April 10, 2018

Don’t Serve Up Kool-aid: How to Balance Messages with Reality

Face it. As a leader of a nonprofit, you’re in the sales and marketing business. To raise funds, you regularly share how your nonprofit organization’s work is terrific, meaningful and valuable. Indeed your work is all of these things and more. It’s life-changing.

To obtain funding, it might seem like you have to present your work and services only in a favorable light, and hopeful manner possible. Yet, your organization’s not perfect. Significant, valuable, meaningful, and even life-changing work doesn’t equal perfect. Even the most exemplary nonprofits face daily challenges to step-up to the next level, to fine-tune their efforts, to provide more mission for fewer dollars, to prepare for the future, and even calamities that “go bump in the night.” (Follow this link to read about the traits of exemplary nonprofit)  Organizations that fail to meet these challenges, shortly become un-exemplary.

The danger comes when leaders get caught up in the positive message and begin to believe they have arrived. When people get caught up in the 100 percent positive external communications, they risk getting poisoned drinking the own Kool-Aid. You might even begin to tell your board that everything is perfect

The solution is a balance. Smart nonprofits leader balance statements about being worthy of funding and support and share growth areas under construction. They tell about their efforts to improve and lessons learned from mistakes. Their message reflects reality. It also creates a community of support, including donors, staff, and volunteers, who understand that success is the goal, not perfection. And, all ongoing efforts encounter potholes from time-to-time. When bumps come, and they will, the community who has heard your balanced message remains loyal. They love you. They love your work. They believe you will conquer the challenges. If your board and loyal supporters only hear about your perfection, their disillusionment after a bum might cause a break in your relationship. So, be careful how you serve up your positive messages!

How do you communicate worthiness of support to your external audience and acknowledge your need to improve daily? How do you help people who have joined your organization, but grow disappointed when they learn it’s not perfect?

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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