Which do you prefer?
- iPhone or Android?
- Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or LinkedIn?
- Cable television or streaming apps?
- CNN or Fox news or MSNBC?
- Democrat or Republican or Independent?
- Eastern or Western NC barbeque?
- NC State or UNC or Duke or Wake Forest?
For me, it's definitely the iPhone, Facebook (sometimes Twitter), and cable (but that may change soon). When it comes to news, I have a strong preference for one outlet but like watching all three. And if you know me, you know where I stand on the rest of these, but it would be reckless to self-select on such controversial topics in front of a large, diverse audience.
When it comes to effectively addressing the multitude of needs in our communities, who has the best ideas? Nonprofit staff or their board members, donors, philanthropists, and social entrepreneurs?
Similar to our news outlets, sports teams, and food geography boundaries, making this last one an either/or question highlights the challenge that is oftentimes crippling to the nonprofit sector's ability to tackle big issues inside their organization or in their community. We have an us versus them problem!
Nonprofit folks often find ourselves only talking and listening to the people who do what we do, think like we think, support the things we support, and believe in what we believe. Staff talk with staff, believing that board members aren't interested or knowledgeable enough about what they are doing to be helpful. Board members talk with other board members about the disappointing fundraising report and wondering what event or appeal letter the development director is going to create to cover the shortfall - not wondering how they can help through their own efforts and circles of influence. Fundraisers talk with other fundraisers, often lamenting the fact that their board members don't help raise money and their executive director and finance committee are setting unrealistic goals. And donors are talked at by staff and board members when the budget gets tight and they reach out for help, versus talking to donors throughout the year, keeping them informed of the celebrations and the challenges facing the nonprofit that they care enough about to invest in.
Isn't the best of us as nonprofit professionals, volunteers, and donors somewhere in the middle? Wouldn't we be exponentially better, and achieve far greater good, if all sides were more interested in talking to, listening to, and learning from each other rather than building up walls and barriers that hinder open communications and relationships with those outside our unique circles?
Just like there is no single solution to every local or global crisis, solving big problems requires an openness to new ideas that are different, and often come from people and places that we may be uncomfortable reaching out to. No single group has cornered the market on improving or scaling ideas. Whether it's food security, affordable and accessible housing, affordable, quality health care, broadband access to rural communities, aid during disasters, educating children and preparing them for the jobs of the future, or any of the countless issues that nonprofits and philanthropy are engaged in addressing, we are better at addressing them through healthy, open communications and relationships rather than continuing to build walls that keep us separated.