Many years ago I was invited to Chicago to be a guest at a summit for nonprofit leaders. The summit was hosted at the Kellogg School of Management by the dean, a kind and smart guy.
The summit had an official theme, but the un-official theme was, “how to start running your non-profit more like a smart business so you could get real ish done.”
There were all sorts of great speakers at the event, but one speaker in particular really blew my mind. I don’t remember her name, all I remember is that she played a key roll at one of the largest non-profits in Illinois. For the sake of the story, let’s call her Ms. Amazing.
Now, one of the things that non-profits are always complaining about is money. They don’t have enough and they have a hard time raising it. This is why Ms. Amazing was here. She was the Michael Jordan of raising money, and she was here to school us right.
Her presentation had all sorts of practical gems in it, best practices and whatnot, but it was her closing argument that left us all a little speechless.
Allow me to paraphrase…
“In closing, I want to leave you with something very important to think about when it comes to donations, money and your nonprofit. How could you ever honestly ask someone for a donation if you yourself are not donating to your organization?
The same thing goes for your staff. If they aren’t donating any of their own hard-earned money to the nonprofit, do they have any right to ask others to do so? Sure, maybe un-paid volunteers get a slide because they’re donating their time, but everyone else doesn’t, especially leadership.
It’s not even about the amount of money, it’s about being invested in the idea of what you’re offering and what the nonprofit stands for. If you don’t believe in it with real dollars, why should anyone else?
Before you sit down at your next strategy meeting, before you put together your next marketing plan, ask your team how many of them have actually donated to your organization in the recent months. The answer may surprise you.”
Damn…. Ms. Amazing straight-up gave me the smack down! She didn’t know it, but I was guilty as charged.
Even though I wasn’t a paid staff member of the nonprofit I was with, I was senior leadership. And even though I was volunteering my time, that still didn’t matter. I was asking other people for their money and I wasn’t donating my own.
No wonder we were having a hard time raising money. There was a major disconnect, and my team and I were all part of the problem.
I thought about this story last night when I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
My friend just launched this great coaching program for coaches, and it sounded like it was doing really well. The program not only focused on how to be a better coach, but it also focused on how to make a living as a coach.
So I asked my friend more about it and what she thought was one of the major takeaways students got from the course. To my pleasant surprise one of the top takeaways she mentioned was:
“As a coach, how can you ask someone to hire you if you yourself have never hired a coach before? To be a great coach, you need to have gone through the receiving end of the coaching experience.”
Asking people for a donation, asking people to hire you as a coach, asking people to buy your product, it’s all the same. Either you are energetically in alignment with what you are doing or you are not.
Does this mean my team was magically able to start raising money after we started donating ourselves? Nope. But I seriously doubt we would have made much progress if we didn’t at least start there.