It’s a tough time to be a philanthropic leader. Tough, challenging, and yet incredibly rewarding. Economic hardship is evidenced everywhere in America, striking even the seemingly invincible New York last week. It’s clear that discretionary income is available in smaller amounts to most Americans, and the value of the dollar continues to fall in world markets. As money becomes scarce, more people are forced to rely on the services of charitable organizations, causing a pincer effect for organizations that are squeezed between a decrease in mission-supporting gifts and an increase in the number of people requiring aid.

The last month in particular has been one of rapid intellectual/emotional growth for me, with a series of quick, efficient lessons in nonprofit income management. Stressful and detail-heavy, but incredibly rewarding — and reassuring. I am not only confident that my organization, the American Cancer Society, is going to weather financially difficult times well, but I’m confident that most responsible charities will do so. Over the last few days, my Twitter stream has been full of calls-and-responses from philanthropic professionals, querying the “magic bullet,” the “one thing” that a 501c3 should be doing to ensure financial health and strength in times of trouble. On Friday, I offered my answer:

  • http://tinyurl.com/4nqo8sIMO Nonprofits need a diverse income portfolio, clear focus, & calm/consistent message about long-term plans.
  • That’s my recipe for NP financial health always, but especially in light of the current economy.
  • The “magic bullet” for NP success then is clarity of purpose and solid direction, coupled with working hard and smart.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation, of course, but I do find it incredibly reassuring. That magic bullet is *always* the recipe for success. Organizations are systems – large or small – and thus must run efficiently and transparently in order to be successful. Hard times and anxiety can quickly bring to light all of the unnecessary activities that steal time and attention, because the focus has to be on the ROI of every working moment, and identification of waste is the first step to eradicating it. The stress of having to do more with less can then lead us to adjust and alter our ways of doing business, actually making us more efficient in the long run without sacrificing the quality of service to our constituents.

For me, specifically with ACS, this heightened awareness means strategizing a perhaps altered trajectory for my team- considering our (limited) energy as a locus of extraordinary power. Our department is the front runner of innovation in many ways, and in our infancy, we cast a wide net to gather data about potential areas for growth — now I have to sift through that data and recommend a very specific course of action, positioning us to continue moving forward in a shifting philanthropic landscape. As I said, “tough, challenging, and yet incredibly rewarding.” I am looking forward to it with a level of energy and excitement that I’ve not before anticipated!

Now, in the same general time frame that I’ve been re-energized by my work, my response to the narrowing field of political options available to the American people come November has been one of increasing despair and hopelessness. While I admit to reveling in the occasional bout of melodramatic self-indulgence, I don’t consider myself someone who is frequently prone to feelings of despair or hopelessness. I wouldn’t be any good at my job – hell, I wouldn’t be any good at my life – if I lacked confidence in the overwhelming power and ability of individuals to make dramatic differences in recreating the world. And yet, lines from Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech have echoed through my brain, reverberating in the hollow spaces of my body for the last three weeks:

“For the first time in the history of our country, a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years.”

Politically speaking, I certainly believe that the next five years will be worse, no matter which party settles into the West Wing on January 20th. In the spring of 2003, reading the New York Times every day, I couldn’t conceive of anything worse than another GWB term. But now, with every conversation, every quote, every recap, every story – I find the spectre of America under the governance of either McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden to be a radically inhospitable place for the majority of Americans. Very intelligent people arguing rationally and passionately for both sets of candidates have been unable to sway my opinion or allay my distrust.

So, in the interest of self-preservation, mental wellness, personal productivity, and my contribution to the betterment of society in general, I am declaring my life a politics-free-zone for the remainder of 2008. I will not be following any political coverage, I will not discuss candidates or parties or platforms or processes, and I am removing politically-focused blogs from my reader account. I’ll stick with NPR as my news source, which means I’ll get something election-related on a daily basis, and that will be plenty.

~*~

Since this now takes religion *and* politics off of my conversational plate, it’s a good thing I have so many books to read and a couple of newly discovered interests to engage my attention. Anyone interested in talking about non-profit management, income development, philanthropy in general, Celtic music, scrapbooking, traveling in Paris, steampunk, Torchwood, or audio/video editing, please drop me a comment, or point me toward some conversations-in-progress!

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