woman sitting in front of four pillars

I was recently reminded of a topic that resonates deeply with our work in nonprofits, inspired by Emily Esfahani Smith’s enlightening TED talk from April 2017 titled, “There’s more to life than being happy.” Smith’s exploration of the four pillars of meaning – belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling – provides a profound perspective that can revolutionize how we approach our missions in the nonprofit world.

The Pillar of Belonging in Nonprofits

In her talk, Smith highlights that true belonging stems from being valued for who we are intrinsically. This principle is a cornerstone in our sector. We create communities where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds or challenges, are valued and supported. Whether it’s through outreach programs or advocacy, fostering a sense of belonging is not just a goal but a necessity in our work.

Purpose Beyond Ourselves

Smith points out, “Purpose is less about what you want than about what you give.” Nonprofits inherently operate on this pillar of meaning. Our work is a manifestation of purpose, often geared towards serving others and addressing crucial societal needs. This shared sense of purpose not only drives our organizations forward but also provides a deep sense of fulfillment for those involved.

Transcendence: The Art of Looking Beyond

Transcendence, as described by Smith, involves moments where we connect with something larger than ourselves. In our line of work, this can be seen when we witness the impact of our collective efforts – be it in changing a single life or influencing a broader societal change. These moments lift us from the daily grind and reaffirm the value of our work.

Storytelling: Weaving Our Narratives

The final pillar, storytelling, is about the narratives we create about our lives. As nonprofits, we are in a unique position to help reshape narratives, not just for those we serve but also within our organizations. By sharing stories of resilience, growth, and transformation, we reinforce the impact and necessity of our work.

The Synergy with Nonprofit Goals

Smith’s pillars of meaning do not just align with our goals in the nonprofit sector; they are essentially embedded in our DNA. Embracing these pillars can lead to more resilient organizations, improved engagement with our communities, and a deeper understanding of our roles in the broader tapestry of society.

Why Nonprofits Should Watch

Watching Smith’s talk offers valuable insights into how we can enhance our approaches to building stronger, more meaningful connections with our communities. It reminds us that our work is not just about providing services or support, but about cultivating spaces where belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling thrive.

As we continue our journey in the nonprofit sector, let’s keep these pillars in mind, using them as guiding lights in our mission to make a difference. After all, as Smith eloquently puts it, “Happiness comes and goes. But when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold on to.”

Mission Forward

Mission Forward is a weekly LinkedIn Newsletter written by Paul Durban with tools, tips and tricks to help nonprofits reach their goals. Subscribe to the newsletter on LinkedIn.