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nonprofit risk aversion

The Nonprofit Sector Needs to Get Over The Fear Thing

tightropeIt 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. I’m starting a new series today about the many different forms of Nonprofit Fear and how to move the sector beyond them.

Because there are many:

  • 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 unpack each one in order 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.

Photo Credit: briandeadly

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: January 2013

Reading_GlassesJanuary was about looking ahead to 2013 and being prepared for the many changes to come. It was also about understanding and embracing new generations, thinking about risk differently, re-evaluating growth, and analyzing the unique and critical role of foundations.

Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in January in social innovation. But please add to the list in the comments. And if you want to see more, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.

You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

  1. The predictions about what 2013 will mean for social innovation continue this month. As part of their whole Outlook 2013 series, the Chronicle of Philanthropy provides 5 Ways Nonprofit Work Will Change in 2013  and 5 Nonprofit Innovators to Watch. And the Philanthrocapitalism blog makes 20 predictions for 2013 chief among them is the rise of the woman philanthrocapitalist.  Writing in Forbes, Antoinne Machal-Cajigas tells us What’s Next in the World of Social Innovation?

  2. January saw the second inauguration of President Obama, and Mathew Forti and Colin Murphy argue that his re-election campaign offers nonprofits some ideas about how to measure performance.

  3. Phil Buchanan, head of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, likes to stir things up, and I love him for it. He argues that nonprofit dependency on philanthropic dollars is NOT a bad thing.  And because there is no rest for the weary, later in the month he argues against “the stampede to embrace the idea that for-profits — or for-profit models — can more easily combat our toughest social problems.”

  4. Writing on the HBR blog, Kimberly Dasher Tripp reminds us that scaling social impact is not about growing organizations, it’s about growing solutions.

  5. And speaking of impact, if you haven’t started figuring out what results your nonprofit is achieving, you may want to start since it looks like your youngest donors are demanding it.

  6. Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, wrote a moving post about the critical role foundations play in our society, “Free from the bottom-line pressure of markets, the partisanship of electoral politics, and the demands of fundraising — [foundations] can use their independence to do remarkable things, whether it’s taking on issues that no one wants to touch, sticking with an issue for decades if required, or keeping the rest of us from forgetting the millions of people who, through no fault of their own, continue to be harmed and/or excluded by war, economic injustice, disease, and discrimination.”

  7. Beth Kanter writes a great post about overcoming the risk-aversion of the nonprofit sector by taking “little bets.”

  8. As you plan your conference schedule for the year ahead, check out the William James Foundation’s comprehensive list of social entrepreneurship conferences.

  9. Social change can be exhausting, demoralizing work. Here’s how a New York City teacher, with arguably one of the hardest jobs in education, stays committed to social change.

  10. The millennial generation is no longer willing to separate work and life, so says Ryan Steinbach on the UnSectored blog. In fact, “millennials see their careers as not a part of their lives, but rather what they do with their lives – and life is so much more than making ends meet. It’s social, emotional, physical, and spiritual. It’s about pursuing your passions, building relationships, and giving back.”

Photo Credit: thatdisneylover

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