Typically, a nonprofit is birthed because a group of passionate people believes it can fill a societal void. That passion and infusion of time and talent will carry a nonprofit quite far through the infancy stage. However, the context for the nonprofit sector is constantly evolving as the world is changing at lightning speed.
Those who serve on the board of directors and in administration must have a mindset of constant learning. This is more difficult than it sounds, because time is consumed by daily activities that seem pressing and imperative—the Tyranny of the Urgent. Seeking fresh perspectives and the latest research and lessons learned must be cultivated. While board members usually are sought for various competencies, everyone should be well-versed in what the organization does as well as what research findings and/or changes in the environment warrant course corrections.
How can you ensure continual learning? Some of the most common ways:
- survey clients
- keep abreast of legislative changes
- monitor what other organizations of the field are doing
- seek new knowledge generated by think-tanks and similar institutions
Not only is continual learning more important than continual fundraising, but learning will make fundraising more effective. How? Because most donors want to believe they are making a difference. Of course, we know from research some will donate for other reasons: marketing benefits, peer pressure, a sense of responsibility, etc. Most want their hard-earned dollars to be leveraged for positive change and choose to be strategic about their philanthropic investments.
Beyond impressing donors with your command of the field you have chosen to champion, other benefits of continual learning include:
- Staff and board become re-energized and remember the “Why”
- Potential partnerships become more obvious
- Grant applications come alive with fresh knowledge
- SWOT analyses become more effective and efficient
In the cost/benefit analysis of how to spend your time, remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous exhortation—continual learning equates to continually sharpening your axe!