Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I was complaining—as I sometimes am too wont to do—about my inability to get my husband to leave the house once he gets home from work. He’s always been a homebody, but as we get older, he hunkers in more, loathe to get out of his comfort zone. This means that there are an awful lot of things he refuses to experience. And that, in turn, limits his ability to grow. That, I find, is a problem not just with people but also with organizations. They do what they do because it is what they have always done. It’s familiar and comfy and so there doesn’t seem to be much reason to reach out and try something else.

Not much reason except growth. Not much reason except to learn something new. Not much reason except to be able to do more, do it better, be more effective.

It’s tempting to stay within your comfort zone. You know exactly what to do, how to do it, and what results you can expect. But as someone famous must have said, if you don’t dream big, you don’t accomplish great things. And why else do nonprofits exist if not to accomplish something extraordinary? And how can you do that if you keep on doing the same old things?

Take the next few days to breathe deeply and think, “Where do I (as in your organization or simply for yourself) want to be in the next two years?” What do I need to do to get there?

If you are a nonprofit who is constantly struggling to keep your doors open, how much money do you need to have on hand to fully cover your operations and have something in reserve? Then think of the many ways you could possibly raise that money—from program fees to fundraising and everything else in between. How can you do those things you are already doing better? What can you add to the mix? What—and this is may be the scariest thing—do you need to stop doing?

Often, nonprofits rely on a single event to bring in the bulk of their charitable dollars. But, as we all know by now, events—even highly successful events—are not the most cost-effective ways to raise money. I’m not suggesting you stop doing events; there are, after all, many great reasons to have them. But I am suggesting that you think about where your time is best spent.

During the years I ran development departments, I managed a number of large events. And I spent very little time on things that didn’t relate directly to raising funds. My invitation every single year looked the same—only the information in them changed. I tasked catering departments to worry about food, drink, table cloths and centerpieces because I believed then as I believe now that those things really do not matter.

I worried that the program was tight and ran on time and that somewhere there was reference to the work we did. And then I spent all my time worrying about who was coming; where they were sitting; who I was introducing them to and—most importantly—what I was doing with them the day after the event. And how I was reaching out to those who didn’t come to the event at all.

Perhaps it’s not an event that sucks up all your time. Maybe you are focused on writing grants. Ask yourself—why does it take me weeks to prepare a renewal grant? And why am I spending so much time writing a new grant when I know for a fact that relationships count as much as anything I put on this paper? What keeps me tied to my desk rather than out in the community, connecting with those who might—if they really knew who we were and what we accomplished—become (or continue to be) supporters?

I know, it’s easier to stay where you are, doing familiar things. But there is a whole, exciting world out there. Get out and experience it. You and your organization will be the better for it.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity. Learn more at Email her at And mostly, dare to do something differently.