It's All About Attitude
If I had a word that summed up my life it would be perseverance. When you experience a long career in the nonprofit business (and life) you will have ups and downs. I have had many positive and negative experiences. That is why at an early age I learned not to get too high or too low about things. I try to stay in the middle mentally when walking through life. In fact, I relate every career move and endeavor to weather systems. The key to understanding these systems is that life and work is in a constant and dynamic state of movement. Enjoy the sunny and clear days. They will pass and you will deal with partly cloudy and mostly cloudy days. You will also have to live through minor and major storms, which will eventually pass. If you prepare for the ride and understand this is part of life, you will be better able to work in a constant state of effort and execution.
Having coached players of all ages and managed a development staff for a number of years, one element of behavior stands out for me. The key to ultimate individual success in any endeavor—whether it is nonprofit in nature or not—is one's attitude. You can have the greatest talent and ability in the universe. If you have a poor outlook and attitude you will ultimately fail. Can you tell this subject gets to me? I really do not like it when someone I deal with has a poor attitude. I understand this is a complex subject. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word attitude is the way you think and feel about someone or something; a feeling or way of thinking that affects personal behavior; a way of thinking and behaving that people regard as unfriendly, rude, etc. Attitude is powerful, and others quickly pick up a positive or negative attitude. I strive to have a positive personal attitude.
Throughout my career I have done personal attitude audits with my staff. I have looked for staff that gave continuous, 100 percent effort without complaining, and who wanted to personally strive to improve performance. I evaluated staff on an ongoing basis for a variety of factors, including attitude toward work, other staff and me. I have worked with a number of staff. Unfortunately, one time I was told I had to cut a third of my staff within a week. Do you think I knew immediately which ones were at risk? I definitively did—because of their attitude, which was unpredictable at best. They did not care about the team concept and gave minimal effort just to get by. I was actually in a group meeting once when a director that reported to me left the meeting, and the office, without explanation. I lost all credibility in that person who left employment soon after the incident. His poor attitude affected the entire staff. He never asked me for a reference.
I have also worked with board members with poor attitudes. These individuals served on my board at a prior employer that I did not recruit. The board did not have term limits and they felt entitled to act in any manner they chose. Sadly, they did not contribute time, talent or treasure to the board. It took me four years but I eventually was able to replace at least two-thirds of the board with quality board members with positive attitudes. All it took was for me to replace the entire executive committee with excited new recruits, and they in turn made that board special and dynamic. Board members want to serve on a board and organization that empowers, excites and values their involvement. As attitudes changed, that board environment evolved in a wonderful way. The new board set the tone for future board members. I constantly made the agendas engaging and educational. The board eventually owned responsibility for assisting the organization.
I strongly encourage you to have an attitude that reflects the mission of the organization. Think about how your actions affect your staff, administration, board, volunteers, donors, prospects, friends and others in your total work and non-work orbit. You will be amazed how a smile and willingness to be proactive affects others. Give your best effort at work each day with a positive attitude. In our profession you always want others to do something. Do people want to give to someone with a smile or a frown? It all starts with your attitude. If you don't believe me, ask your boss if a positive attitude is important!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.