Every morning, I open my inbox and find half a dozen free newsletters that I subscribe to. They are filled with updates, tips and research relevant to the nonprofit community. I suspect you are on the subscription lists of many of the same publications, if not all, as well.
As I have been completing the research phase of my doctoral project, one thing has become evident: nonprofit leadership, staff and consultants do not lack for information. And it isn’t hard to find; we don’t need to ferret out specialized sources or even pay for most of it.
What we lack is the time to consume it all.
We lack the time to figure out what (if anything) we need to do differently because of the information we’ve consumed.
As a regular provider of information, I find myself convicted. How easy do I make it for a reader to create a plan of action based on what I write? Am I simply contributing to the white noise of information that has become the norm in our profession?
As a consumer of information, I have to also query myself:
Do I take enough time to ask after reading, viewing or listening to information relevant to my profession to figure out what I need to do differently today as a result of what I consumed?
Often, the answer is “no.” I read/hear it, and I move on. And the end result is . . . nothing. Nothing changes; I do nothing differently. I am still just as capable in some things, opinionated about others, and ignorant about the rest.
Time is not something I can manufacture — for you or for me. We’re never going to get more than 1,440 minutes a day we have right now. But how are we investing those minutes when we consume information about our profession?
I teach an intro course in fundraising at a local university extension program. My students generally range in age from their 20’s to their 60’s. Some were born with a computer mouse in their hands; others are still wondering what happened to the Dewey Decimal System. But all of them, it seems, have a moment in class when they realize that there is more information available than they can ever take in. They fear they have missed something that can get them in legal trouble. They wonder if they have inadvertently offended a donor by not asking “right.” They realize that the dysfunctional board needs to be addressed.
So where do we start?
- Start reading and listening to everything with one question in your mind: “What does (or should) this mean to me?”
- If the answer is “nothing,” move on to the next article, video or presentation.
- Ask information providers the hard question: “What should I do differently when I walk out of here or finish reading or hearing your content?”
- Support the content providers who regularly answer that question (directly or indirectly) with a “thumbs up” or a positive comment.
It’s relatively easy to spew out information. It’s much harder to figure out how it applies — to yourself or to others. But we must start now expecting more than information; we must expect actionable information.
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has read in the morning e-newsletters.”