If Rich Harwood had his way, that’s what all social involvement would be like.
Years ago, when I first discovered Rich’s work, it was one of my first clues that doing good could be different. He talks about something called the ‘organization first approach’: the seductive state that many organizations fall into where they focus inwards - paying more attention to their organizations than to the communities and causes they exist to serve.
What Rich has found is that when organizations face tough times, their tendency is to turn even more inward: re-brand, talk about themselves, engage in strategic planning, etc. He argues that to meaningfully engage communities and really get important things done, organizations must resist this pull to turn inwards and instead turn outwards. They must focus on the communities around them.
Back then, as a charity worker, I found this deeply moving. Today, as a community member, I find it intriguing. Imagine if the organizations we engaged with really treated our concerns, our needs, our passions and abilities as the driving force behind their work (because they are). Imagine if we never, never talked about a charitable organization as if the organization’s success were our goal? Imagine if each organization behaved and was treated only as a vehicle for the change we really care about (which is what they are)?
If we could make that happen, imagine what it would mean for the experience of getting involved with a charitable organization. Imagine how much more meaningful honest, and productive that could make volunteering for, donating to, and even receiving help from a charity.