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13 Reasons Leslie Knope Is Your Nonprofit’s Spirit Animal

Leslie hope

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Published September 23, 2016 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Heroes enter our lives in many different ways—through family, friendships, and even television screens. For nonprofit professionals, Leslie Knope (the main character of popular TV show “Parks and Recreation”) may just be the next figure to win your admiration and inspire your work.

Over the course of seven seasons, Leslie delights viewers with her never-ending zest for life and tireless work in the Parks Department of fictional town Pawnee, Indiana. Throughout the series, Leslie faces countless roadblocks in her efforts to motivate her team and execute her ideas for a better Pawnee. Despite begrudging coworkers and red tape, Leslie maintains an infectious zeal for her work.

In the drudge of day-to-day tasks, it can be easy to lose enthusiasm and forget why we do the work we do. In these darker moments, heroes like Leslie inspire us and give us the energy we need to persevere. The next time you’re feeling low, I challenge you to ask yourself, WWLD. Here’s why.

1. She’s Passionate

If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly, and if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough. This is my home, you are my family, and I promise you, I’m not going anywhere.

Leslie Knope

Social impact organizations stand up and work tirelessly in the face of serious social challenges. In order to advance your mission, sometimes you need to push. To succeed, there are times when you’ll need to be fanatical and relentless. And while you’ll need more than just passion to achieve your goals, it’s what sustains your team through obstacles along the way.

2. She Takes Risks

How does taking risks make me feel? Amazing. Tingling sensations throughout my whole body. I feel flushed, my muscles are relaxed yet awake.

Leslie Knope

Risks and experimentation are necessary for social progress. But that doesn’t make them any less intimidating. Make sure to take calculated risks, where you thoughtfully weigh your options for moving forward before betting on one. This can either be fruitful for your cause, or present a welcome opportunity to learn. Either way, you win.

These smart risks can get your blood pumping but still keep you level-headed.

3. She Believes in Herself

leslie knope

Self talk is a powerful practice. And you don’t need to wait for a lower moment in life to do it. Remind yourself and your team that you’re all unicorns doing incredible work and that no one can take that from you.

4. She’s Thoughtful

Why would I throw Ron Swanson an Ann Perkins party?

Leslie Knope

Birthdays are a big deal, and birthday celebrations should reflect the unique preferences and personalities of the person being celebrated. Your organization can help supporters celebrate their birthdays and share their personal connection to your cause with peer-to-peer fundraising pages.

5. She Draws Inspiration from Her Heroes

Wanna hear something awful? He didn’t even know who Madeline Albright was.

Leslie Knope

Leslie’s judge of character tends to involve whether or not you like breakfast foods and who your female heroes are. She reminds us that it’s important to identify people and influencers who inspire us to be the best version of ourselves and achieve our goals.

Which individuals and organizations does your organization look up to? What can you learn from their successes and missteps to inform your goal setting and strategic plans?

6. She Always Gives 100 Percent

leslie knope

Sound like anyone at your organization? People who are extremely dedicated to their work sometimes develop less than ideal sleep and caffeine habits. While sleep deprivation certainly has its comical moments, remember that a well-rested team will be better able to attack the day’s challenges.

7. She Pushes Everyone to Be Better

Come on, Ron. You can do better than that.

Leslie Knope

If there’s one thing Leslie’s coworkers can count on her for, it’s to be their cheerleader—for better or for worse. Part of helping your team is not being afraid to respectfully push each other to complete the best work possible.

8. Her Energy Knows No Bounds

leslie knope

Nonprofits work to achieve missions that could take several lifetimes to complete. While not everyone dreams of working until they’re 100, if you’re lucky, your organization is full of Leslies who are loyally dedicated to the cause.

9. She’s Doing Her Life’s Work

There is something wonderful about seeing someone who has found her true purpose. For Leslie, her true purpose on Earth, her true meaning, is making other people’s lives better.

Ron Swanson

At the end of the day, all of your daily tasks ladder up to your organization’s impact on the world. As an organization, keep your “true meaning” in mind in all that you do, and even use it to drive your smaller, day-to-day decision making.

10. She’s Creative

Budget solutions number 28: Use grazing sheep to mow grass in parks. Note: tired sheep could become food or sweaters.

Leslie Knope

Nonprofits are no strangers to limited resources. Sometimes you need to get creative to figure out how to make the most of what’s available. Stuck for a solution to a problem? Draft a laundry list of possible solutions, no matter how outlandish or feasible, and review them as a team to see if any spark an idea for the right path forward.

11. She’s Always Positive

Positive is always better than negative. Barack Obama said, ‘Yes we can,” and now he’s president.

Leslie Knope

To overcome opposition, Leslie continuously strives to remain positive because she knows it will help her move closer to her goals. She constantly praises her own work and that of her fellow staff members to lift their spirits and motivate them, no matter the task.

12. She’s a Team Player

No one achieves anything alone. So, let’s embark on this journey together. Let’s break out a map. Not the old, out-of-date one that shows where we’ve been, but the new, crisp one that shows where we might go. Let’s embark on a new journey together and see where it takes us.

Leslie Knope

Just like your organization, Leslie recognizes the integral role collaboration plays in achieving goals. She chooses to focus on the future and how collective work can move her team forward together.

13. She Knows When to Forge Ahead

leslie ben gif

If you wait for the perfect time to start your next initiative, you’ll never start. There is always something you could prioritize over said project. There’s always something that’s going to come up last minute. There’s never going to be just the right amount of extra funding. It’s when we stride forward fearlessly, knowing we can continue to hone our process along the way, that we make the most progress in our missions.


Have any other characters you look to for inspiration? Or other favorite Leslie-isms we didn’t include? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

There are also times when your nonprofit needs to ask, “WWD(onna)D?” The answer? Treat Yo Self!

Read Next: What Your Nonprofit Should Invest in to Succeed

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