In my last post I described the challenges the shifting dynamics of the sector will bring. In exploring the nexus of these issues, we often start by looking at ourselves.
Among the sector’s leading capacity builders, La Piana Associates is itself uniquely structured – and intentionally so. We were founded in 1998 by a unique partnership among the Irvine, Packard and Hewlett foundations as a consciously sector-crossing early example of the kind of hybrid the future will bring. For example:
• We have a nonprofit mission, but a forprofit tax structure.
• We have an office with meeting rooms and support staff, but all professional staff work from home, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Boston.
• For ten years we have adopted every new generation of technology in an ever-more-robust virtual structure: PDA’s, intranets, virtual meeting services, video conferencing, podcasts, etc.
• We have successfully combined financial success and the profit motive with a deep staff commitment to our social change mission.
• We take community-building and cultural competence seriously. We continuously invest in becoming a culturally competent consulting resource for all nonprofits and communities.
While there are for-profit capacity builders and nonprofit capacity builders, some more technologically advanced than others. Our firm has chosen a virtual organization model, which we have maintained and evolved for ten years.
Despite the economic toll of high rents and the human toll of long commutes, few groups serving the sector have been willing to think outside of the rented office box.
Our founding funders were prescient ten years ago when they urged us to break all the molds in designing a new kind of consulting firm.
We have continuously faced the challenges of this innovative structure, and have learned a great deal about how to do it right: from supervising distant staff to our innovative performance management system; from project management to Internet-based time tracking; and from compensation to managing virtual teams, we have developed many tools for the new era and learned invaluable lessons along the way.
As I think about the challenges of the future, we will now consciously bring this legacy and this perspective to thinking about strategic solutions for the sector.