I’m 58 years old. I would say for 50 of those years, I have tried to avoid conflict as much as I could. It’s uncomfortable. But, because I chose to avoid conflict and hard discussions, I wasn’t being honest with myself nor with others. I wasn’t trying purposely to be dishonest, but if you are afraid of conflict and you avoid it, you are naturally not being honest.
Personally, there is a cost to that. You stay in things longer than you should because of fear, whether that is relationships, jobs or life situations that are hard to disrupt. Professionally, there can be a cost to the people on your team and the organization as a whole.
I’m not saying I now have this all figured out, but over the last 8 years I’ve done a lot of soul searching (and counseling) to understand why I avoid conflict and struggle with being honest with myself and other people.
One thing I’ve learned is that while you might avoid conflict or uncomfortable situations in the short-term, it always comes back to bite you over the long-term. I’ve had this happen to me personally time and time again until I decided I would force myself to be honest and do the hard things. Some days I literally say to myself, “Jeff, you don’t want to do this, but you have to do the hard thing and it will be okay in the end.”
This avoidance of being honest because you are afraid of conflict or having to make hard decisions is pervasive in the non-profit community. Here are some examples:
1. Managing people
Non-profit leaders and managers are failing miserably at managing people. Managers avoid tough discussions with individual staff members because they are afraid to hold people accountable. This avoidance or dishonesty with how people are performing is hurting scores of others. The manager, the non-profit, the staff, donors, and ultimately the person who the manager is avoiding the tough conversation with. How will your frontline fundraiser grow in their career if you don’t hold them accountable now? You are being dishonest with them by holding back the truth.
2. Creating the proper structure for your development team
So many non-profit leaders avoid the hard work of re-structuring their development team around the donor journey because they are afraid of “rocking the boat” of the old paradigm. So, instead of doing the hard work, they elevate people into positions that are ill-suited for them and re-create a dysfunctional working environment to avoid being honest with one or more staff. Richard and I have seen this over and over with organizations who lose sight of what fundraising is all about. They turn inward and forget about what makes the most sense for a donor.
3. Taking a strategy and turning it into a department
This is closely related to the point above, but when someone takes a strategy like creating a membership program to entice new donors to join their cause, they start cultivating them with all the trappings of the membership thing. And instead of being honest and understanding that this is just a strategy to acquire and cultivate transactional relationships and a launching point to start building real relationships with some of those donors, they create a department solely around that strategy and build a wall around it. This prevents donors from moving through the donor pipeline. The real dishonesty comes when someone sheds light on this strategic flaw and leaders turn their heads the other way, because “that’s the way we’ve been doing it” is more comfortable than treating donors as partners. So, they do nothing.
4. Fearing failure and rejection
Many non-profit managers and leaders are not honest with themselves when it comes to their motivation for working at their particular non-profit. Many are sticking their heads in the sand, afraid to invest in the long-term growth of the organization because they are afraid of failing, or worse, they fear they’ll be fired for having a real vision. We see this played out when we recommend a significant investment in a planned giving program, where the analysis overwhelmingly shows that they could be increasing their revenue in the millions if they took aggressive action now, but because the returns are well into the future, the leader won’t take action because they want to see increased revenue today.
So, let’s be honest. You are afraid. So was I. But because you’re afraid, you don’t act, or you avoid making the hard decisions because somebody else at some other time and can make the hard decisions and not you.
It’s time to do some soul searching. Why aren’t we being honest with ourselves? Who is willing to tell themselves it’s time to do the hard thing? I promise you, it will be much better when you’re honest with yourself and those around you.