How comfortable are you with being unpopular? It's not easy to follow the beat of your own drum - but sometimes it's the very thing that helps you stand out.
Last week my friend sent an email and short video about some of the unpopular ideas she has when it comes to her business. She doesn't believe everything that others in her field take for granted and she wanted everyone to know about what sets her apart. Her email was so good that I thought about stealing the idea for myself.
As soon as I began thinking about the most popular cultural beliefs and habits at nonprofits - and my own opinions about them - I said to myself: Gurl, all your opinions are unpopular 🤪. If you've read my blog, you probably already know what I mean. But here are the ones that make my top 5 list:
- I believe you (probably) shouldn’t start a nonprofit. Apologies if I'm too late with this advice but if you had asked me before starting a new organization, I probably would have encouraged you to reconsider. Rather than start something new - that requires people and resources - I recommend looking for existing organizations that have a similar mission and offer to help them create the type of program you envisioned building. Too many people become enamored with the idea of starting something of their own despite the fact that there are already other groups doing the same or similar work. There are roughly 1.5M nonprofits in US (15% of the global total) that each need volunteers, sponsors, and donations - so think twice.
- I believe fundraising is not your top priority. Raising enough money to reach your budget goals is critical - but fundraising should not be #1 on your list of priorities. It's not even #2 or #3. In fact, this article I posted last year explains why I believe there are 8 other things you need to get right before you can expect to have consistent fundraising success.
- I believe you’re doing too much and, also, not enough. Um, what? Yes, it's possible to be doing too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right things at the very same time. Recognizing your own habits and blind spots takes a bit of humility and introspection but it can transform the way you lead your organization. Check out this article to see exactly what I mean. Oh, and this one, too!
- I believe your board needs more education. Everybody in business - or with a big heart - thinks they're qualified to serve a nonprofit just by virtue of showing up. Not so. Whether they are oil tycoons, media magnates, or grass-roots activists, every single member of your board requires training and education to understand how nonprofits work, how your organization operates, and what is expected of them during their term. Nonprofits are not the same as for-profit businesses. They are often much more nuanced and complex. Do your organization - and yourself - a favor and invest time and energy into teaching your board how to work. Check out this article describing effective board partners and this one about dealing with bad behavior.
- I don’t believe in “best practices.” Don't get me wrong, I'm all for knowledge sharing, researching the latest trends, and not "reinventing the wheel" but not at the expense of doing what is right for your particular organization. If there's anything I've learned from fan-girling over NextAfter, it's that testing out new ideas is critical to your success. Rather than focusing on what worked for some other organization at some other time, trying (and evaluating) new ways of doing things let's you discover what works for your nonprofit, today. Unfortunately, most NPOs are so risk averse they sacrifice any chance at innovation. I believe you can be bold and responsible at the same time.
So there you have it. My sorry-not-sorry list of professional opinions. They are the baseline from which I operate all of my consulting work - because I'm interested in helping people build better nonprofits, not pandering to the status quo. If that's you, too, come sit next to me.