I have been thinking about this blog as I finish my second year in consulting. On a good note, by deepening relationships with my clients and through volunteer work, I have witnessed the brilliant lightening of energy and support around important missions firsthand.
I’ve also seen a real shift in the fundraising industry. Many of us with years of cumulative experience are moving out of the nonprofit arena. While the pay goes up for Directors of Development and other staffers, the immediate circle of qualified applicants has gone down. I have encouraged organizations to develop and promote their talent in-house, when possible. This is easier for organizations with larger staff and more resources. For organizations in rural areas or with small budgets, it can feel insurmountable. Staff development involves an every-day practice of mentorship, vision, patience and listening that can take years. These are difficult tasks when an organization is just trying to put out fires to keep the lights on and their programs running. It’s often about reminding organizations what they have in abundance, versus what they are lacking to successfully build beyond the barriers they currently face.
As the political tides continue to separate people from interacting with each other in constructive ways—the distrust of public and private purpose-driven institutions is also flailing. Many of my nonprofit-leader friends for the first time are having to tread very lightly to ask for funds for once innocuous causes that would normally have been taken for granted. It’s a rude wake-up call for naturally-born, optimistic community builders. We are having to work around new political barriers that should be exempt from most of our missions and sadly that has not proven to be the case. What was once a straight forward conversation with a potential donor, is now a feel-the-forehead temperature gage conversation first, before one can even discuss the agency mission. You can feel the anxiety that threatens the current and future implementation of good works happening as a result.
My anecdote for these times, because I have also internalized the communal anxiety we are witnessing, is to have more quiet one-on-one conversations with people. Whether talking to a founder, donor, client, board member, staff or whomever; it’s important to keep the mission front-and-center and deflect the vitriol we are all experiencing at some level. (The processing and damage of what we are experiencing is something that likely happens separately.)
As the saying goes, when you save one person, you save humanity. When there is a crisis of faith in our essential institutions, we have to take the same approach of connecting with our community and organizations one-on-one. That is my total focus. I have had countless conversations with different types of mission-focused people where I help them think about taking the next steps forward as they build the inclusive community they want to see in more creative ways.
If our current times have a good side in nonprofit—it’s the forced self-assessment of what is most important to serving our constituents, how we communicate that and where can we build bridges of trust and investment in our work. It's not an easy time, but it is a crucial one and we need to grow and keep every visionary we can.