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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 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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