5 Beliefs To Let Go of So You Can Play Big With Your Voice in 2018

Since starting the Advocacy Collaborative in 2014 I’ve come to the conclusion that as change-making leaders we need to fundamentally shift our understanding of the word “Advocacy” and including what it means to be an Advocate and use our voice for change.

We fixate on the tactical part, but the truth is Advocacy is less about what we are doing and more about who we are being before our voice is shared.

And what I’ve observed is that there are a whole lot of false beliefs, fears and disruptive mindsets that cause us to play small and stay disconnected from our voice and our power.

So as we prepare to welcome in 2018, I want to share with you my list of the

Top 5 False Beliefs We Need to Release So We Can Play Big With Our Voice:


1. Doubting our value.
I’ve observed over the years that nonprofits have a tendency to undervalue ourselves tremendously. We second-guess what we have to say. Or we feel like we have to be lawyers or policy experts before our voices can be heard publicly.

But the truth is you are the expert when it comes to your mission.

I used to lead lobbying trips to Washington D.C. with nonprofit leaders who employed hundreds if not thousands of voters in their lawmaker’s district. They were basically running small businesses, paying taxes and payroll into the local economy. Yet, they often doubted their influence and that what they had to say about impacts to those they served was valuable.

Invariably, they would walk away feeling more empowered and confident to be visible because someone in power had affirmed their value.

Now if only we could value ourselves first!

2. Needing to be liked Instead of respected. There is tremendous freedom and strength in using our voice to challenge the status quo. Others pay attention to us and our stature in the community grows. There’s satisfaction in knowing that by speaking out we provide more security and guidance for our communities than when we stay small and quiet. After all, that’s why the founders of our country created associations and nonprofits, so like-minded individuals would have a place to gather.

A common concern is fear offending a funder. Recently I had an Executive Director contact me after attending one of my board trainings. She was excited because her organization had decided to join a federal lawsuit challenging the federal travel ban. Her decision was a big deal because the clients were Muslim and a short time ago she had been concerned about whether the community she served, which was predominantly of a different religion, was going to be offended that resources were being diverted to meet the growing needs of this population.

But in fact, the opposite happened. The organization ended up receiving a large donation once it was learned that they had expanded their services to encompass other religious and cultural groups.

The community responded with further support because the nonprofit had communicated its decision in a way that made it clear they were acting from their core value of inclusiveness.

3. Fear of being political or allowing others to define our issues as political. Boards are notorious for confusing policy, the thing we are trying to change, with politics.

Politics is the environment in which policy decisions are made, but we are not being political when we use our voice and our position in the community to call for better schools or to question funding allocations. I can’t tell you the harm and damage this does when we allow others to define our issues for us.

As leaders, you have not only an opportunity, but I would argue an obligation, to speak up and out and in so doing help the wider public to better understand your mission and the people you serve.

4. Risk Aversion. Risk is a matter of perspective. So when clients come to me with this concern I ask them to shift their perspective and ask–what’s the risk of not being seen or heard? One of my most favorite case studies I wrote is on the John Howard Association. Eight years ago they were a 120-year-old nonprofit struggling with its relevance. As a response, the board hired a new Executive Director who wasn’t afraid of using his voice publicly. In three years it went from being on the verge of irrelevance to receiving the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award.

Using your voice publicly doesn’t need to feel risky when it’s rooted in your values. And, you’re not serving anyone particularly well when you’re the best-kept secret in your neighborhood.

5. Scarcity Mentality. One of the ugly underbellies of the nonprofit world is competition, not because it exists, but because of how we respond. Now, on the one hand, it’s perfectly understandable to have some concerns because. Depending upon where your nonprofit is located, there may be a limited number of foundations or individual donors interested in funding your particular issue. On the other hand, good fundraisers know that the secret to success is collaboration, not isolation.

There’s a synergy and magnifying effect that occurs when we work with others. Our message spreads. We reach more people. And we become known as a resource and team player. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how often I hear about how difficult it can be to be invited to be part of a collaborative effort.

Sometimes it takes you making the first move, or not being afraid to challenge non-collaborative behavior when you see it.

Which one are you willing to let go of? Usually, there’s one that rises to the top.

What’s one thing you can stop doing?

What I want for you is the tremendous power and ultimately freedom that comes from connecting with your voice.

Curious about how you can make that happen? Sign up for a call with me and let’s explore what’s holding you or your organization back from having its voice heard.

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