Lessons for the Nonprofit from "The Artist"

"The Artist" (Photo by Recycled Fashion)

In 2012, one of the movies that got the most Oscar buzz was a movie called The Artist. If you haven’t seen it (I highly recommend you get on that), the movie tells the story of an actor from the 1920s who must face the gigantic change in Hollywood that “talkies” represented. The main character, George Valentin, refuses to accept that movies with talking will really take over Hollywood. He made his name as a silent movie actor, it’s what made him famous, and he presumes he will be able to continue carrying on as he always did.

Of course, as you might well imagine, the world continues to plod forward whether George likes it or not. His refusal to participate in “talkies” creates a downfall in his career. He is looked at as a symbol of the “old ways.” He seems old-fashioned and out of touch. He even becomes the butt of jokes from actors who have bravely entered the new world of movie-making.

The movie does a masterful job of emphasizing George’s skills, contrasting the old ways with the new ways, and finally showing how “old fashioned” and “new and trendy” can come together to create something spectacular.

Don’t be like George Valentin

Running a nonprofit means that you have a lot on your plate. The idea of changing how you do things can seem daunting. There’s a learning curve, a leaving of the familiar, and the risk always associated with trying something new.

That’s all perfectly understandable, but it’s important to remember that there are also risks with continuing to do things the same way you’ve always done them. Your organization can be overshadowed by other groups that may be reaching out in ways that are more interactive, more interesting, and more exciting. Your organization could be left behind in terms of how it presents itself, how it shows appreciation for contributors, or even how it addresses the problems you are trying to solve.

Ultimately, just like George Valentin, you can experience tough times if you cling too steadfastly to the old way of doing things, no matter how much success those old ways brought you.

Don’t “kill” everything you used to do

One thing you encounter a lot in the online world is the idea that two ways of doing things can’t co-exist. If you invest in print advertising, so the logic goes, you couldn’t possibly also be interested in social media marketing. Factually, this could not be further from the truth. Not to spoil the ending too much, but George Valentin eventually discovers a way to meld his ways with the new ways. You and your organization can do the same thing. Some of your contributors may still like to be contacted by phone or by handwritten letter, but you could also try to reach out using Twitter and Facebook. You could rely on some dependable ways of doing things while also exploring the new. These methodologies do not have to be mutually exclusive.

What’s your experience?

Are you finding that you or the people you work with are trying to cling to the ways “you’ve always done things?” Is there a faction in your organization who is always pushing new ways of doing things? How are you approaching those different ends of the spectrum?

We’d love to hear from you!

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