How My Garden – and Nonprofits – Thrive

Posted: August 18, 2015

GardenI discovered my third calling when I transplanted to the Hudson Valley: gardening. Teaching was my first and working with nonprofits became my second and, of course, still current. Both were very much established in my hometown, New York. Certainly there are community gardens and terrace oases in the city, but they weren’t part of my experience. So I had my fits and starts when I first set out to check the color of my thumb in my own backyard.

Now, many seasons later, as I enjoy my blooming garden in mid-August, I see all the ways that my gardening connects to my consulting – and the core of teaching as well. I’m dedicated to helping plants and nonprofits thrive. The paths to success are remarkably similar.

Learning First

Becoming a successful gardener has required serious learning. What to plant, where, when, how. What needs which kind of soil and sunlight. What wants lots of water and what prefers to be parched. What needs a strong stake for support and when to be patient with late bloomers. It took a while just to learn what I needed to learn and, in a vast field of resources, the most helpful for me. But I’m a lifelong learner and if there’s information to be found, I’ll find it – and enjoy the discovery process. With each passing season I’m proud to say my thumb shades a brighter green.

My garden thrives because I’ve learned how to nurture it. You can’t bluster a flower into blossoming. If you don’t know a hoe from a hose, your garden won’t keep your secret. Ultimately, the same is true of a nonprofit with too many key positions filled by individuals who are uninformed and unprepared. It’s why I urge organizations to be open to assessing strengths and weaknesses, to determining what knowledge is needed and to make learning a priority for board members and staff. It’s not just a good idea – it’s essential to survival.

Growing with Change and Challenge

Here’s the other thing about gardening: it teaches tenacity, flexibility and resilience. Despite my best efforts, some flowers don’t bloom. Unwelcome bugs and blights appear. Any number of plants are happy to spread out beyond the garden borders whenever I’m away. And gardens naturally change from year to year. The colors are more vibrant and the foliage lusher in some years; the weeds hardier and the deer hungrier in others.

Learning to adjust to help my garden keep thriving has taught valuable lessons in how to help nonprofits I work with respond to inevitable changes and challenges. Events flop, donors leave, mistakes happen. Times, needs and funding sources shift. But just about anything can be overcome with a firm foundation of knowledge for figuring out how best to repair, replace or start over.

So yes, in my blog and monthly dashboard and professional conversations, I make the case again and again for nonprofit education – board development in particular. And my garden is case in point why.

Looking for support to help your nonprofit thrive? Let’s talk.