5 Nonprofit Lessons Learned From Breaking My Ankle
I made a terrible mistake and I’m paying for it.
I was walking down stairs, thinking of a project and carrying three different large items. Then, I slipped and tumbled.
Stupidly, I still flew to a board retreat the next day, then drove 10 hours to present a campaign study report a few days later. All of that walking did not help what was diagnosed as a broken ankle. Then there was surgery to install a plate, and now I’m paying for not addressing a situation by having a slower and more painful recovery.
My five big lessons:
- Go with your gut. I knew when I fell something was wrong, but I wanted to ignore it. I should have taken care of it. If you have a gut feeling about the right next step to take in order to deepen your donor relationships or about board dynamics, you are probably right.
- Address a situation—now. Time exacerbates problems; it doesn’t solve them. If you have a problem, “eat that frog” and address it. If you have a problem with donor relationships, staff performance or are behind in a fundraising goal, address it now!
- Violate “best practices” and you’ll pay for it. I tried to take a shortcut and a lot of walking and travel slowed my recovery. It is like nonprofits that violate fundraising best practices—you will pay by achieving far less than you would have. Don’t take fundraising shortcuts.
- You are not irreplaceable. The board retreat, the presentation and even the presentation I am making on this trip all could have been moved, accomplished through technology or facilitated by someone else on our team. Be sure you have back-up plans, that your team is cross-trained and that you can function no matter who is out of the picture.
- People want to help. I have been blessed incredibly by friends and colleagues who have pitched in to help me. Clients have been understanding when I am slower than usual. On my two flights, l have been overwhelmed by how people along the way—at airports, airlines, hotels and more—have gone out of their way to help make my travel easier. In their own ways, they have pitched in. People want to help your nonprofit if they feel a connection—just find the appropriate ways to open or deepen that relationship and empower them to make a difference.
Like you, I have friends and family members who are battling serious health issues. Mine was not a serious situation—just down time, some pain and inconvenience. Share in my learnings and take time to slow down and reach out to your friends, colleagues and family who are battling serious health issues this holiday season. They will inspire you, and your care and attention will bring them great joy.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.