My Facebook and Instagram feed has been flooded lately with very striking pictures of beautiful teenage girls with the caption, “Be a Flamingo not a penguin” or “Be a Flamingo not a pigeon.”
Considering I have no teenage daughters or daughters of any age, I was surprised by my very visceral reaction to these captions. I didn’t know that one species was seen as better than another. I certainly didn’t know there was a type of bird that no one wanted to be. I felt terribly sorry for the poor pigeons and penguins.
How unfair to be judged so harshly when pigeons have served humans for centuries as messengers and penguins are adored in movies and videos globally. Even if the flamingos are just being used as encouragement to stand out because of their color or preference to stand on one leg, I still felt inexplicably sad for the black and white penguins and gray pigeons. After all, they can’t choose their color any more than we can and their body shape and color lends itself to their survival.
I think I reacted so harshly initially because of the climate in our world today. Children are being bullied to the point of suicide by each other and then bullied by adults for standing up for themselves. School shootings are no longer rare and it seems adults and children alike struggle with self-image, confidence and just finding a place in this world. Life is hard. Our world is inhumane and I see just how inhumane every day within Animal Welfare.
I have no idea what this “Flamingo” thing is actually about and when I looked deep enough inside my frustration, I realized I don’t actually care about the choice of one species over another. It could have said, “Be a rhino not a hippo” and elicited the same reaction. I care that in order to boost ourselves, we put another down.
This struck such a chord in me because a few short nights ago while desperately trying to come up with an idea for a fundraiser I said, “I don’t want another boring ass dinner and auction like everyone else.” Yep, while trying to hunt for an original idea in a world where everything has already been done, I resorted to putting down other’s efforts and my own previous efforts to feel better about myself and my current ideas.
Nonprofits Run on Passion and Empty Bank Accounts
I run a nonprofit and like all nonprofits we run full on passion and empty on money so our energy is often expended trying to create ways of making money instead of doing the life changing work we do. This in itself is a challenge but throw in the hundreds of other nonprofits we compete with locally and the hundreds of thousands we compete with nationally, and the search for an original idea seems impossible.
“But you are not in competition with anyone,” says everyone without a clue. Wise up! There are only so many donors and so many dollars. 9 out of 10 grants I write come back to me with some version of this statement, “Thank you for your good work. Unfortunately, we receive more applications than we can fund each year and are unable to fulfill your request.”
Trust me, we are in competition, with for-profit businesses and other non-profits and I absolutely hate that. I am the queen of unity, the ambassador of partnerships but I am not stupid. I have to create opportunities for donors that entice them to leave their homes after a very long and hard work week. I have to find ways to loosen their purse strings when they quite possibly already gave to 3 other organizations that month. Frankly, another boring ass dinner and auction just didn’t seem likely to accomplish much. Everyone has dinners. Everyone has auctions, 5k’s, golf tournaments, etc. The landscape of fundraising has grown predictable and it’s hard to be original. It’s hard to stand out- like a flamingo.
And the “competition” has grown exceptionally talented. It’s hard to even find a day to host an event without competing with 6 or 7 others already scheduled. And even if our event is in the books first, there will still be others. Not just fundraising events but community events, church events, graduations, holidays and more. It’s a very busy world! Being a flamingo is not enough sometimes when there are peacocks and parrots on the same corner.
Everybody Wins When Nonprofits Win
So I think we are all trying to be a Flamingo or whatever species of bird, reptile, or mammal we admire. Because standing out is as hard as fitting in. None of us are the best at what we do nor are we the worst. We have wins and we have losses. We have great days and we have crap days.
But I think we all need to stop seeing a win in someone else’s court as a loss in ours. We are all individuals and we are all important. We need just as many flamingos in the world as we do penguins and pigeons. As for non-profits, a win for another organization is a win for EVERYONE because non-profits make the world a better place and the world needs as much help as it can get right now.
We are all doing the best we can. Sometimes that means a dinner and an auction. Sometimes that means something out of this world. Who knows? Yes, we will continue to have dinners and auctions because they work AND they are an opportunity to visit with the people that support us. It’s not pink or one-legged but it’s reliably lucrative and reliably lucrative is never boring in the world of non-profits. Every dollar we bring in is another pet saved, fed, or freed from a chain.
I think the take away from this oddly delivered Flamingo lesson is to just be who we are because we are all needed in the world: pink, gray or spotted. Putting anyone else down will never lift you up and celebrate the effort not the result. Trying is all that really matters. If we try hard enough and long enough, it pays off. And lastly, put positivity out into the world. There is not enough positivity. We reap what we sow.