Funding: Time-Telling Vs. Clock-Building

Audio Transcript

I’ve found it puzzling how people who clearly understand the idea of investing in great companies, run by the right people, often fail to carry the same logic into the social sectors. In place of the fair price exchange of the free-market model, those who fund the social sectors can bring an assumption of fair exchange that I consider highly dysfunctional: if we give you money, we have an entitlement to tell you how to use that money since it was a gift or public funding, not a fair price exchange. Put another way, social-sector funding often favors time telling—focusing on a specific program or a restricted gift, often the brainchild of a charismatic visionary leader. 

But to build a great organization, as we learned in the book Built to Last, requires a shift from time telling to clock building, building a clock that does not depend on any given idea, on any given leader. The clock can tick over time. 

Restricted giving misses a fundamental point. To make the greatest impact on society—and that is, after all, the point—requires first and foremost a great organization, not a single great program. If an institution has a focused Hedgehog Concept—a disciplined organization that delivers exceptional results—the best thing supporters can do is to give resources that enable the institution’s leaders to do their work the best way they know how. Get out of their way and let them build a clock.

Copyright © 2017 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.