Do More than Be Glad: The Pollyana Principles Author, Hildy Gottlieb

You’ve probably come across the ideas of Hildy Gottlieb during your day-to-day work in one form or another, either in person or, as I did, via an intercom during at least a couple national phone conference seminars I heard while working at The Minneapolis Foundation.

Ever hear of the concept of friendraising?

Her book, (titled appropriately enough) FriendRaising, helped spread the concept as a means of cultivating board members and gifts by building friendships with the community. Through her work as president of the Community-Driven Institute, she helps organizations become more significant by reengaging their communities.

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a big community component to her work.

Her new book, The Pollyanna Principles, draws from her experience as an educator and consultant to address a real challenge for charities and other organizations working in the community—regardless of the quality of work, most efforts don’t realize significant improvement in a community’s quality of life. The book addresses why this happens, but more importantly how it can be changed.

I had the good fortune to talk to Hildy directly by phone and interview her via e-mail last week. We're publishing the interview in two parts. Part two will be posted on Wednesday, March 18. Here’s part I:


Q: You’ve already written several successful books on the Community Benefit Sector. What new or other observations inspired you to write The Pollyanna Principles (and how do you define the term, Community Benefit Sector?)?

My prior books were all workbooks focused on single aspects of Community Benefit work—Board Development, Community Engagement, Public Speaking, etc. The Pollyanna Principles is not a workbook; instead it provides the overarching theme into which all these workbooks fit.

The Pollyanna Principles is intended to show, both through the thought process and the case studies, that creating visionary community and global change is not only possible, it is practical and doable. Its intent is to bust open the thinking that says, “Creating a better world is nice to dream about, but we can’t waste our time on such a pipe dream.” The book shows that there is actually nothing more realistic and practical than aiming our work at building healthy, vibrant, humane, resilient places to live. It is a practical guide to creating that visionary community and global change.

As for the term “Community Benefit Sector,” the term “nonprofit” is a horribly negative term, defining us not by what we are and what we do, but what we are not and what we do not do.

If the direct translation of your name is, “We do not create any profit,” what message does that give the world? What self-image does it create?

And in practice, what does it mean we do? We actually knew a group that gave away every dime of its cash surplus at the end of every year, because it thought being “nonprofit” meant it couldn’t have money left over!

So, at its most benign, the term is confusing. And at its worst, the term is deflating, demeaning. When we call ourselves nonprofit, we immediately set ourselves up for comparison to those that are for profit. And for those to whom “profit” means benefit beyond just money, well for those people, the name says we have no benefit, no upside. There is just nothing good about the word at all!

On the flip side, Community Benefit is what our organizations are all about. Since coining the term several years ago and promoting it every chance we get (have you seen our “No More Nonprofits” video on YouTube?), we have seen terms develop such as Social Benefit Organizations, Humanity Benefit Organization, Global Benefit Organizations, etc. These are affirming terms that tell instantly what we are, what we do. These terms instantly say, “This group is doing amazing work!”

Q: How would you briefly summarize the Pollyanna Principles?

The Pollyanna Principles is a list of six principles that give community/global change efforts the ability to create more visionary change in our communities and our world.

When internal systems such as governance, planning, evaluation, program development, resource development, etc. are rooted in The Pollyanna Principles, every aspect of the effort will be aligned for creating visionary community change.

The book first lays the groundwork. It shows why these standard systems often actually preclude creating more significant community change. And it describes the six principles that can align our work to create the change we all want to see.

Most of the book is then case studies, including several case studies within foundations, showing how these six principles can immediately change the results of the work we do.

Q: What are the most important insights you want readers to take away from the book?

That’s an easy one: That creating visionary community/global change is not only possible, it is practical and doable. That once we take off the blinders that say, “It’s impossible,” change happens faster than we imagine it will.

And anyone can do it. You don’t have to be Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. We all have that potential, as individuals and as organizations. Are we victims of our individual circumstances, or leaders towards our collective future? Each of us can make that decision.

If we assume we cannot create such change, we will not. If we assume we can, we will seek and use approaches that make that change reality.

Q: The dictionary defines a Pollyanna as someone who is excessively or blindly optimistic. However, the root of the word is based on the heroine of a children’s novel, a girl who faces the difficulties of being an orphan with cheerfulness. Your Pollyanna Principles seem to be based on this root definition. What process led you to create them?

