Social Superhero Training: Reliability

Reflecting on all of the Social Superheroes’ tracks of development, the ‘Social Superhero Training’ series is intended to illustrate the common traits of those who have been successful in working for the social good.

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/plenty/3360322975/I was insulted recently. Within two weeks I had two phone calls and an email scheduled with some real movers and shakers from the nonprofit sector, and everyone who said they would come through didn’t. In one case, I even sprinted (sprinted!) home from class to receive a call on my landline and ended up just twiddling my thumbs. 

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This got me thinking a lot about reliability in the nonprofit world. In truth, I wasn’t surprised when no one followed through. In fact, I’ve come to accept and evenexpect a lack of reliability in this sector. Sad fact. But true.

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Yet, how can I make the first post in the series of Social Superhero Training be about something I’ve found Social Superheroes to lack? Isn’t this really just me wanting to rant? Plus, heck, I’ve been guilty of being unreliable myself. After mulling around with this question for a few days (aka, pretending to pay attention during Administrative Law while in fact actually furiously typing away at this blog), I came up with an answer: opportunity.

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At times when the market is down, and competition for jobs and promotions is more heated than ever, we’re all looking for that thing, that niche, which will make us standout. Is it absurd to think that reliability could be the niche, that thing that will make you stand out? Yes, but it’s true.

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The nonprofit world is characterized by a lack of resources and passionate, dedicated professionals. As a result, it’s also characterized by overworked and busy, zealous people. So something has to go. Nonprofit professionals simply can’t do everything at once. Thus, meetings, phone calls, and other opportunities get pushed to the side.

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No one sees the lack of reliability better than interns. Free, unexperienced labor equates to low priority. One summer I spent 3 weeks of my time at a nonprofit organization compiling a spreadsheet of local community organizations. I was calling hundreds of these community organizations each day to see if they would be interested in my nonprofit’s program. I swelled with pride when I turned that project in. It was only then that my boss mentioned that we couldn’t work with a certain type of community organization, making about three quarters of my three weeks of work void and useless. After 8 hours of work, I took the train home that day feeling about as useless as my spreadsheet.

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When nonprofit professionals fail to call, miss meetings, or even fail to fully communicate directions, both opportunities and respect are lost. Certainly, because the issue pervades the industry there is a certain amount of expectation and acceptance that this happens, but opportunities are still passed up. The small magazine reporter calling to interview you may publish the interview where a foundation worker will see it. The professional friend who emailed you a favor might be willing to payback that favor and more when troubled times hit your nonprofit in the future. The intern who asked to have lunch with you might eventually want to come back as a zealous associate.

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So, since the under-resourced and over-worked aspects of this industry are just never going to go away -How can we make sure to do something as simple as be reliable?

  • Keep an ongoing to-do list and cross out activities when done. I wholeheartedly recommend installing Scattrbrain. It sits on your computer desktop and lets you set a due date for when the activity needs to be done by, and make it disappear when done. Plus it just looks so purty.
  • Say no. Don’t agree to a lunch you’ll miss. Don’t take on the extra project you won’t get to for weeks. “No.” That simple word may be the loveliest in our language.
  • Recognize that every person and organization you interact with is a new opportunity. A student job shadowing you is not exactly helpful when you’re on a deadline with a million tasks to do, but rather than seeing the burden they’ll be, see what the student could represent. A new connection. A future worker. Or hey, you know, a friend.
  • If you manage others, follow up with them. A star wants to see herself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around her rise to the top. - @simonsinek. Nonprofit managers need to ensure that they make leadership a priority in their work. Being a manager does mean that you’re busy and important, but it doesn’t mean that leading those you manage should be sacrificed.

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Have you felt overworked to the point that you were unreliable? What are good ways to combat it?

Photo Credit.

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