Elevator Culture: Getting out of your comfort zone

This morning I was thinking about changing a culture. It is actually something I do for a living – changing cultures in nonprofits. It starts with the nonprofit wanting to increase their fundraising, launch a capital campaign or engage their Board further in their activities. In order to do this, often the culture of the organization needs to change. To increase fundraising, they need to implement additional or new fundraising activities. To engage the Board, they need to find new opportunities for Board members to engage and then actively pursue the members to be part of the activities of the nonprofit in a meaningful way. This is a change in their “business as usual”.

However, it is not easy to change a culture. A great way to look at this difficulty is to put your self in an elevator. Last week, I was riding the elevator up to my room at the Omni Hotel San Francisco.  The culturally acceptable way to ride an elevator is to remain amazingly silent (I even feel the urge to breathe quietly), not talk to anyone else in the elevator (even if you know them) do not look at anyone else in the elevator, and fix your gaze on the lighted numbers until the elevator doors open and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief (especially me, because most likely I was probably holding my breath trying to be so quiet).

  • What if we started engaging people in conversation in the elevator?
  • What if looked around the elevator and smiled at others who were riding along side of us?

This would be changing a culture.

As I was saying, this is not easy. Even me, who can chat anyone up at anytime (Lord help all those poor unsuspecting people who sit next to me on an airplane. By the end of the flight, I will know your dreams, fears and at least one of your most embarrassing moments as well as the names and ages of your grandchildren). Like I said, I can engage just about anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Yet, on an elevator, I obey the culture. I do not talk to my neighbors and I stare silently ahead. Which is fine and dandy on an elevator. But what if you wanted to accomplish something that is above and beyond your “business as usual”? Can you continue to do the exact same activities and expect bigger and better results?

I had a client who needed to desperately increase their fundraising. They were in the red every month and the majority of the staff were in the process of jumping off the ship because of the organization’s financial instability. If the organization kept on the path they were on, they would have to close their doors.

So, I went in and did what I do: I helped them revamp their fundraising program, tweaking their current strategy to be more effective and produce better results and I recommended implementing new fundraising efforts and building the structure they needed to accomplish this. And guess what? Every time I presented a new strategy, they nodded their heads and then proceeded to do exactly what they had done the year before. Why? Because doing what you have always done is within your comfort zone. Like riding an elevator and not talking. If you suddenly started chatting up the person next to you, it would be uncomfortable because “elevator culture” dictates that you are to be silent and do not engage the people around you.

This client did not increase their fundraising, but they kept the status quo that was ultimately much more comfortable.

Changing the culture of your organization or even your personal culture, means stepping outside of your comfort zone. It means trying something different – anything different – to see if you can start producing different results. It can be simple. Like today, I needed to write this blog. I had an idea about elevators and changing culture, but couldn’t put it together in a coherent way. So, I kicked around my place, drinking coffee, changing the sheets on the bed, and organizing the mail and still no clarity for the blog. I was hanging out in my comfort zone hoping for inspiration to strike.

Yet, I have the blog written as you can see. I had to get out of my comfort zone. So, I threw on my tennis shoes and hopped on my beach cruiser and went for a short, but effective coastal cruise. In the fresh air, my brain could bat around ideas and bring up new ones. The scenery – blue skies and the glittering ocean – provided a well needed distraction in order for my brain to sort out my thoughts. And viola, this blog was written!

This all being said, when you want to increase fundraising or simply become inspired to write a blog, you need to get out of your comfort zone.


Because that is where real change happens.


And where you find success.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Kir says:

    Love this! Think how many of us send an email instead picking up the phone because it’s safe. But how much more could we gain by being direct. Thanks for batting around these ideas and then putting them to paper!

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