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Nonprofit Passion: Harnessing the "Wild Card"

The “Passion Factor” is the wild card of the nonprofit world. It's a game changer. It can take an organization off track and/or propel it to new heights. It is one of the most interesting and complicating factors in the nonprofit world.

Passion Positives

Passion is the fuel of the nonprofit organization. It’s what draws many of us to the nonprofit. It brings us to serve organizations as staff members, board members and volunteers. Passion is what inspires us to work long tireless hours in service to the nonprofit.

Passion can cause us to question our priorities and explore new directions. When channeled properly, passion can be the transformative factor that moves an organization from good to great. Passion is the secret ingredient that fuels energy, creativity and action.

Passion Explosions

We recognize passion as a moment when we experience intense emotion and enthusiasm for something – our passion can inspire action and involvement.

As leaders, passion can sneak up on us – we never quite know who may come with an impassioned message at any given time. It might come from someone that your nonprofit serves – perhaps a passionate thank you or an unaddressed need or complaint. It might come from a long-standing board member who feels that an issue has been neglected or who sees a new opportunity ahead.

When we experience unbridled passion as a leader, it can be unsettling – it can bubble up unexpectedly like a soda that was shaken without our knowledge. When we unsuspectingly open the bottle, we are met with an explosion that we must respond to.

If you are a leader, you have experienced and/or witnessed the passion phenomenon. How have you reacted to it? How have you seen others react to it? What worked? What didn’t? This is a good pause point to dissect what you have seen and learned. Chances are, you have had many opportunities to react – and if you are like most leaders, you have responded to it in a myriad of ways – some effective and some less effective.

Unbridled passion can take us off guard and, if left unattended, it can take us off track. As a facilitator, I have seen all manner of passion expressed in meetings and have seen lots of reactions to such passion.

We know that, just like an exploding soda, it can be messy. We can choose to be completely unsettled by it or we can choose to deal with objectively, quickly and efficiently. We can notice the reactions of others to the exploding soda and we can control the energy/reactions in the room based upon our own reactions as leaders.

Passion Harnessed

The thing we need to know as leaders is that passion is the secret ingredient to nonprofit success. Passion can and should be strategically and productively channeled, harnessed, honored and engaged.

How we deal with passion when it surfaces is a magic leadership moment – what you do with it is critical. Our response as leaders sets the bar for how meetings are run, how we treat one another and how we function as an organization.

Passion is a motivator, an eye opener and/or it can also be an impediment to efficiency. Left to its own designs, passion can result in loss of focus. As leaders, we have to dispassionately consider this fact. When we are leaders, there are moments when we have to consciously step into the facilitator role – this requires us to remove our own agendas and biases.

Here are some key principles of facilitation to support your success:

  • Remain objective – remove your own agenda and biases, listen and distill the key issue – then move things productively forward.

  • Recognize when things are going off trackand bring focus – ask yourself if the monologue/discussion is bringing new pieces of information; identify the key issue and determine if there is time for further discussion (if not, establish a next step – perhaps it warrants a subcommittee to explore the idea further, perhaps it is agenda item at the next meeting).

  • Honor the agenda - create the agenda, raise interesting questions and keep discussions on track while maintaining some level of flexibility and responsiveness to unique issues which may arise.

  • Honor all participants – create opportunities for all voices to be heard, respectfully listen and skillfully redirect when needed

Envision it happening and envision yourself managing it in a way that respects and protects all participants. Practice. Repair if necessary. Forgive yourself. Repeat.

It can be tempting to ignore passion or wish it away when it surfaces. Avoid this tendancy. Remember that passion can be the impetus for change. Your response to passion can ensure that problems are identified and that solutions are presented, tested and implemented.

Final Thoughts

Any time passion surfaces, it is a key opportunity to move your organization forward. Channel passion so that it empowers others to do something on behalf of the organization – today, tomorrow, this week, this month. Give clear actions to those who are passionate.

Passion is the “wild card” that can take your organization to the next level. Don’t be caught off guard by it. Anticipate it. Embrace it. Utilize it.

Harnessed passion can change the world.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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