Some begin by default. A few by divine free fall. Others by determination and design. Regardless, here is some advice for all about to embark on their vocational journeys in the nonprofit sector.
At first, you will be smitten by the sheer wonder of it all. Soaring values, beliefs and motives framing the vista of the nonprofit sector will demand your attention and allegiance. You will be asked to bring your best days. Your best thoughts. Your best energies to the noble tasks ahead.
The good uses of healthy adrenaline, righteous anger and being scared spitless will work together to propel you early on in the nonprofit journey. It will be exhilarating to find yourself on the front lines of compassion. Confronting root causes of social ills. Constructing defenses and deliverance on behalf of the diminished and downtrodden.
Against all odds and fierce resistance, some of you will coax the better angels from the masses. Elevate the more noble aspirations of a community. And dare to advance the notion that, just over the mountain range, there is an answer to the riddle that has perplexed cities, countries and cultures for centuries. But beware of the rarefied nonprofit air you breathe. The oxygen is thin up here. And slightly hypnotic.
Soon enough, it will be time to come back down to where you ought to be. Descent to nonprofit reality brings the first jaunt of your journey to an end. A season of reality checks begins. It will seem futile as you retrace your steps backward and return to square one. Reexamining your zeal in the light of unreasonable, unfunded and unmet expectations that society often places on the sector. This is when the dissonance of nonprofit work becomes more than a distraction. It is disturbing. Disconcerting. Disheartening.
Time to look up and look around. There are others waiting to walk the next part of the journey with you. In their company you will find colleagues with whom to commiserate, tap new reservoirs of courage and temper your nonprofit calculations. But you must make the first move. In their direction.
Seek the advice of a servant leader who has been at this longer than you. Contrary to your initial ideas and ideals of nonprofit success, you’ll find them off the beaten path, in the byways and behind the pack. Bringing up the rear. Still working without acclaim or anyone noticing. Weathered and wearing a patina that commands respect. Ask these sages about the provenance of their persistence. Underneath those battle scars are stories for them to tell.
Find a mentor. Or two. Ask them honest questions. Then listen honestly. The honest ones will tell you what didn’t work for them. What they will never be caught alive attempting to do again. The sting in their nonprofit work has become their song of freedom. And refined focus. Listen how they modulate the mentoring sessions. By the twelfth stanza, you’ll be joining in the traveling song.
Develop a broader intellectual curiosity about the travails and triumphs of other nonprofits. Especially those who, in their day, struggled and succeeded with your particular cause. While on the investigative trail, you may be shocked by your own illiteracy of nonprofit history. Perhaps you thought you were the first to stake out this initiative, claim this breakthrough, or devise this approach to address the maladies, miseries and misfortunes afflicting mankind.
But where exactly are you on the epic journey of nonprofit history?
Probably not at the start. That was a thankless job, and way below today's pay grades. Probably not scaling that insurmountable mountain range after all. Most people are afraid of heights. With the humility of hindsight and with the physics of others’ momentum behind you, you are more likely on the progressive bend of the epic journey. Further down the road than you first thought. Or wanted to admit.
Perhaps that is where your nonprofit journey will eventually end. Somewhere on the bend. You’ll be wiser and travel worn for it. Yet eager and ready to lend your support to the next generation answering the call to service and sacrifice. As the nonprofit road bends even closer towards resolution, redemption and recovery.
And their journey begins.
Follow @JoeMazzu3 on Twitter and Instagram. Visit intentionalconsulting.com to learn more about his business serving nonprofits.