Sophomore Slump

Or, the Honeymoon is over.

Some people talk about the Honeymoon phase. Or bad second night performances. I like to call it the Sophomore Slump.

When you are facing a new challenge, new relationship, or new idea, you're engaged. You can be energized by the adventure of it all. This happens in new romantic relationships. It happens on opening nights, when you are still not quite sure you can pull it off.

During the freshman year of college, you try hard, partly because you're not sure you can do it. And then, once you succeed that first year, you back off. And you face the Sophomore Slump. Grades might slip, you might socialize more than you study.

This also happens in new nonprofits and businesses. For the first three, maybe five, years you can run an organization on passion and heart. But those are quick burning fuels. They burn hot, but not for long. And most organizations hit a point a few years in where they have to switch their thinking--they have to go from sprinting to long distance.

And often nonprofits struggle with this transition. Partly, specific types of staff and volunteers thrive in groups in that honeymoon phase. They tend to be passionate people who are good in an emergency or flying by the seat of their pants. But they might not be so great as the organization ages.

Once they hit this transition, nonprofits need different skill sets. They need people on the team who are strategic thinkers. Staff who can put down the fire hose and start thinking about how to build a more fire resistant structure. People who can stop worrying about where next month's rent is coming from and think about building an endowment to pay for future rent.

This is one of the points in a nonprofit's journey that working with Storybook Foundry can be very fruitful. Through conversations and document review, we can help organizations tease out the language they are already using and the rules they are already following. They've just never stopped to think about it. Once this information is collected and organized, nonprofits who are transitioning to becoming more sustainable have the beginning of grant applications, websites, appeals, marketing materials and more. They can hire a social media intern and quickly bring them up to speed. Organizations can contract in a grant writer or a website designer and be able to communicate with them easily, decreasing their cost.

But this process also has a benefit to the intellectual health of the organization. Taking a short pause to think about language and communication, to organization information they most likely already have, moves nonprofit staff from being reactive to being proactive. And that, after all, is what the transition out of the Sophomore Slump is all about.