Is this you?
You started your nonprofit believing you’d change the world.
At the beginning, everything was glorious.
You felt pumped, exuberant, walking on clouds. Your spectacular plans kept you awake for hours. You had the energy to conquer anything.
But suddenly, things changed.
Questions started to pour in.
“What if I don’t have what it takes to change the world?”
“What if I’m not good enough?”
“What if I can’t get the results I’ve promised to my constituents?”
All of a sudden, days have turned darker. The future seems terrifying. You still can’t sleep, but this time it’s because you’re shackled with fear and self-doubt. You’re exhausted and burning out.
“Did I make a mistake starting this nonprofit?”
If this is you, congratulations. 🎉
You’ve graduated from the initial stage of anything we start, euphoria and uninformed optimism.
Now, you’re ready for the real work ahead of you. This is when things get tough, and you’ll either quit or come out of the trial a true world-shaker.
Are you ready?
That’s great. 👏
One REAL step out of the gray zone you’re in, and into the next level of informed optimism, is to get rid of your limiting mindsets.
In this blog, I’ll show you five you should throw in the trash ASAP.
But first, let’s look at what limiting mindsets really are.
Limiting mindsets are closely related to limiting beliefs.
I’ll bet you’ve already heard of limiting beliefs.
According to Thrive Global, a limiting belief is “a thought that you hold to be true about yourself, about others, or about the world that limits you in some way.”
Here’s a bunch of examples:
From these examples, one thing is obvious: LIMITING BELIEFS AREN’T NECESSARILY TRUE.
They’re simply conclusions we’ve come up with because of our experiences and the data we’ve collected throughout our lives.
And when we have these limiting beliefs…
…limiting mindsets soon follow.
Let me show you an example.
Imagine that as a kid, your parents kept telling you that you weren’t good enough.
The silver medal you earned in that swimming competition wasn’t good enough.
Your B+ grades weren’t good enough.
Your room wasn’t clean enough.
All this data registers in your brain and you start believing you’re not good enough.
Fast forward into adulthood, and here you are with your nonprofit organization.
The data starts coming in. Not enough volunteers. Limited donations. Your staff burning out to exhaustion.
What do you think?
Since you already believe you’re not good enough…
…a limiting mindset emerges.
“I’m not ready for this.”
“I can’t change the world.”
“I’ll never get past this challenge.”
“I can never do it as well as (name).”
See how it all spirals downward?
What do you want first, the good news or the great news?
OK. I’ll start with the good news.
You don’t have to live with limiting beliefs forever.
As I mentioned, these beliefs aren’t true.
Now, the great news.
You don’t have to get rid of limiting beliefs before you start anything.
For most, it’s a lifelong process.
Nope, there’s no 30-day course that guarantees you’ll never again have a limiting belief once you graduate.
You deal with them day by day.
Spot them. Get rid of them. Repeat.
Here are two easy steps you can use every single day.
I’m not saying hold on to them.
Quite the opposite.
But before you can get rid of them, you need to acknowledge and accept them.
Know they are there.
They’re part of you, your past, your experiences.
Only when you stop denying their existence will you be able to let them go.
They call this step “affirmation.”
What it means is taking your limiting belief by the horns…
…kicking it out…
…and training your mind to focus on a new belief.
Want some examples?
Limiting belief: I can’t do it.
New belief: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
Limiting belief: I’m not as good as (name).
New belief: I’m a unique person with my own special talents, knowledge, and skills.
Now, your turn.
Wrestle those dark limiting beliefs out into the light.
Replace them with new positive beliefs about yourself and the world.
You’ll be amazed to see what a change it’ll make.
Now it’s time to get specific.
What limiting mindsets have you developed from your limiting beliefs?
Here are five I bet you’ll come across as a nonprofit leader.
You wake up exhausted from an interminable night of light sleep and nightmares.
You’re bone tired and the last thing you want to do is get out of bed.
But your telephone is ringing. Your phone is buzzing with new messages.
It’s your nonprofit’s manager, telling you the funds are too low to start that project you wanted to take off next week.
