6 powerful insights from 2020 in order to thrive in 2021

January 1, 2021 | 
5 minute read

One thing we know is that as humans we don’t learn very well from our experiences if we don’t intentionally reflect on them and see how specific insights can help us moving forward. 

So we asked ourselves… 

From all of the conversations, all of the workshops, all of the feedback and data we’ve gathered from nonprofit leaders this year, what was the best of 2020 that will help leaders move forward with more confidence in 2021? 

Here are the top 6 insights we gathered:

Good fundraising before COVID is still good fundraising now

If there was ever a time to reach out and connect with donors, it is now. As one of our community members said, “It is never too late to cultivate”. Don’t let relationship building and cultivation get relegated to the thing you’ll get around to. Beat the fundraising drum every week, follow up, have 3 touch points before any “ask”, and ALWAYS close the story loop back to the donor to let them know what impact they had with their donation.

Connecting to a community of nonprofit leaders is vital

The biggest killer of leaders is isolation. According to the neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Friedland, when we feel like the demands on us outweigh the resources we have to handle them, it sends our brains into a downward reactive spiral of stress and self-doubt. One of the main ways of turning that around is by being engaged in cycles of “giving and receiving” in a community of other leaders who have empathy (because they know what it is like) and authority (because they can help you find pathways forward).

We’ve seen this time and time again with our community of Thrivers. Watch what Frankie Abralind (ED of The Good Listening Project) and Amy Alanes (ED of the Women’s Cancer Resource Center) said about how our community has deepened their confidence as a leader this year and enabled them to grow their nonprofits.

Your strategic PROCESS is much more important than your strategic plan

No one’s strategic plan accounted for a global pandemic. In the immortal words of the late Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Your ability to be relevant and impactful is not based on a single point in time (for example when you created that “plan”), but it is much more based on your team’s ability to adapt over time. The leaders who invested and focused attention around building strategic processes that allowed for their teams to pivot and adapt along the way, were much more successful than those who just had a “plan”.

The right questions are more powerful than the right answers

People have energy towards the things that they get to create. And I’m sure we can agree that we need all the positive energy we can get from our boards and teams right now. Of all the nonprofit leaders we have worked with this year, the ones who thrived (emotionally, financially, impactfully) in 2020 were those who approached their role as someone who engaged their board and teams with the right strategic questions that helped their teams draw from the best of who they are into the best of who they can be and co-created their process forward… not as someone whose job was to “have all the right answers”.

(p.s… if you want a list of great questions to ask yourself or your team, shoot me an email and I’ll get it over to you.)

“Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”

That is a famous military quote, but it is also incredibly relevant for nonprofit teams as well. According to an extensive study that Google did on what makes high-performing teams, what do you think was the #1 factor? It was a concept called “psychological safety”.

One thing we have learned through our workshops is that when we slow down the process enough and embed certain choreographies that allow for people to “listen to learn, not to respond” to one another, it creates a sense of safety and trust among the board or team. Psychological safety allows for the rest of the nitty-gritty strategy work to go much quicker and with much greater buy-in.

This corresponds to a similar concept from Dr. Friedland. Our brains consist of three main parts, the Brainstem or the “safety” part (think fight or flight), the Limbic System or the “belonging” part, and the Cortex or the “significance” part. When we don’t help people get beyond the safety part of their brain and help them cultivate a sense of belonging, we drastically diminish our teams ability to be productive and leverage the “significance” part of our brain.

One common sentiment we’ve heard many times this year after our Thrive Conversations and workshops with nonprofits is similar to this one coming from a board member of a nonprofit we worked during our Board Energizer process. They said, “I left the workshop feeling heard and connected.

I left the workshop feeling heard and connected...”

Slowing things down just enough to help people feel like their voice matters and connect around meaningful questions allows for your people to speed ahead in the productivity you want from your board or your team. Don’t skimp on some of those seemingly “fluffy” types of conversations. They will help you smooth things out enough for you to speed up your team’s ability to work together.

Virtual experiences can be truly transformational

There is no such thing as “going back to normal”… There is only the “next normal“. Bad meetings/retreats/fundraisers before are even worse meetings/retreats/fundraisers now. What makes for impactful experiences has less to do with whether it is in-person or virtual. It has everything to do with the types of questions you ask, the interaction patterns (or choreographies as we like to call them) you create have around those questions, and ultimately the quality of conversations that come about from them.

As an example… We worked with a nonprofit this year called BCLC in Southern California who supports families with children who have visual impairments. They needed to update their strategic plan, but more importantly they needed to get their team aligned around a strategic process moving forward so they could execute on their strategic priorities and revenue strategies effectively… Because their families and kids depend on them.

We facilitated our Revenue Energizer process (which leverages the Appreciative Inquiry methodology and our 5-I cycle) which was a sequence of ALL VIRTUAL (yes… I said all virtual) workshops on ZOOM with their team. Listen to what the CEO, Angie Rowe, said at the end of our process during our final check-in call.

“The whole [virtual] experience has been game changing for the whole organization and the staff.” – Angie Rowe, ED of BCLC

Virtual meetings/retreats/fundraisers are not going away and can sometimes be an even more transformational (and a more efficient) way to build connection, energy, and momentum around your work. You need to know how to leverage the tools, but more importantly know how to choreograph the interaction patterns that allow for people to feel connected and energized.

Parting thoughts…

As we race into the new year with hopefulness, remember that you are resilient. You are strong. You are capable. No matter what 2021 throws our way, 2020 has shown us that we are able to handle more than we give ourselves credit for.

There is an immense amount of opportunity this coming year if you just know how to tap into it. Lean into your team. Lean into your community, or find one like our community of Thrivers. We’d love to have you.

To your massive success in 2021,  

Tucker Wannamaker
Chief Impact Officer

p.s. If you want to learn more about how we help nonprofits thrive, want some coaching, or just want to connect, feel free to grab a free 30-min spot on my calendar or our CEO, Kevin Hagan’s calendar. We’d love to connect with you!  

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