The Power of Introverts in the Nonprofit Sector

From attending galas to planning events to approaching donors, the nonprofit world thrives off connections and interactions. For that reason, it feels like extroverts are always front and center. And in many ways, it seems as if that’s what the work requires—people who are eager to get out there and spread the word about a great cause. But that’s easier said than done for introverts in the nonprofit sector.

If you’re an introvert, perhaps you feel intimidated by networking events. Or perhaps calling a prospective supporter out of the blue sounds anything but appealing. Maybe you’ve even wished you could be more confident and outgoing or be a better champion of your organization’s mission. If so, you’re not alone in those feelings. But it doesn’t mean you don’t already have qualities that serve as valuable assets to your work and your team.

Let’s explore the power of introverts in the nonprofit sector.

What Does It Mean to be an Introvert?

Generally speaking, an introvert is someone who prefers to recharge by themselves. When it comes to regaining energy, introverts won’t turn to stimulating social situations. Instead, they seek out solitude and calming environments as a space to focus on their own inner thoughts. It all comes down to an introvert’s brain response to stimulation—especially too much stimulation.

Yet introverts have one of the most misunderstood personality types. Those who are introverted are commonly associated with being shy or reserved—which is sometimes true. When introverts begin to feel drained in social situations, they might get quiet or retreat, leading others to view them as antisocial. However, it’s important to remember that this is a mental reaction to overstimulation, not necessarily an inconsiderate behavior. It’s also important to learn the differences between introversion and other behaviors like shyness or social anxiety. (But that’s a blog post for another day.)

What Makes Introverts Different from Extroverts?

By contrast, extroverts are—generally speaking—those who are motivated by stimulating environments. When it comes down to taking some time to recharge, extroverts don’t need as much alone time. They tend to thrive in social situations and appear more outgoing than their introverted counterparts. 

If you’re a nonprofit leader, you probably have an idea of which team members are introverts and which are extroverts. But maybe you’re new to an organization, or it’s just not as clear for your team. Try to pay attention to the behaviors of your team members (even the subtle ones). Notice how they are before, during, or after any meeting or event. Find out what work environments they prefer and what makes them thrive.

However, introverted and extroverted personalities aren’t always so black and white. Perhaps you’ve heard someone use the term “extroverted introvert” as a personality description—meaning that person can be outgoing in social settings but also can’t wait to go home and relax. Instead of thinking of these as two separate extremes, think of them in terms of a range or spectrum. It helps reduce some of the clichés or generalizations about introverts and extroverts. And in this case, it can contribute to a better understanding of introverts in the nonprofit sector.

Why Introverts Are Ideal for Cause Work

Maybe you’re an introvert and wondering how exactly your personality fits in with working toward a cause. Or maybe you lead a nonprofit team and want to better understand the value that introverts add to your team. The truth is that introverts do offer incredible value as team members within the nonprofit sector. While it’s important not to over-generalize, many introverts have similar qualities that are incredibly useful for cause work. Here are a few of them. 

Introverts are Detail-Oriented

It’s common for introverts to be detail-oriented people. They like to think things through and are less likely to make impulsive decisions. Because of this, introverted team members are the ones who make sure the little details are taken care of. If your organization is planning a fundraising event, for example, get input from your introverted team members. They don’t need to be on the frontlines during the event but can be valuable assets behind the scenes. In addition, introverts often excel at administrative tasks like donor database management.

Introverts are Good Listeners

Introverts are also naturally good listeners. There’s a difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. While introverts are often quiet and probably won’t be the first ones to speak up in meetings, that’s because they’re absorbing information and cultivating a keen understanding. Having this skill is useful in all areas of life, but it can distinctly benefit the nonprofit sector. Given enough preparation, introverts can successfully approach and build trustworthy relationships with donors. They can also be more in tune to the needs of those in the communities your nonprofit serves.

Introverts are Keen Problem Solvers

When problems arise, your introverted team members might have an idea for a solution. This quality comes from a combination of other characteristics, like a detail-oriented nature. Since introverts are observant and prone to deep thinking, they’ll approach a problem carefully. Is there an issue within your database? Need help drafting a response in light of a crisis? Seek input from the introverts on your team.

How to Support Introverts in Your Organization

If you’re an executive director or leader, you’ve probably noticed some of the good qualities that your introverted team members have. But the nature of nonprofit work is fast-paced and often challenging. In the busyness of everyday demands, how can you support them? Try keeping the following considerations or ideas in mind.

  • Think about their needs. When it comes to meetings and events, consider how much stimulation your introverted team members will face. If they’re joining you for a seminar or conference, don’t take it personally if they skip the happy hour after. Prepare them for what a meeting might look like ahead of time to minimize any stress.
  • Limit face-to-face interactions when possible. If you don’t consider yourself an introvert and feel burned out after countless meetings, imagine how an introvert must feel. Back-to-back meetings don’t serve introverts. Before you schedule one, consider whether it really could be an email instead. 
  • Make an effort to listen. Are your introverted team members quiet? Think again before assuming they don’t have anything to say. Introverts tend to be thoughtful and observant, and they might have an idea or see an issue you didn’t notice before. Give them the space to voice that in a way that’s comfortable for them.
  • Try a hybrid or remote work model. The pandemic turned work schedules upside down, but there are benefits for introverts with the new flexibility. Consider implementing a hybrid or remote work model to allow introverts a break from a bustling office.

A Final Message for Introverts in the Nonprofit Sector

Being an introvert in the nonprofit sector is challenging (and I understand this first-hand). From fundraising to partnerships to networking, interaction is important in the world of cause work. But these aspects can also be incredibly draining. It’s all about finding a balance between healthy boundaries and embracing opportunities for growth outside of your comfort zone. Just remember that the nonprofit sector needs your thoughtfulness and dedication. Don’t feel like you have to be someone else in order to make an impact.

Woman smiling and writing in a journal

November 4, 2021

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