Marie Kondo Defines Nonprofit Work Worth Doing
Marie Kondo has some magic we can use in the social good world. She teaches asking oneself, “Does this bring me joy?” when evaluating whether to keep a possession. If a thing doesn’t bring you joy, you ditch it.
This single-question technique also has value at work, but with a different question, of course.
For those in social good, time is all we own. We don’t manage time. We use what is available to us. We manage ourselves inside the time we have. We must decide on how we spend our time, just as we decide what will take up space in our home.
In our case, the singular, clarifying question is, “Does doing this task support the strategic plan?”
You work in social good for a reason. You want to do good. Will doing the particular task you are considering help you do good through your organization’s work?
The way you ask that question may sound like this: “Could you show me what objective this task or project supports?” Ask to read the strategic and operational plan so that you understand your place and your work’s connection within it. You are looking for the line between your work and mission advancement.
Ask: What Strategic Plan Objective Does This Task or Project Support?
Evaluate the work you do each day with this clarifying question: What strategic plan objective does this task or project support? By doing so, you will go on a journey of discovery that could change your career. That questioning journey will change your view of your organization and your leadership, either positively or negatively. That question could cause you to move to a different organization where you can answer it.
Seek: Your Organization’s Operational Plan
Your task at hand is connected to an annual operating plan. In it resides projects composed of tasks with timelines and key performance indicators (KPIs). That operational plan covers every aspect of the social good operation; each element has a goal.
Your task is somewhere in that operational plan, or at least it should be. Every strategic plan is supported and executed via an operational plan. Without an operational plan, your strategic plan is bogus.
Do: Create an Operational Plan or Leave
You may think that the operational plan is a secret. It is not. While some elements, like salaries, may be protected, most are open to the organization because it is the plan. You can’t follow the plan if you can’t see and read the plan.
If your organization does not have an operational plan, either leave or instigate creating one.
Language varies in an organization’s plan. What matters is that you have words. Use “objectives” or “goals.” Use “KPIs” or “metrics.” Use “implementation plan” or “operational plan.” Find the common language inside your organization and use it.
If you can’t draw a straight line between your task and the strategic plan, you are a mouse on a wheel. You’re doing task after task, often without understanding why. You will become dissatisfied, if you are not already. Even your own dog will know that you are purposeless. You will have no joy.
But, no matter your role, you could be the one to lead your organization into alignment. By asking this single question over and over, it will become apparent to others that alignment is needed. The alignment device is the strategic and operational plan.
Avoid: Being Purposeless
Sadly, if you can’t draw that straight line, you can’t just throw away that task into the bag of excess possessions that did not bring you joy because you will have a performance review. You will be evaluated on how well you did purposeless tasks without regard for accomplishing outcomes of value. Without being able to draw a line between that task and the plan, you are in a box with sides of misery and discontent.
According to social psychologists, a person’s satisfaction is contingent on three things:
- Their sense of autonomy.
- Feeling a connection to something bigger than themselves.
- Having the opportunity to become competent at something meaningful.
All three things — autonomy, relatedness and competence — depend on understanding where your work fits in the organization’s “grand scheme.” That’s why you can’t feel satisfaction at work without understanding how you contribute to advancing the mission.
That task that you are holding in your hand could be the thing that makes you ask yourself, “Should I invest my time and my soul here? If there is no plan, or if I can’t access it, will this organization succeed? Is it enough for me to run on my wheel, or do I need more?”
This takes us back to Marie Kondo’s question: “Does this bring me joy?”
The preceding blog was provided by individuals unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
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Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.