Get Out of Your Own Way!

Yes and Yes and

I am a member of the Washington, DC improv community. Improv is an art form that uses audience suggestions to build scenes and characters on the fly, without a script, by the seat of one’s pants. The basic tenet of improv is Yes, and … as in, accept the offer of your scene partner and build upon or heighten it.

Needless to say being good at improv is about being in the moment, reacting, and not overthinking. Many times, improvisers will worry that they are “in their heads” and not in the moment. This tendency to overthink, be in one’s head, and not accept the offers of your partners extends far beyond improv …

Much conversation has swirled around a recent CompassPoint study about the challenges facing nonprofit fundraising. In short, CompassPoint surveyed a representative sample of executive directors and development directors about the challenges of the development director position — lots of turnover, lengthy vacancies, and a thin pool of qualified candidates.

The report brings up some very real concerns from executive directors about the ability, performance, and skill level of professionals in the development field.

HOWEVER … there is a much bigger issue that the report addresses …

“It’s about more than one person.” (This is a quote from the report, page 11)

A resource development program cannot be successful without a positive culture of philanthropy (donor-centered; philanthropy and fundraising as valued aspects of the work, not dirty fuel for the mission; integration of the development director into organizational decision-making and strategy). Basically, the presence and performance of a development director is not the only measure of or path to success in fundraising.

Those of us who are in the fundraising field have known this forever. And, as the CompassPoint report states, we get frustrated because we are ignored when we speak these truths in unhospitable environments. Frustration leads to burn out which leads to turnover which leads to wasted resources. It’s a vicious cycle of underdevelopment … hence the very appropriate title of the report.

Right now you’re probably asking … how does all of this relate to improv and the title of this post. Well …

In improv, when someone is “in their head” they are standing in their own path of fun. One shorthand term for getting out of one’s head is to say “get out of your own way.”

When I read the Underdeveloped report, my first thought was that this is just another example of how the nonprofit sector is in its own way.

Here’s what you should take away: embrace fundraising! It’s not just a necessary evil, it’s a process of building your organization and solifying long term, mutually beneficial relationships with people who can help your organization thrive.

And a tidbit for the next post I’m thinking on: If you are a development director, you are a change agent. Own it!