Talk about a phrase that I can’t stand … and we hear it so often in the nonprofit sector. I can’t even bear to type it again (just re-read the blog post title if you need to).
Why We Hear It So Often
Unfortunately in the field of nonprofit fundraising, I think this has become the mantra for some organizations.
This is especially true for those with a 50+ year history of “always finding a way to make it.” It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what has worked in the past will always work.
I find this mantra to be especially prevalent in organizations where the founders are still running the organization after 20+ years. They have a lot of mental ownership over the processes and procedures that they created from nothing — they birthed the organization and their baby is perfect!
I also think that some nonprofits actually perpetuate a culture of complacency. I’ll occasionally encounter a general sense among employees that they don’t have to put forth much effort since “we don’t have to turn a profit.” What they are really saying is that they aren’t being motivated to do anything other the bare minimum requirements to keep their jobs.
Why It’s Such A Big Problem
Allowing this phrase to be said at your organization creates a culture that makes the staff and board afraid of change. They are afraid to speak up when they have an idea or see something that needs to be fixed. Even worse it actually discourages innovation.
What’s the Solution?
But there doesn’t have to be the struggle to “always find a way to make it” each year. The answer is actually quite simple: work to develop a culture of innovation. Acknowledge that change is okay. Empower employees to seek, present, implement and TEST new ideas.
Whether you are an entry level fundraiser, the CEO of a large charity or a new board member, take it upon yourself to find new ideas for your organization. Read for an hour every day (yes … I’m serious). Attend professional development offerings both in the sector and out of it. Learn from nonprofit experts and also follow business experts — adapt what they do to the nonprofit sector and you’ll really be innovative.
As an example, a few years back a charity that I manage was contemplating implementing a new signature special event. Those that know me know that I am not an events guy, so I was pretty skeptical but went along with the process. Very quickly the task force came to the conclusion that it was a crowded events space and we needed to break the mold if we were going to be successful. So, we flipped the normal question of “What kind of event do we want to throw?” around and instead asked “What do we hate about all the other events in town?” We filled an entire white board with bad fundraising event experiences. We in turn created a non-traditional gala that puts the guest experience first and in turn now raises over $150,000 for the arts in our community each year (here’s a link to a highlight video from a few years back).
We didn’t just do what everyone else does. Yes we incorporated best practices on how you throw a gala, but we also asked the hard question of “What could be better about galas?” — and most importantly we put our guests (donors) first.
That’s how you’ll really fulfill your mission … fix things that aren’t necessarily broken, but could certainly be improved upon. Break the mold. Be different. Innovate. Always.