Insights from Minneapolis: GEO 2016

As one may expect from a conference focused on effective grantmaking, the 2016 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) conference sparked a number of relevant conversations on tactical challenges in effective philanthropy, such as developing tools for systems thinking and effective methods for evaluating general operating support grants. However, the session on “The Purpose Gap” in today’s workforce stretched my thinking on the intangible aspects that fuel our effectiveness as grantmakers. Beyond the grantmaking function itself, the session highlighted how we must evaluate, and potentially recalibrate, our work orientation to ensure we are the most effective we can be in our philanthropic work. I rarely reflect on this more personal aspect of effective grantmaking, focusing my energy instead on process and programming, and felt it was a unique and pertinent topic for the conference. On the chance you might agree, I’ve shared some of the findings and personal reflections on the topic below. 
 
Reflections on “The Purpose Gap” at GEO 2016
 
How can it be that less than half of those working in the nonprofit sector consider themselves “purpose-oriented?” According to Aaron Hurst of Imperative, who gave a very intriguing presentation at the 2016 GEO conference last week, just 48% of nonprofit workers consider themselves “purpose-oriented”. It’s a step-up from just 28% of the greater workforce, but underwhelming nonetheless. 
 
I was shocked by these findings, especially considering I work in such a mission-oriented sector. To believe it, I first needed to understand what “purpose-oriented” really meant and how these findings were compiled. 
 
The concept of being or not being purpose-oriented is based on one’s overall work orientation, which Imperative defines as “the way a person sees the role of work in their life.” Purpose-oriented people see work as a means of personal fulfillment and helping others, while the rest of the workforce sees their job as a status symbol or solely as a source of income. To gain insight on this concept, Imperative collaborated with NYU to survey a random sample of over 6,000 adults across the US, using a 36-question survey focused on work orientation. The findings are compiled in their first Workforce Purpose Index for 2015, which Aaron presented at the GEO conference in Minneapolis last week.
 
What do the findings mean for the nonprofit sector, and the workforce in general? And why were we even talking about individual purpose at a conference focused on effective grantmaking? As Aaron explained, we may not be surprised that purpose-oriented workers are more fulfilled than their professional colleagues (64%), but it was surprising that this work orientation translates to employee performance and effectiveness. The study found that “purpose-oriented” people are: 
50% more likely to hold a leadership role
47% more likely to recommend or promote their employees at work
20% longer expected tenure
 
In addition, purpose-oriented workers are more likely to perform better in performance reviews, have stronger relationships with their co-workers, and be more proactive about their professional growth. In short, purpose-oriented people are more effective in the workplace. If we are focusing on effective grantmaking we therefore cannot overlook our own roles as grantmakers and how our work orientation affects our individual effectiveness in this field. 
 
Looking Forward
 
So, what can we do to get out of this “Purpose Gap”? Building on Imperative’s data, our discussions at the conference, and my experience in corporate responsibility, here are some ideas for consideration:
Learn what drives you. What gives one person purpose may not translate to their colleague(s). To reap the benefits of being “purpose-oriented”, we must start by understanding what drives us as individuals. Imperative has a fun tool to get us thinking about our personal motivations and drivers; essentially who we aim to impact and why and how we do it. (My results say that I work to create and leverage systems (how) that enable communities/societies (who) to overcome barriers and gain equal access to opportunity (why) – sounds about right!)
Keep promoting employee engagement in the workplace, especially when an employee’s professional development and skill-set can have a positive impact on the community. Skills-based volunteering is one good example, as is a board placement program that also serves as a leadership training opportunity for your employees. Both examples let employees use and leverage attributes of their professional work (skill-set or mentorship/growth opportunities) to help individuals and organizations in their communities. Such opportunities will help employees grow both personally and professionally with their employer.  
Change the way we talk about our work. This is especially important as we serve as mentors for youth or colleagues. Instead of framing work as a necessity to fuel our other passions in life, why not share how we are getting fulfillment out of our professions? This could range from mentoring someone at work, taking pride in improving a process, or impacting the community through a program or service. 
 
Do you have other ideas on how to leverage your work as an opportunity to help the community and gain personal fulfillment? Find me on twitter @CSRmiers and let’s keep the conversation going!
 
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