The Answer to How is Yes
Of course so many organizations are asking so many questions right now with all that is uncertain in the world.
How much money can we raise next year?
How can we create a budget for next year with so many unknowns?
How can we stay connected to our donors in creative and meaningful ways?
How will we pull off our gala in a new online format?
As I’ve been listening to so many questions like these from clients and many others who are reaching out to ask for my help, I keep thinking about one of the most powerful books I’ve read by the iconic management consultant Peter Block called The Answer to How is Yes.
Here’s a passage from the book I’ve been thinking about every time someone asks me one of their very sincere “how” questions.
“One way of understanding the meaning of the question How? is to consider it as an expression of our wish for control and predictability. This is the appeal of the question. We think that we can find control and predictability in the mastery, the knowing, and the certainty of doing something the right way. Not our way, not one way, but the right way. We think there is a right way, that someone else knows what it is, and that it is our job to figure it out. And the world conspires with this illusion, for it wants to sell us an answer. We ask ‘How?’ and the world answers, ‘This way.’ While there are many positive values to our desire for concrete action and results, it does not ensure that what we are doing serves our own larger purpose or acts to create a world that we can believe in—in other words, a world that matters. Thus, the pursuit of How? can act to avoid more important questions.”
Maybe How is the Wrong Question
Consultants are always asked lots of how questions, and many are all too quick to answer with a proven, proprietary process or set of best practices. And now with all that’s going on in the world, I’m finding the how questions coming more urgently.
But here’s the thing: when we ask how to do something, it expresses our bias for what is practical, concrete, and immediately useful, often at the expense of asking the more important questions.
Moments of existential crisis — whether personal or organizational — are always about asking the right, hard questions.
So in the midst of all the completely understandable “how” questions you’re asking as leaders and board members, can you also make space to ask the bigger questions?
What do those we serve need most right now?
Is our work needed in the same form now?
Is this a time to partner with others in new ways?
Are our services still relevant and to whom?
How can we express our commitment to our mission differently to meet new realities?
Getting the questions right may be the most important thing we can do right now. That’s always been true, but the stakes have never been higher for organizations and their leaders to ask the big, transformative questions.
Since 2013, Amy Varga and her team at The Varga Group have worked with over 60 higher education institutions, independent schools and nonprofits to grow their fundraising, train their board, coach their leaders and successfully navigate their capital and comprehensive campaigns. They have helped their clients raise more than $90M. The Varga Group team is based in Portland, Oregon and works with clients nationwide.