Elephants are the largest of all land mammals and are known for their intelligence, compassion, and love for their family and friends. So why do we have so many English idioms that pick on elephants?
An item that no one wants or is too expensive to keep is called a white elephant; we even have white elephant gift exchanges. When a person has too much to drink, they see pink elephants and an overwhelming task is like eating an elephant. And of course, there is always the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
Sometimes, however, it’s best to talk about the elephant in the room. Then we can figure out what to do with him, how we can take care of him, and we will have a right understanding of his role and importance.
In the non-profit world, the general fund is often the elephant in the room. We all know that money is needed to operate any business or charity, but few people like to talk about it. It is much more exciting to talk about successful programs and capital campaigns. We can pour another cup of coffee and chat about what a difference the organization is making through special projects, and the elephant remains quietly in the corner.
The problem is that elephants can only wait quietly when they are content and well cared for. If the elephant is scared, angry or hungry, he will demand attention. He might even cause a lot of damage or injury in the process of getting his needs met. There is just no way to ignore an aggravated elephant.
The same thing is true for the non-profit general fund. If we are able to make our core expenses, we continue on with programs and pay little attention to the health and security of the funding stream. By the time we notice a problem, we have to deal with the shortfall and at the same time manage future needs. It’s like trying to spoon feed a starving elephant – you’re likely to get trampled in the process.
Like it or not, we need to take care of our elephant. When we do, we may find he has some amazing qualities. We’ll find people who express their love and care for the mission of our organization by faithful, longtime support. We’ll find others who make extraordinary gifts, and we’ll find others who would like to help if they just knew about the needs of the elephant.
I encourage you to talk about the elephant in the room; don’t ignore him. Is he healthy and happy or does he need a little attention? If you take good care of your elephant, he will live a long and productive life and will be your loyal friend. Just remember, an elephant never forgets.