A very accomplished friend of mine wrote a provocative, and beautiful, article over three years ago.
It’s called On Political Fear, and was written by Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big (named a ‘best book of the year’ by Apple iBooks) and an expert on women’s leadership and well-being. Tara writes a lot about creating a more sane and compassionate world — through leadership, courage and creativity.
That’s the raison d’etre of the social benefit sector, which is why the article resonated with me on many levels, not the least of which spoke to me wearing my hat as a philanthropy facilitator and nonprofit coach.
I shared her article then. I want to share it again.
Tara, in speaking up, described herself as “proudly afraid.”
Are you “proudly afraid?”
If you work in the social benefit sector, you should be.
It ought to be part and parcel of your job description.
It out to be central to your organizational culture.
Because if you’re not afraid of what will happen were your nonprofit to cease to exist, how can you persuade others to join with you to fight against that fear?
Being proudly afraid is how you persuade other people to join your mission.
Nonprofits exist because something is not as it should be.
And there is a danger that if that thing is not repaired, needless suffering will occur.
Are you ever afraid of what might happen if you don’t reach your fundraising goals?
If not, might I suggest that you take a page from psychologist Tara Brach’s book, True Refuge, and open yourself to the full force of what might happen should your nonprofit fail. She writes,
“In the weeks before the [Iraq] invasion, I read the newspapers with an increasing sense of agitation… So I decided to start a newspaper meditation… Almost every day, as I’d open to anger and feel its full force, it would unfold into fear—for our world. As I stayed in direct contact with the fear, it would unfold into grief—for all the suffering and loss. And the grief would unfold into caring about all those beings who were bound to suffer from our warlike actions….
Sitting with the feelings that arose in my newspaper meditation left me raw and tender. It reminded me that under my anger and fear was caring about life. And it motivated me to act, not from an anger that focused on an enemy, but from caring.”
From fear… to grief… to caring.
Personally, I was bowled away by this concept.
And perhaps it’s why storytelling has become the meme du jour in marketing and fundraising. Because it’s in stories, not dry facts, figures and proposals, that we are able to get in touch with our deepest and rawest emotions.
If we only dance on the surface, we can’t connect on a primal level.
It is from such deep, empathy-laced connections that the most passionate, and compassionate, commitments are born.
Let me tell you a story about leaning into fear to inspire caring.
It’s about a friend, an artist and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, who grew up hearing accounts of the unraveling of civil society and the horrors that ensued. When she looks at what is happening in politics today, she is afraid. And what is she doing with her fears? Leaning into them. Big time. She’s wondrously secured endorsements from the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, and is mid-way through securing funding to host a multi-cultural, inter-religious art exhibit that aspires to build understanding and empathy, bringing people together rather than tearing them apart. Working with her to raise these funds, I am inspired.
My friend is proudly afraid. She understands the importance of empathy to the survival of our species and planet.
She is honored to be a part of the story of survival.
What story are you a part of?
Every nonprofit is part of a story that springs from fear and finds its happy ending in caring.
Not just the ones that cure disease, end abuse and violence and respond to natural disasters.
- If people are starving for nourishment, the arts may be their salvation.
- If children seek a pathway upwards out of poverty, education will be their deliverance.
- What will set you free?
If nothing about your cause really makes you afraid… if there’s nothing about your mission that you feel with full force… if there’s nothing about those you help that makes you want to grieve… perhaps you’re in the wrong place?
More likely, you just need to meditate a bit on WHY you are where you are.
If there’s an unspoken danger you’re afraid to address, speak up.
Lean deeply into your story, and tell it.
Perhaps it’s within your organizational culture, and it’s preventing you from achieving important results.
Perhaps it’s an external threat, and not planning ahead to address it will threaten your survival.
Whatever story you’re a part of, begin by telling it to yourself.
Be honest. Be thoughtful. Commit to your values and express them.
It’s the only thing that will drive real change.
ACTION TIP: Lean into the fears you and your constituents share, and tell this story in all your fundraising and marketing communications.
You and your donors are in this together.
Never forget this when it comes to the fight you’re engaged in.
Donors want to be part of a transformational solution. They don’t just want to be ancillary ‘helpers.’
Stop talking about all the wonderful things you do. Rather, help donors lean into their fear.
Understand the change they seek to be a part of, and invite them into that story.
Thank you Tara Mohr for sharing a bit of your story. For leaning into your fear and talking, tenderly, about what you hold dear. I hope we can all learn from you.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
Photo by David Castillo Dominici, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Thanks for re-sharing this. I needed it this morning.
So beautiful! I want everyone in our sector to read this… then clip it above their desk.
Thanks so much Mary.