Community relations is important for any nonprofit, but it takes a significant investment of time and effort. Still, many times nonprofits fall short of their ultimate goals, which ultimately help drive brand awareness and increased fundraising dollars.
Everyone Else’s Expectations
Nonprofit success has many different ingredients, but the one that’s the basis for all of it is a clear focus.
As an organization begins to grow and develop its community relations, it starts to receive demands from within and outside of the charity to go down different paths. The larger an organization grows, the more pressing the requirements become.
However, diverting from the narrow path (i.e. mission and values) of your group is an error. You have to keep the distractions at bay and stay focused. A way to remember that you have to maintain the focus is to remember the words “stay in your lane.” Meaning, keep focused on what you’re doing and don’t look at the shiny new distraction trying to get your attention.
When I was the CEO of a major multi-million nonprofit, I used to have what I termed “campfire discussions.” Although we sat in a conference room, this was an opportunity for everyone in the organization to share the work they were doing, brainstorm ideas and connect with others they might not have worked with on a daily basis.
Success can become a two-edged sword, as discussed earlier, with more pressure to deviate from the core mission and work. However, one of the best ways that nonprofit organizations can stick to the plan with the work they’re doing within the community is to hold regular “campfire discussions.”
I know; we live in a world where some of us are in meeting overload. However, campfire discussions that involve everyone in the organization all in one place is important as you work your team and deal with government officials, partners and people outside of your immediate internal “family.” During these campfire discussions, you can sometimes learn concerns or new ideas that are germinating within the organization that are not yet in the foreground. These conversations in turn help guide your charity and individual team members to stay in the lane.
A Simple Exercise
I’ve traveled extensively and have met and worked with nonprofit leaders across the country who need some unbiased thinking to help them overcome a particular challenge that is taking place, and often being driven by outside forces.
When I have arrived, I’ve asked the leaders of the group to please give me a printed copy of their mission statement and their core values. More often than not these items are several pages. The next thing I typically do is to turn the papers face down on the table. I then look up at the leaders in front of me and ask them to please recite to me what’s in those documents, point by point.
Care to know what typically happens?
Usually, leadership cannot recite the mission statement or core values to me verbatim. So, my question to them is then this: If you can’t quote back to me the mission statement and core values for your organization, how do you expect anyone within your nonprofit to be able to do it when they’re out there trying to strengthen community relations; dealing with the community, donors, and partners?
To ensure that you and your team are communicating what your brand essence is and what you need from your community, you have to keep it simple. Period.
The Power of “No”
In Tennessee, they call it “cussed stubbornness.” In other places, they call it “no.” Learning to say “no” is one of the most important things you can do when your organization is reaching out into the community, and you get the inevitable requests that don’t align with your goals and objectives.
Saying no might seem counterintuitive. Why would you risk losing support, some would ask, and say “no”?
The “no” I’m talking about is not random. The reality is that the more successful your organization becomes, the more opportunities are going to come your way, and some of those will come from self-interest or good intentions not thoroughly vetted. You have to make a distinction between what is the right course of action and what only feels right.
Making a mistake between what is right and what merely feels right is something that can cost your organization time and money. For example, major donors sometimes want to take you down a road that is not aligned with the work you do. It happens a lot when your organization becomes more and more successful. The power of “no” may prevent a self-interested gift or a program that is not well thought through, but it’ll get the second, third and fourth donations from countless other supporters who see you’re staying in your lane.
Clarity doesn’t steer you wrong. It helps your organization from good intentions that are not good in the long run and “almost.” Meaning, almost isn’t good enough.