It’s one of your constituents, needing help.
It’s a volunteer, informing you she won’t be able to make it today.
You’ve never felt this burnt out and terrified.
Soon, the inevitable question pops up.
“Is all this worthwhile? DO I REALLY WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD?”
How to change it: Make your WHO your WHY.
I get it.
Running a nonprofit becomes an abstract mush sometimes.
There’s the work you have to do, the funds you have to collect, the donors you need to contact.
But step back for a moment and remember the first moment you decided to start your nonprofit.
I’ll bet it was not WHY, but WHO.
Maybe it was a friend, a single mother forced into a homeless shelter.
Maybe it was a victim of abuse you know.
Maybe it was the lady from the soup kitchen whose kids ran around in the cold without shoes.
Remember, it only has to be ONE PERSON.
One person you care about. One person whose life you want to change. One person who has fallen down and is looking to you for a helping hand up.
When you’re thinking whether or not you really want to change the world…
…remember that one person.
The world is huge.
There are wars out there. Earthquakes. Malnutrition. The lack of clean drinking water. Just recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
All this can get overwhelming.
You’re only one person.
Your nonprofit is tiny.
Can anything you do really make a difference?
How to change it: Remember that one person who helped you up when you were down.
Maybe you’ve never been in a shelter.
Maybe you’ve never lacked a full meal.
But I’ll bet there were times in life when you fell down.
Maybe you lost your job.
Broke up with the person you loved.
Lost a beloved family member.
If you look back, you’ll see you weren’t alone.
There was that acquaintance who referred you to a company that soon hired you.
That friend who took you out for pizza when you were missing your ex.
That aunt who brought you a chicken casserole when you felt dysfunctional with grief.
I bet these people made a difference to you.
And no, you can’t change the whole world.
But if you can help just one person?
You’ve changed the world for them.
The truth is, running a nonprofit will take energy.
It will take time.
You won’t succeed if you do it half-heartedly.
You know this, but you’re not sure you’re ready.
You’re not good enough. You need to learn more. You haven’t done enough research.
How to fix it: Remember, your heroes weren’t ready when they first jumped in.
A stunning example is Dr. Bernard Kouchner.
This brave doctor was one of a tiny medical team of six which set out to Biafra to care for the wounded amidst a bloody battle between the small province and the Nigerian government.
Later, Kouchner would become one of the founders of the famous organization Doctors without Borders.
Was Koucher ready when he started out?
In fact, he was extremely young at the time he volunteered to serve in Biafra.
He hadn’t even completed his studies or submitted his thesis yet.
He just went. He just did it. He took that step before he was ready, and changed the world in amazing ways.
You’re questioning yourself, wondering what it’ll take to make an impact.
Do you really know how to do it?
Do you have what it takes to do it?
How to change it: Look back at your own life’s story.
Let me share my own with you.
After two tours in Iraq, I was finally ready to join the corporate world.
I wasn’t sure how.
Luckily, my mentor and hero Cameron Brooks came alongside me and helped me out.
Thanks to him, I made the smooth transition from being in the army to serving in the corporate world.
Now, you can do this for someone too.
Look back at your life, identify your heroes, and notice areas where you might be a half step ahead of someone else.
Your experience ensures you KNOW what it takes to make an impact.
You know your organization needs a great leader.
The only question is:
Can you be that leader?
How to change it: Commit to always being a student.
Know that you’ll never know everything. You’ll never be perfect.
But as long as you keep learning?
You’ll keep growing.
Running a nonprofit is scary.
There are people who look up to you.
People who need you.
You’re only human.
How you grow without burning out?
Let me tell you this. The place to start is in your own mind.
If I’m right, there are limiting beliefs and mindsets there. And they’re crowding out the light.
Know they make you yourself.
When you’re ready, let them go.
You’ll be amazed to see how this changes you and your nonprofit.
Derik Timmerman is the founder of Sparrow Nonprofit Solutions. When he’s not serving nonprofit leaders, he geeks out on philosophy, outdoor trail time, and video games with his three kids.