I have a friend who is visibly tired of the nonprofit scarcity story. She is sick of the blame game, the struggle story, the pointing the finger about why we JUST CAN’T CHANGE the board, or the budget, or get more staff.

She’s sick of it. And she’s not alone.

When I worked full time at my last organization, I didn’t feel motivated. My boss was always ordering me around. He never asked questions.

So I told stories about my terrible boss. I told stories about how overworked I was. How I never had any money. And ultimately, i told stories about how I didn’t even care about my job anymore. My boss was a seething giant, a tyrant, and a man who would regularly yell and make people cry. He also would never approve people’s budgets, he stole, twice from the organization and got us investigated by the Department of Justice. He simply had no idea how to run a nonprofit. He had sat on the board and had an MBA and that was good enough for the other board members. Ultimately he was fired, but not before doing irreparable damage to the nonprofit’s reputation.

What I didn’t know was this behavior is called Fuckery. A term and book coined by Lori Eberly and Jonathon Sabol. There are many different aspects to fuckery, but we all have it. We can ignore it, OR we can own it, and then maybe do something about it.


What’s your weakness story?

In a typical job interview, people always ask us, “What’s your greatest weakness?” And we usually come up with a strength disguised as a weakness. But have you honestly looked at the areas you are a bad team member? Where you are in fact your own worst enemy? Have you asked yourself these important questions?

“Where am I harmful? How am I harmful? Why am I harmful?”

If you don’t know your own weaknesses, you are a liability as a leader and as a team member.

Here’s my weakness story. Seeing my boss’s incompetence, and feeling powerless to do anything about it, I was a complainer. I gossiped. And I definitely didn’t see any way out of my predicament. Soon I got into apathy. and then it was a short slide out the door. I didn’t think anything would change. And I didn’t see myself as part of the problem. Even though I was! What about you? What stories do you tell about your fundraising job?

Remember, our undiscovered self cripples us. I don’t know about you, but I am BORED of my stories about bosses. I am BORED of people getting away with murder, and firing people on a whim, and embezzling funds. I am bored most of all by my own cynicism about the sector. This story is WORN OUT!

Maybe there’s a way to write a new story.

But of course, for new stories to emerge, we have to ask new questions. One of which is, how did we get here?

Directing Versus Discovery

Do you think leaders are just there to tell people to do things? Then they do them? Is that how it works?

Sure, you could just TELL PEOPLE TO DO THINGS.

But, if you really want to make people excited to come to your organization and work, it’s going to work out better for you to ask questions.

So, to be a good leader, you need to ask good questions. I think, therefore I ask good questions. For example, here are 6 Questions to get the best performance out of your team Questions are tremendously important. These questions come from a book by Shawn Hayashi. Being a good nonprofit leader and manager means ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.  If you really want people to support your organization to succeed, you have to ask them what motivates them.

Recently I was reading a book called Fuckery by Lori Eberly and Jonathan Sabol

Eberly and Sabol write, “Anyone can order you to do something. True leaders discover what’s inside their employees. They listen, learn, understand, and uncover, all of which brings Accountability to the surface. This happens a lot more through questions and anecdotes than through actions and Direction. Holding someone accountable to a list of objectives is boring.  Supporting someone in achieving their desires is motivating.”


In this book, they come up with some pretty good questions to ask your team.

  1. Who defines your objectives? How does that feel?
  2. Are dates and owners clearly and consistently tied to actions?
  3. How is Performance reviewed and measured?
  4. How do your personal objectives connect to the objectives of the organization?

Why are we asking about FEELINGS here?

Because maybe people on your team are feeling unmotivated, because they didn’t have any hand in making goals and objectives for their own jobs. But you can change it with one simple question!

In the end, what do we really want out of a career? Eberly and Sabol think, “It’s to be part of something successful. Leaders create that for themselves and collectively with everyone on the team. Every job we ever quit was lacking in either to be part of (Community) or something successful (Performance).”


Our Worn Out Nonprofit Story Needs to Change

Then, the next question is- how are we going to get out of these old ways of thinking?

In her recent newsletter, Desiree Adaway offers us some questions.


  • What ‘s our story? What were we founded on? By whom? What were their identities and cultural contexts? How might those have impacted their vision?
  • What problems was our organization created to solve? Who was our organization created to serve? How has that changed over time?
  • What voice do those most impacted by our work/mission have in our organization? How much power do those folks have? (Are they reflected in leadership, on the board?) How do we ask them to hold us accountable?
  • What unspoken truth(s) about our story and our current culture needs to be acknowledged and re-examined?

I hope those questions help you and your colleagues to start naming the things that need to be named.

If you’re hungry for more psychological insights about your org culture, you might like:

6 Circles that will Change Your World-This chart shows you Hidden Workplace Dynamics

In this post, you can see what’s underneath our interactions with each other at work. The masks we wear at work are often unconscious. But we do wear them. Here’s how you can step out from behind your mask.