Growing a Pair and Asking the Tough Questions in the Nonprofit Sector

Non-profiteers, pioneers of the nonprofit world, listen up because this is how you become a true pioneer:Ask yourself the hard questions, never stop asking, and allow your answers to change as you do

I recently engaged in a class discussion regarding nonprofits and the hard questions we have to ask about them. The nonprofits being discussed were anywhere from adoption agencies, to domestic abuse shelters, to veteran’s services, to equestrian therapy for disabled children.

Each time we mentioned an outcome, a strategy, a measure, an ultimate goal, our professor came back with:

So what? Who cares? And? The point?

We were being conservative to avoid sounding insensitive in front of our classmates. Why does it matter that we send these orphans to camps? Are they less adoptable before they go? Are you attempting to make the orphan experience more enjoyable, if that’s possible? Even in her honest statements, she added justifiers: “if that’s possible.” “Not to sound offensive, but…”

“Not to sound offensive but…” sometimes we have to be “horribly crass” questions. We have to be real.

What is the hardest part about disabled children?” she asked, and we all sat silently. To which she responded “This is horribly crass, but they are expensive.” It was a truth we all knew, but there is more to children than the cost, right? But that isn’t our job, our job is to fix the problem and the problem is that children with disabilities are expensive.

Sometimes, as the internal, problem-solving, so what, give us money people in non-profits, we have to be crass. We have to ask the difficult questions and be honest about the situation, however crass and insensitive we may seem in the process.

How can you create solutions if you aren’t being honest about the problem?

You would never publicly say “disabled children are expensive.” But how can we address the need to provide help to this audience if we can’t even  state the “horribly crass” statement of “children with disabilities are expensive” behind closed doors?

Other difficult questions we, as nonprofits, have to ask on a not so topical or crass level, according to Nell Edington of Social Velocity include:

  1. Do we know if we are accomplishing anything?
  2. Are we adapting to our external environment?
  3. Is our board helping or hurting?
  4. Do we really need that new building?
  5. Are we using money as a tool?

Asking the hard questions is how we survive.

About the author: Shelby is a senior pursuing majors in Journalism and Mass Communications and Communication Studies and a certificate in Fundraising and Philanthropy. She is active in the University of Iowa’s Public Relations Student Society of America and hopes to work in the public relations or consulting fields after college.


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