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Why Context Matters

Sometimes a seemingly simple question can create an ah-ha moment

By Suzie Haberland

At Altruist Partners we guide nonprofits to achieve radical increases in revenue and impact.

For many of our clients, thinking about what radical increases means is constrained by where they are today. And they remain constrained until they’re able to shift their thinking away from “what can we do with what we have” to “what will it take for us to deliver on our vision?”

Sometimes a seemingly simple question can create an ah-ha moment that gives an organization much more context about their work. One organization working to solve a specific problem was recently asked: “how many people are in that situation?” They knew that the number was large, but they didn’t have a solid estimate of the total size of the population they could potentially serve. 

When they researched that number and discovered that it is far larger than they ever imagined, a significant shift took place in the organization.

First, a sense of urgency immediately kicked in. The dialogue of “we’re proud of ourselves – we’ve served 200 people recently” suddenly felt tiny with the realization that the problem was vast and would take decades to solve. Goals that previously seemed unattainable were now planned and laid out: 1,000 people in one year; 10,000 in three years; 100,000 in five years.

Then a funny thing happened. Doors started opening. Staff became seriously focused. People wanted on the bus.

The bottom line is that organizations perform better when the people in those organizations understand the context in which their work is performed. They make better decisions. They work smarter. They get stuff done. They build excitement and urgency. And in doing so, they are able to have even more meaningful impact.

What are the questions your organization should be asking to create context?

Suzie Haberland has worked in the private, public, social sectors before joining Altruist Partners. Haberland focuses primarily on California and Central Washington nonprofit organizations. Contact her at

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