Unhappy non-profit situation? Don’t worry! Be happy!

happy1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Don’t Worry. Be Happy,” John pays tribute to his wife on their 35th wedding anniversary and makes a great point about change management and unhappy employees in the workplace. Specifically, John’s point (which he backed up with research) was:

It seems once we stop worrying/doubting/resisting and start accepting and committing; we work — subconsciously if not consciously — to be happy.

When I read this, it made me think about all of my non-profit friends who keep telling me how unhappy they are with their work situation.

  • The board isn’t committed to fundraising.
  • The staff is unhappy and it shows in their work.
  • Our donors seem more reluctant than ever to support our programs.
  • We’re losing a few major grants, and we don’t have a sustainability plan in place.

Every once in a while, I come across a study like the one reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on October 24, 2011 that says:

  • 70% of non-profit employees are either somewhat fulfilled or outright dissatisfied with their job.
  • 60% of employees said they don’t feel valued.
  • 40% said the following important factors that aren’t being exhibited at their agency are: respect, trust, support, and a compelling mission.

So, what is an executive director or senior manager supposed to do when faced with stuff like this? Simple . . .

  1. Don’t worry. Be happy. In other words, stop worrying and obsessing about it. Accept it as your reality. Worrying and doubting and resisting are a waste of time. A better use of your time will be to focus on solutions and what you’re going to do about it.
  2. Figure out a way to teach others how to do the same thing (aka Don’t worry. Be happy.) If you can help board volunteers and employees adopt the same approach to whatever is bothering them, then you’ll be well on your way to changing culture and addressing the challenge.

So, let’s use a real non-profit example to illustrate this suggestion.

happy2Your board volunteers are afraid of all things related to fundraising. They are frozen with fear and the result is inaction and lots of red ink on your financial statements.

Don’t worry! Be happy! Try to employ the following approach:

  • Stop blaming board members.
  • Stop asking them to do the same thing but in different ways.
  • Accept the fact that fundraising isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.
  • Try to empathize and put yourself in their shoes.
  • Schedule a series of one-on-one meetings with board volunteers. Focus those meetings around the questions: “What are you willing to do in the area of fundraising (if anything)? What can I do to support you?
  • Work with your board development team to do a better job with identifying and recruiting additional board volunteers who have a proven track record with fundraising at other organizations.

I have a confession to make. I am as guilty as anyone else when it comes to obsessing about problems and challenges. I will wring my hands. I will look at the situation from every angle. I will keep asking the same questions over and over again, which of course are “Why? Why? Why?

Don’t worry. Be happy. This solution is easier said than done. However, when I look at the last six bullet points that illustrate how this change management approach can be practiced, it certainly seems logical and a lot more effective than focusing on: “Why? Why? Why?”

Have you ever tried using this approach? What was your experience? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

On a side note, congratulations to John and Jamie Greco for 35 years of marriage. This is a true testament to Jamie’s patience and perseverance.  LOL  Just kidding, John. It is a testament to your compatibility and love for each other.  HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

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