Every (great) organizational plan (and every life perhaps) should begin with the end. It’s something I’ve always intuitively known, but was recently reminded of by Mr. Barry Silverberg, the Director of the Center for Community Based & Nonprofit Organizations at Austin Community College. “What will happen to the Media Awareness Project if you should decide at some unnamed point down the road, that you no longer wish to be a part of it?”
Admittedly, his question jarred me for more than a few minutes. In all the hours of conversations I have had with experts and professionals of all kinds since co-founding MAP with my husband three years ago, this was the question nobody ever asked me.
Founders of organizations wear may hats, especially in the beginning (read: first 5 years.) We are deeply entrenched in the purpose and procedure of what we’re doing, sometimes to a fault. To be honest, most time is spent simply trying to keep the proverbial doors open. While we know (intellectually) that the nonprofit we found does not belong to us, (it belongs to our Board of Directors) it is virtually impossible to muster the intense output of emotional, physical and financial resources necessary to get an idea off the ground, without some degree of unhealthy attachment to the outcomes.
Mr. Silverberg’s question sent me home thinking about what it would be like (after three years of 60-70 hour work weeks, countless meetings, putting myself and my organization on the line again and again and again) to simply walk away. And it was precisely when I envisioned walking away from MAP that I was able to clarify the areas of real weakness in our organizational structure (you know, the things that make you think, what would it be like to go back to a normal work week, have time for yoga, get my hair colored on a regular basis, enjoy a leisurely morning walk with the dog.) More importantly, it began to nudge my thinking in a new direction on many of the questions I had remaining about who MAP should serve, what destination it should strive for and what path it should take to get there.
As one of MAP’s founders, I care deeply about our mission: To create stronger communities through socially conscious media. For us that means producing socially conscious video, helping nonprofits navigate the murky waters of producing video, teaching Austin youth to produce socially conscious video and employing them to learn real skills for living wages. And yet, as pure as my intentions are, it is necessary to protect the future of my organization, even from myself. That is the true sacrifice of a founder and the ultimate act of selflessness – taking ME out of the equation. It requires a willingness to look at what will happen to the Media Awareness Project if and when I decide to do something different. And it forced me, after so much investment, to really ask and answer if MAP has a long term future in the Austin community. It decidedly does, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the reminder I got to consider the end in my planning.