Let’s be honest for a second — the state of support inside most nonprofits is pretty sad. It usually goes something like this: a disengaged, dysfunctional board poorly leads a financially strapped, exhausted, and underappreciated staff. Harsh, but fairly true.
If I just described your organization, take heart because it doesn’t have to be that way. Inside your nonprofit’s walls are abundant productive connections likely just waiting for you to mobilize them.
I’ve talked many times on the blog about how to effectively mobilize your board and staff (here and here to start) — key members of your inside team. But there is another part of your inside team that nonprofit leaders often fail to mobilize.
And that’s your target populations. If your organization has developed a Theory of Change (which I highly recommend) your organization’s target populations are those your organization seeks to benefit or influence. For example, if you lead a social service nonprofit this would be your clients. If you run an advocacy organization it would be policy-makers.
The opportunity is to move beyond a charity approach, which creates an unequal relationship between the giver of services and the receiver of those services. Instead, see your target populations as powerful change agents themselves. Fully integrate them into the work. Regularly connect with your target populations to understand what they need, what’s working, what’s not. Ask them to develop their role in the social change you are creating together.
A client of mine works to create an equitable playing field for low-income students in middle and high school. They understand integrating the students themselves into the work is a big way to achieve the organization’s goals. So, they have created an impressive structure of self-directed student groups that advise the organization on every aspect of its programs. In essence, the students themselves help create the programs that serve them.
How powerful is that? The benefits are enormous—the programs are more effective because they are informed by the students’ experience and knowledge, and the structure of program development itself provides the students opportunities for self-empowerment and determination. At the same time, the burden of social change doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the board and staff. It is instead fully shared work.
When you open the work of your organization to those you benefit or influence, the burdens lift and the work becomes more effective. It is simply another form of asking for help. When you do, watch abundance flood in.
There’s plenty more about how to open your organization to all the help you need in my new book Reinventing Social Change, which is available now. And don’t forget to subscribe to my email list to hear about trainings, reader’s circles, webinars and much more that will help you attract all the abundance you need to achieve your mission.
Photo Credit: Hannah Busing