Unreasonable seems like a word that would not be appropriate for any organization, for-profit, governmental, and much less for nonprofits. However, unreasonable thinking can change the path of an organization for the better.
Eli Broad is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of two Fortune 500 companies. Broad’s 2012 book The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking details his story of using unreasonable and nonconventional reasoning to capture success. A lot of these principles are applicable for nonprofits as well as individuals and for-profits. Here are some great tips from The Art of Being Unreasonable that could benefit you and your nonprofit:
Don’t be discouraged by humble beginnings: “People will flock to support you when you do well, but in the crucial early moments, and whenever you try to create something out of nothing, you will be on a solitary path blocked by obstacles and doubt.” It is no secret that nonprofits go through a lot of ups and downs, especially in the beginning of your journey. Know that everyone may not see or understand your vision, but if it is unique, has the right people on the bus, and is fulfilling a need in your community: feel confident about your organization!
Question conventional wisdom: “Why not? The powerful question!” You do not always have to do things the way you have always done them. Broad makes an important point: as children we always ask “Why Not?”, and that as we get older we replace that phrase with “Of course not!” Actually, we need to be asking “Why Not?” a lot more in our lives as we grow. Nonprofits can definitely utilize “Why Not?” thinking in their fundraising, programs, and even in evaluation. Especially in these times, it is essential to ask “Why Not?”
Embrace Innovation: “Innovation is a permanent resolution.” It is important to always look for a new way to solve a problem. Never get comfortable in the way you do things, whether they are operations, running a program, or raising money. Innovation should not just be a once a year or once a decade talk for your organization. It should be something you are always trying to strive for.
Enjoy the success, but don’t stop there: “Success is a starting point, not a conclusion.” Going along with the previous tip about innovation, don’t relax after the successful fundraising drive, or the excellent program attendance. Continue to work as hard as you did before the success. Celebrate your victories, but always look to the next one.
Don’t just network with your usual circle: “Look outside your personal and professional comfort zone.” You never know the opportunities, new board members, and donors you could get for your nonprofit by diversifying your network. Talk with your regular volunteers, attend professional events in your city, and always be on the look-out for opportunities to meet new people.
Do your homework!: “Do your homework, no matter how much time it takes.” Broad details the considerable research he had to do in order to develop his first homebuyer business. The countless hours of checking pricing strategies, developing marketing techniques, seeing how they could improve upon the building process, and seeing how they could beat the competition. His success would not have come if he did not put in hours of research. Whether it is spending a week researching a potential donor, evaluating a past program to see ways you could improve, or looking across your landscape for possible collaborators, the planning is just as important as the execution.
Set priorities, be disciplined but not rigid, and worry about only what really matters: Eli Broad talks about the importance of setting goals, but being flexible enough to change course if need be. Make things easy for yourself by delegating, but acquire employees and volunteers that share your goals and priorities. If their goals match yours, then delegation will be easier because they will understand the importance of the task given to them. Nonprofits are known for their fast-paced speeds. One day may be dedicated to preparing for that silent auction, while another day may be scheduled for preparing for that weekend program. However, worry about only what needs your immediate attention. If an intern can help in answer emails, or a volunteer can run a project allow them to make your life easier.
It’s okay to take risks: “Clinging to safety is more irrational than taking risk.” Broad’s businesses were the fruit of taking rational and well-researched risk. Be willing to take a move you wouldn’t normally take for the sake of the cause your nonprofit addresses. Take a chance on a young and bright employee, start a social enterprise to increase earned revenue, or engage in a collaboration. Do not stand for business as usual. Great social change never happens without a calculated risk.
For more advice on how to use out-of-the-box thinking for the betterment of your nonprofit, check out inventive ways of getting the attention of funders who do not accept applications by reading our live chat transcript: Applications Not Accepted: Get On Their Radar. Also, get creative in your fundraising by involving volunteers, with advice from Turning Your Volunteers Into Fundraisers.
Chanell Turner, Special Initiatives Intern, Foundation Center-Atlanta