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Is your small nonprofit trying to get in with the cool kids?

This is embarrassing.

Back in college, Friday nights were a big deal to me. Something fun was happening somewhere and my mission to find it started around Tuesday.

Now, here's the embarrassing truth: What was happening on Friday night was not nearly as important to me as with whom. That meant getting the "coolest" kids to invite me to hang out with them.

I developed a little system I used each week to get with the coolest crowd on Friday night. I called it "keeping my options open."

For example: Someone "less than cool" invited me to do something on Friday night. I'd thank her or him and say: "Yeah! That would be great, but I'll have to get back to you on that. I told _____________ I would hang out with them if they make any plans. If they don't end up doing anything, I'm in with whatever you're doing!"

Then I would go work extra hard to make sure someone "cooler" included me in their Friday night plans.

Sometimes I would do this multiple times in one week--like building my own rungs on the campus social ladder.

Here's the thing: Many times, I got to the Friday night party I desired only to have a lousy time once I got there. Why? I was working so hard to impress the people around me that I couldn't cut loose and have any fun. I knew the only reason I was there was that I manipulated my way onto the guest list. I wasn't sure these people even really wanted me around. Would they even care or notice if I wasn't there?

Meanwhile, there were people who really did like me (for me!) and wanted to spend time with me. Maybe they weren't as "cool" on campus, but what did that matter? They were my kind of people! Ah, the friendships and fun that I could have had if I'd been humble and wise enough to see this! The Friday nights that wouldn't have gone to waste being miserable trying to impress people I wasn't even sure I liked!

Why am I writing about this in a blog for small nonprofits?

Because I see small nonprofit leaders do the same thing I did in college!

Who are the big names around town? Who are the companies, foundations, and persons with the big bucks? I've watched a lot of small nonprofit leaders work just as hard as I did in college to get into the party with the "cool kids."

But just like in college, the cool kids in your community are already involved with other cool kids. Their money is spent. Their social calendars are full. They think you're fine and all, but they already have more relationships than they can handle. In other words: If you weren't around, they wouldn't notice!

Hanging out with the cool kids does not make you cool; it makes you the least cool person in a room full of cool people. Hanging out with rich people hoping they give you some money usually just means you're a panhandler in a suit. You have to work extra hard for a handshake and a small check. You'll keep working extra hard to be a hanger-on being strung along. Trust me: I've been that small nonprofit leader.

As a small nonprofit leader, your job is not to find a way to get into the cool kids' party; it's to throw a party for the people who really want to be with you! Who in your community would notice and would be sorry if you weren't around? Who is eager to join you? To give to you? To work with you? Who are the first people to raise their hands when you call for help?

These are your people and they will grow and sustain your mission if you give them a chance.

I was foolish and a jerk in college.

But I've seen just as much foolishness and jerkiness among small nonprofit leaders.

The wisdom is simple: Find your people and make working with you a party for them. You will never be lonely or poor again.

Onward and upward!

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