An organizational chart is somewhat like a designer’s blueprint: it tells you how leaders expect information, authority, and people to flow. It doesn’t tell you how information, authority, or people actually do move around the system.
An organizational chart also focuses on the personnel who keep a system running day-to-day. It doesn’t include the people in the system’s wider network: the people it serves, the people it addresses in external communications, and the people who fund its work as customers, investors, or donors.
When we interpret an organization exclusively in terms of its chart and the administrators and staff inscribed on it, we miss a lot. And when we frame people’s possible institutional contributions only in terms of their impact on hirings, firings, demotions, and promotions, we’re radically underestimating their value to the whole.
Most donations to charitable organizations come not from foundations or benevolent corporations but from individual people. In the U.S., foundations gave $57 billion last year, and corporations gave $18 billion, but individuals gave $268 billion. Individual people, many of them earning less than $50,000 per year, gave 71% of all donated dollars in 2015. And, because so many organizations are still structured as pyramids, most of those donors weren’t part of the staff or boards of the organizations they gave to.
There’s power beyond the org chart. People on the org chart are wise when we recognize, engage, and enable our communities’ power rather than imagine that all mission progress depends on us. And people off the chart need to recognize our ability to empower the organizations and causes we’re giving to, no matter whether we’re sharing our raw dollars or simply volunteering our skills and time.
Our value isn’t dependent on our institutional role. This insight is especially critical for people who participate in and give to religious organizations. Religious organizations receive over 30% of all charitable contributions, but, unlike most 501(c)(3) organizations, aren’t legally required to report on how they use the investments that donors make.
With no legal accountability requirements to compel organizations, religious donors are at the mercy of treasurers and leadership teams that choose to share fiscal and programmatic information. Of course, transparency is best consensual! But when organizations treat information and decision-making access as the currency of power, donors can’t easily make good decisions about when or how to contribute.
If you’re a decision-maker: Look beyond your staff and the sources that have traditionally supported you. Not only do you need to engage the energy of the wider world, you’re already part of that wider world and need to watch that you’re not blocking community relationships.
If you’re giving from outside the org chart: Remember that you’re part of the flow of resources. Ask the staff of the organizations and initiatives you care about for information you need to choose how you add value. You’re essential! Remember that.