An Origin Story
Authored by: Mickey & Kurt Riesenberg, Co-Founders Force Multiplier Management
“If not now, when, and if not for these reasons, why?” These were the actual questions we posed to ourselves when contemplating starting a company during a pandemic that crushed the world. These are the non-theoretical internal conflicts that mount a fight against the natural desire to shelter in place, to ride-out a storm that we all feel during times of uncertainty.
If not now, then probably never is the answer most of us are going to face. It’s hard to start a business anytime because the test of the process dissuades many from trying, fewer from succeeding. It’s disruptive to life, consuming of limited resources and, although liberating, stressful to start fresh. It’s stressful to end things too, and it’s stressful to be in a pandemic. That all sounds bad, but the businesses that have an advantage, and do what they do well in their element, with an understanding and focus on the customer are still going to grow and succeed. The world needs some good new businesses, perhaps now more than ever. We wanted to become one.
"If you don’t take COVID as your existential question about who you are, why you are, and what you do, then you’re missing the boat and probably the point."
That drove our answer to the first question to be “NOW.” We’ve not been spared the challenges of life and the impacts of responsibility, decisions and sacrifices. Those are lifelong things that change somewhat each decade, and depending on their degree can directly tie to the richness of a life’s experiences. We’ve reconciled aspiration and security, and we’ve grown more conscious, and thereby more motivated by the reminders of our own mortality and questions of purpose that emerge from loss of loved ones over recent years. This is enough on it’s own, now exacerbated by the nearly indescribable effects of COVID on every part of life, and upon life itself. There’s never a perfect time, and for so many people there is unexpectedly no longer a tomorrow to put off building something or doing what they felt meant to do.
With emerging and changing demands, resulting opportunities, and the redefinition of life and work ahead, what better or more freeing period will there be in this lifetime for change? Nonprofits are going to continue, and even emerge post-COVID as more-essential lifelines for communities, businesses and entire industries while they serve their constituents’ common interests and help usher in the next way of being.
We as founders have the professional experience and skills from over 30 combined years of demonstrable nonprofit sector achievement spread across very different organizations and stakeholders. We’ve overcome challenges, know how to run nonprofits that build value and work with the entire value-chain/support structure. We’re great at one-off efforts too! We can run events in person and online that deliver a growing customer experience, deliver efficient and effective meetings, operations, marketing and membership campaigns. We know how to relate to executive and support staff alike. We know how to identify and develop meaningful partnerships that return a lot of value, and how to create education programs that meet the toughest international standards (if that’s important).
We look excitedly ahead to applying the knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences we’ve amassed from actually doing the work, walking the talk and consistently exceeding high expectations.
The demand for affordable and knowledgeable help is higher than ever right NOW. Nonprofit budgets have been hurt badly over the past 12 months. At the height of COVID restrictions in 2020 approximately 1.6 million nonprofit jobs were lost according to Nonprofit Quarterly, citing a Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies report. If you are still working full time today it kind of feels like you were spared from Thanos’ finger snap in Avengers. You’re in a world with a lot fewer colleagues, resources, familiarity and less support when you need those things the most. It’s a weird time.
Typically nonprofits recover in a lagging position behind business and the broader economy, because in many cases nonprofits are dependent upon the economic vitality of whatever industry or community supports them. Also, their typical business model staggers their budget impacts on an annualized basis. Again according to the most recent 2020 Nonprofit Employment Report from the Center for Civil Society Studies, nonprofit employment actually overtook U.S. manufacturing employment in 2017 – a major detail but one lost to delayed report publication due to COVID. So losing 13% of the nonprofit workforce, which represented 8.8% of the total lost workforce, is going to leave a lasting sting. The pandemic’s nonprofit employment crisis, according to the study’s authors, has put “significant pressure on the crucial services that these organizations have historically provided.”
It is estimated (Figure 1) in more recent reports that Q1 2021 saw some slow recovery for nonprofit employment, with 926,000 still-lost positions, representing a 7.4% decline of employment over the first year of the pandemic.
