Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Wow.  I can’t believe that I’ve been in Paris for 2-1/2 weeks.  Where has the time gone?  A few days were lost to illness, and then I haven’t gotten my stride back in terms of visiting places I had put on my (rather flexible) agenda.  But I have walked the length and breath of the city; been to every arrondisement and if I have yet to set foot in a museum, I have been in many, many parks.  Mainly, however, I’ve gotten lost. At the best of times, I am geographically challenged.  Paris, for me, represents the worst of times.  Unlike New York, for example, it was not built on a grid.  Nor is it as small as say Rome, which makes getting lost an almost impossible art (though I did one “misplace” the Vatican).  Every turn here is a gamble.  You can find yourself facing exactly the opposite way you thought or—as I did yesterday—going around in circles.  I didn’t think I was, but the third time I passed the Sushi and Bagel shop, I was pretty sure.

Being out of your comfort zone does that sometimes.  Which is why a lot of us prefer staying where we are.  We like knowing what is around the corner and what is the fastest way to wherever it is we want to go.

Getting out of our comfort zone, on the other hand, is daunting.  “We don’t do it that way” is a refrain too often heard—even when what you are doing isn’t getting you where you want to go.

I’m not actually advocating change for the sake of change.  That could get you back at the Sushi and Bagel shop, but I am suggesting that it is sometimes necessary to take a hard look at where you are and decide whether a change of scenery would be a good thing.

This is particularly important in today’s economic climate.  Just as we thought things (in the US at least) were getting better, England and Germany are tightening their belts and this could have significant consequences for the world economy.  That could mean that as hard as things have been for your nonprofit recently is as hard as they are going to be for the foreseeable future.

Given that, it would be wise to think about doing some new things; fundraising in some different ways.

That might mean adding a whole layer of fundraising you haven’t been working.  Like asking individuals to support your organization or asking those who have to do so at a much higher level. It might, on the other hand, mean ceasing to do what you’ve been doing.  If, for example, that gala you’ve been counting on for the past umpteen years brought in less for the third year in a row or actually lost money, perhaps it is time to bite the bullet and stop having the gala.  Gasp!  But we always have had a gala!!  Get over it.  What else could you be doing with your time and effort?

The changes, however, may be small.  Perhaps you might start asking your annual donors to consider recurring gifts rather than writing one check a year.  If they’ve been giving you $100, suggest they change and authorize a $10 a month gift (increasing their gift but in such an easy way) from their credit card account.  Instead of trying to get your board to go out and ask contacts for money, ask your Board to bring those contacts IN for a tour or a “getting to know each other” opportunity.

Maybe it’s time to look at your staff.  Are you deploying people in the best possible ways?  I once discovered that our newly hired receptionist was actually a fresh out of college English major.  She turned out to be quite adept at writing grants as well as having a way with words that made our donors really read our thank you letters.  For her part, she was thrilled to be moved away from the front desk and given the chance to learn new skills.

Getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.  It just needs to make you look at things from a slightly different angle.  Granted, you could get lost or you just  might—as I did once I got away from the seemingly ubiquitous sushi and bagels—stumble upon the most incredible chocolaterie.  Trust me, it made getting lost worth it.

Janet Levine is a consultant and trainer working with nonprofits to help them increase their capacity to fundraise.  Learn more about her services and her classes at