Reclaim Your Power to Achieve Your Mission
Even though we are still very much in the throes of this unrelenting pandemic, the end is in sight. The supply of vaccines is growing, so no matter how bleak it seems right now, there will come a day soon when the pandemic will be behind us.
But then the real work – for social change leaders in particular – begins.
COVID-19 has laid bare a list of tremendous problems within our country – from centuries of racial inequity, to growing wealth inequality, to struggling education and healthcare systems, to a global climate crisis. There is much work to do. And in fact, I believe that the current chaos and destruction — that we all feel so acutely — provides the opportunity to create something so much better. A Great Reset.
And that’s where you, our social change leaders, come in. Whether your mission is to end poverty, heal the environment, strengthen Democracy, address racial and gender disparities, connect disparate and divided groups, reinvent public education, or spread art far and wide, we need you to step up and lead in much bigger ways.
We need you to embrace a new kind of agency that you likely have never before felt.
For so long, our society has worked to strip you, our social change leaders, of your power, through restraints like:
- Restrictions on how, where and when you spend money.
- A perceived ceiling on the amount of money you can access.
- Legal and norm limits on your ability to influence policy and politics.
- General sidelining of your value, importance and contributions.
However, you can decide at any moment to move beyond these limits. I’m not suggesting you break the law or give your funders pause. Rather, I’m asking you to begin embracing your inherent power as a tremendously valuable leader of the kind of social change our world so desperately needs.
I’m asking you to reclaim your power.
Here’s how to start:
Claim Your Value
You, like so many in the nonprofit sector, are likely grossly undervaluing yourself and your work. One of the things I love about social changemakers is that you are such a selfless bunch. My guess is that you are uncomfortable acknowledging the pivotal role you play in your organization or that your organization plays in the community, our country, our world. You do the work you do because you want to make the world a better place. You are very likely creating tremendous value. So stop denying it. Articulate exactly how you improve lives, strengthen communities and solve problems. Then let your staff, board, funders and partners know all about it.
Once you recognize the value you create, you may feel the urge to stop practicing one of the most disempowering acts in the sector: Overgiving. Nonprofit leaders are experts at many things, and chief among them is your ability to give and give and give until you have nothing left. But you are so much more powerful when you ensure that all of your own needs are completely met first, and then (and only then) give to your staff, board, funders, family, friends. “I’m confused,” I can hear you say, “You just said above there is so much work to do.” Yes, the to-do list is long. But if you are bringing exhausted, frustrated, anxious energy to it—which is what happens when you over give—d you are setting your organization up for failure. You will be infinitely more powerful if, when the work starts to feel difficult, you stop. Fill up your own needs until you feel energized to take up the work again.
Ask for Help
And a key way that you find the time to meet your own needs is by asking others to carry some of the burden. Asking for help is such a bold move in the nonprofit sector, right? According to the sector’s norms, you are supposed to be superhuman—saving the world, by yourself, on a shoestring. But that’s absurd. To truly be powerful, you must recognize that you can do much more and create much more change if you stop going it alone. So, figure out what tasks you are good at and then outsource, partner, or hire someone to take on the tasks that drain you. I can hear you echoing the familiar nonprofit refrain, “We don’t have the money for that.” Yes, you do. Raise capacity capital – specific organization-building money to pay for staff, systems, technology.
So here’s the truth: You are powerful beyond measure. Once you start recognizing that and stepping into your power, your work of creating a better world becomes infinitely easier. And at this pivotal moment for our country, for our world, we need you, our social change warriors, to succeed in that critical work.
Nell Edgington has spent her 25-year career innovating in the social change sector. As president of Social Velocity, she helps create more strategic, financially savvy, and confident nonprofit and philanthropic leaders and organizations. Nell is the author of the recently released book “Reinventing Social Change: Embrace Abundance to Create a Healthier and More Equitable World.” She can be found online at socialvelocity.net, @nedgington and @nelledgington.