H is for Hydra
As I have worked with ministries and non-profits, I have noticed that there are a few common denominators, challenges all of them face regardless of their purpose and mission. They are like a many-headed hydra. You cut off one head and three more appear!
Do you face any of the following non-profit hydra heads?
- Lack of adequate resources, including personel and technology
- Disengaged, difficult, or over-controlling board members or donors
- Lack of diversity or competency on the board (or with inherited staff)
- A feeling of being "invisible" despite PR efforts
- High expectations and demands, leading to strain, overwork, and even ill health among director, leaders, volunteers or staff
- Lack of cooperation from other non-profits, NGOs, or government agencies
- Mismanagement problems or or disorganization between volunteers, project leaders, coordinators, staff
- External constraints (legal, contractual, or cultural) preventing forward motion
And the list could go on. When faced with so many obstacles it is easy to be overwhelmed. Where do you even start?
And to make matters worse, often it falls to a new Director, who has inherited a set of problems and was not told the truth about them prior to taking the job, to sort out what to do and how to do it. A fearsome job to try and handle alone.
Let's admit up front that it is going to take a heroic effort, one that many people are not able even to contemplate, let alone execute, to get things moving. You can feel good about being here, reading this, because it means you are doing the strong thing: reaching for help. You recognize that you can't do it alone.
The good news is there is help, there is hope! With an engaged, careful, and creative process, the many-headed hydra can be slain.
Funneling the inputs
One key thing you must do prior to tackling anything else is define a clear vision. What are you uniquely good at, and what is your organization uniquely poised to accomplish? I have found that the most valuable help I have provided as a consultant over the years has been in this area: taking all the complex input, opinions, data, history, and other information relevant to your cause and synthesizing it into a simple, clear, workable message and action plan.
What Right Brain Solutions does is act as a funnel for you. I will "funnel" all of the complex reality around you together with your input and create a template for you to work from, with clearly stated objectives and action steps.
It starts with a simple two-session interview process, with draft and copy work along the way to clarify your vision and messaging. Often this leads to further work together as we begin to define value and see a direction.
With clear case-statement-like copy to use with the board, donors, staff, you can identify the most important values and actions for your organization, spell out next steps, and provide specific language for you to use in your meetings, media, and in the community. This visionary copy can also be used as a seed and prototype for development into a larger, more formal Case Statement for grant writing and fundraising purposes.
Gain traction (and lose anxiety)
A clearly articulated vision does two crucial things for you: 1) it gains you traction with your donors and board, increasing the likelihood of engagement and financial support, and 2) it removes the anxiety, worry, and exhaustion over what actions you are supposed to be taking from day to day.
Imagine what could happen if both of those realities came true for you and your organization. What could be possible?
Two case studies
It may be helpful to provide a couple of examples of this process, so you can see what it looks like in practice.
EXAMPLE ONE: COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
A small community foundation I worked with needed a simple message, but one that reflected the complexity of their vision. They were involved in dozens of initiatives, with a dozen staff members going in a dozen different directions. Their efforts were and are producing many results in the community, but the downside was that people were often confused. When asked what the community foundation did, what was its central function and purpose, we found that many people simply did not know.
Working with the Executive Director, I was able to assimilate all of the complex activity (as well as intended or envisioned growth areas) and feed it back in such a way as to produce an overall theme: Thriving Families, Strong NonProfits, Vibrant Culture. This triple phrase captured everything the foundation wanted to pursue in its next decade of growth, and was subsequently rolled out as messaging to board members, donors, and to the community through various media. It acted as both a branding strategy and an action plan, within which more specific tactics and objectives could be placed.
EXAMPLE TWO: RETREAT CENTER
Fundraising is an especially daunting challenge for non-profits and ministries. Large academic institutions and parishes may have their own development departments, but chances are good that if you are a small operation you don't have that luxury. To make things harder, you may not have the training and expertise in the kinds of tools that make fundraising more successful (such as how to use wealth screening data).
Knowledge of fundraising tools is good, but MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL IS CLEAR MESSAGING. A clear messaging plan is fundamental to giving yourself the right kind of backup support for engaging donors. Cold-calling donors is not only nerve-wracking, it is counterproductive to gaining support, and may even drive it away.
A large spiritual retreat center near me (one of the only remaining of its kind in the Northeast region) was struggling with this very messaging problem. A major (seven-figure) capital campaign that had gotten underway was not widely known, even though there were many engaged retreatants. The retreat center was supported by another source, a regional province, but this was also not widely known or communicated.
Working closely with the Executive DIrector of the center, I helped craft messaging copy that clearly articulated this support in a way that motivated ACTION by constituents. This messaging copy was rolled out in the form of donor letters, website content, donation envelopes, and print material.
It's another example of how a careful, engaged process of listening and intake can result in powerful, clear messaging.
What is the risk of NOT taking action?
Still feeling stuck, still missing opportunities to help people, still frustrated and paralyzed by obstacles, not moving ahead. Imagine if, in three to six months from now, you changed course and started to experience better results, less worry AND were making a better impact with your work?
Now is the time to take the first step. I would love to hear about you, the work you care about, and see if I can be a resource.
The cost (and therefore the risk) is very low to get started with intake sessions, and the initial consultation is free. The benefit to you can last YEARS and add value to your professional reputation as well as the operation you run.
Why not see where your leadership can go, with the power of creative support?