Dare to Dream

Judah's Bedtime Reading

Image by protoflux via Flickr

Many nonprofits are famous for doing their work with almost no resources.  It’s an impressive trick, especially in lean times, but this attitude can also negatively impact  long-term success.

Nonprofits working in this way often tell themselves this story:  Our community doesn’t understand or appreciate our work, so we can’t ask them for more support.  Therefore, we have no choice but to continue to do what we can with what we have.  Our best option is to scrape together the tiny bits of funding and support we have and cobble them together into something that sort of works.

So what’s wrong with this story?

It trains you, your organization, and your supporters, to keep your heads down.  What starts as “they don’t get it”  quickly morphs into “we must not deserve more” or perhaps, the more dangerous “we don’t need more.”  When that happens, it’s easy to believe where you are now is as far as you will get.   You are doing as much good as is possible.

But that’s not really true, is it?

The Power of Imagination

What would happen if you changed your story?  What if you were to let go of a scarcity mindset and dream about what you could do with more?

A whole new picture might  emerge.  A scary and exciting picture of your organization making an impact unlike anything you ever thought possible.

Ironically, it is that lack of belief, not a lack of money, that really keeps you from doing more.

A Holiday Experiment

Imagine your organization as a child going through catalogs* to develop a wish list.  Create a list or, even better, a college of your dreams for the future of your organization.

The key to this exercise is to remove judgement from the dreaming phase.  Keep dreaming until you get past your usual ideas to the “crazy” ones.  Don’t judge the ideas, don’t focus  on the resources you lack, don’t worry about the details.  Just dream.

Then, when you are really excited about what’s possible, gather your leadership team and re-do your strategic plan.  This time,  don’t start with your current resources or what you did last year.   Start with your wish lists.  Pick the one or two items that light up the faces of your whole team– if someone bounces in their chair, even better.  From there, figure out what you need to make that dream possible.

That’s the new goal.

The last step is to use your usual planning process to decide what to do this year to move closer to your dream.


We are barely raising enough money to support our current programs, how are we going to fund something bigger?

That’s where the enthusiasm part comes in.  There is a huge difference between asking your supporters to help pay your electric bill and asking them to invest in a better future for their community.  The first is a “duty” to be avoided if possible, and the second is an opportunity to be seized.

By giving your supporters a reason to get excited, you also give them a reason to open their checkbooks.

Your Turn

What’s your greatest wish for your organization?  What do you need to get there?

*I know this metaphor dates me, but looking through catalogs and imagining all the cool stuff I might get for Christmas was almost as fun as opening actual gifts.

4 thoughts on “Dare to Dream

  1. I love the analogy of looking through a catalog and dreaming of what could be! Imagining the possible — and daring to dream — is a powerful activity. During the cold war, President John F. Kennedy issued a bold challenge before a joint session of Congress: Send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. It was one of the BHAGs — Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals — and it worked.

    • Thanks Erica, I’m planning to use this concept for Mach 30’s strategic planning this month–I’ll let you know how it goes. The concept certainly isn’t perfect, but I do think lack of imagination is a bigger problem than lack of money for lots of organizations (and people)

  2. […] Now that you’ve created space, dedicate some time to the  important, but not urgent work work that often get’s ignored–like planning.  I don’t mean “so complicated it collapses under its own weight” planning.  I mean “so simple you could stop reading and do it right now” planning.  Like choosing three words to guide your work in 2011, or writing a holiday wish list. […]

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s