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From Battered to Better: The Path Forward for Nonprofits in 2022

Emily Benham

A new year brings a fresh enthusiasm and energy for both the possibilities and uncertainties that lie ahead. Despite the challenges of the past two years (I will not mention the “p-word” — you’re welcome), I remain relentlessly optimistic about the outlook for our nonprofit sector.

Although 2022 will likely be another challenging year in many ways, nonprofits and the servant leaders who lead them (that’s you!) were called to this work for times like this. To step up to help in the best and worst of times. To find solutions for individuals, families and communities in need. As a sector, we have demonstrated time and time again the power and impact of our work these past two years. Our value proposition has never been greater.

To continue to advance our best work in an ever-changing and increasingly challenging environment for which we are called, nonprofit leaders must embody three qualities to succeed in 2022.

1. Curiosity

At the Nonprofit Leadership Center, whether in our classroom, through consulting or custom solutions, we live for the “aha” moment: the moment when a concept that seems so complex or even impossible shifts to attainable. These moments don’t happen every day for everyone. We discover them when we are open and curious. According to Jeffrey Davis, curiosity helps us approach challenges less reactively and more creatively. In 2022, nonprofit leaders must lead with curiosity — to seek understanding before judging, to wonder “what if?” or “why not?” before discarding an idea or opinion. My hope is that this practice will uncover fresh solutions as well as new adventures in a lifelong commitment to learning.

2. Hope

At the 2021 Leadership Conference, Keynote Speaker Jon Acuff said, “Fear comes free. Hope takes work.” In his most recent book, “Soundtracks,” he talks about how our fears and experiences become our soundtracks, playing over and over and often negatively impacting our ability to achieve important goals. He challenges us to create new soundtracks to replace the old broken ones, swapping fear of failure with hope for success. In 2022, nonprofit leaders must lead with hope and replace broken soundtracks of the past with those filled with hope for the future. Let’s write a new song in 2022 filled with hope and sing it every day.

READ NEXT: How to Stop Negative Self-Talk 

3. Tenacity

Finally, nonprofit leaders must be tenacious in 2022, voraciously determined and persistent to lead bravely and act boldly. Our work in the nonprofit sector is complex, and the challenges of the past few years have been exhausting. And yet, our work is too important to relent in our efforts. Instead of giving up, we must find another gear. I offer these lines excerpted from Amanda Gorman’s poem, “New Day’s Lyric,” as inspiration and fuel for your tenacity in 2022:

Battered we come to better.

Tethered by this year of yearning,

We are learning

That though we weren’t ready for this,

We have been readied by it.

We steadily vow that no matter

How we are weighed down,

We must always pave a way forward.

I wish you a meaningful year filled with curiosity, hope, tenacity, and of course, impact and growth for both you and your nonprofit organization.

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Emily Benham

FAHP, CFRE

Emily H. Benham has more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit field. She served for 9 years as the CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center from 2014-2023, Emily was the Interim President for Bayfront HERO (Health, Education and Research Organization), a health legacy foundation formed in 2013 with the net proceeds of the sale of Bayfront Medical Center to a for profit entity. Prior to the sale, she was a member of Bayfront Medical Center’s senior leadership team, and directed its philanthropic arm (Bayfront Health Foundation) for more than 20 years, raising millions of dollars for capital improvements for the hospital.

On June 30, 2023 Emily retired as CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center to launch a new private consulting practice.

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