I’m heavily involved in the Dart Society, the journalism organization I was recently selected to lead.
Not having expected to become president this year, I’ve been trying in the past 10 days to learn more about non-profit management, leadership and growth.
Anne Firth Murray’s Paradigm Found contains a lot of useful nuggets and, as the title suggests, an approach toward these topics that I found insightful.
A native Kiwi, Firth Murray started The Global Fund for Women after having worked for nearly a decade at the Bill and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She draws on those experiences, as well as the words of luminaries ranging from E.M. Forster to Gandhi to Helen Keller to E.B. White, to illustrate the points she makes.
For Firth Murray, the path toward building a successful organization begins with unfettered dreams and vision, grows through enlisting the passion and talents of its members, and continues to expand through creative fundraising efforts.
She also talks about the importance of having the organization’s conduct match its mission, of running a lean operation that does not try to do too much too fast, and, eventually, of knowing when to move on and do something else.
Firth Murray writes openly about the Fund’s failures. At times they overextended. The staff worked too hard for too long. Some of the activities they chose did not fit clearly into the organization’s mission.
But the group had many successes during the first nine years of existence, before Firth Murray decided she had had enough-she knew that point had arrived when the words she spoke felt stale to her-and was ready to move on again.
In addition to talking about the Fund, the book also has a section where she describes her response to an expert panel that reacted to The Day After, a documentary that depicted life on the planet after a nuclear holocaust.
Remembering how disheartened she felt when she listened to the panelists’ seeming acceptance of a cataclysm as inevitable, she spoke from the audience a group of young people after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In her comment she articulated three stages of life, each of which last about 30 years. In the first stage, one learns skills, in the second stage one applies them, and in the third stage one steps aside and shares wisdom with those coming up.
This definition of stages, while not unique to her, was helpful to me in thinking about what we are trying to do with the Dart Society.
It also gave me a deeper appreciation of Firth Murray’s courage in not sticking passively to the third stage, but rather branching out to start a whole new chapter and organization at a time when many people are winding down.
I enjoyed learning from her and hope you take the time to do so, too.