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Friday, January 19, 2018

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Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Steve Barnhill

February, 2009

Leaders sense economic dangers and respond by battening down the hatches and retreating below decks. There could hardly be a riskier response.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

But don’t fear the worsening economy. Worry about your response to it.

Before this year ends, thousands of nonprofits will close their doors forever.

In far to many instances, the reason for their closures will not be the weakened economy, but their responses to it. They’ll have hunkered down as if they were facing a Gulf hurricane. Truth is, what’s coming is climate change.

I once heard an old African folk tale entitled “Running into the Roar.” Its intent was to teach that our survival instincts can sometimes be lethal. The fable has value for us now.

According to the story, a herd of gazelles was feeding lazily on the grasses of the Serengeti, when a pride of hungry lions caught wind of them.

Gazelles, as you may know, have little trouble outrunning even the fastest of lions. So to eat, lions, the pinnacle of hunting prowess, must outsmart their prey. In this story, they do.

Setting the table for dinner, the lions walked stealthily toward the gazelles, but stopped well short, downwind of the herd, at which time an feeble, old male lion broke silently from the others and snuck around to the far side of the antelopes, positioning himself in the tall grass where he could not be seen.

Once the frail lion – which posed no real threat to the speedy gazelles -- was in place, other members of the pride jumped to their feet and rushed at full speed toward to herd of antelopes.

Instinctively, the startled antelopes sensed danger and, with lightening reactions, fled directly away from the approaching predators. Safety, they knew, awaited them that way.

Of course, in this instance, that way was the way toward the old lion staged cleverly in the tall grasses.

As the herd approached him, the frail old lion stood up, gathered all of his strength, and roared with all the meanness he could muster.

Egad! thought the gazelles. Hold everything! We’re going the wrong way! Let’s turn around and get out of here! It’s dangerous going this direction.

The antelopes quickly executed a u-turn and ran straight for the powerful jaws of the approaching pride.

Safety, the moral tells, is sometimes found not in running away from a perceived threat, but heading directly into it. Instincts can’t always be trusted.

So it is for our NPOs today. Leaders will sense today’s economic dangers and respond by battening down the hatches, furling the sails, and retreating below decks. There could hardly be a riskier response.

Right now, conventional wisdom is dangerous. Moreover, following our instincts can be fatal.

In future articles here, we’ll look at five principles that will prove better than instincts in shaping an NPO’s strategy in 2009. In these future stories, we’ll illuminate –

·The one essential business of every NPO.
· How we can get messages through to the people who matter most.
· The one influence that’s more powerful than what people think about us.
· The truth about why we get ignored, even when our causes are compelling.
· The way our world view limits our possibilities.

I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead. Thanks for your attention. Till next time, run into the roar.

Steve Barnhill is a principal in Edge Creative Strategies, a marketing communications firm in Houston that specializes in services for nonprofit organizations.


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