I received a great comment from a reader of my recent post, “The System for Funding Nonprofits is Crumbling. That’s a Good Thing.” While blog reader Vanessa agreed with my assessment that how we fund social change is horribly broken, she very rightly wanted to know what an individual nonprofit leader can do to overcome that system. As Vanessa wrote:
I am in full agreement with you. And yet, as a nonprofit leader, how can I just ‘decide’ all that on my own? “Fully equal partnerships with funders, receiving all the money they need to implement and scale the solutions they offer” – that of course is my dream, but what is the pathway to that? If the funders all decided this, we’d have a different world, here. But how do NFP leaders make that happen?”
Since that is the exact topic of my upcoming book (due out in early 2021), I wanted to respond to Vanessa’s question with a brief roadmap — sort of a sneak peak into my book.
An individual nonprofit leader can help shift the social change funding ecosystem in 5 key steps:
1. Realize The System (Not You) is Broken
The first step is to fully realize how broken the current system is. Why should you, a nonprofit leader who is working to make the world a better place have to beg for scraps? Why should you be working so hard, exhausting yourself and burning out, just because you are trying to create something better for others? Why does it have to be so hard? Well, it doesn’t. You are just a victim of a broken system. A system to fund social change that puts crazy and insurmountable obstacles in your path. So the first step is to fully see the system for what it is and then choose to no longer play by those worn out rules.
2. Step Into Your Power
Once you have made a commitment to do things differently, then you can start stepping into your own power. In Vanessa’s comment above, she is giving away her own power as a nonprofit leader when writing “If funders decided all of this, we’d have a different world.” Nonprofit leaders need to stop giving their power away to funders, to board members, to policymakers and regulators. I promise you, you are more powerful than you imagine. But you have to stop looking to your board, your funders, your staff, your partners for permission, or approval. Instead, get really quiet (on a very regular basis) and figure out what your gut thinks you should do. Once you start listening to your core, you will see that the answers — about how you move forward, how you attract support, how you mobilize people, and more — are all within you.
3. Embrace an Abundance Mindset
Key to this new direction is also realizing that the scarcity mindset that you and your fellow nonprofit and philanthropic leaders exist in is not the whole truth. There is an endless supply of money, people, ideas desperately trying to reach you. But first you have to believe that abundance is possible. You have to believe that you and your nonprofit’s work are worthy of all of the support and resources you truly need to fund social change. And then you can create your strategy and action from that abundance point of view.
4. Make Money Your Best Friend
And money is always the most critical and seemingly illusive of these resources. In order to attract all the money you need to realize your social change goals you have to fully embrace money as a tool. So often in the nonprofit sector we fear, despise, or resist money. We think of it as dirty, stressful, burdensome. But money is just energy — an exchange of value. If you can remove the pressure and instead make the process of attracting money a fun, joyful game, so much more of it will find its way to you.
5. Mobilize Your Networks
And it isn’t just money that you need to achieve your goals. You likely also need staff, board members, volunteers, advocates, influencers, policymakers, collaborators. So often we resist the help and support of others by thinking we should just “go it alone” in the nonprofit sector. Indeed, that is a key element of the broken system. But just like money, people are also desperately trying to reach you. So let them in. By opening your mind and your arms to the countless people out there wanting to help, I promise you, they will find you.
Once more and more nonprofit leaders start realizing that the system is broken, stepping into their own power, embracing an abundance mindset, making money their best friend and mobilizing their networks, the way money flows to social change will fundamentally shift. Gone will be the days when nonprofit leaders stayed small, poor and powerless. Suddenly these same nonprofit leaders will be fully empowered, resourced, networked and able to create sustainable, lasting social change.
It’s not a pipe dream. It’s a transformation process. Social change doesn’t have to be so incredibly hard. In fact, it can be joyful, energizing and engaging. But in order to get there, social change leaders have to do things in very different ways.
If you want some help to start doing things differently, let’s talk.
Photo Credit: Pepi Stojanovski