I’ve always tried. It’s just how I’m hardwired. From a very young age, I understood that in order to succeed I must try. In order to be known and understood, I must try. Without trying, there is little progress I could make.

In this, I believe, has been my own personal bravery. Because to be willing to try, you must also be willing to fall flat on your face. And I have zero qualms admitting that I have fallen, many times, personally and professionally. This is how we grow of course.

I figure it’s not by chance then that I’ve spent the last five years focusing my digital expertise on the non-profit sector. We are known for our resilience. Our ability to get back up after we fall. Our desire to create real and lasting change. Our deep-rooted hope that progress is possible in our imperfect world.

I have learned, loved, and lived digital for the past eight years. And I do it because all I see in it is potential and possibility. These just happen to be the same things I see in my peers that work at charities.

We are absolutely not handed silver platters with easy problems to solve stacked high with dollar bills. We are scrutinized. Demonized. Taken advantage of. And expected to make money hand over fist while spending as little as possible. And, yet, when I think of the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of working with over my tenure, I think how lucky I am to have witnessed such resolve and authenticity and desire for change.

So, with this, I ask you one simple question: why is it that you do what you do?
It’s important for us to remind ourselves, as often as we need to, so that we don’t lose sight of how much it takes to try and change.

Failure is fuel

“When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation”

—Brené Brown

We all know the conventional definition of failure: To set a tough goal and then not achieve it. But to me, failure is about not doing something when I know I should. About holding back an idea. About letting fear run rampant and derail my progress. About not doing the best that I can for the people that I work with. It’s about giving up the fight when that’s the wrong thing to do.

To be open to failure is to be vulnerable.

I remember when I decided to come work at Stephen Thomas (ST)—standing in the washroom at my previous place of employment after just being made the offer. I knew there was only one right answer: yes. And believe me it wasn’t because I knew it would work out or that I had all the answers to the questions I’d be asked or that I had significant agency-side experience (I didn’t!). I knew I would be taking on one of the biggest challenges of my career and it has been unimaginably unpredictable but also fulfilling.

When you decide to jump and take a risk, there is no way to know if you’ll land on your feet. So in order for us to be creative and innovative with a purpose, we must also be willing to understand that we shouldn’t always do what’s always been done. That the ROI equation in the first year might not be palatable. That our executives and boards will challenge us. And that we will have to stand, as fearless as possible, in opposition to the current that threatens to push us down the same path we’ve always traveled.

Fear is fought with belief and purpose

I have a very simple, two-part equation to help us conquer fear. The fear that holds us back, builds up a barrier and convinces us that later would be much better than right now. Part one is the belief that you can and will change the world. And part two is the undeniable sense of purpose with which you will do it.

With this in mind, let’s talk about digital. Digital is not some future state that we aspire to, that we will find the time and attention for next year. Digital is right here, right now. You hold it in your hand. Watch it when you get home. Experience it while walking down the street. Digital is not just a channel to add to your toolbox, it is the smart application of technology that has literally changed our lives and is breeding a very different kind of donor.

I am the exact target that charities are finding elusive. Professional, employed, childless, urban, digital native with a modest disposable income. If only we could figure out why I wasn’t donating to any charities (read: sarcasm)—don’t worry, I am!

In all seriousness, if you want to break down fear, integrate across all channels, and cultivate the new digital audience, then you must talk to what you do and why you do it. Therein lies the authenticity that no person, regardless of demographic or technological bent, can ignore.

Mix that passion with belief and purpose—what combination of elements could be better to unlocking your warrior?

Trying is about wanting to change 

Get up in the morning. Say no. Say yes. Ask ‘what the ROI is?’ Understand you might not like the answer.

That’s it. Those are your five things.

Easier said than done, of course!

But half the battle is deciding to participate in the battle, which is why you keep doing what you’re doing. Which is why you continue to try every day to make changes to our world and the people in it, for those can’t or won’t.

It’s about making the tough decisions, the unfriendly decisions. Whether it’s ‘no’ or ‘yes’, it’s always one or the other. The one truth to remember here is by saying one, you open yourself up to saying the other. By that, I mean balance. There will always be trade-offs, something to give up to get something in return.

That doesn’t mean we stop asking the tough questions about investment and return and risk. Taking risks means understanding the nature and potential of the risk and asking how it will perform, where it will go, what we will learn. And be open to the myriad of answers.

Embrace the warrior in you

Working with charities every day is a built-in reminder for me of what bravery really is. My fear is that I’ll become desensitized to it. Until I pick up the phone and talk to someone I’ve never talked to before. They tell me their story of how they ended up at Charity ABC. And then they tell me the story of their cause. And I feel grateful because we’re all brave, from the CEO to the Development Manager to the Donor to the Beneficiary.

Everything starts somewhere. And most things start small. I know how easy it is to forget how we got here and how hard it is to continually motivate ourselves to get where we’re going.

So if you read this and think what I can do next or differently. I will answer by asking you to define what you want your brave to be. And then I’ll say, ‘Embrace your warrior and go do it.’

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Simren Deogun

As Stephen Thomas Ltd.’s director, digital innovation, Simren Deogun helps clients exceed their marketing and fundraising objectives through strategic thought leadership. Simren leads all of the agency’s digital and integrated efforts for non-profits and charities including Kids Help Phone, Médecins Sans Frontières, Surf Life Saving Foundation, Children’s Wish Foundation and more.

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