Game of Non-Profit Thrones

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

– Abraham Lincoln
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Epilogue: A Song of Philanthropy and Charity

On a frigid Wednesday morning, fate had it that my peers and I were thrust upon the tasks of leading the Better Foundation with the difficult task of ‘making the world better’. One moment we were Civic Engagement students, another we’ve been given absolute mandate over 50 million dollars’ worth of endowments left by the foundation’s founder, B.E. Better. Meh, just your average Wednesday morning in Omaha.

To be frank, we didn’t really have 50 million dollars to fool around with. Rather, it was an extremely engaging and intellectually stimulating role-play activity brought up by Patrick, our academic coordinator.

Allow me to present a brief preface of the activity: 21 of us were divided into 3 groups and we were presented with this role-play cum case study to see how we would deal with the task of utilizing the 50 million dollars to the most effect. While we were given some starting guidelines, flexibility was afforded so in essence, we could basically enact whatever policies we want to stretch our dollars.

  • Book 1: A Clash of Kings

What was most difficult about the simulation?

Personally, I found navigating the group power dynamic particularly challenging. Since this was our first role play together and considering the relatively large size of the group, there was an underlying tension and challenge to make sure everyone was involved in the discussion as well as setting clear objectives and a vision that was collectively agreed upon. Additionally, the time slots allocated for us to discuss and plan strategies and policies were measly to say the least. Therefore, the combination of limited time as well as a need to involve each group member created a sticky situation where I had to be careful and aware about the manner at which I presented my ideas, defended risky suggestions and brought others into play.

  • Book 2: A Dream of Spring

What was most fun?

I quickly found myself as the finance guy in my team and found the experience immensely enjoyable and exhilarating. Being theoretically in charge of 50 million dollars was amazing. I quickly formulated an action plan where we focused heavily in future sustainability by placing the bulk of our cash reserves into secure stocks and assets. With that help of Forbes.com and Google, we managed to guarantee financial viability and sustainability for the years to come while funding education and social entrepreneurship endeavors for the community. All that lasted for a good 20 minutes before Patrick presented new scenarios and situations that greatly challenged our resolve and organizational plan. It was utter chaos. One moment we had a solid strategy, another moment we were close to bankruptcy.

The result: A wide grin on my face. I’ve always loved a challenge.

  • Book 3: A Glimpse of Future Glory

Does this exercise provide any insights into the funding process?

Definitely. The exercise highlighted the most important factor in any budget plan. That it’s just a plan. And plans can change.

The role play presented us the perfect stage for experimenting with ideas, plans and strategies in managing a non-profit foundation. It was perfect for that situation since it was able to mirror the sheer unpredictability and chaos of reality. It taught me to be flexible and adaptable when disaster strikes so that we can take advantage of the opportunities present while minimizing lost.

In the Game of Non-profit Thrones, you win or die.

– Bernard Goh

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