I’ve written about the permeating fear that exists in the nonprofit sector. I think we’re fast approaching a time where this will hurt many organizations more than they can ever imagine. Nonprofits are not the only game in town any more for social impact and change.

If you read my articles, you know a lot of the changes that are taking place in the philanthropic sector. In today’s world, you have social enterprises working for money and social good. You have actual corporate social responsibility, not just lip service. You’ve got the growing influence of B Corps and, of course, nonprofits.

Time and again I’ve spoken to nonprofit professionals and here’s a great source of aggravation: making decisions based on fear. This leads to “politics” and a lot of in fighting. This then prevents nonprofits from risking and innovating.


The Competition is Fierce

I’m sure you would agree, systemic political infighting is bad for your nonprofit business. We’re living in a world were increasingly the for-profit sector is encroaching on the “terrain” of nonprofits. These businesses understand how to brand and differentiate their company from others. They learn to master how to grow to scale. They know about metrics and how to prove they are better than their competitors so as to dominate the sector.

Some nonprofit leaders are doing themselves a great disservice by perpetuating fear-based decision-making. Here’s the thing: not all of your competitors are operating out of that place. That means they are able to move leaps and bounds ahead of you. They know how to handle calculated risks.

What Happens In Fear-Based Decision-Making

You can see it in posts and hear it in conversations all over the philanthropic sector. You can have very bright and energetic people of different backgrounds on your team. However, if leadership is afraid to take risk, it does much damage to a nonprofit. And, believe me, you can say whatever you want, but your team will know when you are fearful of taking good risks.

Here’s some of what happens:

  • There is no innovation. Innovation, by definition, is risky.
  • There is a lot of copying going on. Risk favors the bold. When you are creating and innovating, you are trying out new things that may have never been done before. However, when there is fear-based decision-making happening, you have a lot of nonprofits that want to jump on the bandwagon of success. They’ll see a model or approach that is new and is working and that’s what they want to try. They then couch this as “new”, but really, someone else is doing it already.
  • Fear-based decision-making kills morale. Your team and followers want to be involved once and always with big vision. I always talk about vision as it is so absolutely important. Your team can sense fear. They can sense when all of your decisions are based on fear, choosing the least risk even if there is a reasonable chance you may be able to make greater impact with another route. You have to walk the walk–not simply talk the talk. I have seen countless times when individuals are just talking. That’s a mistake. You need to put your money where your mouth is. Your team will see if you decide on fear or strength. The choice is yours. Even if I make a mistake, I would rather determine my choices from a position of knowledgeable strength.

If you’re a nonprofit leader, I’m sure things have tightened up for you in the last three to five years. By that I mean that much more is expected of you. Taking mindful steps to take calculated risk is increasingly becoming your most viable path. Make it a point to see what’s beyond the front door to your office. Understanding the competition that is quickly evolving, innovating and adapting is imperative for success. Fear-based decision-making is not.



Wayne is the author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: The Rise and Fail of Charities and What You Can Do To Be Ready” (Free Digital Download)

© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.