What's a brightspot, anyway?


All nonprofits are strapped. While working for a few, I felt the deep pull of limited resources – both financial and human. 

I can remember sitting in a team meeting surrounded by piles of paper, event auction items, and despair. The mood was depressed as a longtime funder had rejected our proposal, the board was unresponsive to our calls for help, and ticket sales for next week’s event were dangerously low. The icing on the cake? The printer wasn’t working. 

We had gathered to discuss expanding programming into a new neighborhood. The obstacles felt overwhelming. I couldn’t help but imagine the myriad reasons why this new programming would never work.

Mulling over those deficits is an easy pattern to fall into. As you know better than anyone, demands are high, but inputs are often ridiculously limited. Sometimes, you’re expected to work magic without a wand.

The amazing thing is you do. Nonprofit leaders consistently defy normal expectations in the name of delivering on the mission. Unlike a typical business, nothing is more important than making sure the community gets what it needs. But that doesn’t mean they do so without facing a complex web of problems and questions: What don’t we have? What’s broken? How do we fix it? It’s a disheartening approach to problem solving.

When we set out to find a name for our new collaborative, Caitlin recalled an article she read about tackling tough issues. A Save the Children employee in rural Vietnam was tasked with addressing malnutrition. He recognized that the problem was a result of lots of things: poverty, poor sanitation, lack of clean water, and more. Instead of trying to fix those obviously overwhelming problems, he looked for something that was working. 

He located children that weren’t as malnourished as the others, and identified a few small differences in the way they were fed. For example, they received four smaller meals a day instead of two and those meals included food that was typically designated for adults only. After six months working with the villagers, 65% of the children were better nourished. Focusing on this “brightspot,” no matter how small or insignificant it seemed as compared to the larger issues, created a tangible impact.

Integral to our philosophy as consultants is finding these brightspots within every organization we work alongside. Maybe it is your unique program model, a compelling donor engagement idea, or even a special employee recognition initiative. These brightspots are plentiful within the sector. I can guarantee you have them. 

Our goal is to learn about them and ask our clients, “How can we help you do more of that? How do we take what’s working and apply it across your organization to bring about needed change? How can we leverage this strength for greater impact?” 

The next time you’re thinking about what you don’t have or what can’t happen, have confidence that even if they seem small, you’re doing great things and you’re doing them well. Recall the audience member transformed by a performance, the impact of a child’s mentor on his or her life, or the number of people who experience food security because of what you do everyday. 

Celebrate the good things. Collectively across our many organizations, these “little” things are making a bright future, one that we want to be part of.