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12 Tickets to Healthy Nonprofit Esteem
Karen Eber Davis

January, 2010

“We are this town’s best kept secret.”
“We’re just a small (substitute regional, independent, etc.) nonprofit.”
“We’re embarrassed to hire a consultant, because we don’t want anyone to know what we are really like.”

Little has been written about nonprofit esteem; the concept is usually applied to individuals –as in self-esteem. But organizations, by their actions and their words, express what they believe about themselves and their work. Like your personal self-esteem, you can grow your organization’s esteem. Growing esteem will pay off in many ways. It will increase your willingness to take thoughtful risks, to venture into new relationships, to act courageously and to seek beneficial partnership and resources from significant others in your community. Hold your organization in high esteem. Others pick up on your attitude fast. The high esteem attitude draws others and their resources to you.

Here is a three-prong approach to growing your organization’s esteem:
• Be worthy of high esteem
• Hold your organization in high esteem
• Help others to hold your organization in high esteem

Growth in all three can happen simultaneously.

(We’ve included two examples under each category for the full paper with a dozen tickets to healthy nonprofit esteem, see http://www.kedconsult.com/articles-resources/ or email us at info@kedconsult.com with "esteem" in the reference line.)

Component One: Be Worthy of High-Esteem
1. Do First-Class Work. Create first-class outcomes around an important mission. Provide value. All growth of esteem eventually rests on this.
2. Wait for Jackie. When it’s important, hold out for the best. Do without rather than put up with mediocre or worse. Especially with hiring people –it is better to do without. If you must fill a void; use a temp service. A local congregation waited for over two and half years to fill a youth position. It wasn’t easy, people with children threatened to leave; some did. However, the wait paid off. In time, they hired an outstanding youth director, Jackie. Hold out for your Jackie.

Component 2: Hold Your Organization in High Esteem
5. Hang With Believers. A teacher told the mother of a sharp-as-a-whip- child—that she didn’t think the little girl was all that bright. “I don’t see it,” the teacher said. The principal and the parent moved the child the next day. If a board member or other leader doesn’t see your worth, its time for a change. You need believers.
6. Adjust You’re Thinking. Recognize that nonprofits inherently do hard work--more difficult than businesses or governments. The nonprofit works in a place between those two sectors and does a great job in places those sectors pass over. How do you feel about your own organization? Really? Don’t let the imperfections that exist everywhere mar your overall assessment. Cease thinking of your organization as second-class citizen. You make a difference.

Component 3. Help Others to Hold You Organization in High Esteem
9. Positive Branding. If your tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it? Wait a minute, what are you’re doing alone in the forest? You’re a nonprofit leader. Why aren’t you with a donor, staff member or client? You need to form an enthusiastic community around your mission. If you are the world’s best-kept secret –do something. What can you do? Start a website, blog or Facebook page. Create press releases with timely stories. Become the go-to organization for your mission. Mention these resources on your email signature line. Have one person dedicate one-hour per day year-round to this. Start with one media, like a newsletter. When that’s underway, begin a second. Over eighteen months, experiment with different methods and styles. You have a myriad of possibilities to get your name “out there” and brand yourself positively.
10. Identify What Needs to Be Said. Closely related to the above is to find the right words to describe your work. How do you set yourself apart? Successful strategic conversations help you to create the right words to explain your contribution. Use the right words repeatedly to explain who you are and why you do what you do. For more, see the blog The Magic of Thirty-Five (http://advancingthenonprofit.blogspot.com/2009/12/magic-of-thirty-five.html )

High esteem organizations say things like, “We are a recognized and valued partner in our community, and “Even thought we are just a small (substitute regional, independent, etc.) nonprofit, we make a tremendous difference in the lives of those we serve.” Growing your organizations esteem will yield high esteem results including more resources for your mission.

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