Nonprofit Work is a Contact Sport

Countless applicants to my company walk in assuming that working for a nonprofit is a “happy go lucky” routine where days are filled with easy and fulfilling work. And while it is always fulfilling, it is seldom easy. Affecting social change is difficult. In fact, throughout history, any real and lasting social change has required great struggle and sacrifice. The reality of nonprofit work today is that more resources are needed than ever before, and that those resources are limited. Be it talent, treasure, or time that is being asked of the good-hearted people of the world, there is less to go around. And more organizations are asking than ever before. The resulting environment is one that requires grit, determination, and persistence to achieve success.

How to thrive in the “contact sport” of nonprofit work:

1. Persistence – it’s a game of how many contacts you make. And remake. And remake. When you’re asking people to give of themselves, you typically aren’t speaking to one of their highest priorities. Even if they are extremely passionate about your organization, it will still fall lower on their list than they’re own work, family, and hobbies. Success requires constant development of new contacts, and steady (pleasant) persistence with those that you have made. Keep cultivating, keep seeking the right fit, and keep asking – it will pay off over time.

2. Performance – the margins in nonprofit work can be uncomfortably thin requiring you to perform consistently. It is imperative that you capitalize on the contacts you develop to leverage the resources need to make your organization successful. A bad year for a nonprofit can potentially be it last. And it’s the needy recipients of that organization’s mission that lose out; not a group of shareholders. To ensure consistent performance – be consistent! Have a routine focused on those activities that will drive growth on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. Commit to achieve that routine on the designed cadence regardless of the environmental factors you face. Focusing on and executing the right process will almost always lead to your desired performance.

3. Pads – nonprofit workers create wonderful and positive impact for people in need, but they themselves need to have a tough skin. Social change can be brutally difficult and most of the contacts that you make (and remake) are going to say no. You may even dream so big, that some people will laugh at you. If not, they will certainly doubt. And that’s okay. It takes a special person to truly commit to and affect real change in the world. For those that pursue that worthy endeavor, I recommend lacing up some thick pads every morning. Armor yourself with the truth of the impact that your organization creates. Take courage and hope in the knowledge that while this day may have been a failure, the war can and will be won because of your persistent performance.

Nonprofit work is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done or can imagine doing. It’s exhausting, requires incredibly long hours, and often feels thankless. It takes sacrifice, an entrepreneurial spirit, and irrational faith. And those are just a few of the things I love about it.

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