Can hibernation teach us something about nonprofit management and planning?

Winter is coming in the northern hemisphere and on solstice, December 21. Here on the 50th parallel my office clock went back to “normal time” a few weeks ago. So-long dragonflies. Ciao honeysuckle. Adios sun. Shorter, darker, inclement days herald shifts in living and working in this beautiful region.

Now, local black bears go into a torpor state with decreases in body temperature and metabolic rate. Smaller animals, like the Vancouver Island Marmot hibernate in family groups, and go into a deeper sleep state–hibernation. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Here’s a great BBC Earth article about torpor and hibernation, why animals do it and why humans don’t–but I guess we’re working on it for space travel.

High and Low Seasons

I work a good part of the year in the nonprofit, knowledge-tourism industry in which spring, summer and fall months require high, non-stop energy levels. And long days. Visitors come from around the world seven days a week. This seasonal span is the sweet spot for sharing what you have with the public, for meeting new people and for revenues. It’s full-out time.

When late fall arrives, staff energy depletion starts to occur. Coastal weather brings rain, mud, snow and ice that splatter bikes, cars, buses. The mess begins. SADS lamp sales go up. Hoodies appear. And is it a fashion industry rule to mostly make them in grey or black?

With the onset of these bad-hair days, it’s natural to turn to our furry friends and think, “Hey what about that bear torpor state? Bears don’t spend as much money on useless hair products. Snoozing in a den catching up on mystery novels is looking good at this point. How about sharing some of that torpor expertise with us?”

According to BBC Earth, animals going into these states are avoiding cold weather and predators and maximizing food and energy savings. Given, we’re not hard-wired to shut down our metabolisms. But there’s no harm in borrowing seasonal management practices from all creatures beautiful and sleepy.

Take a Breather

For nonprofits operating in an annual seasonal response flow, the slower season is the perfect opportunity to re-calibrate. This slower time is also an opportunity to restore energy and plan for the coming busy season which starts to unfold in March at spring equinox. Winter solstice is a good time to recognize what every black bear seems to know–you need a breather. Moreover, all the people with whom you work need a breather.

Since we’re not going into torpor state, this rest time is excellent for increased staff humour and recapping highlights of the year. It’s a perfect time to plan the coming year and say thank you to board, staff members and donors. Let’s take it from our animal friends, it’s a time to take a deep breath, to regroup, relax and prepare for our next revolution around the sun.

If you’d like to learn more about nonprofit planning and funding, check my latest book, The Grant writing and Funding Coach here  .


Image: By Scott Darbey from Canada – ‘Vancouver Island Black Bear’, Ursus americanus, see it here-Wikimedia