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The best is yet to come.


We feel impoverished and hopeless.

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”   ~Jonas Salk

A single thread of hope is a very powerful thing.

But the impoverished identity ultimately takes aim at the heart of it.

Learned helplessness develops over time. Grant requests are denied. Employees choose not to stay long and go elsewhere. Volunteers don’t stick around either. Board members with “the right connections” become harder to find.

When those kinds of things happen repeatedly, the flames of hopelessness can be fueled. But instead of learning how to refocus on what is being done well, a nonprofit lets it spread like wildfire.

New situations are greeted with pessimism rather than hope. Eventually your nonprofit may give up on trying. The lack of a good faith effort begins to resonate with those who could help the cause in important ways. That fuels the downward spiral even more.

The sky is no longer the limit. A tone of impoverishment attracts only scarcity and stifles your efforts. You stop attempting. Choices become limited and there is a narrowing of possibilities.

Our culture is toxic with high employee turnover.

A toxic culture is energy draining. It can cause even the best employees to sink. Here’s what can happen to them.

 Lose passion for their work and become numb
 Work begins to interfere with personal life
 Every day becomes a fire drill
 Friction between work areas develops
 Feel trapped and undervalued

When your nonprofit begins to resemble a revolving door, it’s high time to start improving employee engagement.

Operations are micromanaged.

“As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.”   ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Does any of this sound familiar?

Micromanagement is our tool of choice. Withholding raises, taking away duties and keeping people out of the loop are often necessary. Our expectations must be met.

We maintain control with an authoritarian style of management. Compliance is required and there is no tolerance for mistakes or not following instructions properly. Only “team players” fit in here.

Our Leadership sets the tone here. Either you agree with that or you get out.

 When we bring new people into the organization, we look for the “right fit”. New ideas are a red flag for us.

 People cannot be trusted. Our leadership needs to monitor and mold them.

 Transparency is dangerous and important information should be carefully concealed. It’s risky to paint a clear picture.

 The people who aren’t with the program can find work elsewhere. They are probably the source of our problems anyway. Let them find out for themselves how good they really had it here.

Our staff and leadership are divided.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”  ~Lewis Smedes

Any nonprofit organization can get out of balance.  The lines between leadership, staff and volunteers are intentionally thin. Yet it is acknowledged that each role is equally important in attaining the mission.

Not getting facts straight reduces credibility. There’s nothing worse than wild goose chases.

And not being willing to put yourself in the other person’s shoes only widens the gap.

We need to take a fresh look at our strategic planning process.

Did you ever wonder why a circus elephant doesn’t break free from a metal chain tied to a small wooden peg? It could easily snap the chain, uproot the wooden peg and escape to freedom. But it does not do that. In fact it does not even try.

As a baby, the elephant learned it could not break away from a chain and stake. When it did try, it caused pain. And it never forgot the pain associated with attempting to be free. It knows limitations- even though they are not real.

Is your nonprofit just like the circus elephant with an incredible power constrained by the fear of pain? Are the elephants in the room holding your organization back? Stopping your nonprofit from reaching its potential? Keeping it from providing those in need with all it’s got?

Good strategic planning recognizes and fully engages its greatest resource- its people. It does not chain staff and volunteers to a peg. It knows the nonprofit has much greater capacities- just like the strength of an elephant.

Raising money takes top priority until a crisis results from overlooking key issues.

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one. ”   ~Russian Proverb

A successful fundraising environment requires trust. And that trust is built upon forgiveness.

When people don’t get along, progress is slow or completely stalls out. The workplace becomes uncomfortable, fundraising has a hard time getting off the ground and the seeds of disorganization are watered. We have all seen situations where stakes are placed in the ground by individuals- sometimes over trivial matters. Those “stakeholders” help to create the often talked about silo mentality.

People do not feel free to contribute their passion, innovation and unique talents in an unforgiving culture. A lack of transparent communication, unfulfilled expectations and thwarted intentions result. Energy is wasted on avoiding potentially unpleasant interactions and situations. Crises then result.

Forgiveness and the purification that results from it are a prerequisite to your nonprofit  moving forward-with fundraising and other equally important initiatives. The costs of not forgiving are great.

You can't speak up because nobody’s listening.

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”   ~Woodrow Wilson

People want their voices to be heard.  Using the mute button creates suspicion, misunderstandings and even chaos. In the end, people who have not been heard feel as if they just don’t matter. For a nonprofit employee hoping to make a difference, that’s a big deal.

Shut down mode deprives nonprofit employees of  the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships.

Staff are asked to be miracle workers, always doing more with fewer resources.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”   ~Richard Branson

Simply trying to squeeze the most juice from the orange is not a sound strategy. Plain and simple: overwork doesn’t work. It only causes resentment, in-fighting, exhaustion and burnout.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.