We Don’t Need Thought Leaders Right Now

It was just canceled, but last week the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — the largest in the world, and a 501(c)(3) — was in full swing. For the uninitiated, it’s a giant, three-week party in Houston attended by 2.5 million people, with concerts, tons of great food, rides and learning opportunities. It’s exceptionally fun, and they do an exceptional amount of good, having provided more than half-a-billion dollars in support of youth and education since 1932.

One of the most entertaining (okay, cutest) things at Rodeo is called mutton busting, which is, essentially, an adorable activity of little kids trying to ride baby sheep as long as they can. Usually only one or two kids “win,” and they put those kids up on giant screens in front of tens of thousands of people and ask them all sorts of questions. Last week, one such winner was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I want to be kind.” Kids say the darnedest things, though sometimes they say the rightest things.

In the week since, the world has sort of exploded (imploded?) and I believe that’s absolutely the thing we need to hear right now. Too many people, especially in our nonprofit orbit, are stepping into the self-anointed role of thought-leader. Especially all those non-doctors offering all sorts of coronavirus medical advice.

NOTHANKSTo be fair, things are absolutely nuts right now. Here in Texas, cancelations of the Rodeo and South by Southwest will result in prospective hits to the Houston and Austin economies of hundreds of millions. And while no nonprofit consultant has yet done the math (to my knowledge), the blow to our sector will be equally devastating.

Winston Churchill reminded us to never waste a good crisis, and I see all y’all out there putting on your thought-leader pants, trying to make some magic happen. You’re finding every news story and YouTube video on how to turn this disaster into an opportunity, and you’re blasting it out there so all the world knows of your thought-leader prowess. And I get it. Many of us were having glacial fundraising years before COVID-19, and today the market saw its worst drop since 1987. You don’t need to look hard to know this next decade will be a philanthropic slug.

The thing is, we don’t need more thought-leaders right now. We need more kindness-doers. We need reminding from our young mutton buster to be kind when we grow up. Wait a minute, we are grown up. That means we can do it right now! We can talk with our teams about flexibility in their schedules. We can Clorox the office kitchen and let people know (without boasting about it) so they feel more comfortable. We can call our donors and stakeholders to simply say hello and wish them well. My gosh there are 1,001 things you could do right now.

So why are you still here? Go on, ‘git. Put down your nightmare pocket rectangle and vamoose — while washing your hands and avoiding crowds, obviously. And if you figure out the secret kindness sauce, share it with your friends, your colleagues and the world. We need a whole lot more of that right now.

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