Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer Reading: The House That Love Built

Yesterday one of my emails included this quote from Jean Monnet, “Nothing is possible without individuals; nothing is lasting without institutions.” The need for individuals and institutions and the potential conflict between them recapitulates one of the themes in The House That Love Built--the story of Millard and Linda Fuller and Habitat for Humanity.

Does it really take individuals? When Fuller was asked about how much money you needed to form a Habitat chapter, he said, “You have to have at least a dollar. It would be fiscally irresponsible to start a project with less than a dollar. But if you have dollar and you’ve got committed folks you can start and God will bless your meager resources…” Today worldwide Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing, which the Fuller’s began in 2005, have over 1,500 affiliates and partners—while it takes a more than a dollar to sustain them, single dollars created the initial foundations for over 350,000 homes these two organizations have built.

While the book is often a treatise in defense of Fullers, the book’s value for the nonprofit leader is the questions it raises about founders and the institutions they create. Might it have been possible for Habitat and Fuller to reach an accord without the public conflict that took place when the board fired Fuller? What might the Fuller have done differently? The Board? When might those efforts have started? How can an organization continue to benefit from the gifts of dynamic founders if and when they come into conflict with organization building? From this example, if you are a board member, what changes will you make at your organization? If you are a founder, how can you help your legacy to continue?

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