• Robert Osborne

Fear and Prioritizing


In my other life I mentor and advise startups, mostly in the social impact space. I was watching a video about what startups can expect in the current climate and how they should be thinking about their business. In the video, veteran venture capitalist Brad Feld talks about fear. He talks about not acting out of fear but rather leaning into that fear because whatever you are afraid of is probably the area that you need to do some real thinking and planning around.


There is a lot to be afraid of at this moment in time. We are justifiably afraid for our own health and that of our loved ones; we are afraid of our own futures and economic situation; and we are afraid for our organizations.


Rather than panic and just move from fire to fire, now is actually a really important time to sit back and think strategically about your organization. While we don't have a good sense of how this pandemic will play out, we can make some assumptions. One, people will need our services more than ever. The need for the nonprofit sector has probably not been greater in nearly 100 years. Two, we know that the economy will be very challenging for some period of time ranging form months to maybe a few years. Three, this won't last for ever and we want to use our time wisely.


We here at The Osborne Group are facing the same concerns as everyone else so I decided to take a look at my own business:


  1. What am I afraid of? - For me, the fear usually hits at around 4a. I tried to remember everything that was keeping me up and wrote it down.

  2. Talk it over - I do better at identifying my fears and emotions when I have the opportunity to talk to someone that I trust, in this case my wife. Talking to another person can help pull out of you what you might not be aware of yourself. Talking it over helped me add to the list.

  3. Talk it over some more - Once I had a sense of what I was afraid and what I need to plan around, I talked to my colleagues and others in the same situation. What ideas do they have? What is their best thinking about the future? Are there actions we can take now?

  4. What are the constants that I can plan for now? - On your list, what are those things that are not going to change that you can make a plan around now? Things like still needing an effective board, needing to improve your retention rate, etc.

  5. What are the variables? - What are those things on my list that are uncertain? These are the areas that we want to keep an eye on until the situation becomes more clear. Are there things we can do now like research or talking to experts?

  6. Make a Plan!


Once you understand the areas that you can and should plan for, go ahead and make those plans. Remember, think carefully about the long-term needs of your organization. This pandemic won't last forever and you want to be strategic about how you use your resources. And remember, development and marketing are profit centers! The temptation is always to cut non-mission related expenses but as many organizations learned in the last economic downturn, there is a real price to degrading your revenue capabilities. Investing in revenue generation now will ensure that you won't have to make programmatic cuts later.






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