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The Intersection of Travel and Nonprofit Leadership: 7 Powerful Lessons Learned

Updated: Mar 17

“Travel is rich with learning opportunities, and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective." ~Rick Steves

My family kicked off March of 2024 with an impromptu trip. We packed our five children in the van and headed off for adventure in Texas! We headed south from Virginia, down to I-10, then up from Houston to College Station, TX. Home of Aggieland. The weather was beautiful, and we experienced many new things. The next week, on our return trip, losing 2-hours thanks to Daylight Savings, I captured some lessons learned. I wrote them to my future traveling self, but upon reviewing them, I realized how much they apply to work in a nonprofit. 

  1. Sometimes, there isn’t more time, energy, or attention. 

  2. The Mission is what matters. 

  3. People are top priority. 

  4. Do a walk around and keep an eye on your gauges. 

  5. Plan ahead, as best you can, but follow where the road leads you.

  6. Expect detours and enjoy them. 

  7. Stop and look for acorns. 

  1. Sometimes, there isn’t more time, energy, or attention. When the schedule is packed, you won’t always have time to do everything you want to do. You might not even have time to do what you need to do. Look for ways to optimize your time with procedures, processes, and delegating. You may also need to come to terms with your limitations. 

  2. The Mission is what matters. No surprise here, I talk about it all the time, but I live it too. Sometimes, the focus changes slightly, but I try to ignite, inspire, and grow wherever I go. While encouraging my little ones to do the same. 

  3. People are top priority. This is a fundamental of leadership. I met some fantastic people in Aggieland and around, but my people, my little people, were my top priority. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to while on our adventure. But I did what was best for the team. 

  4. Do a walk around and keep an eye on your gauges. In this case, it was to keep our van in top shape for travel. I’d check the tire pressure, shocks, lights, breaks, oil, coolant levels, gas, etc. It’s important to be aware of your organization in just the same way. Oil levels might not be the most fancy, flashy part of vehicle operation, but it is necessary to get down the road safely. Building on earlier comments about people, mission, and resources, go look at how these are affecting your organization. 

  5. Plan ahead, as best you can, but follow where the road leads you. The trip was 21+ hours, one way. We had a destination in mind, and knew we would have to stop for the night somewhere, but where? We left that up to the road. There were variables we couldn’t control. Traffic, construction, and the inevitable “recalculating route”. These stops were necessary for a road weary family, and we took them when we needed them, not when we had planned them. 

  6. Expect detours and enjoy them. A little stop in Waco, TX taught me this. We needed a gas station, but for some reason we're having quite a difficult time finding one. I enjoy watching Fixer Upper. One special building they fixed was a castle. I thought about how fun it would be to find it. But, with the difficulty we were having finding a gas station, I didn’t mention it. We got turned around in a small neighborhood, when all of a sudden we turned the corner and there it was! The castle, not a gas station. :) We were there long enough to snap a picture, but what a fun detour! Our best made strategic plans won’t always work. I suggest capturing events in a living document that acts as an attachment, or logbook, for a solid strategic plan. 

7. Stop and look for acorns. Stop and look for acorns? Spring is starting to unfold around us. Aren’t acorns a fall thing? Yes, they ripen in fall, but let’s take a different look at the acorn. It is easy to crunch them underfoot or watch a squirrel busily crack one for a snack. But we can learn more by stopping to look for them. While staying a night near Dallas, I found the largest acorns I’d ever seen! I now know they are from the Bur Oak Tree. They were mixed in with very small acorns, from what I guess come from a Live Oak Tree. These too diverse acorns both grow into huge oak trees. They are like the Texan’s favorite greeting, ‘Howdy’. From a small greeting, there is potential for a huge relationship. From small commonality or conversation, friendship may be found. You never know who your organization's next big advocate will be. So, if you don’t stop to look, you may miss out. 

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