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February 7, 2023

Mission Multiplier: Don’t Let Humility Hold You Back

Jane Pfeiffer


Hi, I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and president of Fieldtrip. Fieldtrip is a marketing and branding firm that works with nonprofits and purpose driven organizations to help you reduce the expense, your largest expense- the cost of lost opportunities. That’s what happens when people don’t know about you, don’t understand why what you do is important, or don’t know if it applies to them. Those are the questions that we help answer and bring your mission to a more powerful position. That’s what we call a Mission Multiplier.

Today I’m talking about words that I hear all too often, and I’m going to tell you a secret. Being a secret in the nonprofit space is not a good thing. How often have you heard the words “We’re the best kept secret?” or “If only people knew?”. Well, I hear this a lot. Sometimes it’s stated with frustration and occasionally even a sense of pride. No matter the tone, the impact from being unknown is significant. If you’re not known, you can’t be believed and you can’t be championed.


It all starts with being known.

Let’s elaborate on why those words being the best kept secret are so common in nonprofits. First, it’s based on the good intentions that doing good for others without the intention of having personal gain or recognition. It’s just it’s the foundation and the root of the nonprofit sector. Society tells us that promoting the organization or a mission or the accomplishments that we’ve made somehow subtracts by taking away from the good intentions. We know better as nonprofit leaders, but that’s still kind of the atmosphere in which nonprofits were created.

Second, this work is very personal. Yes, there’s a professional career associated with it, but it’s also highly personal, which makes touting your work and your accomplishments feel a little icky because it is personal. Success for purpose driven organizations has a lot to do with confidence, and being too humble can hold you back. It’s finding that right combination of humility, but yet boldly confident.

The third reason is that marketing in a nonprofit organization is often an afterthought, or it’s just considered taboo or an absolute no no. Your board of directors, your donors, and even the public tell you that investing in branding, marketing, advertising – those things that raise awareness takes away money from your mission. This sound familiar?

I confess there was a day that I used to think the same. I grew up supporting a very large nonprofit that touts 100% of the dollars raised go into the mission. That’s a unique thing that they can do. I now understand why that  isn’t the norm and how it can’t be the norm, but that’s a topic for another day.

Let’s go back to the altruism, the personal relationships, and the lack of marketing support, as that’s what makes it hard for a nonprofit to get noticed and to create awareness that they need so that bigger and better things can happen. Let’s flip that in which sector of the world (in any type of organization) is it not only accepted but expected that the entity is loud and proud? One thing that came to my mind and I’m not a sportsperson, but I did think of professional athletes: Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Muhammad Ali, whoever you pick. If they were satisfied and content with being the best kept secret, we would not know their names today.

It’s socially acceptable for these tremendous athletes to be confident, to be forward focused and even dominant in their area of expertise and to be known for that. Well, some athletes take it too far and it feels cocky and arrogant. Many, like the three I mentioned, strike this perfect balance of being humble but also being confident, gracious and inspirational to others. It’s that inspiration that changes things for us and for the world. That’s the type of notoriety that nonprofits need. So don’t let humility hold you back.

When you hear the words, “We’re the best kept secret,” consider it a warning sign for your organization. You’re sitting there quietly proud and capable, but there’s tremendous potential going to waste. Yes, maybe you’re not the MVP of the game or the most accomplished in the sector, but you have value for the world around you and the mission around you. You have this fantastic mission, so don’t wait for others to notice you. Refuse to be a secret and make a plan to get noticed and stay noticed.

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