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Don’t let your nonprofit’s positive statements become a joke

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There’s a pretty good comedic post floating about the nonprofit sector right now – from the Nonprofit with Balls blog (pardon the name) – that “translates” commonly used nonprofit terms intended to describe positive aspects of organizations that tend not to. An example: Lots of opportunity: It literally could not get any worse.”

While this post is a good read and a good laugh, it resonates with a lot of us because we see the contradictions in what we are trying to do (build better communities, serve those around us who aren’t being served, make a difference in our neighbourhoods) with the ways in which we do it (chase grants, cut corners on benefits, work unpaid hours, and more). I’ve written here in the past on the importance of making your employees your brand ambassadors – this funny blog post weighs in with the importance of making sure your organization’s positive statements aren’t a joke, and this goes well beyond just your employees. But how do you do make sure you’re not going to end Read on.

Make sure your inclusive statements reflect your practice

Read through that NWB post and mark off the ones that you think are relevant to your organization. And this doesn’t apply to just nonprofits – as social enterprises really should be purpose-driven organizations, you should read through it too and see if you can identify any contradictions in your organization.

As you mark off the list – and really, it should be hard for any organization to fail to identify at least one that applies to them – think about what these statements are describing.

They’re not failures in your communications. They’re challenges your organization needs to overcome. The way to overcome your challenges is to make sure your practices match your communication.

This about this for a second. I’ll be you’re thinking that I’m a bit off here – that it’s more important that your communications match your practice. And that’s certainly true. But if you’re saying, on behalf of your organization, that it “welcomes diversity/seeks diverse leadership” and that ends up meaning “you will be the first and/or only person of color on our board/staff/whatever,” then you don’t really need to reform your communications because it’ll be a struggle to find the best way to say what you’re saying.

If this is the kind of situation you’re in, however, don’t despair, since you’ve just accomplished stage one of what I’m wildly going to call ‘Nonprofit and Social Enterprise Vision Matching’ – which is identifying the problems you face in the contradictions between your vision and your practice. There’s always going to be conflicts. But if you want your organization to be seen as a leader, you must minimize those conflicts. Identifying them is step one.

Don’t throw out your communications products – throw out your old plans

If you’re suddenly at a point where you’re identifying conflicts in how you describe your organization and the organization’s vision, you might suddenly think it would be a good idea to toss your communications products. Don’t do that! At the very least, recycle them. But you probably don’t need to file them in the blue bin.

Instead, what you need to do inside your organization is develop plans to resolve those contradictions. Feel lost? Get in touch with us – we provide organizational support to do just that.

If you’ve identified diversity is something that’s lacking – and you’ve identified that lack from a positive statement that can be read in the wrong direction – then you need to actively think about how you’re going to recruit a more diverse set of candidates for your board. Are you going to assess your current volunteer base and find leaders from different backgrounds and encourage them to step up? Find mentors willing to work with emerging leaders and help them succeed? Reach out into other communities that are underrepresented in your leadership? What exactly will you do?

Stating simply that diverse candidates are welcomed means absolutely nothing if you can’t demonstrate the ways in which you welcome them. I’ve also recently written on why diversity can help organizations succeed. There’s two good reasons you should make sure your practice matches your communications.

(Although, if you go through crucial documents and identify sentence after sentence on the NWB list, then maybe you should think about recycling key products…)

Be honest in your communication

This one sounds weird, I bet. I’m not encouraging you to put up on posters “our diversity is lacking” as some kind of organizational statement of ennui, but to be honest in your communications with stakeholders. Identify areas where your practice is not matching your vision, and articulate your plans to bring your practice up to speed. Ask them for help if you think you need it. This shows a willingness to engage, which is incredibly valuable.

Whatever you do, don’t do this

If you’re thinking about ways that you can bring your organization’s practice up to speed with your organization’s vision, absolutely do not allow anyone to suggest you change your organization’s vision to match its practice. That’s a race for the bottom you don’t want to win.

If, however, the challenge seems to be big – get in touch. We help make molehills out of mountains.

About Kevin Harding

Kevin Harding is a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, and is a volunteer board member of the Art for Impact Society. He has worked in the nonprofit, public, and cooperative sector for some time, and has a passion for working with coops, nonprofits, and advocacy groups that want to make a better world. A coop developer, he strongly believes that cooperatives can build a better world.

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