As a coach and consultant to a number of nonprofits and their leaders, this unique moment has resulted in my having a recurring conversation with my clients. We’re living in a time of fear and it's apparent in these discussions. Many of the leaders, staff, and volunteers of nonprofits are finding themselves paralyzed and wondering:
While there’s no perfect or “correct” answer to these questions, I believe charities and their leadership will respond based on their shared values and what they deem most appropriate.
As for me, my response has been the following:
Nothing Has Changed while Everything Has Changed
For clarification, nothing (about your mission and vision) has changed while everything (about the world we are operating in) has changed - at least for the near term. I believe our actions should be driven by that reality. My response is formed by personal experience and perspective.
I started my nonprofit career a week before September 11, 2001. I was living in New York City and life there was an endless reflection of the grim events the world had witnessed. If you worked for a nonprofit that wasn’t saving lives or caring for those involved in the rescue efforts, it was a struggle to feel relevant. It was even harder to feel like it was appropriate to ask for support for your work. At the time, I was a volunteer fundraiser for a nonprofit doing wonderful work for children in hospitals. I truly believed the organization’s work was important at that very moment and would be once life resumed with some sense of normalcy. I felt compelled to ask for donations even in the midst of this challenging environment.
I’ve also been thinking about conversations I’ve had with volunteer fundraisers hesitant to reach out to donors year after year for a campaign or event like a walk. These volunteers feel the need to “leave the donor alone for a year or two” thinking the donor is tired of giving - and hearing from them. Personally, if I was giving to (for example) heart disease research, year after year and then I stopped being asked, I’d be a little curious... Did they find a cure? Did the fundraiser stop caring? What’s up? If it was important last year and the year before that, it still is unless something has changed about the cause.
Here’s my major point: If you believe in the work of your organization, continue to believe in it, advocate for it and fundraise for it! The need for what you do hasn’t changed, only the environment in which you work has. You may need to make modifications to be respectful of what individuals and families are going through. However, I believe you’ll be well served by taking a proactive approach to communicating with your constituency and stating the need for support. Here are a few guidelines for doing so effectively:
I can’t guarantee that doing the above won’t result in the occasional grumble or unsubscribe. But if your work was worthy of donor support before we knew about the coronavirus, unless something’s changed about your mission, it still is. I believe that by continuing to communicate your presence and need for support, you’ll be better positioned once we find ourselves in that new normal.
If I can be of assistance in crafting your approach, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
At the end of 2018, I proudly launched Nonprofit Now! (www.yournonprofitnow.com), my consulting and coaching practice focused on supporting young and growing nonprofits and their leadership. More recently, I added Forward is Forward Coaching (www.robertgrabel.com) which provides Executive and Business Development Coaching for a range of industries.
Having worked collaboratively with staff, volunteers and board members in the nonprofit industry for nearly two decades, I felt I had something genuine to offer experienced and aspiring leaders. I had also led teams and mentored business development professionals during 10 plus years in financial services.
I had an easy time finding coaching clients through Catchafire (www.catchafire.org). This site is a fantastic resource that connects volunteers with nonprofits for pro bono projects. I saw numerous coaching projects available and I eagerly volunteered. Looking back on those early assignments, I find it a bit funny that I was in reality, consulting with them. That's not to say that the conversations weren’t helpful - I truly believe they were. But for the first few, I was advising, not coaching.
A lot has changed since last year. I went on to get my coaching certification through the Newfield Network. There is a very clear distinction between coaching and consulting and I strive to be 100% transparent with potential clients about my offer. I intend to continue to grow my knowledge and coaching skills so I can provide even more value to clients I serve. I share all of this because I find it extraordinary how easy it is for someone - truly anyone! - to call themselves a coach and charge clients large fees to do so. No training. No experience...
What continues to amaze me even more is the number of coaches looking to coach other coaches! As someone who recently received certification from a program recognized by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) which creates standards for the coach industry, I must be on the hit list for many of these so-called coaching gurus. Just for the fun of it, while working on this post, I went on my Facebook for five minutes to count the ads the popped up in my feed. In that short time, there were 8 ads from wannabe experts telling me how to become a coach, build my coaching business, write a book or develop a public speaking career.
Something is off here... If all these folks are so good at coaching, getting coaching clients, writing and speaking - why aren’t they out there getting those clients, coaching them masterfully - and writing and speaking? I imagine this will put me in the skeptics column but I can’t help but wonder if these coaches being coached by coaches being coached - actually coach or have clients?
So what’s my point? Well, whether you’re a coach, an architect, fundraiser, a musician or runner (or just about anything else in the world), here’s my Million Dollar Secret of Success:
There is no “Secret to Success” - I’m more convinced than ever that there is no Secret of Success, which seems to be the main offer from these folks. Buy their book, enroll in the course, sign up for the free (or not so free webinar) and on it goes.
There is no “Magic Formula” - Not so different from the above - but a little different. What I find fascinating is the variety of spins on how to win. While I see some of the gurus who say they’ve got it down to a science, there’s an opposite camp that will tell you that you don’t need to do anything to be successful - just listen to them (after you pay the fee!).
But There Is Hard Work - I guess I’m showing my age - or experience. I am convinced of the power of hard work. You know, doing the right things to develop your craft day in and day out. Period.
These last few weeks have been well, I’m not even sure what the word is. Unprecedented? Yes, absolutely. Crazy? You bet! Like nothing we’ve ever seen? For sure. A time of incredible opportunity. Whoa!! How dare I write that. That’s completely uncompassionate! Thoughtless. Inhuman…
I have no doubt that a quick read of my first paragraph - particularly in today’s politically charged environment - would have you believing I’m the worst of the worst. Who could possibly think that a global pandemic could be looked at as a time of opportunity?
But wait! I didn’t describe what the opportunity is. Opportunity is a neutral word till we attach results to it. So take a deep breath, cuddle up on the couch that you’ve been assigned to for anywhere from 48 hours to eight weeks, and walk down this list of some incredible opportunities we have in this very unique one of a kind moment.
Stay safe, and don’t miss these opportunities.
Robert is an Executive and Business Development Coach. You can read him here or on www.younonprofitnow.com