These are scary times, there is no doubt. But sometimes, surprisingly, the antidote to fear is looking it squarely in the eyes and moving forward anyway. Believe me, since mid-March I have woken up most mornings with a constant companion — worry — waving from the sidelines. But each of us has the power to turn that troublesome fear into something much more powerful.
Recently one of my clients (let’s call her Abby) felt overwhelmed by what she saw as a looming financial crisis for her nonprofit. Abby, like so many of her nonprofit peers, was stuck in fear. Because I know that many of you are probably right where she was, I thought I’d share how we turned her fear into leadership.
Abby was fixated on two of her biggest revenue lines and how they could potentially take a huge hit in the coming months.
Here is the alchemy we performed together:
Step One: Separate Fear From Reality
When your fear brain takes center stage you can very quickly go from facts to crazy story making. Abby was spinning tales in her mind about million dollar losses that, in reality, had yet to materialize. So the first step is to figure out what is actually present day fact and what is future storytelling. The former is reality, the latter is anyone’s guess. Abby assumed that the big event she needed to cancel would create a million dollar plus loss for her organization. But when we looked at the actual numbers, we realized that her net revenue loss was only going to be about $200,000 because her expenses to put on the event were also dramatically lower.
Step Two: Look for the Opportunities
Abby’s $200,000 net revenue loss is still a big number, so we came up with ideas for attracting revenue through some virtual activities they could host for event participants. In addition, while earned and event revenue lines are certainly being hit by this crisis, other revenue lines have the potential to grow. In recent days pressure has been mounting for foundations to increase their payout levels and make more unrestricted grants. I believe this pressure will only grow. Abby and I talked about her foundation funders and where and how she could approach them for extended, new and bigger gifts.
Step Three: Be a Leader
Because of the nature of Abby’s nonprofit, they are on the frontlines of tremendous need in the wake of the pandemic. She knows and sees things happening on the ground and as such has the ability to connect people, needs, and innovations in some pretty exciting ways. As we talked, she began to realize how her organization could take more of a leadership role in her sector. And in stepping up to lead, there were ways that funding could follow. So we strategized how to approach funders and partners with her new ideas.
I’m not saying that the pivot Abby made from fear to leadership was easy or that it will be for you.
But the truth is that staying huddled in fear is simply not an option. Because we are of little use to anyone when fear has us in its unforgiving grip. But we are of tremendous value when we can find the will to lead.
And here’s the thing. We need true leaders like we need a vaccine right now. And we will most certainly need even more true leaders when we reach the other side of this pandemic. Because what awaits us when the virus finally ebbs is an enormous need to rebuild — our institutions, our systems, our economies, our relationship with our planet. There is so much work to do.
So, nonprofit leaders, let’s get to work.
If you need some help strategizing how you move beyond fear in order to lead your nonprofit forward, let me know.
Photo Credit: Matteo Vistocco