Here’s my first post about Brene Brown’s incredible 2012 book, Daring Greatly.

This week I want to talk about what you can do to be a better nonprofit manager, using the concept of vulnerability.

Chances are, if you’re supervising someone, they are very much afraid that you’re going to drop a shame trip on them.

In my experience development people are pretty hard on themselves, and their managers can be hard on them too.

Here are some things that we development professionals tend to be ashamed about.

SO ASHAMED when I didn’t get that grant.

SO ASHAMED when we didn’t get enough sponsorships.

SO ASHAMED when the mailing list I bought didn’t work out.

SO ASHAMED that we didn’t raise $500K this year, even though this was an unreasonable expectation from the boss and we had never raised even half that amount before.

SO ASHAMED when my appeal didn’t make enough money.

SO ASHAMED when my first nonprofit job didn’t work out. Or the second. Or the third.

If you are a development professional, how can you get out from under the shame storm?

Brene Brown recommends:

Chant “pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain”
Practice courage and reach out! To fight shame and honor who we are is by sharing our experience with someone who has earned the right to hear it- someone who loves us, not despite our vulnerabilities, but because of them.

Talk to myself the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I’m trying to comfort in the midst of a melt-down. “Yo’re okay. You’re human. We all make mistakes. I’ve got your back” Normally during a shame attack we talk to ourselves in ways we would NEVER talk to people we love and respect.

OWN THE STORY! Don’t bury it and let it fester or define you. Say this out loud. “If you own this story you get to write the ending. If you own this story you get to write the ending.” When we bury the story we forever stay the subject of the story. Carl Jung says “I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”

If you are a nonprofit manager, here are some things you can try when a development staff person does not make a fundraising goal, or when they are struggling with new fundraising tasks.


Brene Brown recommends that when you need to give feedback to someone,

  • Be ready to listen, and ask questions and accept that you may not understand the issue.
  • Sit next to someone rather than across from them.
  • Acknowledge what they do well rather than just picking apart their mistakes.
  • Be willing to own your part.
  • Thank the person for their efforts rather than just criticizing their failings.
  • Model the vulnerability and openness you would like to see from them.


More than this, both of you can use these phrases below to start being okay with being vulnerable.

  • I don’t know.
  • I disagree with you-can we talk about this?
  • That didn’t work-but I learned a lot.
  • Yes, I did it.
  • Let’s move on.
  • I want to help.
  • Here’s how I feel.
  • What can I do better next time?
  • I accept responsibility for that.
  • Here’s what I need.
  • I’m sorry.


To get to empathy, here’s what we have to do.
Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, fuel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?

Practicing critical awareness.

Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?

Reaching out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.

Speaking shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

How does shame affect men in our culture?

These attributes are attached to men: Winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and pursuit of status.

What are the cultural expectations for men?

If men want to play by the rules, they need to stop feeling, start earning, put everyone in their place, and climb their way to the top or die trying. Push open that lid of your box to grab a breath of air, and BAM! Shame cuts you down to size.

How does shame affect women in our culture?

What are the cultural expectations for women?

If women want to play by the rules, they need to be sweet, thin, and pretty, stay quiet, be perfect moms and wives, and not own their power. One move outside these expectations and BAM! The shame web closes in.

Well, for example, I was posting on LinkedIn the other day about a blog post that I had, and someone commented, “another self-aggrandizing and promotional post from Mazarine!”

And that really hurt. But it taught me the truth of this cultural construct, and how people punish you for stepping outside of it.

How do you deal with shame in your nonprofit office? I’d love to hear!

If you’d like even more resources on nonprofit leadership, check out my comprehensive page here!