Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

Go Slow to Go Fast

After 15 years at Foraker – preparing classes, teaching, facilitating, coaching and mentoring – I have adopted a few concepts that I believe can help people in the sector take a new look at the way they work. One is: “go slow to go fast.” I use this phrase particularly when advising organizations on how to approach effective, relationship-based fundraising. It is often true that nonprofits are in a big rush to raise money and will try any quick fix to bring in dollars. They simply forget that successful fundraising is never about money and always about relationships. And, relationships take time.

“Going slow to go fast” means that we are willing to spend time doing what matters most for our organization so we have the greatest chance for success. For example, we are willing to get our house in order – to strategize our annual and long-term goals – to perform the slow and considered work necessary to bring together the right board, right staff, and right partnerships, at the right time – to learn how to tell our story about the benefits we bring to communities. Perhaps most of all, we are willing to take time for ourselves to reflect on our professional journey, to renew our energy, and to develop the skills we need to perform at our best.

I’ve also seen so many devoted nonprofit leaders get caught up in delivering services, which usually means “going fast,” that in the process, they forget what makes our work possible – our internal team. If we want high quality outcomes, we have to have a high quality team. And that can only happen when we take time to pay attention to each other and to the larger impact that we can make together. Every organization is different in size, complexity, and diversity of board, staff, and volunteers. However, we know from research and experience that if you want a high performing board or staff team, it can’t be achieved through osmosis. Indeed, the best gift we can give ourselves is the opportunity to slow down, to learn, to listen and to reflect. We have seen many great examples of Foraker Partners who are using their reflection time to savor a long sought after success or tackle a persistent complex challenge. We know that boards and staff are taking time to ask the critical questions of every high performing organization – Who are we? Where are we going? What does success look like in the future? We enjoy hearing stories about groups who simply come together to have fun and truly get to know each other as people – outside the work environment. All of these are opportunities “to go slow to go fast.”

This past week, Foraker staff took the time to “slow down” – and it was the right time to do it. Leadership transition is always challenging, even in the best of circumstances, and we have the best of circumstances. That’s why the temptation existed to plow right through the transition and keep doing our work, blaming busy calendars for not taking time we needed. So as a team, we did that. We cleared our schedules for two days, left the office, and went to a location near Palmer where the Alaska landscape inspired our creativity. We considered the change that was taking place and gave form to the possibilities and challenges ahead. I can’t think of a better way for us to have spent two days. I came away with an even stronger appreciation for the Foraker team – and for our ability to bring value to the sector.

I’m sharing our experience with “going slow to go fast” because I’ve heard a few too many stories recently about organizations that are cancelling board and staff meetings because they’re too busy – about partnerships that are not moving forward because no one is making the time to get it done – about organizations looking for a quick fix to a fundraising or staffing challenge – or about individuals who are bypassing their process time in the name of getting things done. The reason given for these missed moments is one we’ve all used – we’re just too busy. I get it. Really I do. We are all busy. We can get lost in busy – and at the end of the day what we can say is that we were busy.

But what did we miss while we were busy? One thing for sure, we missed our time to reflect, to breathe, and to listen to ourselves and our colleagues. We missed the opportunity to slow down long enough to know if what we were busy doing was the thing that really mattered, the thing that will help move our mission forward, or the thing that will truly have an impact on our communities. This is not a time in our state that we can lose focus on our missions and our communities. We face significant economic challenges that are playing out in our organizations every day. If anything, we should let go of “busy” and replace it with deliberate, thoughtful action – the kind we can only come to through careful reflection, and that takes time.

This month, the people participating in the Certificate in Nonprofit Management and the Catalyst for Nonprofit Leadership cohorts will convene and begin their journeys of “going slow to go fast.” Others among us will venture into a board or staff retreat, while still others will commit and go to a regularly scheduled meeting where they will ask a generative question – that question that causes the team to reflect on not just what is happening in the organization, but more importantly, why it is happening. Finding that answer won’t come quickly. But I can promise that “going slow to go fast” can yield incredible results. Let us know how it works for you.