In our thirst for information, ideas and improvement, we might be forgiven some pangs of inadequacy.
I know you care about learning (you’re reading this, after all). And that’s absolutely necessary.
But in the meantime, let me reassure you:
You are good enough to do good.
So whether you’ve been at this for decades, like me, or you’re just starting out, your work matters. You are worthy of it.
But there are things that can stop you.
Thinking you know it all
The surest impediment to learning is the conviction that you have nothing more to learn. Everyone has more to learn. Yesterday’s “best practices” are tomorrow’s outmoded ones.
Learning is growth. And growth is change.
If admitting you have more to learn makes you feel vulnerable, you won’t become strong. You’ll fail.
It might help to know that every single person in our sector needs to be learning, every day. And that some of the people you look to as experts understand this quite well.
So you don’t know it all. And neither does anyone else. But you can be better by making education a cornerstone of your work.
Finding the time to learn
You’re working stupid hours. You’re passionate about your mission. But your passion doesn’t give you 28-hour days.
So of course, learning matters. But when? How?
It’s about priorities. There aren’t more hours in the day. If you want to work better and smarter, you have to insist on time to learn.
One of the jobs where my work yielded the best results was the one where no one looked at me funny when I was simply sitting at my desk and reading. They knew I was doing something that would result in more successful fundraising program.
There is so much great information at hand now online. There are classes, there are conferences, there are books. Resources abound.
Smart organizations invest in staff learning and encourage it.
Make learning part of your day. Start with it. The time you spend will pay off.
This is the flipside of the wonderful abundance of information in our sector. Where to turn? Who to trust?
There isn’t an easy answer. (Sorry about that.)
You need to learn enough to separate good advice from bad. Part of that learning is experimentation.
See a good idea? Think it makes sense? Try it. Adapt it. Look at it as a test. (Give it enough time to really try it, though.)
Turn to the people who can point to success. Turn to people who have worked in your area of fundraising. Turn to people who make sense.
There are thousands of nonprofit people in my Twitter feed. Can I read everything? Not even close. But over the years, I’ve learned who I think is really expert in the areas I care most about.
I read them. I buy their books. And I follow their recommendations for other smart people.
Now, when I have a specific question, I know exactly who I want to turn to first.
Fear of looking foolish
Ah, I know this one all too well.
I cringe at saying something wrong. I’m afraid of losing face with colleagues. I worry that my questions will make me look foolish.
As I said above, everyone does. I can’t tell you how many people I look up to admit to moments of insecurity themselves.
But if you want to grow, let it go.
Ask questions. One wonderful thing about our field is that people are naturally generous. Reach out. Make a connection.
Most times, you get a great answer. And with practice, you stop feeling foolish for asking, and start feeling smart.
So try. Fail. Just don’t fail stupid. Fail smart. That is, try something because you have good reason to think it will work. Set goals and measure what you do. If things don’t go as you planned, figure out why. Learn from it. And better yet, share what you’ve learned.
(And if you can’t do that safely, look for an organization where learning is part of the culture. You won’t grow if you have no room to experiment.)
This work you do? It matters
Don’t hesitate to do your best, because you are miles ahead of many people who don’t spend their days thinking about a better work – and rolling up their sleeves to make it real.
And give yourself a break. You are good enough.