Why It’s Not Easy Being (Raising) Green at Nonprofits

I listen to podcasts all the time. I have about an hour commute to work, and so I’ll use that time for fun, to catch up on pop culture and to get more informed.

Although sometimes I take a break and switch to show tunes. And (if I’m being honest) belt out a few songs on the way to or from the office. This will be relevant in a moment, promise.

A colleague recently suggested I listen to some nonprofit podcasts as well -- a thought that really hadn’t occurred to me since I tried a couple way back in about 2006. I’m glad she did, because that led me to “Nonprofits Are Messy” with Joan Garry.

Muppet role model

As a full-time fundraiser, I’d certainly heard of Joan. Read her blog, probably even went to conferences that she presented at or attended.

But now I am convinced that Joan Garry is my best friend that I haven’t met*, because of this recent episode of her podcast. Do you do spoiler alerts for podcasts? If so, spoiler alert (go listen first) — she advises nonprofit execs to model the leadership style of one of my heroes. The one and only Kermit the Frog.

Joan likes how he delegates and handles difficult people (or pigs, rather). Her take on his leadership style reminded me of the latest show from Seth MacFarlane, ‘The Orville,” where Seth’s captain has a Kermit sitting on his desk — in a spaceship!

To err is … amphibian?

I agree with both of these assessments, but there’s one other reason I adore Kermit. He keeps a lid on crazy personalities and keeps the literal show going. But once in a very great while ... something different happens.

Kermit loses it. Flips out. Completely blows a gasket. This is the scene I always think about.

Here’s why this is so important to me. It’s impossible to be thoughtful, kind, patient, smart, dedicated, and all of those other personality traits that I value, all of the time. It just isn’t human.

And while I try to not enter the “Piggy, you are FIRED” zone, it happens. I do my best to not direct these moments at people, and to explain what triggered me and why to any person who happens to witness a Terri glitch.

I’m really curious to know if Joan sees this aspect of Kermit as a strength, like I do. He’s vulnerable and human, er, make that amphibian.

Those not-deciding moments

But how I know Joan and I are really BFFs in waiting is that she also mentioned one of my favorite musicals, with one of my favorite lines ever. From Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” sung by Cinderella:

“Wait no thinking it through, Things don't have to collide, I know what my decision is, Which is not to decide.”

During my nonprofit day. those not-deciding decisions will kill or save you every time. It’s always one or the other extreme.

These two things go together in Joan’s world, and they go together in mine, too. She gives some great tips about being deliberate with your time, and how to do that. Leading by example is important too — what bad habits are we telegraphing to others?

As for me, the not-deciding-decisions in my day — should I work on this or that, should I outsource or keep this in house, do I need help or is everything manageable — are the danger zones that lead to the Piggy-you-are-fired freakouts. Recognizing that doesn’t prevent them all, but it does prevent some.

My dear nonprofit companions: You are overwhelmed, overburdened, likely underpaid, underappreciated (if not by your boss by someone, I’m sure of it) and at this point in the year, very tired.

I understand. I feel your pain, and people like Joan are here to help. I’m subscribing to her podcast now. Best friend status TBD.

I leave you with sage words from the frog himself, countering Doc Hopper in the original Muppet Movie:

“Yeah, well, I've got a dream too, but it's about singing and dancing and making people happy. That's the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.”

Dream big, nonprofit friends. The show must go on.

*This is how Muppet geeky I am: This is a lyric from the Muppet Movie song that Gonzo sings.

Terri Shoemaker is co-founder of Abeja Solutions, a fundraising marketing firm in Phoenix, Arizona. A professional fundraiser, Terri has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit and higher education institutions. Terri owns over 100 plush Kermits in a collection known affectionately as the Kermitage. Read more from Terri.