The other day I told a new coaching client something that I often say to the nonprofit leaders I work with: “Don’t worry, what you are experiencing is very normal in the nonprofit sector.” But suddenly it occurred to me, why are so many limits and restrictions “normal” in the nonprofit sector? Why do we live by a set of norms in the sector, these nonprofit restrictions that serve only to hold social change back?
What if we instead create a “new normal” for the nonprofit and philanthropic sector in which we uncover limiting beliefs and replace them with empowering practices?
Here are some ideas for where we start to cross out a few of the most egregious “norms”, and replace each with something much more powerful:
A power imbalance exists between nonprofits and their funders
Nonprofit leaders and funders are equal partners
So often I witness nonprofit leaders who present on bended knee in front of their funders. As a rule, nonprofit leaders don’t feel equal to those with money. But the truth is that in order to solve the social challenges we face we need two equally important things: 1) solutions, and 2) money to implement those solutions. You gotta have both. Therefore we equally need funders (those with the money) and nonprofit leaders (those with the solutions). So let’s move to a place where both nonprofit leaders and their funders recognize the equal and critical value that they each bring to the table. I coach my clients on this all the time. Your funders are not your saviors, they are your equal partners. Once that message starts sinking in, those nonprofit leaders (and their funders) become so much more effective at reaching their social change goals.
Nonprofits are limited far more than businesses
The business and nonprofit sectors are treated equally
The underlying reason for the power imbalance between nonprofits and their funders is that as a society we value the sector that built the wealth of those funders (business) far more than we do the nonprofit sector. Businesses benefit from fewer regulations against unrestricted revenue, political activity, investments in infrastructure and revenue creation. And businesses enjoy far more accolades about their acumen, their innovation, their energy and ideas. But the nonprofit sector provides critical economic and social value just as the business sector does. So let’s create a new normal where nonprofits access a proportionally equal amount of money, freedom, praise, and attention.
The scarcity mindset pervades the social change sector
Abundance drives social change
“We lack…” is such a common refrain in the nonprofit sector, but it doesn’t have to be. The nonprofit sector does not have to exist in lack. There is an enormous amount of money out there that desperately wants to be put to a social change use. But if scarcity is the norm, scarcity is all the nonprofit sector will experience. So let’s make abundance the new normal. Let’s start by talking about all of the money, people, power and influence ready to be put to use, and pretty soon, I promise you, it will start showing up. I see this with my clients all the time. As soon as they start talking about, planning for, envisioning all that they want to accomplish and all that they need to make those goals a reality, pretty soon their board, their finances, their networks begin to grow in amazing and powerful ways.
In asking that we eradicate limiting and debilitating nonprofit restrictions, I am essentially calling for equity for the social change sector. We have for so long held back the nonprofit leaders who are working tirelessly to solve the many social challenges we face. That’s dysfunctional. So let’s make the new normal one where nonprofits and their leaders are empowered to access to everything they need to bring their solutions to fruition.
Photo Credit: Michael Rosner-Hyman