Fear Gets In The Way

One of my dogs gets really spooked by loud noises.  For that reason, he won’t use the doggie door.  As a result of that, he is either in the house or outside in the backyard, depending on where my husband and I are.  In other words, what he does is totally dependent on what WE want, rather than what HE wants.  He is totally constrained by his

Tramp, hiding in the fireplace


Our other dog, on the other hand, blithely goes in and out of the doggie doors (we have two—one upstairs to the balcony and garage roof, where she can survey her entire kingdom!—and the outdoor one to the backyard).  She is much more free than he is.

Letting our fear control our actions is almost always debilitating and very limiting.  It keeps you stuck where you are instead of looking to grow.

Grow doesn’t always have to mean getting bigger.  It can and often does mean enhancing something, making it better.  In fundraising we should always be looking at how well what we are doing is doing, and whether we need to make changes.

In one of my online classes, students often tell me about events or appeals that have been going on for years without assessment and which they believe don’t utilize their time well.  In a recent class, a student posted several times about a 25-year-old golf tournament that took her staff most of 8 weeks to produce and manage, but only brought it a small cadre of golfers who were friends of the ED and were not donors in any other way.  Does this seem like a good use of their time?  But fear of upsetting the ED and looking to do something different (or doing the same thing differently) has held the development team back.  

In my trainings, I often get told how awful boards are, or clients bemoan non-functional staff.  What holds them back from making needed changes is almost always fear.  

How do you get over that?

Consider what the situation could look like—a golf tournament where players were also donors or where there was no golf tournament and staff had time to focus on more profitable ways to raise funds.  Boards who were effective and worked with you to make your organization stronger.  Staff who actually did what they needed to do, freeing you from aggregation.

Then think about what it will take to get there.

I’ll argue that mainly it will take education, and educating people often takes time.  It is that time that often defeats us.  We want the change now, but that is unrealistic.

One of my clients spent much of his first year on the job assessing the effectiveness of his staff.  While board members were pushing him to make changes, he very diplomatically educated them on what he was doing and why.  He also tried to educate staff on what the new expectations were, and what they needed to do to gain his support.  

After his first year, several key positions have new occupants, while the former occupants were released into the workforce.  As a result, the organization is stronger and working more effectively.  And the board, seeing the good that has occurred is more supportive and more engaged.  They have also been put gently on notice—they, too, are being evaluated and should they not perform, they too will be freed to find a different board on which to serve.

None of this is easy.  But as I look at my dogs, Minnie going in and out as she pleases, Tramp dependent on my good mood and my presence to let him in or out, and I know who I’d rather be.

Janet Levine works to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Learn more at http://Janet Levine Consulting.com.  Sign up for the news letter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute phone or zoom consultation.  


#board development


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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