As recovery in the United States begins to resemble actual progress, nonprofits are going to be seeing demand for their services increase rapidly just as their financial challenges may be plateauing. This is one driving reason why the Association Management Company Institute (AMCI) reported on the pandemic-driven increase in demand for consulting services, stating “Association management companies say they are seeing more inquiries from associations about providing services since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with many groups either seeking expertise in subjects where they lack experience or needing to outsource services previously provided by staff.”
To be clear, in no way are we suggesting that full time staff positions be replaced with outsourced management. Mission-based organizations still have a job to do and still have core professionals that know their landscape better than anyone. But if they don’t have the staff or full-boat resources to do all the jobs, then part-time, temporary experienced professional help is our answer. Outsourcing means defined (lower) costs, defined parameters, low commitment, low risk, high and immediate return. It means the staff that remains in the association has the help they desperately need, and can refocus themselves on the core and central aspects of their positions rather than the six they’ve been filling in for.
There is likely no other time in history when the need for skilled and seasoned nonprofit professionals has been greater. Fixing all the bits and pieces, working with the people driven by mission, and exploring the integration of all the new ways of doing things with the old ways that worked is what Force Multiplier Management is offering.
If you don’t take COVID as your existential question about who you are, why you are, and what you do, then you’re missing the boat and probably the point.
This gets us to the answer of our second question, reasons for the Why. We’ve been able to assemble an impressive and consistent body of professional achievement, success and impact – work we are proud of and happy to say so. Relationships and strategy, leadership and a lot of selfless hours willing things to happen that succeeded greatly against their odds. Triple-digit event growth, double-digit membership and budget growth, innovative services and marketing campaigns, strategic positioning and partnership development, going digital and building impactful education programs.
With limited staff and resources, the creativity and innovativeness, smart risk-taking, committed teams and building the broad coalitions of support needed to do these things have provided us experience at every staff level from admin to executive. Direct involvement, hands-on good management, leadership, responsibility, and willingness to make hard choices combined with an extensive use of reliable and affordable technology made the difference for us.
We were able to accomplish great things with such limited resources to do the work better and smarter, building real value for an organizations and industries. A force-multiplier approach. This being one of the advantages suggested earlier in this post – these capabilities and a desire to use them inside a familiar nonprofit ecosystem is a big differentiator for us.
On a personal level, the bookends of midlife, raising children while also caring for aging family, left focus for work residing between them. Managing this dynamic, learning how to be constructive and work well together as partners is rare. We’ve done that well, we know we will continue to do that, and we know how to depend on each other in any kind of times. We also, as founders, believe in the human value of work and employment, of contribution, the impact of value-creation upon the creators and the benefactors, and the power of belonging. These things nonprofits uniquely provide.
Force Multiplier Management is driven to stay on top of the trends and resources in the nonprofit world. We read all the newsletters, cross-examine best practices and new resources being used in the corporate sector for application to nonprofits. We attend the events, talk with our industry professional contacts, and really keep a sharp eye on the things that will be impactful. In many cases we can take the best practices of larger nonprofit organizations or corporations and scale them affordably to work for smaller groups. This is one reason you’ll see us reference as much content from Inc. or Fast Company as you will Philanthropy Today or Nonprofit Quarterly. Business is nonprofits is business.
We love nonprofit work. The big picture of how the combination of smaller efforts, well managed, can turn into big impacts. We like working with the types of people that seek satisfaction and fulfillment in their mission-based work. We look forward to having a role in the transformations to smart and effective engagement with digital tools, tracking and understanding the impacts on members and donors, helping organizations to realign their offerings and value to meet the new challenges of the next normal. That’s our Why.
Making Greater Feats Happen isn’t just a tagline, it’s what we are about. If you need a force multiplier in your world – something to magnify your resources and impact – we stand ready to face your challenges and opportunities with you in our joined hope, optimism and excitement. Let’s do this thing.
Mickey & Kurt Riesenberg
Force Multiplier Management
Check out Mickey Riesenberg’s appearance on the Official Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce Podcast: We Are Business (April 28, 2021)