This month, I’ve been walking in Garden of the Gods and listening to Andy Crouch’s book, The Life We’re Looking For. The book is about nurturing a sense of belonging, meaning and significance in life and leadership. In one chapter, Crouch explores two words the non-profit sector often uses interchangeably. Those words are “impact” and “influence.”

Influence is characterized by gentle force applied over a long period of time. Influence shapes lives, surroundings, culture and effects lasting, systemic change. Influence is particularly powerful when applied to leadership. Non-profit leaders who are leading organizations that are making a better world shape the lives of the people who live in it. Influence leaves an indelible imprint on the lives we encounter and the organizational cultures we create.

Impact on the other hand is characterized by significant force that is applied in short bursts – like wielding a hammer. It often involves deconstruction or rapid displacement of one thing so that something new can emerge. While sometimes necessary, this rapid change usually includes a period of disequilibrium or discomfort, followed by a period of reorientation or rebuilding. Historically, the word impact has had negative connotations but in recent years, impact has become a rallying cry for change for the non-profit sector.

While impact is immediate and can be a powerful force, influence endures beyond the moment, continually shaping attitudes and behaviors long after the initial encounter.

The rock formations in the Garden of the Gods demonstrate the distinction between these two powerful concepts. This natural wonder in Colorado Springs draws millions of visitors every year. Its towering formations stand as a testament to the power of influence: natural forces of wind, water and erosion over centuries of geological activity.

One of the most iconic formations within the Garden of the Gods is the Kissing Camels. This unique formation, which resembles two camels leaning in for a kiss, was not sculpted by human hands but rather by the influence of these powerful forces of nature. Legend has it that before 1909 when the park was donated to the city, one of the Kissing Camels lost its hump due to a lightning strike – a sudden impact that change the formation to forever resemble a camel kissing a cow!

In the world of non-profit leadership, it's sometimes the unexpected moments of impact that leave a lasting impression. The critical leadership and management decisions we make can have a profound impact on the communities we serve. But it is your influence that extends beyond your ability to drive immediate results. Influence wields the power to inspire people, cultivate partnerships, mobilize resources, advocate for policy change and effect systemic change.

Just as the natural forces of erosion, wind and water have etched the breathtaking landscape of Garden of the Gods, so too can our influence, applied consistently over time, shape the world around us. As non-profit leaders, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to use our influence to leave lasting legacies of compassion, integrity, and empathy, creating a ripple-effect of positive change for future generations.

Reflect on your own life and career. Who has had the most lasting influence on you? And where would you like to make an impact, or perhaps be an influence, on another? 


Header Photo by Melanie Magdalena on Unsplash




This month, DBD Group is sharing the lessons and insights we've gleaned from our reading. One of our core axioms is to never stop learning and as a team, we read a lot! Whether we're revisiting lessons from old favorites or diving into a new bestseller, we love to share what we learn. Let us know what you're reading in the comments section. We're always ready for a new read!                                                                    

Posted by Laura DeVries
Laura DeVries

Written by Laura DeVries

With a focus on coaching nonprofits, NGOs and churches, Laura provides strategic insight and guidance to faith-focused organizations who are living out their unique vision and mission.

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