Dear Nonprofit Leaders, You Cannot Make Everyone Happy

Brooke Battle
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Brooke Battle


You want to change the world for the better. 

Those reading this post work for organizations who are trying to stop cancer, fund research for rare diseases, ensure that all children are fed, educated and healthy, fill every stocking this holiday, build homes for families, put a roof over every human head and end domestic violence.    These are HUGE goals. 

Last week, a dear friend died.  He was a change maker and our local news wrote several articles about the significant impact he made on our city.  Among his achievements was the leadership and construction of a large, urban park that served as an economic catalyst for a rebirth in our downtown core.  I can hardly remember a time before Railroad Park.  However, those articles missed the truly difficult parts and sugar coated the story with the positive end results.   (That is also a lesson -- the success of your mission will overcome hurt feelings.)

The park was built and it transformed a city.   

To do that, he made quite a few people mad.  I do not know all that was involved but want to name a few actions to inspire you to make the hard decisions necessary to move your cause forward.   

What did he do to build that park?  (1) He hired and fired the first staff of the nonprofit swiftly and without sympathy because they were not equipped for the job.   (2) He asked all of the founding board members to resign.  Yes -- have you ever served on a board that actively upset its founders.   Well, I have and it was necessary.   This project would require millions in funding and the founding board did not have the capacity.  Those founding board members were replaced by well-networked and high net worth community members who could gain the funding.   (3) The project required a strategic public-private partnership and he pushed the mayor so far that the mayor lashed out in a scathing news article. There were MANY years of "not making people happy" during the "park building". 

On Friday, hundreds of friends stood in that award-winning downtown park and listened to a Senator, a Mayor, a City Councilman and many friends and family members memorialize the lifetime of good works cut short by cancer.    He made an impossible project reality and a lot of people are happy about it.

Do Big Things. 

On a daily basis, nonprofit professionals work too hard to make 'everyone' happy or to redirect a volunteer's energy in a different direction.   

- Are you hosting an event that doesn't deliver for your organization because your event committee likes it? 

- Are you maintaining a program because you have a strategic donor who funds it?

- Do you spend too much time communicating with a board member who doesn't really deliver? 

- Do you need to make some difficult staff decisions? 

- Do you need to overhaul a board or committee? 

- Have you chosen not to use technology because your board won't adapt? (example: do you spend funds on a stack of paper and ink for a board meeting packet that could be online instead)

Unless making everyone happy is your mission, let's face the hard decisions that will move your impossible cause forward. 

If you'd like to confidentially share a hard decision that your cause needs you to implement, email me at