Sit, Listen, Eat – and three other essentials for nonprofits in 2017

by Monique Rizer   •  

The first week of 2017 held a flurry of strategic huddles among the Opportunity Nation Coalition. Some of our 330 Coalition members were laser-focused on federal legislative plans for the 115th Congress. Others discussed three to five year strategies to increase both education and work opportunities for our country’s children and youth. All looked to a new Congress, a new President and a new year to gauge their next steps.

I heard a renewed vigor, but also an uncertainty about our role as social impact leaders in the wake of a presidential election with many complex social issues facing the country. Here are four essential reminders I gleaned from these talks:

Adjust your sails, not your north star. Whether it’s diversity or bipartisanship or innovation, recommit to your organization’s core values and theory of change. Check out John Kania’s Dawn of Systems Leadership, read the Case Foundation’s journey From Missions to Movements or Billy Shore’s A Leap Of Imagination for inspiration.

Sit, listen, eat. One of the great miracles of service in uniform or national civilian service, is how the experience shatters stereotypes and builds a diverse, effective community. Living together, working together and playing together builds genuine, trusted relationships that allow for compromise and collaboration – or at minimum, a conversation. We can overcome our tribal instincts post-election, says social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. There are new leaders at all levels of government. So, break bread and build the relationships that ensure you have a seat at the table to represent your constituents. They’re counting on you to bear witness to their lives.

Tell a story. I once worked for an accounting firm whose tagline was, “It’s the people behind the numbers who count.” Our clients were mostly in agriculture, but also in education and nonprofit enterprises scattered across a rural Washington state community. We did their books and helped them pay their taxes, but we knew them as people too. As a marketing intern, I had the privilege of telling their stories. Post-election we’re calling them heartland people, but to me, they were neighbors doing impactful, decent, hard work and I was inspired by them as I was a young mom working to be the first in my family to finish college. A story can disarm even the most prickly. So tell your story, and listen to others like Vivian Saunders, or Mike Long or JD Vance. They may surprise you.

Get curious. The 2016 election woke many of us up to the notion that we don’t know each other as well as we think. Bubbles of privilege and poverty are concentrated across the country and we’re less connected to each other than ever. Now is the time to make a conscious effort to understand how people view themselves and how we view each other. Flex your cultural competency with 7 Steps to Advance and Embed Race Equity and Inclusion Within Your Organization. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, take a road trip to one of these most diverse cities in America.

We’d love to hear from you. What are your essentials for 2017?

Monique Rizer

Monique Rizer is the Executive Director of Opportunity Nation. Prior to this role, Monique served as Chief of Staff for Opportunity Nation's parent organization, Be The Change, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that creates issue-based campaigns designed to advance positive social change. Read Monique's Bio.

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