Nonprofits, Think Like the Cows

Mon, May 30, 2016 at 2:00PM

effective nonprofit communication

A slap in the face on a freezing winter morning from a cold, wet, and smelly cow’s tail: that was my daily greeting from the first of more than 200 cows that needed to be milked.

I worked on my family’s dairy farm through high school and college, but the twice-a-day milking routine never came easy for me. Summers were hot, and winter mornings at 3 a.m. were often below freezing.

The workers stood in a pit that placed the cows at chest level.

It felt like daily combat, with the cows definitely having the advantage. My arms and hands were targets for quick kicks, and my face was the object of nonstop tail swats.

The longtime veterans of the dairy didn’t seem to have the difficulties I did in getting the cows’ cooperation.

One particularly frustrating morning I was given some advice that at the time I laughed at, but I later realized was actually quite profound.

“Hardy, you have to learn to think like the cows if you want their cooperation.”

Organizations seeking to improve relationships with clients, members, board members, volunteers, donors, and sponsors can benefit from this dairy barn wisdom.

It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming we know what others want.

Although I thought that all the cows needed was to be fed and milked, they obviously wanted a different approach to the task at hand.

Often we get so focused on the work to be done, we don’t take the time to better understand either those we help or those who help us. As a result, collaboration and support may be less than desired.

Reduce resistance and increase cooperation by actively soliciting and listening to the opinions of those you are trying to engage.

Whether it’s clients, members, board members, volunteers, donors, or sponsors, who is it you need to think more like?


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