Do you usually use these words together? I suspect not. And the reason is because, in my experience, there is a lot of breathlessness in nonprofit management; in that rarified atmosphere, sometimes the oxygen is pretty thin. Similar to a climb of Mount Everest, this is not for the marginally committed or prepared, and mistakes can be deadly. Breathing is the most fundamental of activities, yet one that is so frequently taken for granted.
As with all businesses, the day to day drama of keeping the doors open, the donors happy and progress for your cause made can be pretty time and energy consuming. A consistent theme among nonprofits is the shortage of resources: money, time and expertise. Those that can do, tend to have to do more. ( want something done, ask a busy person). Add to this the pervasive expectation that nonprofits and their managers are expected to be like Rumplestilskin, making something magical out of not very much.
Rushing and Spinning
With so much to do, so many expectations and the clock ever ticking, it is easy to become overwhelmed. One of my favorite sayings is that the urgent always outshouts the important, really does often reflect how the day can actually go, despite the best of intentions. The many spinning plates for a smaller or medium-sized nonprofit organization include development, fundraising, advocacy, media, social media, finances, reporting, grant application and management, HR, admin, board development, facilities management, hiring/firing/training, customer service, volunteer recruitment, engagement and maintenance, publications, inquiries….and I am certain I have overlooked others. Deadlines loom for insurance, IRS filings and applications. Just listing all of this is making me a little breathless.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, the best way to get all this done is to stop. Stop for a little bit, walk away from the glowing screen, the beeping cell phone and stack on your desk that is looking at you and hoping you will feel guilty. Stop and step back from it all.
Take a deep breath. Exhale. Take another. Exhale. ( a few more won’t hurt)
Now, let’s prioritize. Let’s manage the work, and not vice versa. What HAS to be done, is it urgent for survival and the mission, or not so much? What is a total mess and needs sorting out before you can even begin to address it? Let’s put that to the side for a second. Attack that when you can spread all of it out in front of you, not piecemeal.
Taking the time to stop, breathe and get your bearings may be one of the most efficient things you can do all day. It was hard for me, at first: must keep going, must not stop, must accomplish and perform. But that very moment of stopping, and the deliberate thoughtful act of breathing will allow you to see what needs to be done in a more calm and deliberate light, and believe it or don’t, will make you more efficient and productive.
Give it a try—see if it can help you. And if you need a little more help, get in touch here or call us on 310 828 6979, we can help with the work, the breathing is up to you.
Cindy Lauren is the Principal of Lauren Associates – non profit consulting
As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations.