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You and I have the privilege of playing a role in these nonprofit battles

2020 was the year of Covid, social unrest, economic volatility and political change. It was also Year Five of my retirement and inspired me to reflect a bit.

Have you ever noticed that it’s often in looking backwards that we see how seemingly disparate experiences in our past have come together to prepare us for the future? Two seemingly unrelated jobs prepare you for your dream career. Enduring hardship equips you to weather a crisis. Lessons from a bad relationship teach you to build a healthy one.

I began my career at Edelman Worldwide, a large public relations firm. There I had the opportunity to spend ten years learning marketing communications while working with clients like Toyota, Mattel, and General Mills. Launching new products and tackling issues like protectionism was exciting and challenging, but a little short on meaning and significance.

Then I met Russ Reid, a visionary entrepreneur who had founded a direct response fundraising agency to help nonprofit organizations grow. He challenged me to make a life-changing pivot—namely to apply the experience I had in the corporate world to causes we were passionate about. World Vision, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, MADD, rescue missions and food banks across the US and Canada, Operation Smile, Food for the Poor, American Red Cross.

Thirty years working alongside terrific nonprofits was one of the great privileges of my life. I suspect you can say the same.

There were moments of crisis. The famine in Ethiopia. The advent of AIDS. Homelessness in America. Natural disasters. Terrorism. The plight of refugees.

And always nonprofit organizations stepped into the fray. They ran TOWARDS the flames.

Through innovation, persistence, and grit, nonprofits tackle the most pressing problems of our world. And you and I have been awarded the privilege of playing a role in those battles.

You may think you’re just crunching data, but you’re bringing hope, even salvation to someone in pain.

You may think you’re just editing copy, but you’re making a difference in a family’s life.

You may think you’re just working on a budget, but you’re actually offering healing to someone battling disease.

It’s inspiring to look back at game-changing moments when nonprofit innovation increased impact.

It took innovators to figure out how television could attract millions of new donors.

It took innovators to harness the marketing power of the digital for nonprofits.

It took innovators to use government relations to change public policy and to secure new sources of funding. And it’ll take all of us, along with organizations like The Nonprofit Alliance, to protect our ability to continue to raise funds for the causes we believe in.

In 2020, it happened again. It was a rough year, but nonprofits stepped forward with both programmatic innovation and new fundraising strategies to help real people in crisis. That’s what they do.

And isn’t that what you do and aspire to do?

What innovation will you lead or be part of, either for your organization or for the nonprofit community as a whole? It’s vital to keep learning and growing wherever we are and at whatever age. Have you signed up for the Essential Leadership Lab being created by The Nonprofit Alliance? Where are you learning? Who are you teaching?

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the nonprofit community. Its passion and compassion. Its heart. Its power. And most of all, its people.

It’s these people, along with the challenges and opportunities ahead of us, that keep me involved with nonprofits, even in retirement, through consulting and engagement with old friends and with industry groups like TNPA.

Thank you for what you do and for the opportunity to serve alongside you to make the world just a little bit better every day.

Tom Harrison
Author: Tom Harrison

Tom Harrison served as CEO of Russ Reid and helped build nonprofits and his agency through innovative fundraising.

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