Confessions of a Risk-Taker

By Erin Gloeckner

As an employee of the go-to organization for advice on any and everything risky, I realize that some people probably assume I’m a professional worrywart. You probably wouldn’t be surprised if I told you I constantly fret over danger, like Ben Stiller’s risk analyst character in Along Came Polly. Well here’s the truth: I am a germaphobe. I wash my hands twenty times a day, and I worry about contracting pinkeye. I worry about my long distance relationship. I worry about whether I have visible sweat rings. But, I do a lot more than worry. I am a spontaneous, adventurous woman; I enjoy taking risks for the reward that risk-taking promises. Last year for Christmas, I took my boyfriend skydiving. We jumped tandem, attached to instructors on harnesses, from 14,000 feet in the air. When I tumbled out of that plane, screaming like a banshee, I realized that I was not a professional worrywart after all. I am a hardcore risk manager who knows that many risks are worth taking.

As the year comes to an end, I hope you are giving some thought to the risks that make you fearful, and the risks you happily embrace. Have your fears held you back from experiencing the extraordinary? We too often forget that the entire point of risk-taking is to reap positive outcomes, or that risk-taking itself can be a powerful avenue to personal growth.

During the Center’s next two webinars we’re hoping to inspire you to become the risk taker you were meant to be. The last First Wednesday webinar of 2012 scheduled for December 5th focuses on calibrating your nonprofit’s risk appetite. How much risk can or should your nonprofit take? How do you know if a particular risk is within your comfort zone or puts you on the “bleeding,” rather than “leading” edge? The first webinar of our brand-new series for 2013 explores the role of the risk champion in a nonprofit. Join us on January 9th at 2 pm EST for the kick-off of a terrific new series. During the past six months I’ve come to understand that a risk champion is a “must” in any risk-taking nonprofit. But is the most effective risk champion necessarily a professional risk manager? Or can it be another leader in the organization? Or should a group of leaders accept the challenge of serving as risk champions? I hope you’ll decide to join us for these conversations about risk in the never dull, always inspiring lifecycle of a nonprofit organization.

As a New Year’s resolution, I invite you to create a “Risk Bucket List” of the risks your nonprofit plans to take in 2013. Instead of focusing solely on the downside risks you hope to avoid (e.g., litigation, injured clients, disgruntled funders, etc.), why not focus on the opportunity to create a meaningful CEO succession plan, collaborate with a brand new partner, or finally confront a board member whose actions are causing more harm than good?

A recent addition to my personal “Risk Bucket List” is to complete the 10 mile “Tough Mudder” race, which includes 20 grueling military-style obstacles. My race is in April, so start worrying! I’m going to worry my way to the finish line and celebrate with a Spartan victory scream and an ice cold beer.

Erin Gloeckner is Project Manager at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, where she coordinates and supports consulting projects for a diverse array of clients. She’s also working on a brand-new book on managing partnership and fundraising risks. Erin welcomes your feedback on this article or questions about risk issues at erin@nonprofitrisk.org or 703.777.3504.