Monday, June 22, 2009

Nonprofit Karma

What is it about nonprofit work that keeps me coming back? It’s something that I have to ask myself periodically. Usually when I’m overworked and tired, discouraged, or low on cash. And I have to admit, I’ve suffered from all of these lately.

But working for a nonprofit organization (NPO) has its own kind of Karma, and it tends to come around quicker than other things that go around. Huh? What I mean is that the Karmic cycle is much quicker and far more frequent in the nonprofit world.

I wish I could say, that no good deed goes unnoticed, but that wouldn’t be true. What I can say though is that things have a way of happening, not by magic but by design, one could even say intelligent design, because everything we do is thought over and planned out, hopefully with great rigor. Often, things work brilliantly, but not without challenge, and perhaps that’s what keeps me coming back: the challenge. And working for a NPO is a hellava challenge. It's not for the weak of spirit or mind.

Like problem solving? Then this is the job for you! This is creative thinking at its best. Sometimes solving the problems is simple. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time of course, but that leaves out a lot of detail. Working in this field forces you to think strategically, and in steps, at all times, in every task. How does this break down? How can I make this easier, more efficient, more effective and fun all at the same time? We think like this all the time, and although it can be exhausting, it is in fact fun to push your mind and intellect to its limit. Some people do triathlons, I work in nonprofit. It’s that kind of limit pushing.

I was reminded of a lot of this on Saturday while attending the Craigslist Foundation Nonprofit Boot Camp. I attended what I think was the first such events in 2006. It was an interesting concept. Around 1500 like-minded individuals came together to learn how to do what they do much better. This year, the event was on the campus of UC Berkeley. I noticed a bit of a change in the constituency. Although beginners are still one of the largest contingents at the camp, there were a lot more veterans, such as myself attending too. The workshops were both helpful and validating as they reinforced and honed practices I use on a regular basis, and I learned a few new ones as well. Plus, I love the swag. I finally picked up the letter opener I've been looking for, got a mouse pad from PayPal, and the ever essential computer screen sweeper, plus a tote bag and t-shirt of course.

It's nice to be reminded why we do what we do from so many different perspectives. So here are some of the highlights from my notes.

From Arianna Huffington of

“If you think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.”

“Volunteering should just be something we’s like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it gets.”

“It’s not about how much we give but what kind of need we resolve.”
From Kay Sprinkle Grace, nonprofit funding consultant,

“Who ever introduced the term whatever into our vernacular was preparing us for very interesting times.”

It’s not your organization that matters, it’s your mission.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be what you’ve always been.”

In nonprofit, we either ease human suffering or advance human potential.

Grow leadership at every level.

People give because your organization meets needs, not because you have needs.


From Shirley Sagawa & Deb Jospin, Authors of The Charismatic Organization

Put the right people in the right job and nurture them. Share power responsibility and build a strong community because people want to make a difference and want to belong to a community.

Have a vision and mission that can be articulated and repeated with passion.

Have Data Driven Decision Making…know what your trying to achieve by expressing clear outcomes, setting measurable goals, creating a roadmap and showing results.

Create Can Do Culture: be vibrant, positive and inclusive

Create compelling communication. Tell good stories, and encourage everyone in your organization to tell their stories as well. People do this work for a reason. Letting people know that reason is a good way to get them to support you.



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