Nonprofit Network Blog

Nonprofit Laws of Motion: A Place for Gentle, Consistent Pressure

Thursday, September 15, 2016 11:12 AM | Regina Pinney (Administrator)

Regina Funkhouser

Executive Director

Nonprofit organizations are on the front lines of promoting the health and well-being of local communities. They serve as a safety net for social services and act as advocates and facilitators for individual and community voice.

This work is hard – so very hard, because resistance is part of change – be it advocating for foster children, homeless families, art education, or increasing literacy. Changes to individuals, organizations, communities, and systems require deliberate, planned acts.   

Just ask Newton. His Laws of Motion apply here too.

Consider the First Law:
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

There is a natural tendency to keep doing what has been done. We get in ruts – doing the same things the same way with no thought to efficacy or impact. All objects resist changes in their state of motion. Our programs and our systems, our infrastructure and our plans all seem to have this natural tendency to avoid change until we are forced by something big – maybe a cognitive shift, an evolution of thought, new data – that alters our course. How often do you ask yourself, why am I doing it this way or how do I know what I am doing is still effective?

And then Newton’s Second Law comes in to play: Heavier objects require more force to move.

If we want big changes, we need loud, assertive acts to get movement – all of us saying the same message, all of us standing – or sitting – working toward the same end: a better future for all of us. The Collective Impact work has proven that if we all run forward, full speed and in the same direction, we might move mountains. 

But are we also listening to the smaller, quieter voices that don’t currently have the force to move heavier objects? Are we valuing the unheard? Are you the heavier object?

If we do this correctly, we actually use Newton’s Third Law: For every force, there is a reaction force equal in size, but in the opposite direction.

In many cases, it feels like we face resistance to our efforts and barriers to success, like lack of funds, unmotivated staff, or clients that don’t follow the services plan. But with appropriate physics, this reaction force can be used to our advantage. This is where the constant, persistent gentle pressure becomes our fuel. This is where we leverage the barrier to push us forward instead of minimizing our impact. The solid ground beneath our feet launches our rocket.

Use these laws to your advantage. Learn to be agile – to not become the system that requires an unbalanced force to change our direction. 

What internal and external forces do you use to navigate and propel? 

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