Tough as nails. A tough cookie. Hanging tough. These are all ways we use the word “tough” to describe people who stand strong in the face of adversity. We admire people and organizations who persevere when the going gets tough. In Angel Oak Creative’s nine years of exclusively serving nonprofits, we’ve witnessed hundreds of organizations lean into challenges, overcome crises and turn adversity into opportunity. We call this being Nonprofit Tough. These nonprofits are:
Today, we’re digging a little deeper into these five traits of tough nonprofits.
Tough nonprofits are driven forward by focused, strong leadership who lead by example. They invest their time and talent (and often their treasure) to ensure the organization’s staff, volunteers and recipients are equipped to succeed. They go the extra mile to do more than is expected and don’t settle for “good enough.” They expect the most of themselves and those around them, and they believe in creating an environment of excellence. These leaders are also driven to model compassion, love and respect for those with whom they serve. This combination of initiative and interest in others is what makes driven leaders essential for tough nonprofits.
Organizations that are Nonprofit Tough focus on building relationships with donors, volunteers, staff and recipients for the long haul. They’re relational, not transactional. They build relationships on trust, transparency and accountability. It becomes a two-way relationship where the organization and the supporter/staff/recipient both have a vested interest in success. Tough nonprofits would rather spend their time investing in growing deeper relationships than building up the number of relationships. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Tough nonprofits are inspired by and share a clear and aspirational vision. They may not be able to save the entire world, but their commitment to their mission makes a transformational difference in the lives of the individuals and communities they do serve. Tough nonprofits see “impossible” as a challenge to meet head-on. Whether it’s hunger, poverty, homelessness, re-entry from prison or some other seemingly unsolvable societal problem, these organizations lean into the challenge with an inspired and hopeful attitude.
Delivering on promises through strong stewardship is another trait of a tough nonprofit. Nonprofits inherently have a tough job, to say the least. They take on the biggest challenges with limited budgets and resources, having to embrace the spirit of always doing more with less. They get creative in their effectiveness and problem solve like nobody’s business! Tough nonprofits develop strategies to ensure they meet the needs of those they serve as well as those who serve. And they don’t just say they’re delivering results – they have the data to prove it.
Lastly, tough nonprofits tell their stories in a compelling way. It’s one thing to be driven, relational, inspired and effective – but organizations can’t experience the full benefits of being Nonprofit Tough unless they know how to share their impact. Story is a powerful vehicle for inviting potential donors, volunteers and recipients into the journey. It’s the entry point for building relationships, casting vision and inspiring others to join transformational missions. Checking this box means identifying and telling stories that move audiences emotionally and compel them to take action.
As we’ve taken to saying recently here at Angel Oak Creative, when the going gets tough, the tough nonprofits get going! We’ve sure seen our clients get going this past year as they’ve worked tirelessly to address seemingly insurmountable challenges like a global pandemic, shutdowns, food shortages, job loss, economic instability and more. We’re honored to walk with these nonprofits to help them communicate with excellence, inspire others, create compelling content that builds relationships and, most importantly, serve those in need effectively. They are prime examples of what it means to be Nonprofit Tough!