Written by Robb Drzewicki
I’m not a health nut by any stretch of the imagination. In short, I love bacon, burgers, and beer. On the same token, I’m also not a spectacular athlete. Not to say that I’m inept, I’m just uncompetitive and never really got into the “fighting spirit” of team sports. That’s why my friends and family were so taken aback when I decided to spend the day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade running the Corktown 5K instead of simply staring at parade floats while holding a plastic Solo cup of domestic beer. With my bad knee and a generally sedentary winter at my back, I decided to give it the old college try. I learned two things in the course of my challenge. First, I should run more. Second, there’s plenty of time to think on these runs. So, what was I thinking about while braving the 0 degree 3.1 mile jog? You and your nonprofit. I realized a few things while running along on this cold day. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on how it equates with nonprofit management.
1. It was cold – Two years ago, the pasty faced Irish masses were getting sunburns at the parade. This year we had icicles hanging from our beards. When I say cold, I don’t mean that it was a brisk spring morning. I mean a blistering zero degree wind chill and occasional snow flurries. I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life. I don’t normally complain about the cold, but that’s because when it’s this cold out, I stay in my house. It wasn’t an option. The same can be said about the nonprofit environment from time to time. It can be frigid and seem like your donors are giving you the cold shoulder. The moral: You can’t control the weather. Don’t let a poor economic climate break your resolve to get things done in your nonprofit. Just because it’s one of the coldest Detroit winters on record doesn’t mean that it’s not warmer everywhere else. Just keep running. Run your part of the business; run your job; run your life. It’s the only actual control you have over the outcome when the weather is terrible.
2. It was long (comparatively) – As I said, I’m not a runner. I’m not even an athlete, nor was I ever. While other guys were trying out for the high school football team I was joining Model UN and debating international politics. In truth, it’s 3.1 miles (not an amazing feat, but it’s not a sprint either). To a guy that’s never done this sort of thing, it’s a long way. Sometimes the mission seems a long way off too. Sometimes, it seems like everyone’s in better shape than you are. It’s going to look like that in the nonprofit world too. You’re never going to feel 100% ready to complete the task. The moral: Stay the course. There are too many clichés and parables to recount here, but it’s true. You just need to keep your eye on the finish line and finish the race. Maybe the best part of getting near the finish line is seeing an actual tactile representation of it. There’s a big sign to run toward that says “FINISH.” I can’t find a better example of an ideal mission statement.
3. Plenty of people will think you’re crazy – My own mother was skeptical of my chances of finishing the race without the help of Detroit EMTs. Plenty of people know me as the one who’ll win a philosophical debate but lose a basketball game, so the assumption of disgrace was palpable. People are always skeptical of altruism as well. “Oh sure, have fun ending world hunger. Here’s five bucks.” The bitter pill to swallow is that you’re running a long race and most people don’t believe you’ll finish. The moral: Let your detractors know your plan and go for it. There’s no sense in wasting your time listening to naysayers. Be confident and keep your eyes on the finish line.
4. It’s better if you do it with friends – As I said; I ran this race with a group of my cousins. All of us are at varying levels of health, age, and general desire to run for extended periods of time. It came down to a simple desire to start and finish a race. A pack mentality can be used for good or evil. Think of the average political pundit, bigoted soap-box ranter, or UFO conspiracy theorist; the only reason they’re talking is because there’s someone there to listen to them. It goes the other way too. A group can get together and use a collective support system to achieve their goals instead of just run off at the mouth. I should also mention that many of the aforementioned cousins are founding members of the charity that started me on my journey in the industry. We’re quite accustomed to backing up one another’s outlandish plans and achieving greater success than initially assumed. Your paid staff and volunteers shouldn’t be any different. You’ve all got to buy in to the idea. The moral: A support system isn’t just about getting the best paid employees or the most experienced. It’s also about how all of those pieces fit together. In other words, sometimes “buy-in” is more important than a resume and a team is more important than a group of individuals.
5. Relish your small victories – I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had icicles in my beard. Within minutes of hitting the first water station, I was picking ice cubes out of my facial hair. On top of that, any time there was break in buildings, a crosswind would come in and slap you in the face with snow and brutally cold air. This made the tiny victories even more important. I’d often look for a fire hydrant or trash can ahead of me and just push to reach it. We do this all the time in for-profit and non-profit companies. Our goal may be 3 miles away, but this “sub-goal” can represent a piece of the puzzle. The moral: We need to be proud of every step along the way while continuing to realize that there’s a greater goal down the road.