Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happiness, Love and Letting Go in the Nonprofit World

In the nonprofit world, there is a lot of "wooing" to do. If you are good at it, then “you're in the money,” so to speak (ha ha). If “wooing” or salesmanship is not one of your core strengths, well then… you have to go with your heart and gut.

I am not a salesperson. I never was and never will be. That said, in my high school days when I sold Birkenstocks (dating myself!), I would tell people to go home and thing about it. My sales would jump through the roof some days, I think because people could tell I wanted them to do what was right for them.

And now a big part of my job is to “sell” my project to funders, potential board members, volunteers and other supporters. Every time I think of it as selling, I fail and I ask myself, why is this?

I think it has to do with the poverty mentality. I grew up poor - spent enough of my childhood hungry that I identified that hollow cold feeling in my stomach as normal- so I understand and have worked on the poverty mentality in my own personal life. However, I was not prepared to face it in the nonprofit sector (especially coming from a business education and background) when I started three years ago as ED of Sustainable Seattle. But the poverty mentality is so pervasive in this field, it's phenomenal. The idea that there is not enough, we can never have enough, the resources out there are so limited, there is so much competition, and on and on. It’s debilitating, and coupled with the idea you have to sell something to get funding, well, for someone like me – forget it.

And so, for someone without the magic of woo, what is there to do? We have been meeting with potential funders, supporters, volunteers and board members for a while now. Long enough that it's time to figure out what works and what does not. Today, regardless of whether the outcome is a success or not, worked.

When I feel like my heart is shining out with this true and real deep love I have for this project, things are working. When the person across the table is starting to vibrate in a way that gives energy to the work, things are working. When the questions and comments that come out are worth the entire day, things are working.

So, for a girl without woo, in a world where you live and die by the woo, I guess I learned an important lesson: to be true to my love for this work, and not to try to sell or even try to promote, just – essentially – be in love with what I love. Will it work? Will we build a great board, bring in great staff, get the project funded? I do not know, but I do know that feeling full of love along the way works a whole lot better right now.

Take care, Laura Musikanski, ED of HI

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