THE BLOG
12/17/2012 12:32 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

11 Secrets to Building a Game-Changing Organization

Over the last 11 years, Taproot has gone from a spark of an idea in my bedroom office into one of the highest impact and well-managed nonprofits in the country -- a model that is being replicated around the world. To celebrate our 11th anniversary, I wanted to share 11 leadership and management philosophies that have made Taproot what it is today.

1. Tension is critical to success. Hire people and recruit board members who challenge you and question your assumptions.

2. Hire ambitious raw talent and give them room to stretch. Surround yourself with great people and let them find ways to create value and energy. The best ideas and execution strategies rarely come from management.

3. Create a strong, simple hook for funding partners. Complexity kills partnerships and sales. Create a simple hook. We have raised funds from more foundations than any other nonprofit in our field because we have a simple hook. For each dollar a foundation invests in us, we provide $10 in critical services for the organizations they care about.

4. Design matters. The way your office, website and materials look profoundly impacts confidence in your work. Before we had a dollar, people told me they assumed we had millions in the bank because our site looked so amazing. It attracts talent, partners and funding.

5. Be resourceful, not cheap. It is possible to have the best even if you don't have the money. Find a way.

6. Ask for help. If you provide people with a purpose and direction, they will give you the world. And if they don't, someone else will.

7. Be a shark. Like organizations and people, if a shark stops moving forward it dies. Even when times are tough, always move forward.

8. Be inspired by "no." Nothing gets me more fired up to achieve a goal than when someone says it can't be done or I can't do it.

9. Don't confuse organizational survival with success. Your vision and mission trump all else -- it's more important that you reach them than that your organization exists next year.

10. Don't give budgets too much power. The best investments we made were opportunistic. They were not in our budget, but the ROI was clear. Also, be careful not to measure success in revenue growth. Our budget has only grown an average of 10 percent the last few years, but our impact has roughly doubled each of those years.

11. Fail fast and often. No movement was built in PowerPoint. Constantly make little bets and adapt from what you learn. Life is iterative.