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After years of working with leaders in the social sector, I’ve created a list of wounds the sector inflicts on itself. These are attitudes that make our work more difficult and reduce our effectiveness:

  1. We step on our own toes – Board/staff relations can be rocky; the players often don’t understand their roles and how to best achieve their shared purpose. Healthy organizations talk about this regularly and embrace strategies to sort through it.
  2. We are too nice – Lack of accountability in our structures lets people be unproductive for years. We must ensure that the right people are in the right seats on the bus and that they are working to their potential; anything less robs our donors, our clients and our community.
  3. We undervalue ourselves – We must get rid of the second-class attitude we have especially as we deal with stakeholders/funders/etc. We can’t be afraid, ashamed or timid about our expertise and/or position no matter who we’re talking with.
  4. We are stuck in the past – We do things the way we’ve always done them and achieve the same results. From big things like programs that are years past their best-before date to processes – methods of governance, meeting protocols, performance management, succession planning, etc. We must join the 21st century.
  5. We hold on too tightly – We are masters at the scarcity thinking that stops agencies from working together and results in too many internal rules. We must learn to focus on client and society needs first and foremost.
  6. We are easily distracted – We let our missions drift – we often follow the money and outside influences and lose sight of our purpose. We must understand the difference we’re here to make and do it with excellence.
  7. We forget why we’re here – So often we focus on activities not results and thus our impact decreases. We must concentrate on the outcomes our agencies achieve for our end users, period.
  8. We think too small, we act even smaller – We are pathologically incapable of taking risks. We confuse character with courage. We need to recommit to difference-making not problem-management.
We must get out of these ruts. Let’s begin by getting the conversation moving. 

*Appeared originally on Charity Hive
  1. Tara /

    Your comment about being ‘stuck in the past’ is so true. We call it ‘regret capitol’ where we continue to put energy and resources into programs or initiative that, while they may have been relevant at one time, have outlived their usefulness. Finding a gentle way to have those who are invested in those outdated initiatives move on is difficult but with some creativity, not impossible!
    Great site, Corey. You’re my hero.

  2. Peter Bruce /

    Well said Corey. Might I suggest two more?

    9. We have failed to understand and fully leverage the incredible potential of web-based technologies, as sources of knowledge and as platforms for knowledge sharing, idea-making and collaborative action.

    10. [A corollary of 4. We are stuck in the past] We hang on to the label non-profit, forever tied to the whims of funders. What prevents us from exploring other models such as the social business (per Muhammad Yunis) — a for-profit, financially independent enterprise with a social agenda?

    I continue to read, savour and save your weekly questions, Corey. Many thanks. Love the new approach. May it be everything you imagine.

  3. Garth Reesor /

    I appreciated this reminder. As I thought about these 8 wounds, it struck me that most are related to becoming “survival focused” and self-protective rather than strategic change agents. Our fear of risk causes paralysis in which we fail to calculate the risk of doing nothing … or at least doing too little.
    Thanks for the challenge.