When the Going Gets Tough, Reinvest in Your Mission

In the nonprofit community and beyond there are ample opportunities to invest in an organizational mission. However, when the tough gets going often many fall prey to burnout. Developing a strategy to address burnout for an organization can support nonprofits' efforts in reaching their end goal. To drive a mission forward it is important to remember three critical tactics:

  1. Small things matter
  2. Be open to defeat
  3. Be flexible

First, small things matter. Yes, I know we often hear, "Don’t sweat the small stuff," but when it comes to relationships, the small things are often the most important. Both internally and externally, small things matter. In my experience I have found success with less staff and partnership turnover. The thing I attribute this to is taking time to show gratitude and embracing, especially in my school-based setting. Each quarter I write thank you notes to teachers, staff, partners, and other stakeholders who have supported our work directly or indirectly.

Additionally, I buy small gifts for each of my subordinate staff each semester -- typically small gifts that can be used to reinvest people in their work, and work for my nonprofit budget. Last semester I gave each staff a small bag of snacks, school supplies, and the book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change. These small gestures are far greater than monetary compensation when done with the right intentions: to let staff know that you also believe in the work you do and far more meaningful that you believe in them and you see all that they do to support the organization’s mission.

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Next, being open to defeat is important. No one will succeed all the time. This fact makes it all the more important that there are systems in place to encourage staff, partners, and other stakeholders to continue their hard work even when combating even the most difficult environment. Whether a changing political climate, loss of funding, or a disconnect between organization and mission, defeat is certain in some capacity. One of my favorite quotes captures defeat in a light that can drive you forward.  Charles R. Swindoll says, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” The non-profit world is an opportunity to be strategic about the worst and use the opportunity to rethink how success looks.

You are likely to encounter many individuals or entities that do not believe in your mission. This makes your plan or defeat ever more meaningful in reaching your organization’s mission. Whether you agree with someone or not, we must remember that everyone brings something to the table. Knowing your larger audience is a gateway to arming yourself against defeat. Understanding the position of your dissenters will help you solidify your work, while building the capacity of your personnel to address real-world complications of their work. If each staff member is provided a tool kit that clearly defines mission, finds personal connection to the mission, and believes in the capacity of a nonprofit to face adversity defeat will not come as tragedy, but an opportunity.

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Finally, flexibility is essential to investing someone in an organizational mission. In the nonprofit world, change is not a foreign occurrence. Change is expected by both staff and clients, but how you communicate these changes can lead to greater flexibility from all stakeholders. One way to demonstrate flexibility is by setting realistic expectations. As a client, there is a certain expectation when you enter into a relationship with a nonprofit. Often you may be referred to an organization or seek out their services due to a need gap that you are facing. Where the need comes from may not be as relevant as how the need is addressed.  If a mission is strict in the sense that there is no flexibility based on individual client need, clients will not be as willing to engage with the organization. On the other hand, if personnel is inflexible in their expectations of their work or the mission they will demonstrate greater unhappiness and disengage with their work. Nonprofits need individuals who are flexible and can adapt to an ever-changing environment. 

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Amanda is a Grant Program Coordinator for Youth Policy Institute, working in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. She studied Latin American Studies, Spanish, Multicultural Studies, and Business at the University of Missouri, Columbus. After serving with an AmeriCorps in New Mexico, she earned her Master's in Public Policy at the University of Missouri's Truman School of Public Affairs. When not working Amanda loves hiking, concerts, and spending time with family and friends. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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