This morning I was watching news of last week's stock market sell-off and I was reminded of my former life as a Wall Street financial services professional. Prior to joining the charitable sector in 2001, I spent nearly 14 years in that field including six building and maintaining a book of business with retail clients. I got to thinking about what I would have told clients watching this news. I know I would have been receiving early morning phone calls from clients. Emotions would have ranged from excitement over the perceived buying opportunity to sheer panic. There would have been a strong interest in doing everything from buying (after all everything is on sale!) to fear-based selling.
It occurred to me that there are several parallels with how we manage the expectations and aspirations of our volunteers and donors. While we may not experience anything as dramatic as a market correction, there are several similarities I found that may be particularly instructive:
Have a plan and stick to it: One of the keys to managing challenging market conditions was reminding clients that we structured their portfolios around a long-term plan and temporary corrections are to be expected. It's the same in the nonprofit sector. It's always worth reminding your volunteers and donors that what you're asking them to contribute - whether its time, money or both - is based on a long-term strategy determined by potentially life-changing goals. The need to have a comfortable retirement or sending your children to college doesn't change because the market goes down. The need to provide homes for the homeless, feed the hungry, find cures and all the other vital missions doesn't change based on a piece of good or bad news or a compelling headline.
Set realistic long term goals: In both fields, it's absolutely critical to set realistic expectations. It's easy to win clients by promising them a 14% return (or fill in the blank with another absurd number). It's even easier to lose them since that won't happen! It's the same in our field. Promising donors that this is the year your organization will eradicate homelessness, cure the #1 killer disease or whatever is a recipe for a non-renewing donor. Sharing your 1, 3 and 5 year impact goals and letting your donors and volunteers in on specifics of the plan provides a clear, understandable and time-sensitive road map that engages constituents and provides realistic expectations.
Have confidence that you're the expert: Back in the day, we often used the analogy that we were the pilot helping our clients steer through turbulent market conditions. Simply put, we were the experts. Same here. Remember, we spend 8 to 10 (to ?? ) hours per day working in and around our respective missions. We should absolutely encourage an open and ongoing dialogue with those connected with our organizations so we can learn from them. At the same time, it's worth remembering that we are the experts and should feel confident providing the guidance needed when we experience challenges, adversity and even opportunities that impact our work.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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