One of the most detrimental things that can happen to a non-profit is having a person in power who is fueled by nothing except a bleeding heart. I know this because I used to think a deep sense of compassion was all I needed to do my job. What normally happens when a person like this is suddenly faced with the actual responsibilities required of anyone who works for others, excuses start to be made.
What happens is that he is so blinded by the way things should be, that it’s easy to forget the necessary steps that need to be taken to achieve those results. We’ll call these people the “dreamers.” If a dreamer doesn’t have a partner with non-profit administrative experience, he’ll be in for a rude awakening. We’ll call that partner the “bubble burster.”
Working in non-profit requires a lot of paperwork. A LOT. Every conversation, every personality, and every action needs to be recorded and filed away, knowing full well that no one will ever look at it again. Dreamers normally don’t like paperwork. On the rare occasion that they do, they make headlines for quitting their Fortune 500 job and/or win a Nobel Prize. An NGO can’t work without a bubble burster or a dreamer. Without the dreamer, a bubble burster will get bogged down and forget why they’re looming over a computer all day. Without the bubble burster, the dreamer will blow a bubble around himself and float farther and farther away from reality. Unfortunately, most bubble bursters are working to make rich people richer. They’re pragmatic and don’t think it’s financially viable to go into non-profit, leaving the business of helping people in the hands of dreamers. In that case, you get what I’ve come to know as “Bleeding Heart Syndrome.” It’s a very frustrating ailment that keeps good organizations from receiving funding because no one knows how to do accounting, manage a staff, or implement a structure that could qualify for decent grants.
For the sake of brevity, I’m over-simplifying this. There are many other roles in nonprofit that are necessary for it to be successful. Conversely, there are arbitrary roles that are filled which can make the organization go bankrupt. Rupert Scofield, CEO of FINCA, one of the world’s largest microfinance institutions, calls these people “Wrecking Balls.” We’ve all met them. We’ve all worked with them. Maybe, we’ve even been the wrecking ball (lord knows I have). Unlike the other players in an organization, however, it’s easy for a wrecking ball to be confused for the dreamer. More often than not, he believes he is doing the right thing and is working within his own capacity to fulfill what he thinks is necessary. Unfortunately, he is unaware of what his own capacity is and never bothers to find a bubble burster. He’s not fueled by a bleeding heart. He’s fueled by ego.
If you’ve worked in this industry for awhile, you’ll know what is possible and what simply isn’t right now. Nothing is impossible, but without the proper management and team, you’ll be spinning your wheels with the big picture looking very small because it’s so far away. You need the bubble burster to drive the car, with the dreamer in the passenger’s seat with a map. The wrecking ball is the backseat driver who claims to have been there before, but can’t remember landmarks.
When I climbed my first 14er, I remember being just a few yards from the summit with every fiber of my being telling me to turn around. I was gasping for air, my legs were cut up and bruised, and I thought, yeah, I’ve made it impressively far enough. But then my friend, Kyle, started yelling at me, “COME ON, THE VIEWS ARE GORGEOUS.” So I thought, Ok, 10 more steps. I counted aloud as I took them. Then I sat down, “TAVIE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I counted 10 more steps. Then 5 more. Then 3 more. Then, finally, I was there.
On the way back down, a snowstorm was rolling in and we ran into a guy who wanted to make it to the top before it did. We said, “That’s probably not a great idea.” He said, “Nah, it’s cool.” That man, my friends, was the wrecking ball.