Gathering the Doers

The Stop Doing List for Communities

By Paula Jensen

Have you ever experienced a time when you could envision what needs to happen but had no idea what to stop doing in order to reach the point of success?

Here is a simple example: This year at Santa Day in my community someone asked, “Why do we give away turkeys to families during this event – it seems like a waste of funds and fundraising time?” My immediate thought was – it’s a long-standing tradition. In my community we have always collected money from local businesses to give away turkeys on Santa Day. Over the decades the number of volunteers hosting Santa Day has decreased along with the number of businesses, so now businesses and individuals generously donate to our local community group to provide turkey donations for Santa Day. The truth is raising money isn’t hard in our community, but no one has ever asked the question, “Do people really want a turkey for Christmas?” How do we continue the tradition of generosity, but do it without the turkey?

Sometimes we get stuck in a cycle that loses the real purpose of why we started something. Communities often just do what they’ve always done and honestly, it is frequently good work. But when that good work stops having a purpose or producing results because our world has shifted, people really can’t understand why. This is where conflict can begin. A good question to ask each other at times like this is — What should our community stop doing to reach our fullest potential

The Stop Doing List can be an important conversation for any community, and it should include its companion the Do Differently List. Together they offer an innovative path toward your fullest potential. What could your community stop doing in 2020 that would brighten your future?

Below is my short list of things communities could stop doing and replace with new ways of leading and doing.

  1. Stop having meetings. So often we sit in unproductive meetings that go off track, last too long and never produce results. It really makes people not want to be involved. Try setting a purpose for your meeting in advance, ask people to co-create the agenda and then set time limits for each agenda item to keep you on track.
  2. Stop saying “rural is dying”. The truth is, if you’re not trying, you’re dying! In the past decade, the communities who are collaborating regionally and actively working on housing, community and economic development will likely see an uptick in population in the 2020 Census. They are trying! You can check https://factfinder.census.gov/ for population estimates in your town or county.
  3. Stop relying on elected leaders. While many communities have excellent leaders, others struggle to fill important community positions, contributing to a wide divergence of capacity. Believe in yourself and cultivate the leader within you. Then cultivate leadership in those around you to develop local vision, community approaches to problem solving and generate funding for projects. We all can contribute to local success.
  4. Stop believing more jobs is the answer. Entrepreneurship is the key to creating jobs and retaining young residents in small towns. Creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem strengthens communities and regions by building partnerships among education, industry, and financial sectors.

Now it’s your turn — What else would you add to your community’s Stop Doing List that could help reach its fullest potential? 

About Paula Jensen

Having a passion for community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula resides in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 318+. She serves as a grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a mission-driven 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution working to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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