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“If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford

Because you are a nonprofit leader, the work you do is rewarding, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The challenges you face in today’s increasingly competitive landscape can make the outcomes you’re tasked with achieving feel unachievable. Fortunately, history is filled with examples of leaders just like you—leaders who solve new and complex challenges to improve results.

So what drives leaders to find these solutions? Oftentimes they are driven by a crisis. In Breakthrough, we embrace crisis because it’s a state that inspires new ways of thinking. Rationally, we know that we cannot continue down the same path and expect to arrive at a different destination; however, it often takes a crisis for us to stop and change our course. The question is, can we adapt and change course without being in crisis? The answer is yes, and the solution is found in our thinking.

A New Way of Thinking Is No Longer an Option

Before you can make a change, you have to recognize the need for change. You must acknowledge that what worked in the past isn’t working sufficiently today. You must be committed to change before your actions can evolve. This is why Breakthrough starts with examining our mindset.

The first step toward Breakthrough is found in our mindsets. Sound fluffy? Trust us, it’s far from it. Our mindset is the most powerful tool we have. It informs what we believe is possible, impossible, and how we build a path to achieve it. Our mindset is inherently informed by our experiences, and sometimes that information can stifle our progress. Mindsets are critical to creating any new reality.

So let’s start examining our mindset with an exercise. Take a step back and give your organization an honest assessment. Ask yourself two questions:

  1. What haven’t we accomplished in the past 3 to 5 years that we thought we would?
  2. What are we doing today that we’ve been doing for the past 3 to 5 years that still isn’t having the intended impact?

Write down your answers, and try to be as specific as you can. Got them? Great.

Now, examine your answers and be aware of what you wrote down as your mindset.

The things you think and feel when you reflect on these answers are windows into what you are thinking, and how it is impacting your choices for the future. By examining your mindset, you begin to identify the narratives that, while well intended, may be holding you back.

Let’s look at an example:

Scenario: Organization ABC has been tasked with doubling revenue in three years to support a new initiative. This goal was set by the board without input from the development team and was based on the need of the new initiative, not the historical fundraising performance of the organization.

Our guess is that you can relate to this scenario. So stop, reflect on a time that you were in a similar scenario, then write down all the things you’re telling yourself about that situation.

Did you write it down? Were any of the following on your list?

  • We can never achieve that goal; it is totally unrealistic.
  • We don’t have the resources needed to double revenue.
  • The board doesn’t understand our current fundraising environment or our donors.
  • Two organizations in our community are in campaigns and are cannibalizing all the wealth.

Although we think of these things as informed facts, they are actually just our current mindset. They are what we are telling ourselves about our current reality. In order to achieve success in the scenario, we have to acknowledge and then challenge the way we think—only then can we achieve Breakthrough. So let’s try it.

Now, take the same scenario:

  1. Put the following phrase in front of each item on your list: “What would it take to…”

Example: What would it take to achieve the goal? or What would it take to get the resources we need to double revenue?

In taking this approach, you’ll build the skill of shifting your focus from the rationale for why the scenario is impossible to imagining a new reality that will allow it to be possible (Breakthrough).

  1. Ask yourself what you’re thinking but not saying: “What is not on our list.”

Example: I don’t trust my leadership will stay focused on this goal, so why should I even start? or I’d have to fire John and he’s a good friend.

We all have the little voice in our head that thinks what we may be afraid to say. Oftentimes the things we are thinking, not saying, are the biggest obstacles in our way, and simply acknowledging them helps us solve them.

Greatness requires bold and uncompromising leadership. We hope you are a bold and uncompromising leader, and we invite you to join us in creating a new path forward for your organization by adopting Breakthrough.

Over the next few days, try to elevate awareness of your mindset because it will be essential to the next piece in the series—Setting a Breakthrough Goal.

Breakthrough Questions:

An amazing thing happens when we embrace change: the world opens up. Passion and enthusiasm build. All that weight that once held us back gets lifted from our shoulders.

Here are some questions to help you take the first steps toward adopting a Breakthrough mentality for your organization:

  • What are some limiting beliefs you’ve had about the way your fundraising efforts are implemented? (Think about times when you’ve said, “We could try that, but _____________.”)
  • What issues are getting in the way of truly achieving the impossible (limiting beliefs, people, processes, etc.)? What is one step you can take to address those issues?
  • What is the cost of not changing the way you think about these issues?