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Case Foundation Says "Be Fearless"

August 6, 2012

The Case Foundation (created by Steve Case and Jean Case in 1997) has recently launched a campaign aimed at encouraging nonprofit organizations and the foundations that support them to "be fearless."

As part of its 15th anniversary, the board and staff of the foundation took a look at their history of grantmaking and decided that they were most successful when they were "fearless" -- when they explored and experimented – and least successful when fear or caution became a driver of their decision-making.

According to Jean Case, the CEO of the Case Foundation, to be fearless means: "setting audacious goals, acting urgently and boldly, being unafraid of risk, being willing to strike unlikely alliances, and accepting the possibility of failure, while still pressing forward."

Case also defines fearless by what it's not: "it's not reckless abandon, foolhardiness or arrogance, or presuming that we have all the answers."

In a printed publication (also available online at Case outlines five principles that she thinks are present when one is operating with a fearless mindset:

  • Make big bets and make history: Case states that the most significant cultural transformations occur when one or more people simply decide to try and make a big change, rather than move incrementally. She cites Ray Chambers and Malaria No More (which is dedicated to eradicating all deaths due to malaria by 2015) as great examples of individual and organizations that have set "big, hairy, audacious goals."
  • Experiment early and often: Case asserts that experience shows us that we need to keep looking around the corner to find the next good idea. She cites the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's "News Challenge" (which invites ideas from the public to improve journalism) as one such approach.
  • Make failure matter: Case suggests that if everyone commits to sharing lessons from failure, the nonprofit sector as a whole will be stronger and more prepared to attack the next challenge. She cites the 2010 meeting of PopTech (which brings together innovators from various fields in an annual conference) called "Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures and Improbable Breakthroughs" as a great example of this approach to sharing failures.
  • Reach beyond your bubble: An African Proverb says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Case highlights a number of successful partnerships, including the Four Freedoms Fund, which was formed as a collaboration to work on immigrant rights.
  • Let urgency conquer fear: Case notes Martin Luther King's "fierce urgency of now" when he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism" as one of the best examples of this type of fearless approach.

The Case Foundation urges nonprofit organization and funders to have a conversation in their own organizations about what "being fearless" means to them. Then, they encourage nonprofits to commit to action, experiment and share results. Not a bad way to move forward.

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P.S. Did you know that Thomas Watson, longtime leader of IBM, once said, "If you want to succeed, double your failure rate"?

CSR Now! will take a short summer break and return on August 27. Enjoy your summer!


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