A Passion for What You Do – Nonprofit Edition

A Passion for What You DoLast week I went to a conference where I saw phenomenal speakers. The list included Michelle Obama, Billie Jean King, Selina Tobaccowala, Brit Marling, Issa Rae, Mario Batali and Andy Cohen. The topics ranged from the experience of being the former FLOTUS (or former first spouse as she likes to be called) to encouraging women’s rights, and from believing in your voice to employee retention strategies. There was one common theme throughout – passion for what you do.

If there is one thing people who work at nonprofits understand is a passion for what you do.

People don’t decide to work at a nonprofit with dreams of making millions. Don’t get me wrong, you can create a good living for yourself, but dollar signs are not usually the driving factor.  Passion, fueled by belief in a cause and a desire to make a difference in this world for others, is something most of our clients, friends and colleagues have in common.

After years advertising big name products when I worked at large advertising agencies, I felt the calling of something that fed the soul and felt lucky to be able to shift into the nonprofit sector.  Many people I meet feel the same. But what I also was reminded of during this day of inspired learning was that while we should continue to work hard to achieve our goals, we can do it with grace, confidence and a belief that we can each make a difference.

How does that translate into how we can help you at MJA? We understand your passion and want to help. If you

  • need more funding to expand (or continue current) programming, don’t just complain about what you don’t have, decide what you need to make a change. Do you want to expand your annual fund or grow an endowment? Have you considered whether you should expand your board or shift the makeup of the current members? Is it time to give up a major event or add one?
  • know that you spend valuable volunteer time on menial tasks (because it is “free” labor,) consider what the volunteers could help you achieve if you used them in a more meaningful way. Have you considered whether you are using your staff wisely/do you even know what their true capabilities are? Could they be out having major donor meetings instead of stuffing envelopes for an annual appeal? Should you be hiring an executive search firm (like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) to sift through the hundreds of resumes and screen the candidates for that open position so you don’t burn out your best volunteers on tasks you can outsource?
  • want to improve your board’s relationship with the staff, stop tip-toeing around and create a path to make a change. Decide if you need a staff assessment, an organization and development assessment, or board training.
  • know you have an amazing mission but don’t know how to get your leadership to solicit donations, start training them differently. And if you don’t know how to train them, hire someone from MJA to show them the ropes and help them feel comfortable in their skills.

Turning your passion into a well-funded reality is not as hard as it seems. Just ask Mario Batali.

To read Mario Batali’s philosphy, here is a 2010 article from Harvard Business Review