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Is Your Nonprofit Run by Fear or Love?

When it comes right down to it, there are only two reasons for doing anything. What’s governing the way you lead your nonprofit? 


Do you ever feel like failure is just around the corner?

Sure, you founded your nonprofit organization with high hopes.

You believed you could make a difference. You believed you could change the world.

But things have changed.

Suddenly, donations are running dry.

Less and less volunteers show up to do the work.

Your employees are disheartened.

Your constituents are restless.

You can’t sleep at night, asking yourself over and over again what you did wrong. Was any of this really worth it?

If this sounds like you, let me tell you that you’re not alone.

Here’s what Steve Scheier said in his article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

“Most nonprofits live close to the edge, with an inherent fear that failure is just around the corner.”

This is where it gets surprising.

Because a ton of the time, that FEAR is the #1 reason an organization gets stuck.

Once you get rid of it, you’ll soar to unexpected heights.

Let me show you how.


A while back, I wrote a blog about limiting mindsets.

In it, I talked about what limiting mindsets are and how they stop your organization from growing beyond your expectations.

But before you can adapt the right mindsets for unprecedented growth, you first need to know where you are right now.

What’s the current state of your mindset?

Let me tell you this: It can be one of two things.

Fear or Love.

As the famous psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross said, “There are only two emotions: love and fear.”

These two powerful emotions are the foundation of your mindsets and your organization’s culture.

And let me tell you this.

A fear mindset leads to negative culture and negative outcomes.

A love mindset leads to growth and amazing possibilities.

But how do you know if your organization’s mindsets are based on fear or love?


Set aside some time and sit down with your team. This exercise involves three steps.

Step #1: Name Something That You’d Keep the Same in Your Nonprofit

I know, it gets tough at times.

There are days when you feel you can’t go on.

There are sleepless nights.

But you keep going… Why?

Grab your first “why” and write it down on a piece of paper. This is the #1 thing you’d keep about your nonprofit organization.

Let me help you:

  • What do you love about your nonprofit organization?
  • What keeps you coming back again and again, no matter how hard it gets?
  • What do you still want to have, even decades down the road?

Thought of it?

Here are common answers to this question:

  • Do you love your team? Do you love the way you work together, because it just “gels”?
  • Work-life balance. Does your organization allow you to have days off to spend time with the people you love? Is it work hard = play hard for you and your team?
  • Do you love working independently and being trusted by your board? Do you love making your own decisions, and giving your team the chance to make theirs?
  • Do you always run into new things and situations? Is every day completely different from the one before it?
  • Do you love your identity? Do you feel that you’d never change the feel of who you are as an organization?
  • Is the work you do always stretching you? Are you constantly being called upon to dive into your innate capabilities?
  • Helping others. Do you love being able to show up every day, knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives?

Now, look closely at these responses.

Notice a trend?

Yup. It’s love. Love is tied in with everything you appreciate in your organization.

Look again:

  • Collaboration: love of teamwork and community
  • Work-life balance: Love of friends, family, hobbies
  • Autonomy: Love of personal freedom
  • Variety: Love of new experiences
  • Culture: Love of what makes us unique
  • Challenge: Love of achieving something hard
  • Helping others: Love of people

Step #2: Name Something You’d Change in Your Nonprofit

Now, here’s the hard part.

Look deeply into your organization and name the #1 thing you’d change.

The thing that keeps you dragging your feet in the morning. Tossing and turning in your bed at night. Wishing there was a way out.

What is it?

Here are common responses to this question (these answers were taken across industries, but you can find a way to relate them to your nonprofit):

  • Are you tired of your direct supervisor? Do you want to change something in the person, or maybe replace the person altogether?
  • Are you eager to change how much you earn?
  • Does the prospect of getting up in the morning exhaust you because deep inside, you know your team doesn’t work well together? Is there something about your dynamic that just doesn’t feel right?
  • No advancement. Do you feel that you’re going nowhere, no matter how hard you work?
  • Are you tired of someone always breathing down your neck? Do you want to get rid of feeling constantly watched?
  • Tired of the same thing every day? Is the work you do getting too mundane? Do you feel like you don’t have the chance to stretch and grow?
  • Is your work too much for you? Is it physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting?

Look closely and you’ll once again notice a trend, but this time it’s different.

It’s fear instead of love.

  • Boss: fear of conflict, rejection
  • Paycheck: fear of scarcity, poverty
  • Colleagues: fear of not fitting in, missing out
  • No advancement: fear of failure, rejection
  • Micromanagement: fear of oppression
  • Boredom: fear of insignificance
  • Difficulty: feel of failure, the unknown

Step #3: Putting It All Together

In step three, sit down with your team and make a list of seven fear or love-based mindsets.

  • List three or four love-based mindsets. For instance, these can be selfless service, work ethic, flexibility, and loyalty to clients.
  • List three or four fear-based mindsets. These can be risk aversion, unclear direction, or overbearing leaders.

Now, you have a clearer picture of where you are at the moment.

You know the mindsets that shape you. The things you need to change.

The good news?

Finding out exactly where you are is the first step to moving forward.


I know what you’re thinking.

Fear is an innate trait we humans use to protect ourselves from danger.

And that’s OK.

It’s OK to be afraid.

As Aeschylus once said, “There are times when fear is good.”

Is fear always bad?


We rely on fear all the time to keep us out of deep trouble.

But fear is bad when we let it control us.

As Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Also, fear becomes a problem when you let it become the root of your core cultural mindsets.

So yes, feel your fear.

Know it’s there.

Own it.

But don’t let it control you.

Don’t let it control how you think and how your organization works.

When you master this, you’ll be on the road to real change.


Are things rough in your organization these days?

Maybe you’re struggling, doubts keeping you awake every night.

You have no idea where your next funding will come from.

Your volunteers and employees are restless.

You feel the board’s eyes on you, waiting for your next move.

The thing is, what if these are manifestations of your fear-based mindsets and culture?

Here’s how it works.

There’s something you dislike about your organization.

This turns into a fear-based mindset.

The more fear-based mindsets you have, the more you’ll be held down and unable to grow.

The solution?

Get rid of them and replace them with love-based mindsets.

Only then will you be able to flourish beyond your expectations.