Leaning into the Uncomfortable

By: Kim van Essen

Whether you are talking about business or philanthropy, there is usually a lot of discussions internally about ‘optics’. For better or worse, to successfully achieve your mission, you need to fund your operations successfully. So often, there will be many meetings and emails about how you present yourselves to the outside world. What graphics or pictures should we use? What is the common terminology that will be most digestible for our audience?

But when you start to talk about nonprofits, those conversations can feel dirty. Do we only show the “cute” dogs as an animal shelter? In serving veterans, do we place amputees front and center? These topics must be addressed on a practical level. But it doesn’t change that it creates a disconnect between those who genuinely want to help and those who are doing the work on a daily basis.

So, what can be done about it? The ability to change the focus lies with you, the donor. In some ways, you cannot help what drew you to an organization. It may have been the poignant advertising or the fact that a friend told you about it. But you have a choice in what makes you stay. Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence are not glamorous. Survivors have experienced the unimaginable; the last thing on their minds is how they present that experience to the world. In this sense, it is time for donors to do the work. Take the time to be educated and be open to your time, money, and resources going to needs that won’t necessarily make it to the brochure.

As Black History Month ends, as Disabilities Awareness Month begins, and as LGBTQIA Pride Month approaches, lean into what is uncomfortable. Grit + Gumption is an excellent resource for learning the reality of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence. Clients’ actual needs must be met through professional trauma care and time, and the messy recovery will include setbacks and start overs.

As you close out this month and head into a new one, consider the following questions:

– What are the ways in which you, as a donor, can support the organizations you are involved with? How can you deepen your involvement or increase your knowledge on the resources required, whether it is with Grit + Gumption or any other organization you support?

– How can you embrace discomfort and curiosity more? Which areas can you approach with an attitude of curiosity rather than judgment, as wisely suggested by Ted Lasso?

– Finally, recovery from trauma can be a challenging journey, and everyone involved in this work – be it in nonprofits, as clients, or with clients – can benefit from additional encouragement. Who can you support and validate today, and help someone else feel seen and heard?

Kim van Essen is a happy resident of Richmond, VA, and trains on the topic of Vocation for a nonprofit. She loves hanging out with her wife and two kids in her free time and is finishing a M.Ed. in Culturally Responsive Leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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