Creating Sustainable Change Begins With One Question: Why?

“Why?” is a small, but powerful question we often forget to ask. However, it can make the difference between addressing a symptom vs the cause. That difference is the key to creating sustainable change.

Addressing symptoms will only result in temporary change. However, when we find out why those symptoms are showing up in the first place, we can begin to create a thoughtful and strategic plan that will determine how we can improve. This will set us up for success and help create that sustainable change we strive for.

My favorite thing about asking “Why?” is that it can be used to either fix a problem or even take your organization from good to great. If there is something you think your organization does amazingly well, ask yourself “Why?” again. You can use that information to build on or you can share the knowledge and become a leader in your field.  Try asking this question throughout your organization and see where it leads you.

Here are a few examples and some follow-up questions to get the conversation going.

Program Management: Why is your organization launching that new program?

  • Is there a demonstrated need?
  • Is there a gap in services?
  • Has the program proven to be successful elsewhere?
  • Have you considered partnering with other community organizations?

Fundraising: Why are you going after certain donors?

  • Does your prospective donor have the wealth/capacity to give?
  • Have they shown an interest in your cause or something similar?
  • Do you have a connection to them?

Board Members: Why is/isn’t your board giving?

  • Have they been engaged in a way that is meaningful to them as individuals?
  • Are they well-educated about the organizations programs and impact?
  • Are they trained to fund raise on your behalf?
  • Do they have everything they need to do their job successfully?

Organizational Leadership: Why is/isn’t your team more engaged/productive?

  • Have you set clear goals and expectations for both teams and individuals?
  • Are you challenging your team?
  • Are you showing your team appreciation?
  • Are you giving team members the opportunity to use their skills to make a meaningful contribution?

What does an accident prone blouse have to do with leadership?

3 things you should know about today:

  1. All day I’ve been looking forward to adding a new post.
  2. While giving a tour at work today, my blouse got caught on a garbage can and literally tugged me back and away from the tour group. “Ooooof course”, I thought.  I stepped back, unhooked my blouse, laughed it off and went on with the tour.
  3. After work, I stopped by the bookstore to catch up on some reading. After an inspiring read, I was ready to go home and blog! I grabbed my things and pushed myself up … kinda. Did I get my blouse caught on the bookcase? No, of course not. That would be silly if it happened twice. I got it stuck on gum this time. However, I was too revved up about learning/sharing to fuss about it. I wanted to get home and post something!

I was too excited about posting today to let an accident prone blouse damper my inspiration. Yes, it’s a silly anecdote, but we should really strive to work like this every day.  As nonprofit professionals, our mission statement should be our inspiration and our guiding light. Inevitably there will be days when we hit a wall, what we do when we hit that wall is what counts. Reread your mission statement, think of the difference you and your organization make. It’s too important to let random glitches hold you back or slow you down.

In regards to leadership, I’m a firm believer that everyone is a leader in some way. Someone, somewhere, at some point will see you as a role model.  I won’t lie, I was embarrassed when my blouse got stuck the first time. Most of the leaders I know are pretty graceful! However, embarrassment, fear, intimidation, and anything of that nature are not nearly as important as what you represent as an emerging nonprofit leader. You represent something bigger than yourself, a cause, a generation with hope. So, I’ve made peace with the idea that I’m not the most graceful girl in town. Instead I like to think that maybe I will someday be an example to a young girl who felt too awkward to be a leader.