Friday, August 08, 2014

What yoga taught me about being a great fundraising and philanthropy consultant.

No, it’s not what you think. This isn’t about some hippy-dippy, Ohm chanting commitment to serving a higher universal power. Although that’s a nice thought, too. There are specific elements of my 11+ years of a consistent yoga practice that feed my work as a fundraising and philanthropy consultant, both consciously and unconsciously. Some of these thoughts were bubbling up “on the mat” yesterday, so here they are:

Precise attention to alignment.
In yoga, where you put your pinky toe can make all the difference. That pinky toe can help you open up and stretch your whole body, or, if ignored, it can leave your yoga pose stale and stagnant.
When I’m writing a grant proposal, precise attention to the details makes all the difference. Do the number of participants on page one match the number of participants on page seven? Does the budget narrative reflect the program we have described throughout the proposal? Are we answering all of the questions that the potential funder has asked? A dedication to details shows that we are committed to accuracy, thoroughness, and follow through.
In a philanthropic context, alignment also has a deeper meaning. For example, is the project we are describing really aligned with the potential donor’s interests? Is our proposed project aligned with the organization’s mission? Is it aligned with the needs of our clients/constituents? Does it align with our values?

In yoga (as in life!), the breath is your constant. When it gets tough, breathe. When it gets uncomfortable, breathe. When you feel off balance, breathe. When you are reaching your “edge” or your limit, breathe. When you want to celebrate how fantastic or expansive or light your body feels, breathe. Through every distracting thought, you can return to the breath to get grounded again.
Fundraising can be a stressful profession, with deadlines, unanswered questions that need immediate answers, donors or staffers who must be placated, financial goals that must be met in order for clients’ needs to be addressed... the list goes on. Going into panic mode doesn’t help. In fact, going into panic mode can cloud judgment and nudge nonprofits towards quick fixes that may alleviate stress in the short term but cause bigger problems long term (e.g. asking a donor for the wrong amount of money, cutting a program that’s mission critical, wasting time on shoving proposals out the door that are unlikely to lead to funding, etc.) When the going gets tough, breathe. This is not only a literal suggestion – inhale, exhale – but also represents need to return to the things that keep the nonprofit alive, that keep it functioning and healthy. What are the organization’s “constants”? What can’t it live without? What keeps the nonprofit grounded?

Stretching in a yoga pose can feel amazing. Expansive. Invigorating. But stretching beyond what your body can handle, or what you have carefully prepared your body to do, can create pain. That pain can last for days, months, or even years. (Just ask my sacroiliac joint. Ouch.)
When I work with clients to set new fundraising goals, train their boards, or envision new programs to integrate into their existing work, I encourage them to stretch. Pushing beyond their immediate comfort zones keeps the organization vibrant and healthy. But stretching too hard, doing something that they are not prepared to do, can cause pain, or even damage. The wisdom comes when you can figure out how much of a stretch is too much.

            Many people think yoga is all sitting on the floor and chanting Ohm. Not so! Some yoga practices are vigorous and sweat-inducing. Even if you are not moving a lot, just holding a pose in one place can bring on a serious sweat. Sweat is good. It cleanses you, cools you off, and shows you that you’re working.
            It’s also good for an organization to sweat a little. Even doing the same thing it’s been doing for a long time (like holding a yoga pose for a long time) can make an organization sweat, if they are doing it well and with the right level of effort. Trying new things (like trying a new yoga pose) can make the organization sweat. And that’s a good thing. It keeps the organization healthy. And a little bit of sweat and nervous energy never hurt anyone before going in to meet with a donor for a major solicitation.

Practice, practice, practice.
They call it a “yoga practice” for a reason. Every time you return to the mat, it gets a little more familiar. The mat seems to feel a little more like home. Every return to the mat is an invitation to take things deeper, challenge yourself a little more, find out what feels really juicy and right in your body. A yoga practice is called a practice because it’s never really “done.”
The same is true of fundraising and philanthropic giving. It’s never really done. As soon as you feel you’re on top of it, you’ve accomplished your goals, you’ve mastered a new skill, that’s your invitation to take it deeper. It takes practice to get really good at asking people for donations, writing a grant proposal, or deciding how to give away your charitable dollars mindfully and carefully. And as soon as you’ve done what you set out to do, that’s your invitation to learn a new skill, expand your nonprofit’s work or influence, or explore how your charitable giving is really moving the needle on an issue that’s important to you. It’s a practice, one that gets more rewarding each time you return to it.

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