Working for a nonprofit organization, you learn how to pick and choose your battles.
There’s the small stuff – like deciding if you should tell your peer about their less-than-stellar proofreading. Or sending a mass email about the office microwave.
But as you progress in your career, bigger battles fall onto your lap. You might find yourself convincing your org to work in a new way – be it around technology, your mission, or ethics.
Just like with learning to say no, it takes careful thought and maneuvering to take a professional stand of any kind. But some battles are worth the fight.
Before we get into it, a few key reminders.
1. Being right doesn’t make every battle worth it.
Remember that the righteous path isn’t always the most effective or self-care friendly.
2. You are not your org’s savior.
It’s not your job to create lasting change overnight, unless you’re the ED herself. And even then, you shouldn’t be doing that all alone.
3. Right is right, but timing matters.
For stances of greater moral or ethical importance, it can be tempting to decide that the timing shouldn’t matter.
But if the goal is to actually see some change in your org, then timing is everything.
4. You can be on the right side of an argument, but wrong in your approach.
How you do things matters, almost as much as what you’re trying to do. So when you hear yourself getting dismissive or rude, take a step back.
Before I walk into a meeting and make my case for something, I usually ask myself these 3 questions.
Question #1: Is this a battle I want to wage?
Now this isn’t to discourage you! Situations just have this funny way of convincing us that something is a good idea in the heat of a moment. Even if it’s not.
You’ve got to figure out if the way you feel right now is going to be the same way you feel 3 minutes/weeks/years from now too.
And while you reflect on this question, consider these factors:
a. Your position at the org
“Position” here isn’t just about title and seniority. It’s about how staff actually see you.
Think this one through before you make your case, because it will affect the amount of say (and sway) you’ll have on everyone else.
b. Your chances at creating change
Your position is one half of the equation. The other is the way your org operates.
Do you work in a place that is receptive to the type of feedback you’re about to dish out? Or are you opening up a can of worms that’s bound to be met with resistance?
If it’s the latter, don’t abandon hope. Just think realistically about what you’re working with and decide if you’re okay with those odds.
c. Your ratio of gains to losses.
Every professional stand comes with potential gains & risk. You only want to act on the ones that are worth it.
So look at your “gain-to-loss” ratio. Do the benefits of your best-case scenario outweigh the consequences of your worst-case scenario?