This being Thanksgiving week, it seems appropriate to talk about pie. And how we who work in the social sector view the size of that pie. And why sharing slices of that pie can be preferable to eating them ourselves.
About two years ago, on the heels of a successful roundtable discussion led by several Hawaii grant writing consultants, an idea was seeded. Several of us realized the local community of social sector consultants was robust, but fragmented. We each knew of nonprofits' frustrations in locating and researching consultants to meet their needs. What is more, we consultants realized that many of us worked independently, but craved connectedness with colleagues. The situation seemed ripe for the creation of a consultants’ hui.
In Hawaii, the term “hui” roughly translates to a club or an association, but as I took the lead in reaching out to colleagues to create a consultants’ group, I gravitated more toward the idea of the hui as a network. We were each “nodes” in our own right, with our own spheres of influence. But we could be infinitely more useful to the community, and to one another, by linking our nodes through more intentional connections with one another.
Some of the colleagues that I reached out to “got it” right away. They viewed the idea from an abundance mindset, and realized that such a hui could expand opportunities for all of us, creating a powerful resource for the nonprofits many of us served. Several others, however, were resistant to the idea of collaboration. Scarcity thinking revealed itself in their questions: Won’t we be in competition with each other? Won’t we be cutting into each other’s piece of the pie? What would be in it for me?
As I recruited colleagues to the hui over the next few months, I shared several truths from my own experience that I hoped would address those kinds of questions:
- There is always more than enough pie to go around. I have found that among nonprofits, there is always a greater demand for expertise than there is supply. Particularly in Hawaii, where more than 5,000 charitable nonprofits serve the community, demand for consultants’ services far outpace their ability to meet organizations' needs.
- Sometimes sharing your slice of pie is tastier—and better for you—than eating it yourself. In my consulting experience, I have found that some projects are simply too much to tackle alone. Collaborating with colleagues allows each of us to take on more challenging or complex projects than we might choose to do solo. By tapping into a cadre of fellow consultants, we open ourselves up to greater opportunities within a broader range of work, often in ways that are more satisfying to us professionally. And collaborations allow us to learn from the insights of our colleagues, bounce ideas with a partner, and generally get out of the echo chamber in our heads.
- If you specialize in making apple pies, it’s just good business to know fellow bakers who specialize in pumpkin pies. Although some consultants are successful generalists, most of us specialize in some way—which means that we can’t be all things to all organizations. For example, maybe a consultant is terrific at fundraising. But she is at a loss when asked by an organization to help with strategic planning, or board training, or technology implementation. Since most of us hate leaving potential clients empty-handed when they ask for help or referrals, having a network of colleagues whose expertise complements our own is extremely useful. It allows us to help organizations meet their needs when we cannot. And over time and through relationships, we ultimately benefit in the same way, becoming the shared referral when others realize they are not the “right fit” for a particular organization’s needs.
I am glad—and deeply grateful—that enough of my colleagues embraced abundance thinking that we were able to grow that seed of an idea into a full hui, now known as Hawaii Community Benefit Consultants. What started off as a group of roughly 20 social sector consultants has since grown to more than 50; the majority of members choose to include themselves in our online directory as a free service to Hawaii nonprofits seeking expertise to support their efforts. As consultants to community benefit organizations, I believe we have to model the kinds of values we hope to see around us: collaboration, community, and relationship building. We have to “walk the talk” of our values, both with one another as colleagues and in our interactions with our clients. Taking time to create and foster connection with fellow social sector consultants seems an appropriate way to do just that.
How have you embraced abundance thinking in your organization or work? How have huis that you are a part of—either formal or informal—allowed you to grow?