Update 9/6/16: Three years later, Byron continues to raise money for his music education and beyond busking he used a mix of fundraising strategies.  Currently he is raising funds to return to the Music Institute of Chicago Academy program. More Information

In this blog post, I invited my son Byron to co-write thoughts about nonprofit leadership.  As an aspiring musician at 16, he has a mission, vision and passion and has been working hard to achieve it. For a more insightful look into his work, check out his website at Busking in Portland.

cropped-version1I am sixteen.  I am passionate about the violin.  I want the world to fall in love with classical music. I want to be a world-class solo violinist.  To achieve my goal it takes thousands of hours of practice and thousands of dollars to get the right education. To reach my dreams, I do practice a lot and, to achieve my financial goals, I compete in scholarship competitions, pick up an occasional paid performance, and on June 7th I will be performing a solo recital.  I have also received many generous individual donations that help me towards my goal.

I also busk on Sundays at the Portland Saturday Market to raise money. Busking is street performing.  For me playing classical music on the streets is my gift to the community, and gifts in the form of compliments, encouragement and donations are often returned to me.  What does this have to do with nonprofit leadership? A lot.  Busking contains many lessons for any nonprofit leader looking to succeed.  Let me list a few lessons I have learned.

Play the first note – Unless I pick up my violin and play the first note, nothing will happen.  I have been busking for several years and in the beginning it would sometimes take me 10-30 minutes before I played the first note. Even today, I sometimes freeze for a moment before I start. But once I start the magic happens.  Nonprofit leadership requires you to play the first note, not just once, but often.  If your leadership does not put you in the place were you have to play “first notes” often then you and your agency, miss some great music.

Unexpected generosity happens –  Busking always reminds me about our community’s generosity, and I mean always.  While that generosity includes occasional twenty, ten, many five and one-dollar bills, and coins, dropped in my jar (and all are greatly appreciated by me), the most unexpected generosity I have experienced comes when an obviously homeless person stops, scrounges in his pockets and drops coins in my jar. It has happened more than once. ALL of this generosity helps me to open my eyes wider to the amazing community in which we live.  Nonprofit leaders need to embrace an attitude of abundance, knowing that if you are open to it, unexpected generosity happens much more than one thinks.

Don’t give up, recognize when it’s raining, and start again – In case you might not know, violins and water don’t go together real well.  So here in Portland, Oregon, I sometimes have to push hard right up to the edge of a downpour and know when the violin has to be put away and I have to dash under the nearby awning.  When the rain stops, music can start again.  Persistence and being adaptable not only matters to buskers but to nonprofit leaders as well.

Networks happen: Who knew that when I started busking that Elvis, Pug’s one-man band, a juggler, and others would embrace me?  But they have.  When I am on the corner, I have the respect and admiration of other buskers.  Pug won’t let me pass without checking in with me.  Elvis will always give advice, and there was one busy weekend when the usual corners were taken and juggler offered me his spot when he took breaks. The point for nonprofit leaders is that networks happen and sometime that network includes folks very different from you but who also hold wisdom, inspiration, and support for the work you do.

At sixteen, I have a long road ahead of me.  Yet, I believe that the lessons busking has taught me will be useful over my whole career.  As I give back by donating 10% of what I raise to local nonprofits, and volunteer weekly at a food pantry, from what I have seen (and from what my father shares with me from his practice), the busking lessons I have learned apply to nonprofit leaders too.  There is power in starting, persisting (even when rain forces you under an awning), being open to abundance, and embracing the network that develops around you.  That power helps us to achieve our goals and to lead organization that are more noble, adaptable, and, ultimately, successful.

Your thoughts are welcome …  I encourage you to visit my website: Busking in Portland




Mark Fulop
Mark founded Facilitation & Process in 2009 to help organizations and communities bridge the gap between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. He’s led dozens of Portland nonprofits, government agencies and philanthropic organizations through complex change initiatives including strategic planning, revenue planning, board development, collaboration, and facilitation.