for the nation.

The other really big problem here is that the aid given often (practically always) is dwarfed by national debt repayments, or more accurately the interest on national debts, cos let’s not kid ourselves that poor countries are actually ever going to be in a position to pay back the initial debt. All they can hope to do is pay the interest and they don’t often do this.

To be honest the single most charitable thing a country could do for another in need of charitable aid would be to cancel the debt (I know it was supposed to have happened, but it didn’t) and then give the charitable aid all the same and let the government of the nation needing help decide when and how to spend the money. Corruption! I can almost hear the call now but how about trust. I’m sure some of the money will be ‘lost’ making the wheels go round but believe me they will do a way better job at running their country than our government will by melding, and that goes for the NGO’s as well.

The thing is that by doing this we will be giving those in need the fishing rods they need. All we have to do then is teach them how to use them best. Now that to me seems a way better way of giving to the needy. But of course that potentially puts the charity business out of business.

For me, if there is a reduced need for charity, there will always be those who need acute help, the reduced on-going need however can only be a good thing to happen.

As always thanks for taking the time to read.



The 4 F’s of Behaviour

The 4 F’s are;

Feeding, Fear, Fighting and Reproduction (I’ll leave you to work out what the fouth F is but its nothing like as smutty or rude as you might at first think).

In my last blog post I wrote about the Lizard Brain and told you that I got the concept from Seth Godin, who’s a big deal when it comes to thinking. If you ever get the time, and I strogly recomend you find the time, fire-up YouTube and seek him out. Outstanding! Thought Leadership!

Okay so I’ll get on with the story; I was talking to my good lady yesterday about these very subjects and how they apply in cycling, (I’m a big cycling freak, it hits just the right spot between cardio-workout and meditation which works really well for me). And then I got to thinking how these basic emotional reactions work in the workplace.

Hear’s the thing;

Feeding; feeding is really about seeking out satisfaction, nothing to far out there, a position or situation of comfort. Most of us, if not all of us really like being in our comfort zone. There’s no challenge when you’re there, no need to worry. The day comes and goes and all’s well. We’re happy.

People who persistently seek out this satisfaction feeling really dont go out of their way to contribute to an exceptional service and experience for the customer. Nothing wrong with that, but hey nothing too great either. From time to time its your job (even if it isnt) to shake things up and restrict the food supply. Do this and you’ll find out who shrinks in fear and who’s coming out fighting.

Fear; those who suffer from fear probably aren’t the kind of people you want in senior positions or positions that could make a difference. The simple fact is this, they will be so afraid of being responsible for the screw-up that they wont find the courage to even try, they will never know the feeling of success. All they want to do is go back to their comfort zone, be safe and unchallenged.

Fighting; this is a symptom of being out of control. People go into fight mode when they feel they have something to defend and they dont see so many choices on how to keep it without a fight. If people go in to fight mode too quickly or as a first reaction then you really need to keep them as far as possible away from customers. The customer experience will suffer if you let them loose and unchecked.

Reproduction (Fornication for those who didnt work it out); we all want (or should do in a business sense) to leave our mark, a legacy if you like. The best kind of legacy you could leave is that you have somebody replace you, someone who’s better suited to the prevailing business environment than you were/are. They are able to deliver on the customer experience in buckets, big-time!

MGL reckons that what this all means is that if you have a person prone to any of these traits, that actually you have a (big) problem. She says that we have to rise above these basic emotional reactions and engage our ability to think. This sounds ideal and easy, but it sure feels a lot more difficult when you’re caught in the situation and dealing with it.

I got to thinking about cycling again. There are some days when all I want to do is stay in the peleton (the pack) and ride an easier ride, sheltered from the wind and protected from other road traffic. This is me in feeding mode, seeking out the safe. Nothing wrong with this and to an extent I suppose its about self preservation, I get to ride another day and I’m not exhausted at the end of the ride.

Play this through into a business situation and this means that really I should keep my best efforts for when they will be best used. Most days are just about turning up and doing the work. Putting in enough effort so I’m ready for the big push when it’ll really make a difference.