We’ve been told for so long that creating visionary change is unrealistic, utopian, impossible. Those of us who seek such change, knowing it is possible and pointing to example after example—we are told to “get real” and labeled “Pollyannas” as a derogatory term.

With the book, I am reclaiming the term as positive and powerful. I not only believe the world can be better, I know it as fact. And here is why: unless something is scientifically impossible, it is possible. From that absolute fact, then, insisting that the world can be a better place is the only realistic viewpoint we can hold!

As for the process that led us to create The Pollyanna Principles, I wish I could tell you it was years of research and measurement. In truth, it was raw frustration followed by trial and error.

Like many people reading this blog, we were practitioners/consultants to community organizations. We had given up a fruitful business-turnaround practice, to make a bigger difference in the world. But after 5 years, it was clear that no matter how good our work was—or anyone else’s work, for that matter–the world wasn’t significantly better off.

In frustration, we fell back on our business turnaround skills and started pulling apart both the tools we were using and the assumptions behind these tools, to learn what was preventing the change we wanted to see. We realized that the standard systems like governance and resource development were not aiming at creating huge amounts of community/global change. And so we broke these systems apart and reassembled them, experimenting to see what aimed our clients at creating more change, and what did not.

By the time we were done, we had aligned all these systems (governance, planning, resource development, program development, etc.) behind the dual goals of simultaneously creating significant, visionary change in our world while building strong, sustainable organizations.

After seeing which systems worked and which did not, we found that the successful systems all held certain assumptions and expectations. That core of assumptions and expectations became The Pollyanna Principles.

Q: Many of us are just beginning our careers in philanthropy and nonprofit work and have butted our heads against the rigid confines of old-guard ideas. How do we get past the headaches and implement new ways of doing things?

Regardless of the position someone holds in their organization, there are things anyone in a community organization can implement to begin to create more significant change—from the newest associate to the CEO.

The most important is to be mindful to note where The Pollyanna Principles are not being applied, and to then find ways to realign their work with the principles wherever possible. Keep asking community-driven questions. Keep working to change the conversation.

We have found one of the most successful types of questions we can keep asking is, “What success are we aiming at for our community? What future do we want this decision to create? For whom? What success do we want to create for our community as we do our work?” This comes back to being conscious that everything we do is creating the future and that, as good stewards of our communities’ futures, we must be mindful of what future our actions are creating!

You can insert the Pollyanna Principles into other areas as well. For resource development planning, for example (and the book shows how to do this), rather than beginning by asking, “How much do we have to raise?” you can begin by asking, “what assets/strengths do we have to build on?”

Just keep moving the conversation to what is possible. Regardless of your position within the organization, that is the most positive and powerful step you can take!

Q: You offer education, training, and even instructional kits and CDs related to your other work. What kinds of tools do you envision creating around The Pollyanna Principles?

I do have plans for writing step-by-step workbooks for some of the planning approaches described in the book. But our most exciting plans have to do with developing the Community-Driven Institute into a full-blown education and research institute. The mission of the Institute is to support and engage the entire sector, to aim all the sector's work at creating a healthy, vibrant, compassionate, resilient world.

The Institute has already begun a curriculum for consultants, to aim their work at creating more visionary community/global change. Our goal for 2010 is to build a similar curriculum for funders.

We also plan to take the Community-Driven Institute back on the road for the Community-Driven Tour. Over the course of 3 months last year, we introduced these concepts in about 20 communities across the US and into Canada—we put 9,000 miles on the car! 

So I guess the answer to your question is, “Whatever it takes.” If our core purpose is realigning community benefit efforts so they are more capable of creating a better world, we have to do whatever we can to get out in the world and share this message—that creating visionary community change is not only possible, it is practical and doable.


(Part II of the interview will appear in a blog posting on Wednesday, Mar. 18.)


Paul Bachleitner is a communications, marketing, and development consultant. He has over nine years of experience working in communications and development in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector and over 11 years of professional communications experience. His current clients include Diversity in Philanthropy and the Marginalized Males Funders Group (MMFG). He has worked for and served the Minneapolis and St. Paul foundations and participated as a national leadership fellow during 2006-2007 with the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE). More information about him is available at his website, Feel free to contact him at