On You Tube you can watch a lone man build Stonehenge in his backyard. How does he move the heavy one-ton blocks of stone by himself without any modern power tools or lifts? Leverage. Using wood, rope and other “smaller” pieces of stone, he has created a system of levers that utilize simple physics to raise the heavy stone blocks up or move them over 300 yards per hour.
Similarly, leverage is what nonprofit organizations need now more than ever when addressing the current economic environment. It is leverage that a leader can use to move from trying to resist the weight of change thrust upon them to using that weight to build momentum toward forwarding their organization’s goals.
Finding the right lever is the challenge to make that flip. There are three important and not always obvious rules about organizational leverage—1) Choosing the Lever -- the lever that leaders choose to use can come in many forms but is always found within the resources at their disposal; 2) Building Relationships -- at its very core the leverage is about people and relationships; 3) Pushing It Together -- the lever is only effective if leaders and partners focus on what they do best.
KERA Public Television and Radio for North Texas is a good example of how a nonprofit organization found the right lever and successfully transferred the heavy weight of change into positive momentum. Serving over four million listeners and viewers a week, KERA (like other media outlets) has faced the challenge and opportunity of the internet, transforming how audiences receive, process, and interact with news and information.
Choosing the Lever
KERA’s leaders knew from the start that their greatest resource was their award-winning ability to create content and their deep understanding of what their audience needs and wants. At the same time, in North Texas an amazing arts renaissance was beginning to take shape led by the development of the multi-million dollar Dallas Arts District. KERA saw an opportunity to use new media to create interactive content to connect their audiences to and deepen their understanding of the culturally rich opportunities the area had to offer. More importantly, the wanted their audiences to feel inspired by and engaged in the best their community has to offer.
Building content for the internet is not as easy as taking left-over content from radio or television and repackaging it. Today’s audiences want original, customizable, and deep content that is a mix of many different types of media as well as an extension of what is on the radio or TV.
Critical to shifting the momentum of change within KERA was recognizing that they could not do this alone. By building a deeper relationship with arts organizations and artists, KERA was endeavoring to broaden and diversify the kinds of content they will be able to produce for the web, radio and television. To make this happen, an advisory group of artists and arts leaders was formed and the organization conducted a series of listening sessions in order to identify mutually beneficial opportunities to work together.
Pushing It Together
Even with the right lever and additional help, creating a shift in momentum is still hard to do. It is important to remember why you are doing it and ensure that it is meaningful and relevant to everyone involved. KERA made sure that they did not extend themselves into areas that were beyond their mission and goals. They know what they do best and made sure that their role pushing the lever reflected this. There were opportunities, when in discussion with partners, to go in different directions, but they resisted this inclination and stayed focused and invested.
Art & Seek (www.artandseek.org) was born from this process creating a variety of content exploring the North Texas cultural scene in partnership with area arts organizations and artists. The weight of change was transformed into a rich and valuable destination for the community to share. One of the earliest postings on the Art & Seek Blog was a You Tube video of a man building Stonehenge in his back yard. The heavy stone blocks that KERA moved, were just as monumental.
Carlo M. Cuesta is the managing partner of Creation In Common— a group of strategists helping public sector organizations enhance their power to engage the public. Creation In Common helped KERA facilitate the collaborative listening sessions and establish the Art & Seek brand identity. www.creationincommon.com.