For many years, I led a nonprofit consulting team focused on improving the financial health of nonprofits, and we often had more work than we had staff to meet. After one particularly brutal stretch of multiple 60-hour work weeks, a colleague shared a comment made by a friend of hers who was completing her medical residency: In comparing their work stories, her friend said, “Well at least no one dies if you mess up.” Given that we worked as consultants and not on the “front lines,” she technically had a point.

But from a broader perspective, her comment is fundamentally not true. The repercussions of “messing up” may not be as immediate as they can be on the surgical table, but when we as a sector fail, there are consequences. Victims of domestic violence are turned away from shelters, children go hungry, and environmental degradation continues unabated.

One of the reasons that nonprofits, especially health and human service organizations, have to turn away people is that there is a persistent myth that somehow, and for some unknown reason, nonprofits don’t need profits, that they don’t need to pay their people, invest in systems, or put money aside for the future.

Nonprofits are afraid of losing funding, program officers are afraid of looking foolish, donors are afraid of wasting their money, boards are afraid of being seen as ineffective. So, they all cling to a set of practices and myths that are supposed to demonstrate effectiveness, but, in reality, result in less funding, wasted money, fewer people being served, and a weakened social sector.

To truly lead, we need to shift from a scarcity mindset that starts from a position of weakness and insignificance to one that starts from a position of opportunity and strength.

Read the full article about board members as advocates by David Greco at BoardSource.