There is a fairly ubiquitous notion about the nonprofit sector. We as a society often believe (either consciously or subconsciously) that nonprofit leaders and their work are less valuable. Nonprofit leaders have been told for so long that they must scrape by without the amount of funding, people, or attention that they truly require.
But the truth is that the social change for which nonprofit leaders are working so tirelessly (and which we as a society so desperately need) could be more fully realized if nonprofit leaders recognized and asserted their, and their organization’s, value. And if the rest of us starting recognizing that value too.
It is time that we realize nonprofit leaders are worthy of:
System changing investments
Nonprofit organizations are often doing huge work without the requisite financial backing. They are shoring up crumbling government institutions, mending social safety nets, fixing inequitable systems — to name a few. And they are often doing this work with financial scraps — the leftovers from the market economy. Social change work by definition has tremendous social value. So it should be funded as such. As a nonprofit leader you must recognize that you can and should no longer scrape by. You, your staff, and your mission deserve the amount of investment that will allow you to create lasting social change. So stop selling yourselves short and start figuring out, educating your board about, and asking funders for the money it will take to get there.
Funders who are real partners
In order to secure that real investment, you need to find funders who truly value the work of your nonprofit. As we all well know, sometimes funders have their own individual priorities that may detract from the mission of the nonprofit they fund. As a nonprofit leader you need to end the game of misplaced gratitude to funders who actually take your nonprofit off course and instead believe that the funding partners you need are out there. Once you embrace that abundance mindset you can begin identifying funders who will value (and invest in) you accordingly.
A board that truly shows up
A board in name only isn’t enough anymore. I’m tired of nonprofit leaders thinking (again, either consciously or subconsciously) that they don’t deserve a committed, active and engaged board of directors. But change will only come if nonprofit leaders stop thinking that they are not worthy of engaged and productive board members. Nonprofit leaders need to start recruiting board members with much higher expectations. And if you are a board member reading this, start asking yourself and your fellow board members whether you are short-changing your nonprofit and its leader by phoning in your commitment.
The time and attention of policy makers
Nonprofit leaders have long been told that they shouldn’t play in the political space. But the fact is that real social change often requires policy change. And there is a lot that nonprofit leaders can do to advocate for the social change they seek. Stop telling yourself that you are not able to seek or worthy of receiving the time and attention of policymakers. Start getting yourself and your board members out there building relationships with the people who have the power to help move your mission forward.
We can no longer shift the growing burdens of our society onto the shoulders of nonprofit leaders while simultaneously telling them that they are not valuable. It is not sustainable. So let’s stop selling our nonprofit leaders short and start embracing the fact that they and their missions are worthy of so much more.
Photo Credit: Luke van Zyl