Wishes do not come true!” exclaimed my daughter much to the confusion and concern of my wife and I. We tried not to panic and to take it in stride, “Why don’t wishes come true sweetie?” In the heart breaking beauty of her four-year-old mind she explained, “Because I wished I was a fairy and a rock star and it did not happen.” My wife and I exchanged nervous glances and started to stumble through the best explanation two novices could muster in this thing called parenting. “Sweetheart, it is awesome to have dreams and wishes, but wishing is not enough, you have to work for those things to happen.” Thankfully, she did not ask what type of work she would need to do to become a fairy.
I have thought a lot about that day since it happened because it encapsulates the journey of parenting in one brief exchange. How do we protect the dreams and optimism of our children while explaining that effort and involvement are an important part of accomplishing our dreams? The rational part of our thinking knows wishing and intention are not enough, we have to work towards our goals, but sometimes we need to be reminded.
Whether you are a parent or not, I am willing to bet this scenario resonates with you, because we all have dreams. Some are big, like getting a promotion, others are small, like beating the line at Starbucks in the morning. This is especially true in the nonprofit sector where we all share a common and not so small wish – to create a better world.
We are banded together by this mission, each of us holding this wish close to our heart in the hopes of seeing it come true. Yet we know that wishing is not enough. Hoping for change will not cure the sick of disease. Hoping for change will not nourish the hungry. Hoping for change will not deliver equality to those being treated unjustly. We know that wishing is not enough, because we are still actively trying to right the wrongs in the world. Wrongs that if wishing alone could fix, would not exist.
Instead our wishing must be followed by action. This action happens at a sector level, an organizational level, and within our very own teams. At Plenty we spend a lot of time focusing our clients on how change can be accomplished at their organization and within their teams. Here are a few steps we share with our clients that you can use to put your intentions into action.
It starts with intention, a purpose we are working towards as a team. This is only the first piece of the puzzle though. From here, we must build a plan of action that will be effective and produce optimal results. This is best achieved by assigning someone as the primary leader. It is tempting to have team goals that everyone is responsible for, and it’s important to get the team committed and engaged to accomplish the goal, but there has to be one person who leads the effort and is accountable for the results. The accountability that sits with this person often helps them drive the group forward while providing clarity.
Once you have this person selected you must do what can often be difficult for nonprofits – start now. Getting your plan of action into gear can easily be delayed or drawn out for many reasons such as: a lack of resources, poor leadership, and unclear objectives. But in order to achieve progress, you have to start.
An easy place to start is to have at least one thing you will accomplish this week, one thing for next week, and one thing for the end of the month. You don’t have to have the entire plan laid out, but you must commit to next steps. Without this forward momentum we tend to analyze and think about what the plan is, endlessly delaying it in the process.
Finally, have a quantitative measure of what success is. Ideally you should have one metric that helps focus efforts and drive action. If you must have more than one metric, have two, but remember the more metrics the more likelihood you confuse what you are trying to accomplish. Check-in on these metrics weekly and continue to set deadlines for all activities. Without the constant reinforcement and urgency that comes with deadlines you risk losing momentum and accountability.
Another thing my daughter says is “If you believe it, you can be it.” I love and believe this, and also try to remember that believing must be supported with action. Use the guidelines above to progress you and your organization closer into being what you believe is possible.
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