As a nonprofit leader you no doubt face an endless barrage of critical decisions. Should we grow this program? Do we add this new staff position? Should we invite this new board member to join? Should we pursue this new funder? The list goes on and on.
And often the direction nonprofit leaders choose is the one driven by fear. A fear of losing money, a fear of looking bad, a fear of missing out…the list goes on.
But the fact is that making a decision based on fear is never a good idea. Fear-based decision making roots your organization and your work squarely in a scarcity, rather than an abundance, mindset. When your choices are driven by fear you are sending the message — to yourself, your staff, your clients, your board, your funders — that you don’t have, you will never have, enough. And that mindset strips you of your inherent power.
Here are just a few of the fears that often animate nonprofit decision-making:
Fear of Losing Funding
Ah, the mother of all fears and the one that so often can cripple a nonprofit. Believe me, I get it. Money is a very scary topic in the nonprofit world. But it doesn’t have to be. If you put a strategy together, clearly articulate to funders why they should invest, and execute the plan effectively, you will find more than enough money. But if instead, you perpetuate a fearful loop of desperately clinging to donors who aren’t a good fit, who try to take you in a different direction, who make unreasonable demands, then scarcity will continue to be your reality. Don’t ever make a decision because you are afraid to lose funders or a funding stream. I promise you, there is always another way.
Fear of Your Competition
One of my clients was approached by leadership from another city to expand her very successful program. But they offered little funding for expansion, and program quality would likely suffer with a remote location and not enough staff and resources. But this nonprofit leader was seriously considering saying “Yes” because she was afraid if she didn’t, the city leadership would approach another similar program and ask them to expand. Her fear of relinquishing something to her competition was propelling her to make a decision that could put her organization and its mission at risk. Luckily, she recognized that fear was motivating her and turned down the poorly financed expansion offer.
Fear of Looking Bad
This is the fear of you as the leader, or your organization, appearing unworthy, ungrateful, incompetent, or some other negative attribute. But if you’ve truly done the analysis and know in your core what the right decision is, own that. Be transparent with anyone you are worried is going to misconstrue or misunderstand your decision. Articulate to your funders, your partner organizations, or your board why the decision you are making is the best one for the organization and your social change work. Some may still view you in a negative light, but so what? If you’ve made what you truly believe is the right decision be secure in that knowledge.
When a nonprofit leader chooses based on opportunity, rather than fear; abundance rather than scarcity, she (and her organization) are infinitely more powerful and effective.
So the next time you are preparing to make a decision, take a step back and ask yourself (and your board and staff):
“Are we making this decision based on fear?”
If the answer is “Yes”, then you need to re-evaluate.
Do you need help overcoming your fears and moving your nonprofit to abundance? Let me know.
Photo Credit: Tim Trad