Getting to Audacity

Carolyn Ee - Overly AmbitiousAudacity is an organization’s most valuable ally. When pushed by audacious supporters, volunteers and employees, an organization can grow more quickly and accomplish its mission in an expedited fashion. But, getting stakeholders to audacity is a process—and, like any process, the better you understand it, the better you can enhance it. Getting to audacity

Volunteering is often touted for its ability to inspire empathy. By giving back, volunteers experience life in the shoes of others—imagining their own families facing a terminal illness, their own communities on the edge of succumbing to violence, their own schools uninspiring and run-down. When such an experience in internalized, you get empathy. Empathy is certainly a powerful motivator, but doesn’t alone inspire action—nor does it get to the highest form of support: audacity.

Learning the Process

With more exposure and some learning, you can get to action. Routine exposure and you get compassion and, in many cases, incredulity. Somewhere near the end of the equation you get to actionincredulity. It’s here that audacity is born.* I think any nonprofit would tell you getting volunteers from the sidelines to audacity is a long process of stewardship and cultivation. But like any process, to optimize it (hack it?) you have to know it backwards and forwards. Below I present my anecdotal evidence for getting to audacity.

Anecdotal Audacity–Tales from Africa

My experience in Africa followed an accelerated, but similar, trajectory. Before packing my bags and heading to Zambia, I was familiar with the statistics, the HIV infection rate, the problems faced by entire communities of orphans. These had been spoon fed to me during charity events, arresting my attention between cocktails. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the data sublimated into my mind. They lay dormant—buried, even—the emotions driven by these facts and figures, as if waiting for a cue.


Headmaster's Office Zambia

Headmaster’s Office

Empathy was triggered first. A quick tour of grassroots school facilities level-set expectations for where children learn and teachers teach. Statistics were a dream. The surroundings were reality.


Action was second. A community-worth of children running around the grounds that donations like my own helped make possible, exhumed statistics with their sheer mass. The total enrolled kids at the school—350, was it?—the total number of HIV orphans in the country—690,000, can that be right?—we need to act. The rest of the travelers came quietly to similar conclusions. Feet shifted and eyes surveyed for improvements we could make within the week—to our tired Western eyes, there were no shortage.


Tongues Out!

Male bonding

Compassion bloomed. In days spent with kids, reading to some of the students, giving speeches about staying in school, painting buildings, helping kids with English pronunciation, getting pointers on our phonetic attempts at Bemba (the local language) there was a palpable magnetism. While we only saw most of the students during the day, hugs got longer, games more fun, and bonds stronger. Empathy bloomed into compassion.


Zambia Grave Site

In Loving Memory

Incredulity arrived in lock step. It was what went on behind the grins of volunteers. How could circumstances be so different? What form of chance determined the station into which we were born? In a global society, how could a group (even a group receiving direct support from a charitable organization) be so underserved? Why weren’t we doing more? Questions bounced behind eyes in quiet moments, during violent bus rides, and in-between flashed and returned smiles.

ActionIncredulity = Audacity

Compassion and incredulity pushed our minds. Our action, while needed, didn’t seem enough—raising action to the power of incredulity. That’s where we, as volunteers, moved toward audacity. That’s where we begin asking questions aloud. “How can we do more?” “Can everyone pass forward their spare currency to leave behind?” “How can I get the word out about this organization?” Audacity pushed reserved travellers and volunteers to ask more of themselves.

quote1Like a prism, skillsets filtered our newly-minted audacity. For those predisposed to thinking about optimization or obsessed with scale, audacity doesn’t stop with one organization. It didn’t for me, anyway (I’m both an optimization nut and obsessed with scalability—just lucky, I guess). It’s there—across the spectrum of skills and causes, at the confluence of passion and incredulity—that the ranks of Founders, Executive Directors, Board Members, and Super-Volunteers are filled.

My experience didn’t stop with my trip. My results from applying the skillset prism to my newly-minted audacity is Quarterback. What’s yours?

I write on this subject because if we’re cognizant of the steps to audacity, perhaps we can jump-start the process. That’s what Quarterback is all about. Audacity, as the result of a repeated exposure, education, awareness, compassion, empathy, and some measure of mobilization magic, is the goal of building a base of supporters for any organization. And for stakeholders (volunteers, employees, and supporters), why not hack your path to audacity by pursuing it directly?

*The Case Foundation offers alternate nomenclature for audacity, invoking instead “Fearless.” I’d argue that’s po-tay-toes / po-tah-toes, in some respects. I considered “chutzpah” as well, but settled on audacity. As big fans of the “fearless”/ audacity concept, Quarterback actually applied for a grant award in the Finding Fearless Challenge (which QB did not receive), but you can still vote for some excellent individuals and organizations which fit The Case Foundation’s definition here.

Apologies to the authors of Getting to Yes for the lexical mimicry in this post’s title.


One comment

  1. […] now more than ever, are eagerly seeking out better ways to deliver their impact. At the extreme, social enterprises are being spun out of nonprofit parents. At the routine, […]

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