Not That Special

| by Mendi Nieters

I think I might have stepped out of line a bit lately.

In our role as strategic advisors with Armstrong McGuire, we get the honor of partnering with a variety of nonprofits, staff, board members, and volunteers as they navigate change, set vision, or strive to build capacity. Sometimes they are trying to do all three at once. It’s a lot!

As a true partner we get to peek behind the curtain and see what’s working and what’s not. That’s a vulnerable place for a nonprofit who is always striving to build confidence and trust with their stakeholders. But I love how leadership is striving for the next level and seeking counsel.

With each engagement, we get the question that is ultimately looming in the back of their heads, “Have you seen this before?”

Now I must confess for the sake of my mother that I was raised to be polite, respectful, compassionate, and appropriate. I do think all of those things are true. Please correct me if you have witnessed anything different, but somehow sarcasm and bluntness is also woven into my DNA.

Over the course of the last few months when I have been asked, “Have you seen this before?” my response has been, “Yes. I’m sorry, but you are not special.”

The reality is that perfection does not exist, much less inside of nonprofits. Mission-based organizations striving to drive impact through the support of community within community is messy but rewarding! Nonprofits also evolve over time and different facets within might evolve at different rates or need a push. It’s hard to keep all the plates spinning at once when you are running forward.

But when something is not working or there is not a clear path forward, it can feel isolating. It can feel insurmountable. It can feel like no one has ever had a disconnect between their staff and board. Or that no one actually understands what development does. Or that teams are siloed and not able to benefit from the collective team. Or that culture is driving the organization more than mission.

Nonprofit management is dynamic work which means you are always adapting and strategizing. What can you do to help ward off the isolation?

  • Ask the hard questions. Let people you trust peek behind the curtain and be open to their feedback.
  • Build your network of professionals who “get nonprofits” and connect on a regular basis to exchange ideas or decompress.
  • Keep leading with transparency, especially with the board so that they know what’s keeping you up at night. Ask the board the same question.

Please take from this, you are not alone! You are also special! Your nonprofit hardships and barriers are probably not atypical. Now that you know you are not alone, go #DoGreatThings!

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