Give the trees a rest. Take in the forest.
Whether it’s a 1023, a PS 3624, or the all-important 990, there are a lot of forms and numbers to keep up with when you’re running a nonprofit. So it’s easy to forget about the most important numerical equation - 1 to 1.
I’ve spent the last year on a deep dive into those numbers (the first ones, anyway) as the President of Imagination Library of Louisville. WAVE 3 News and the Junior League brought Dolly Parton’s famous book program to Louisville back in 2016, and in 2019 we decided it was time to organize our chapter as a standalone nonprofit. I was honored to be chosen as the first board president, and since we’re an all-volunteer organization, that’s meant a crash course in everything from accounting to grant writing to IT.
I’ll admit I kind of enjoy making this sort of detail-oriented process work. I can get lost in checking off a long list of arcane tasks and making a bunch of moving pieces fit together. Thankfully, though, something finally made me look up from all that and take in the bigger picture.
Last week, WAVE 3 News held a “mini-telethon” for our organization. I appeared in a series of interviews with various organizers and benefactors, talking about how we brought the effort together and who helps us pay for it. But one of those interviews was different.
The first guests on “WAVE Country” were Tiffany Fitzpatrick and her son Princeton, who participated in the program together. It turns out one of the advantages of doing interviews via Zoom is that you can talk with the other guests while you’re waiting to go on the air, so I got to know Tiffany a little before the show. She’s obviously an amazing Mom, and happens to be a dynamic speaker as well. She did a fantastic job of explaining what the books had meant for her family.
As I watched Princeton read his favorite book, “Run Wild,” I realized that I’d desperately missed this experience. Because our organization runs mostly online and through the mail, it’s all too rare that we actually get to meet and talk to the families we serve. The fundraising, the paperwork, and the board meetings are all essential, and I’m happy to do that work. But they’re the requirements of this work, not the purpose of it.
The reason I got involved in this work was that I saw the light go on in my daughter’s eyes when she fell in love with books through the Imagination Library - and I wanted to help kindle that same light in as many other kids as possible. Princeton helped me see that again.
I realize not everyone is involved in a nonprofit, but I think this happens to most of us in our professional lives as well. We get hung up in the tasks of our daily work and forget the purpose of it.
My “day job” is running a communications business, and it’s easy to get tunnel vision on the next campaign, the latest social metrics, or tomorrow’s slide deck. My experience with Tiffany and Princeton reminds me that the focus should always be on the people we work with - their vision, their team, and the impact their work is having on the world.
When you’re in the middle of a routine task or minute details, it can be really hard to step back and focus instead on what you’re trying to accomplish - but it’s more than worth the effort.
If you need some help, I highly recommend watching a five-year old read “Run Wild.”