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The Nonprofit Sector Needs to Get Over the Fear Thing

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It needs to be said, and I'm going to say it. The nonprofit sector must get over the fear thing. The sector is known for being risk-averse, and that comes from a lack of resources. I get it.

But it's time to move beyond that. There are many different forms of Nonprofit Fear:

  • Fear of making an investment
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of losing a donor
  • Fear of being honest
  • Fear of money
  • Fear of competition

...and the list goes on. Because these fears are so crippling and have the potential to really hold nonprofits back, I want to start a conversation about how we move past them.

So today, let's discuss one of the most crippling, which is the fear of making an investment.

Most nonprofits live hand-to-mouth. They exist in a hamster wheel of raising just enough money to keep going. But if they took a step back, marshaled their resources and made an investment in real transformation they could break free from that hamster wheel.

Nonprofits come to me with a long list of woes: we don't have enough money, our board isn't doing anything, our funders are worn out, we can't meet client needs, we are just getting by, we are worn out. They desperately want to break out of this endless cycle of not having enough and not being able to do enough. I explain that in order to make a significant change, in order to break free from this beast, in order to really transform business as usual, they must make an investment.

Not just an investment in help, but an investment of time, energy, and mind share. They need to rally their board, staff, funders, and advocates around a transformation plan. They need to be willing to take a risk and make an investment in a new way.

Some nonprofits decide that the risk is too great. That instead of overcoming their fear of investment they would rather pull back and continue on as usual. They may still cobble together a strategic plan, or write up a new board recruitment policy, or put together a fundraising plan, but nothing has really changed. They are still thinking and operating in the way they always have.

But the nonprofits that I do work with decide to take that first step. They decide to put a stake in the ground and chart a new direction for their organization. They release the status quo and instead make an investment in their future, a better future for their organization and the community change they seek. They are willing to ask hard questions, to make hard decisions, to take risks, to try a new approach.

Instead of shrinking from the opportunity, they stand up and say "enough is enough." They decide that in order to achieve the vision that sparked their organization's beginning long ago, they must make an investment in their future.