Photo Credit: Marvin Shaouni

Photo Credit: Marvin Shaouni

Work that matters is not only difficult to identify, but it’s difficult to obtain. I’ve made many mistakes and lost important relationships in my journey to tell stories of work that matters. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the United Way of Southeast Michigan. Working together with them to find and share the story of Much Love (pictured) was my first real experience telling the story of work that matters, and it’s become part of the fabric of who I am. There’s nothing outrageous or ground breaking about doing work that matters. People do it every day, all over the world. And we, like so many others (including you, probably), like helping people. And we like helping people who help people. That seems pretty simple. What isn’t simple is how you choose to help people who help people. What happens when work that matters can’t afford you?

“We’ll do it for free.”

Final 5 has long been viewed as an organization that required a large investment to engage. We are the ones you call when the project has to be perfect, or when you’re ready for world class. In the past, it takes a significant amount of time for us to find and share those kind of stories. With that comes a pretty significant price tag, as well as a large time investment from our clients. It quickly became clear to us that work that matters doesn’t always come with that checkbook or available schedule.

Our initial solution was to use revenue generating work to fund work that matters. So we began offering our services pro bono to companies we were passionate about and that we wanted to work with. You already know how this story ends, don’t you? The work didn’t matter as much, both to the client with no skin in the game, and to us (I’m ashamed to say) who sometimes had the attitude of “What do they want??? They’re getting it for free!” We lost total control. Deadlines slipped, quality suffered, things came crashing down, feelings were hurt, and relationships suffered. I work very hard to rebuild those things, but you know how that goes. Once you’ve harmed a relationship, it’s never really the same. So that… didn’t… work.

It’s us, not you

At the same time this was going on we were pretty flush with revenue generating projects. So Final 5 was hiring a new project manager to help refine the process, and working with new and different vendors to help drive our work in new directions. We learned a ton (with more to go) and got to be really good at our core competency — finding stories, designing stories, and telling stories. And we got good at it in better ways, it was like the whole thing was feeding on itself as our process improved and the roles of people on the team became clearer. Suddenly, things that were headaches and things that would fall through the cracks were no longer doing so. Profits began to increase as it took less work to accomplish what we needed done.

So how can we tell stories that matter? We know we can’t charge full rate and we know we can’t give it away. But if we truly understand our own growth, our growing list of resource and our improved process, then there is an opportunity to accomplish both objectives: getting paid and telling stories that matter. In this way I believe we can reach those organizations who have struggled so greatly to find and share their stories because they’re strapped for time and cash. So we’re taking a leap and banking on the fact that while we might make less per project, we’ll have so much more fun doing so.