William Schmidt
Will Schmidt
5 min
Nelson Mandela quotes

10 Nelson Mandela Quotes to Inspire Your Nonprofit

Great leaders galvanize the support of individuals, organizations, and entire communities. For nonprofits especially, a strong leader enacts policies and programs that affect their staff, organizational culture, and the groups of people they serve.

While there are countless leaders within the social sector to take inspiration from, there are also many that fall outside the traditional boundaries of the nonprofit world. For instance, strong social leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. can be just as applicable examples when it comes to applying lessons to your work.

To provide inspiration, and to honor his birthday, we dug into quotes from another inspiring leader: Nelson Mandela. After you scroll through the slideshare, keep reading for a breakdown on how to apply some of these Nelson Mandela Quotes to your nonprofit life.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Nonprofits often deal with large issues that are, sometimes, seemingly impossible. That’s why it’s so interesting to stack that up to Mandela’s quote here. Remember that he was a driving factor behind ending apartheid in South Africa—a larger than life goal if there ever was one.

No matter your mission, it’s important you don’t get caught up in the fact that it might feel impossible at times. Focus on the elements of your nonprofit, in your control, that will make a

  • Strong fundraising
  • Effective community
  • Defined organizational culture and
  • Measureable impact from your programs

You can also build feedback loops into your systems and processes. In this way, you’re always applying key learnings and iterating along the way to maximize success.

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

We often hear work likened to traveling down a road—full of hills and valleys—ups and downs. As you work to fulfill your nonprofit’s mission, there are challenges to defeat and victories to celebrate.

Maybe the great hill Mandela references here is a major fundraising campaign for your organization, or maybe it’s hosting your annual gala. Ascending a great hill is an empowering moment, and it should be celebrated.

When you take a moment to celebrate each of your nonprofit’s conquered hills, use it as an opportunity to zoom out and refresh your goals. As with climbing a literal hill, when you reach the top, you get a bird’s eye view. Are you still headed in the right direction? Which hill should you conquer next? Determine if you need to course-correct or head somewhere else before moving on.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

When it comes time to communicate with your supporters, there are ways to get your message across to them, and then there are ways to speak to their heart. Don’t tell them how important your work is—show them what you’re changing in the world and how they’re helping.

That’s the distinction Mandela makes here about the head versus the heart. For example, you could send a thank you notes to your donors after a successful crowdfunding campaign. They’ll appreciate the sentiment, but there’s an opportunity to speak to them in a more personal way.

Instead of a mass email, try sending personalized notes that thank supporters for their specific contributions. The note could also include photo and story updates on how that funding has impacted a major project.

Generally, this mindset carries beyond the world of thank you notes and emails. It’s something you should actively apply to your day to day and interactions with supporters.

“When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.”

This is perhaps the simplest, yet most poignant takeaway from Mandela’s quotes. When you get major traction on something like a fundraising campaign, it’s foolish to assume your efforts up to that point will carry you through to the end successfully.

Strike while the iron is hot. Do whatever you can to keep the momentum going, and then do more:

  • Maintain targeted communications to your
  • Engage with groups of potential new
  • Announce incentives or matching gift
  • Spread the word about your campaign on all social media channels, and often

There’s always something else you can be doing to keep the success moving forward. Don’t let the hype die down by turning the heat off. At the same time, always be aware of burnout. Keep the water boiling in a way that doesn’t exhaust or overwhelm you and your staff.

As you continue to fight the good fight, don’t forget to take time to inspire yourself. When you pause to reflect and pump yourself up, you grant yourself the recharge you need to charge ahead.


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