Seinfeld, silence of the lambs and some new thinkng about nonprofit measurement
There are no small parts, only small actors....
I started my day by learning that this quote, which I had identified with an episode of Seinfeld titled "The Burning", originated with Constantin Stanislavski, a prominent Russian theater practitioner. I had actually been mistaken about the quote; in the episode George riffs on this and says "I guess there are no small diseases, only small actors". He's referring to Kramer and his buddy making some extra money acting out diseases for medical students at a local university. I guess this gives you a sense of where my cultural references come from - I need to do some work on that.
So, what in the world does the above have to do with nonprofits or my coaching work?? Actually quite a bit....
I had been speaking with a nonprofit yesterday that's been around for nearly three decades. They do groundbreaking preventative work on a health issue for which there is no cure. They've raised anywhere between $500,000 and nearly $1 million annually. And yet during our introductory conversation, the individual I was speaking with noted that "We're just a small nonprofit."
Beyond the fact that size in is always a relative measure, I'd like to suggest new thinking around this idea, particularly for nonprofits. And the reason it's relevant to the quote above? Small is a state of mind. Small is a choice you make. To go back to our acting connection, the literal meaning of this is that an actor who chooses to do so, can take a small part and make it big. One great example (and more fun trivia): Anthony Hopkins only appeared in Silence of the Lambs for sixteen minutes out of a run time of two hours and eighteen minutes - he was on there for just 12% of the movie...Talk about an actor taking a small part - in terms of screen time - and making it big!
So, back to nonprofits. I'd suggest that nonprofit organizations start to look at and in fact, measure themselves in new ways. And even more so, move away from labels like Big and Small that diminish (both internally and externally) the value they bring to their communities and the world. Here's a start:
I hope you were at least mildly amused by the pop references - I think a little lighter thinking serves as well when we're all amped up about well, you know that thing that happens in a few days. In the meantime, I hope next time you're thinking about a nonprofit, forget about size and consider measuring them in some of the ways above.
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Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com