Whenever I’m meeting with a prospective client one of the first questions I ask is, “What is your vision for your organization? What do you want ultimately to accomplish.” It never ceases to amaze me how often the answer is either:
- Some version of “I hadn’t really thought about that”, or worse,
- “Just a bit more than we are doing now because that’s all we’re capable of.”
Talk about small thinking.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These amazing, tireless, passionate nonprofit leaders were not born small thinkers. Rather, over time they have been beaten down by the headwinds of meddlesome board members, clueless funders, tiresome government restrictions, and crippling norms like the overhead myth and the charity mindset. Small thinking has wormed its way into many nonprofit leader’s consciousness. They have exchanged their desire to do bold things for what they have come to believe is all that’s available to them and their once lofty goals.
What a terrible shame. How many amazing visions for a more inclusive, equitable, healthy, and happy society have shrunk into the background? And how much better would we be as a society if they hadn’t?
So, as a nonprofit leader, whenever you find yourself shrinking from your original vision, use these methods to move back into your original belief that the change you seek is truly possible:
Reconnect with the Magic of Your Work
If you don’t already do this, start connecting on a very regular basis with those your nonprofit seeks to benefit or influence. They are the direct connection to the tremendous need for your work and the change you are already creating. Seek them out. Uncover stories of change, not just the data, but the actual human experience of the change you are making in the world. Witnessing that change, however small, on a regular basis is key to getting your power and energy back.
I can’t say it enough, but your true power as a leader comes from within. So make sure that you are taking some time each day to get quiet and reconnect with your center. Whether that is meditating, taking a walk, sitting with a steaming cup of coffee, writing in your journal, or whatever works for you. The method makes no difference, it is simply about reconnecting with yourself — your staunchest ally. When you regularly revisit the seat of your power, you will again find the momentum to continue to propel you, your staff, your board, your funders, and your mission forward.
Call Out the Naysayers
Once you reconnect with yourself and the magic of your work you are in a much better position to take on those people and things that are keeping you from your big vision. No matter how much great work you are doing there will always be naysayers — people who are critical of your work, or try to derail it, or attempt to insert their own individual interests. They might be board members, funders, regulators, volunteers. Analyze whatever negative feedback they are offering, determine whether there is anything of value there, and dismiss the rest. And if you have a very vocal person who is attempting to sway other board members or funders, face their critiques head on and offer your view of progress that you’ve regained in #1 above.
If you are feeling worn down, small and powerless as a social change leader, you are certainly not alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You chose your position of leadership for a reason, so reconnect with those reasons in order to regain your power. And then world watch out!
Photo Credit: Silas Baisch