Moving Past Fear to Improve Decision-Making Processes in Nonprofits
Fear of Rejection
A particularly raw emotion, fear of rejection confuses discussions of nonprofit power and stymies decision-making by limiting the issues that people are willing to discuss. Exclusion from an organization can have a devastating effect on an individual, and this is particularly concerning for people outside the dominant culture. In our observations, people who work in nonprofits are consistently loyal to their organizations and committed to the mission they serve. None of them wants to be seen as uncommitted, and many are willing to stay in untenable situations for the mission’s sake.
Combined with the anxiety over potential loss of affiliation, this often makes people hesitant to bring up uncomfortable topics that might cause them to be ostracized. Thus, fear of rejection limits the issues—however important—that people are willing to discuss.
Taken individually or together, these fears have the undeniable effect of complicating decision-making processes in nonprofits.
This can be seen in the processes surrounding fundraising decisions. Executive directors and their senior leadership are often asked to be the default decision-makers on the most crucial organizational issues, including fundraising. And this structure is implicit. If an executive director doesn’t initiate an explicit conversation about this, his or her team and board are unlikely to bring up these topics. Everyone will assume they already know where power and decision-making exists, yet when questioned, they may or may not actually know what the executive director wants.
One of our clients had a board that was dedicated to the organization’s mission, but saw its primary function to support the initiatives of the executive director. As board members were always waiting for instructions instead of taking initiatives, they would merely do what was asked of them without pushing the executive director or themselves to raise money or develop new programs. As a result, fundraising goals were seldom met.
But there is a remedy. Quite simply, talking about power and decision-making openly within an organization will go a long way toward diffusing fears. To do so, it’s necessary to have a common language that helps navigate the worries that will inevitably spring up during the course of conversations.
Ultimately, the goal of talking is to help move past fear and enable the members of your organization to work together to make the decision-making process more efficient. One important step will be learning how to speak up and advocating for those decisions affecting your job that you would personally like to make.
If you’re a leader, this will translate into gaining the ability to focus more on high-impact decisions that will make a difference. If you are a team member at the staff level, you will gain the power to use more of your natural decision-making capacity to help move your organization forward in a meaningful way.
Steve Scheier, author of "Do More Good. Better. Using the Power of Decision Clarity to Mobilize the Talent of Your Nonproft Team," is the CEO and Founder of Scheier+Group, a consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations distribute power differently so they can do more good. Prior to founding Scheier+Group in 2010, Steve was vice president of human assets and training at College Summit, and president at Entrepreneurs Foundation. On the private-sector side, Steve has served as a vice president of human resources at Food.com and at CKS Group, and worked in marketing at Apple Inc. He is an occasional contributor to the North Bay Business Journal.