Growth Mindset in the Nonprofit Sector




A shift in mindset can have profound effects on individuals’ actions and outcomes. I first learned about fixed and growth mindset while I was teaching in Charlotte, NC. The simplified concept is that with a fixed mindset individuals believe their talents and gifts are innate and with a growth mindset individuals believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others. For students, this concept can be empowering and can challenge some initial assumptions students may have about themselves (i.e., I’m not good at math and I’ll never be good at math). The growth mindset concept can be applied to the nonprofit sector to encourage growth in organizations and individuals. Here are some applicable ways you can promote a growth mindset within your team and organization.

Engage with Other Sectors and Disciplines

One of the best ways to encourage a growth mindset is to look outside of your immediate surrounding. Look outside your sector for inspiration by:

  • Partnering with your local university and bringing on undergraduates to support with a discrete project your organization is exploring.
  • Finding networking opportunities that bring together multiple disciplines on a specific issue that you are interested in.
  • Challenging your leadership team to hire qualified individuals with unique backgrounds that vary from the majority of your teams.

Working in cross-sector partnerships encourages new ways of thinking and challenges our assumptions about our organization. At Mission Capital, we bring together nonprofit and business leaders through our Mission Accelerator to support with growing a business model. Having the unique perspectives of our Social Venture Partners, who are local entrepreneurs and business leaders, has been invaluable for our nonprofit teams.

Use “Yes, and” Instead of “No, but”

This phrase is commonly used in improv comedy. The statement “Yes, and” builds on the idea that everything is possible and removes limitations. We can sometimes get caught up in thinking about barriers to ideas and we aren’t able to think outside of the box. Challenge yourself and your teams to try a week of “yes, and.” Instead of thinking about all of the ways an idea won’t work, focus on how you can take one idea and build on it. This activity can help shift your thinking and encourage more “yes, and” and less “no, but.”

At the recent Art of System Leadership training taught by Heather McLeod Grant, she did a training on this idea. You can find her presentation from that day here.

Read more about improv tools for social sector leaders in this May 2016 SSIR post by Maya Bernstein.

Encourage Growth Throughout

Incorporate the vision of a growth mindset throughout your organization. Share this concept with your team and build it in to your current process and systems for evaluation.

Create the time and space for evaluation and feedback. This process will allow you the time and information you need to improve and continue to grow as an organization. For many of us, we have so much going on that we aren’t taking the time to stop and reflect on what we’ve done. In order to encourage a growth mindset in your organization and your teams, you need to slow down.

Staff evaluations are another opportunity for encouraging a growth mindset within an organization. If you are having staff complete evaluations, make sure that your evaluations go beyond what was accomplished each year. While accomplishments are important, in order to encourage a growth mindset, have your team evaluate themselves on how they’ve improved from the year before and to focus on areas of growth for the future. Allowing a process for staff to discuss their areas of growth (and including it in their goals for the upcoming year) will allow the focus of evaluations to shift from accomplishments (which can be seen as fixed) to growth and improvement (which can be seen as a growth mindset).

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