Dreamers and Doers
Submitted by Paul Beakley on Wed, 08/11/2010 - 9:37am
I’ve worked with several nonprofit organizations of various stripes over the years: a trade association, a charter school, an animal rights group, and educators. Of course we work with small and midsize businesses as well – but nonprofits are a whole other critter.
So when you’re working with a business owner, he or she is probably both a dreamer and a doer. The dreamer side of the business owner comes in the form of vision: vision for the future of the business, vision of how they’d like their business to be perceived, a vision of what’s possible. But since they need to pay the bills they are, of course also doers: give them assignments and they get things done, because they understand that time is money. The faster they get stuff done, the more money they can make. Business owners who just sit around and dream all day get nothing done and the company quietly dies.
This division is not so obvious when working with nonprofits.
For one, nonprofits are generally comprised of volunteers. Volunteers typically have real jobs, day jobs with responsibilities and deadlines and pressure. Or they have family responsibilities at least as time-consuming and stressful as any job. So why do volunteers volunteer? To contribute to causes they care about, to network with successful and like-minded people, to fluff up their resumes. Lots of reasons, most of them good. In my experience, however, it’s hard to squeeze a lot of actual work out of volunteers – especially over a long period of time.
Now, big nonprofits deal with this by hiring staff. They’re paid to be doers, and by golly they do and do. That’s great! But the real creative energy of any nonprofit is going to come largely from its volunteers and that rarified subset of volunteers, the Board of Directors.
I’m not saying volunteers aren’t doers. There are some amazing, amazing volunteers who put out an incredible amount of real work. Those volunteers must be thanked, and recognized, and treated like the royalty they are. Even when you wash their feet and rub their shoulders, hard-working volunteers eventually burn out. It’s just a fact.
BOD members long on ideas and short on time to implement? Pretty common. Shockingly common in my experience, in fact. Not surprisingly they have lower burnout rates, too.
So a nonprofit needs to maintain a careful balance, right? Like, if your group is dreamer-heavy, nothing gets done and you end up with a bunch of frustrated dreamers. If your group is doer-heavy, the organization can lack vision and momentum can be hard to come by. From my perspective, though, if my client can’t achieve that balance then by golly I’ll take the doers over the dreamers every time. It takes doers to maintain, update and operate a nonprofit’s online operations. And if you’re not going to keep it current, in this day and age – why bother?
The fact of the matter is, nonprofits need both dreamers and doers. Without vision and leadership, it’s easy to get demoralized, to lose your way. Without energy and production, nothing meaningful gets done. Because of the structure of nonprofits, dreamers are often in greater supply than doers. So treat your doers right.
Let me know what you think. Are you in a nonprofit with an imbalance between dreamers and doers? Are you one kind and wish you were the other?