7 lessons nonprofits can learn from newborn babies


chick-1202577_960_720Hi everyone, my apologies in advance, as today’s post may not be very coherent. On Friday, my son, Kiet Thomas Prinzing Le, was born (you can see a picture on Nonprofit Happy Hour). The little tyke came several days early, surprising all of us. I have not slept since then. It’s been a little rough, I won’t lie. I am barely lucid right now.

I said before that having a baby is like getting a giant multi-year highly-restricted grant. Like, “Congratulations, our foundation has decided to award you a million each year for 18 years. But every two hours, day or night, you have to get up and fill out an online survey while we scream at you in a high pitched voice.”

Except replace “fill out an online survey” with “change diapers.” I had forgotten what’s it’s like to have a newborn. The screaming, the spit ups, the clawing at the face. And that’s just me. Then there’s the meconium. It is a baby’s first poop, and like most strategic plans it is so dense and viscous that not even light can escape, thus giving it the color and consistency of roofing tar. You can only pray that you do not get any of this on your hand or hair, because only a caustic agent like gasoline or kombucha tea can dissolve it.

Anyway, it’s been a fun few days, I’m completely exhausted, and I’m seeing things that aren’t there, but I’ve learned a few lessons from this little guy that I think will benefit all of us in the nonprofit field:

7 lessons nonprofits can learn from newborn babies

Lesson 1: A smile can do amazing things. It’s only been three days, but I swear, the baby has been smiling in his sleep. It makes me forget all these sleepless nights and the half dozen times he’s thrown up on me. Next time you accidentally spit up on a donor or board member, just smile, and they’ll be reminded of how charming you are.

Lesson 2: If at first you don’t get what you want, escalate. If smiling doesn’t work, it helps to use a high-pitched, shrieking voice to demand things. Try that next time you’re requesting a raise, or making the ask at your fundraising gala.

Lesson 3: It’s OK to get upset over small, seemingly stupid things. Crying makes you feel better about crappy stuff, like your swaddle coming undone, or the wet wipes are too cold on your skin, or Daddy shouting at the TV while holding you and watching Season 4 of House of Cards on Netflix and it startles you from your nap. It’ll probably help also with grant rejections, unexpected resignations, and lack of good snacks at meetings.

Lesson 4: You are stronger than you think. Sure, babies may look weak and helpless, but they are surprisingly strong and resilient. Ours is already able to lift his head up and search around for his meal of breastmilk. Never let anyone tell you your org, board, or team is too small to do stuff.

Lesson 5: A giant head will weigh you down. Newborns have these disproportionally big heads, which makes it hard for them to lift up their heads for long periods of time. Adults will use this fact to play a game called “Tummy Time,” where an infant is placed on his stomach and encouraged to lift his head up in order to build neck strength, while the grownups surround him and make bets on how long he can hold up his head (I really need to have a talk with my siblings). Don’t get a big head. It’ll make it hard for you to see things.

Lesson 6: Be curious about everything. Ah, to be newborn again and see the wonder in everything—a blurry face, some blurry shapes, a blurry patch of light. The fact that everything is strange to an infant does not prevent her from being inquisitive. We must take that lesson to heart, especially when so much of our work is blurry.

Lesson 7: Make your mark on the world. In the past three days, our baby has spit up or otherwise stained myriad things in the house. The laundry is running nonstop. In some ways, it seems that babies spit up on things to mark their territories. We nonprofits, as individual organizations, and also as a sector, should focus more attention on making our mark. We’ll be more effective that way.

It’s 3:15am, and it’s probably time to change the fella and likely get spit up on. See you next week.

By the way, last week, I (and ED Emeritus colleague Tara Smith) launched two peer support groups on Facebook. Nonprofit Happy Hour already has over 1,300 members, and the group specifically for EDs/CEOs, ED Happy Hour, has over 200 members. These are great forums for when you have a problem and want to get advice from colleagues. Check them out.

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