Most of us learn this the hard way in our personal lives. My junior year of high school I decided to become a great runner by putting in 120 miles a week It didn't work. So the summer before my senior year I committed to one high-quality run a day at more moderate distances, and I improved drastically. Writing books takes years of sustained effort, of research, reading in a wide range of fields, thinking about ideas, considering new arguments and approaches, going back to research more deeply in some areas--in sum, keeping at it. Sure, the occasional flash of insight comes. But it is almost always the product of disciplined, sustained work.
When it comes to nonprofits, though, we often think that one big donation or program will put an organization "over the top." But successful and durable organizations seem to be built more slowly, with care and attention to detail. "Don't get out over your skis," one experienced fund raiser advised. An expert in development cautioned: "Build capacity, not just programs"; in other words, do not tackle an exciting new initiative unless you have the resources, the money and time, to support it.
I think Yo Ghana! has, since becoming a 501(c)3 some two and a half years ago, followed this advice. We put a lot of emphasis on quality, evaluation, and collaboration. If we are trying something new, we like to start small and see how it goes. We try not to force participation where this is not the will to follow through.
It is very exciting to see our steady growth and successes in terms of reliability of letter exchanges, quality of letter exchanges, numbers of volunteers, numbers and types of grants that we reward, our research and evaluation program, and general enthusiasm and credibility. Once a big flywheel starts moving, it has a lot of power behind it.