Seems fitting to close out 2009 with a tip of a cap to a nonprofit organization that nicely exemplifies many of the principles we write about here each week.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I believe that the best books on fundraising typically have nothing to do with fundraising (overtly, in any case).
So it will likely come as no surprise that I would use a secular organization to illustrate principles we commend to Christian nonprofit organizations as their birthright.
The organization is Project H Design.
For starters, check out (prominently featured on their home page) the best nonprofit mission statement I’ve read in a long time:
Project H Design connects the power of design to the people who need it most, and the places where it can make a real and lasting difference. We are a team of designers and builders engaging locally to serve the socially overlooked.Our five-tenet design process (There is no design without action; We design WITH, not FOR; We document, share and measure; We start locally and scale globally, We design systems, not stuff) results in simple and effective design solutions for those without access to creative capital.Our long-term initiatives focus on improving environments, products, and experiences for K-12 education institutions in the US through systems- level design thinking and deep community engagements.Project H is a tax exempt 501c3 nonprofit based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Bertie County, North Carolina. We believe design can change the world.
Note how the organization is described as a coalition. That concept–organization as network/coalition/platform–is a core identity element that really must be in place before an organization can practice Trnasformational Giving. Absent that identity, it’s nearly impossible not to become a professionalized provider of services. And as a professionalized provider of services, it’s nearly impossible to end up with champions, rather than supporters or donors.
Note also how the Engagement elements–the cause, the lifestyle commitments–are spelled out right up front in the mission statement in the form of the five-tenet design process. Organizations seeking to practice TG through the development of Signature Participation Projects (SPPs) sometimes wrongly think that Engagement elements can only be unveiled to champions after they complete the SPP. Not so. In fact, the more that Engagement principles peek through your SPP, the better.
Spend some time perusing the site, taking special note of SPPs like the Design Revolution Road Show (why can’t missionaries take this approach?) and the beautifully arranged and described Projects. Make sure, though, not to miss the History section. This is typically the most inwardly focused, TG-violating, self-serving part of most ministry websites. Here, it becomes another invitation to relate and participate:
Project H Design was founded in January 2008 by a 26-year old then-disgruntled designer named Emily Pilloton. With a background in architecture and product design, she had, like many other young designers, ended up designing the superfluous: nailhead trim for $3000 furniture, door handles for retail dressing rooms, and more. Emily had worked in architecture firms, started her own furniture company, and finally threw her hands in the air and decided it was time to take a hard look at not just her own career as a designer, but the design world in general.
She began writing for design magazines and blogs, and ultimately became the Managing Editor of Inhabitat, a sustainable design online publication. Through her editorial and writing roles, she was able to be critical of design, and of sustainable design, which she viewed as too-often focused on the purely material, and missing a social component that questioned what we design and produce in the first place, rather than just how we design it.
After two years at Inhabitat, Emily decided to turn criticism into action. She formed Project H Design as a nonprofit, and as a conduit and catalyst to provide real, socially-driven, scalable, and empowering design projects to designers, and most importantly, great design solutions to communities that needed them.
Since January 2008, Project H has grown from a 26-year old with an outsized conviction to a coalition of hundreds of designers worldwide, working in project teams on 20+ initiatives in 6 countries. Ryan Duke started the first local project team in May 2008 (San Francisco), following a “volunteer design firm model” that would guide city-based project teams not as social clubs but as full-funcitonal, socially-engaged troupes of volunteer product, graphic, and architectural designers. Each project team is engaged locally, with an ultimate goal of scaling their design solutions and models globally, between teams and across oceans.
In September 2008, Project H began its exploration of Design For Education through its Learning Landscape initiative, a math playground system for active academics designed by Heleen de Goey, and Dan Grossman, Kristina Drury, Neha Thatte, and Ilona de Jongh of the New York City team. The Learning Landscape has been built in Uganda, North Carolina, and soon to be built in the Dominican Republic. This model for a scalable and adaptable system for active math learning serves as the first project of many more under Project H’s Design For Education think-tank, which looks specifically at how design thinking can provide innovative learning and teaching models for educators, students, and administrators.
In September 2009, Emily Pilloton published her first book, Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People, a compendium and call-to-action for a more socially-productive and generative model of industrial design. The book includes an essay and a showcase of 115 products in 8 categories that exemplify the empowering potential of great design. The book will also be the impetus for the Design Revolution Road Show in Spring 2010, which will include a lecture series, workshop series, and pop-up exhibition in an Airstream traveling to 16 design schools across the country.
The moral of this story?
It’s hard–perhaps impossible–to practice Transformational Giving without that practice transforming your organization’s self-identity.
And your own self-identity as well.
May the Lord bless you with a transformational New Year, dear friend.