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Meeting the Challenge of Change: Leadership

Nonprofit Organization leaders know that a measure of their success is their flexibility and adaptability. Or, in other words: The constant in nonprofit governance and management is change.

Funders (particularly grantmakers) are interested in knowing, before they will award a grant, in the capacity of the particular nonprofit to roll with changes in its environment. What are some indicators of that capacity?

Diversity in Leadership. Does the board and staff of this nonprofit reflect the community it serves? Is the Board packed with baby boomers? Or are there Gen X and Gen Y representatives in governance as well as staff positions?

Training in Leadership. Are board and staff leaders provided education and training opportunities to learn about current trends in their environment? Is there evidence that the group is networked in the community and in organizations that have expertise needed by this nonprofit?

Customer Focused Leadership?Is there evidence that leaders at this nonprofit communicate comfortably and frequently with the clients/customers they are charged to serve? Do leaders know how to listen, or are they always in broadcast mode?

It’s in some ways, application of the “bend-don’t-break” philosophy from sports convention to the Third Sector.

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Art Serves the Community: Origami for BackStoppers

Origami in a public park to help raise money for public safety officers who died in the line of duty, serving their community. in St Louis on Sunday August 18 was a field of Origami paper cranes for sale for this cause: BackStoppers. Read more here: stltoday.com/news/local/metro/paper-cranes-alight-on-art-hill-to-aid-fundraising/article_f20dd975-2a84-542c-bcd8-3bf34f3c9627.html …

By the way: Found this on Twitter, thanks to a new poster: Lori Fletcher @LoriDF. Thanks, Lori!

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Strategic Alliance Anyone?

Nonprofit organizations find themselves strapped for cash during slow months. And with the current economic environment: slow years. Community benefit organizations try to operate on the narrowest of margins.  They impair their capacity to deliver mission by cutting salaries, benefits, programs, training of staff, training of board.  And with the continued cuts in discretionary spending on the federal level, and the concomitant trickle down effect to State and local level, everyone will struggle to do more with less.

Now is the time to consider strategic alliance with other community benefit organizations in the same vicinity.  Sharing office space. Sharing bookkeeping service. Jointly retaining public relations, communications, web design help to take advantage of discount.  And for those still able to offer staff health benefits, forming a legal partnership to enlarge the group and get some savings on health insurance premiums.

There are ways to do this; and there are capable firms who can work with you to price these joint services.  And folks like me that can help you negotiate with fellow nonprofits to make the deal.  Getting appropriate legal counsel at the right time.

Here’s a reference of an initiative in Massachusetts by The Boston Foundation and partner organizations, providing incentives to do this strategic alliance work:  http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=308900014.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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Sometimes You Gotta Tack to Stay the Course

A real challenge for executive directors and their nonprofit boards is to find the balance between rigidly sticking to business and chasing after “opportunities” advocated by a persistent advocate. Seeking the “flex zone” in between is part of the art of nonprofit success.
Yes, we have a strategic plan and an annual budget and work plan, but…should we remain resolute and stick to the plan no matter what?
Well, it depends.
When the right opportunity comes knocking, the nonprofit should be flexible enough to open the door, check it out, and decide if this is just a distraction or if it’s something that can add value to our mission work.
A good sailor will tack her course when the wind shifts.
On the other hand, the nonprofit doesn’t want to go chasing after every “opportunity” that comes its way.
It’s this kind of thinking that separates the effective from the defective.
It brings to mind the “Generative Thinking” concept described by Chait, Ryan & Taylor in Governance as Leadership (Wiley, 2005), presented in Power Point at The Boston Foundation a few years ago http://bit.ly/c1rh38. Boards that take time to have conversations, drawing on change in their community as well as broader societal change, prepare themselves to make knowledge-based decisions and less prone to be distracted by the inconsequential.
In my work with boards of directors through It’s The Results, LLC, the first objective usually is to get the board’s work more focused. Focused on the mission. Focused on the customer. Focused on the market they’re working in.
But. Once the board and the staff leadership team are in sharper focus, the value of “flexibility” needs to be applied. By applying the intelligence of the group to the work (board: strategic, staff: operational) and bringing in market forces that are at play and are worthy of consideration, leadership will know when to stay the course, when to tack to improve direction to the desired goal.
Of course there are no guarantees. The leaders may make mistakes. No. The leaders will make mistakes. The idea is not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Bring sound data and informed discussion to the table and the liklihood of success will improve. Markedly. And you can take that to the bank. Just be careful which bank.

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