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What I'm Thinking About

Here's where I share what's swimming around in my head. Check back to get inspired or informed. 

5 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Unleash the Power of Intention

One perfect spring afternoon, I was the luckiest woman alive. I was sitting on a porch overlooking a field of wildflowers with two friendly dogs at my feet. But that wasn't even the best part. Across from me sat a wise and generous woman I'd screwed up my courage to reach out to for advice. She welcomed me to her home to talk.

"How did you make the pivot from one successful career to another?" I asked. I assumed her major life change a decade ago was inspired by a serious health issue I knew she'd experienced. Nope. That happened later. The change that took her well-recognized name off the big sign at the business she'd spent her career building began with awareness and intention.

"One day, I realized I just wasn't feeling it the same way," she told me. "Being excited about my work is what kept me going. Each project was a puzzle to solve and I loved it." Suddenly, though, she could see that in a year or so she would be bored, frustrated, unhappy. 

"I wrote two things down on a piece of paper," my friend recalled. "Surrender. Make room."

She placed the note on her desk where she'd see it daily and within a year, through a variety of serendipitous events, the new path she had envisioned began to unfold.

It's not all that different for nonprofit organizations. Instead of "setting an intention" we often call it a Strategic Plan, multi-year budget projection or simply our To Do List. The challenge for many nonprofits is that instead of placing this fruit of reflection and visioning in a place of honor, we stash it on the shelf. Instead of revisiting it multiple times a day, we get buried in the day-to-day reality of the pressing demands on our limited time and resources.

I was curious about my new friend's career pivot because I was contemplating one of my own. I wanted to start my own communications strategy consulting firm.  I wanted to do the same work I've done for the past 27 years, helping nonprofits connect with donors and volunteers to successfully deliver on their mission. I set a clear intention and put reminders in my calendar, my home office and even in my car. And after months of planning, leaning on others for help, and focused work, here I am. 

It's not much of a stretch to say that when a nonprofit embarks on a strategic plan or ramps up fundraising, their leaders are setting an intention. Through a well-communicated intention, you "make room" for valued donors and volunteers to connect with the opportunity you offer to do good in the world. Here are five ways to make sure you can place your nonprofit's intention and mission front and center to remind you of where you want to go:

  1. Include a brief story of your nonprofit at work as the footer of the agenda when you meet with volunteers and board members. Talk to a coworker and make some notes about a moment they recently felt your nonprofit had made a difference. (Change names and details to protect clients.)

  2. "Mission-ize" your office. Make sure the spaces where your board, volunteers, donors and prospects spend their time have inspiring, informative images and brief text reminding them of their passion for your cause. (Examples, drawings by kids made into placemats for lunch meetings, a framed thank you note from a client in the entry way, even a plexi holder with a photo and client quote in the restroom.)

  3. Use your nonprofit's innate resources to communicate your mission, values or goals. If you're the Long Center (high-traffic/high-visibility building), then post your values front and center in front of the beautiful performing arts venue. If you're KUT radio (24/7 air time), then invite listeners to create sound bites about their lives that enforces the sense of community you intend to create. (There's a nonprofit at a busy corner in Austin and I can't understand why they don't save up or ask a donor to pay for signage with large photos of families who benefit from their life-changing services along with an inspiring message or quote that captures their important work.)

  4. Create your own stock photos. If your nonprofit must protect clients' confidentiality and stock photos don't cut it (most don't), then create your own "stock photo shoot" with staff's friends, family members and anyone else you can rope in to pose. Make sure they represent your actual clients in age, ethnicity, gender, etc. (Have them sign a form granting you permission to use their image and reward them with an H-E-B gift card or whatever they value most.) Hire a professional photographer with a knack for connecting authentically with their subjects. Then, use these upbeat, colorful and true images everywhere.

  5. Get crafty. I used to frequent a coffee place where there was always a little stack of red MOO cards that said simply "THANK YOU." It's remarkable what feelings such a small mindful message evokes. So I copied the idea, creating a gift tag for a party favor. As guests left for the night, I heard them remark on this small, well-placed expression of gratitude.