Back to cycling, I have to admit that I am afraid when cycling on the roads when I’m alone. I’ve had a couple of nasty accidents and come-off the worse for them. Fear in these situations has led me to use a mag-trainer in-doors. Safe in the knowledge I’m getting a good workout and I’m safe from those nasty and dangerous cars & vans. I can also listen to music which is a bonus. Added to this MGL prefers me on the trainer safe in the knowledge she wont be getting a call to say I’m in hospital after being run off the road by a car or van.

In the business environment, fear can become an enabler if used correctly. By recognising fear in others you can structure you product or service offer to address their fears. It becomes a tool for selling what you do potentially (think lawyers or insurance). From a personal point of view, fear if not allowed to rule over rational thought can lead to way better decision making. But you have to keep it in check, you are a leader and a leader must not show fear, caution however is okay just don’t let it strangle creativity and bravery.

Fighting in a cycling sense is all about reacting to a challenge, in my case normally on a hill climb when I want to be first to the top or overtake the rider ahead.

Business world fighting is all about winning the order ahead of the other supplier. Keep this under control and you win, allow it to get out of hand and you look like an idiot who just want’s to out do the competition. Your product and service comes a distant second, price becomes the conversation and yes, you lose!

Reproduction in cycling is concerned with bring the younger (normally) rider on. Allowing them the room to grow and flourish and win. Learning the tricks of riding either solo or as a team member.

Reproduction in busness is concerned with training and learning experiences. Do you honestly want to be the only go-to person in your business? No I thought not. So you have to spend time and put the effort in to developing your people.

Juniors need to learn the business from top to bottom, all the way through. This is your responsibility to replicate your knowledge and encourage self learning, everyone wins! One day the juniors will be in your shoes, chair, at your your desk and in your position. What’s not to want about employee development and reward?

In the end MGL is right, you have to understand all of these aspects and temper them with logical thought processes. Do this and you meet your emotional needs (well the basic ones anyway) and you get to do your business dealings better.

As always thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog and if you have any comments please feel free to make them.


The Lizard Brain

The Lizard Brain
I’ve been watching Seth Godin on YouTube recently, he’s up there with Tom Peters for being a thought leader for business, leadership and strategy in my opinion and I write this blog post from listening to and reflecting on some of the stuff I’ve recently watched.
Back in 1954 the limbic cortex was described by neuroanatomists as the seat of emotion; satisfaction, fear, anger and the need to reproduce. It’s the most primitive part of the brain and is so named as ‘The Lizard Brain’ and it’s about all a lizard needs as a brain to function; fight, flight, fear, freezing-up and fornication…. And Seth Godin riffs about this part of the brain really well.
The Lizard Brain is really powerful and controls much more of what we do and how we feel than we could possibly give it credit for. Behaviours become ‘unexplained’ when governed by the Lizard Brain, they’re reactions to situations rather than fully thought trough ideas and thoughts. The point is that we are ALL prone to irrational behaviour which in a workplace where value adding activity goes on can be (very) destructive to the process.
The thing is this; the Lizard Brain stops us doing what we know to be the right thing. Think about it, how many times have you said to yourself you’d like to lose a bit of weight or get a bit fitter, plenty times I guess? But then you go and eat too much cake or drink a bit more wine than you intended. What caused you to do this irrational thing? The Lizard Brain of course. It stops us doing those things we know are just the right thing to do, it gets in the way of functioning in the world today.
Right, so that explains irrational behaviour but how else does the Lizard Brain get in the way. Well, normally about the time you’re ready to launch a project or ship new product, that’s when. It comes along and says you should have a meeting, talk about this thing you’re about to do or finally commit to.
The symptoms; late meetings, middle of the road products, rationalized service… yes these are symptomatic of the Lizard Brain kicking in and getting you to compromise on service, and experience.
You know because you spent months on the design of the product or service that its good, that it’s probably going to be special, remarkable even but then comes along that Lizard Brain thing and stops you in your tracks. You have to be honest about it, after all the effort are you honestly going to ignore the obvious and compromise. Most of us do, but you don’t have to.
Your job as a leader is to figure out how you can ignore it, how are you going to deliver that outstanding product or service, on-time and on budget?
In the end it comes down to being brave, knowing you have a great product or service and going for it. But not just you going for it, your whole team has too as well.
Thanks for reading, please post an comments’ or questions and I’ll respond or answer as best I can.