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The 4-Letter Word You Must Speak

Credit: Slide from presentation by Grant Oliphant, president, The Heinz Endowments at  Comnet17 .

Credit: Slide from presentation by Grant Oliphant, president, The Heinz Endowments at Comnet17.

We humans are highly-evolved creatures. Unlike other animals, we can feel our safety is threatened, triggering a biological flight/flight/freeze response in our bodies—and at the very same time continue going on with business as usual. We can hunt and gather.

Nonprofit leaders, in particular, are exceptional at maintaining the flow of daily mission-centered work even in the rising and falling waves of crisis, change and opportunity.

What is taking place in our country--and in our local communities--is not business-as-usual.

Hate has unmasked its face without shame or fear of reprisal. Hate has been called something other than hate. We are all deeply affected, in our bodies, hearts and minds, whether or not we allow for it or are even aware of it. We must acknowledge hate is part of who we are. And we must speak against it.

As nonprofit leaders, we must respond. But how?

We are used to taking risks—expanding into new neighborhoods, offering new programs, asking for financial support. But for many of us, the risk of speaking against “hate” feels too risky.

As legal entities created for and by a community, nonprofits operate by something approaching consensus. We spend an enormous amount of time getting people “on our bus” in order to set priorities, allocate resources, and of course, raise money. Many of us are naturally conflict-adverse and may be untrained or lack confidence in taking a stand outside of our well-honed mission-focused work.

We are good at protests and holding signs—on our own time. Some of us are very good at meeting with our elected officials, or their staff, to inform them about key issues on which we are experts.

We care greatly. We can feel it in our tight shoulders and shallow breath.

Yet, we’d rather speak about the opposite of hate. We are skilled at speaking about care, community, respect, safety, wellness and hope. We are so good at “hope.”

Are we actually afraid that our funders and volunteers will be offended if we speak out against hate? Is hate “political?”

One thing to consider: How does an atmosphere of hate, violence, suspicion, untruth and division affect your nonprofit’s ability to deliver effectively and efficiently on its mission?

“The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”

That was a JPMorgan exec, not a nonprofit leader.

Nowadays, some CEOs of national and local companies, and even sports stars, sound more like nonprofit leaders than we do. Is it cynical to think that speaking out about hate is good for business?

No. Defending American values of equality, justice, truth and freedom—those lofty, unreachable ideals that are a beacon for all of us (on a good day)—are the ultimate bottom line. Not just for business, but for nonprofits, too.

"Communicate when it counts, not when it’s convenient," says Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, "because it will never be convenient."

I am a nonprofit leader. I speak against hate.