Criticism is everywhere, and has nothing to do with you
In September of 20121, when I was still madly in love with my local football team (before my bitter divorce and my football ex's subsequent move to Los Angeles), the best day of the year was opening day.
Opening Day that year was especially interesting. It was a 3 pm start, so lots of tailgating time, but also we were playing the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick was the quarterback. Being involved in animal rescue, I had heard about protests. Being a season ticket holder, I wanted to watch football. What to do? So after much consternation, I came up with a sign that would bring attention to a cause, support my team and also get me on the Jumbotron.
I went to the craft store and came up with my masterpiece. It said, "My Pitbull is a Rams Fan!" with a picture of my pit mix puppy. (Later we found out she wasn't lab/pit but lab/dane but pish posh.) It was fun, funny, didn't draw attention to Vick specifically but said it all. I was elated. And at the tailgate before the game, a hit. I couldn't wait to get into the stadium.
Once I hit security, everything changed. I wasn't allowed in because of my sign. It said nothing about the NFL, or Vick or jail or anything. Never mind all the "Hide Your Beagle, Vick's an Eagle!" shirts I saw. The ushers, supervisors and yes, police, wouldn't let me in. I begged, I cried, I screamed first amendment. Threatened with arrest, I took the sign across the street to the actual Vick protest, wrote my contact information on the back, and went into the game.
Well, the Vick protest folks shopped that sign to all the TV vans outside the stadium. The next day, I had a television and radio people wanting to do a story about the sign not getting into the stadium. It blew up from there, with social media taking over. But the wider the story got, the less it was about me and the more it was about what people thought of me. They projected their own issues and needs on to me. I had articles, editorials, TV commentaries and more about the sign. People said I was no fun, a bad fan (I was inducted in the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH in 2000 as an ultimate fan, thankyouverymuch), a racist, a party pooper and lots of other things. I had a political agenda, a chip on my shoulder, an ax to grind.
It was a crazy time. I was being sainted by some and vilified by others. What's the lesson? People talk. It is their opinion of what is happening. It is about how they want to see the world but it is not about me. It is the same with your nonprofit. The praise and criticism is about the people making the comments. It says more about them than it does you.
Chances are, if you are doing something interesting, someone is not going to like it. And guess what? That's ok. I wish all those people understood I was trying to bring attention to an issue while supporting a team I loved (using past tense still hurts a bit) and making it fun, but they would not. They saw what they needed to see in me. Remember criticism is others' ideas of you, and not you. Yes it hurts. I will never deny that, but it can't stop us from doing what we need to do to move our lives forward or move our organization's mission forward.
Just so you know I am not lying, here's a picture.