Earlier this month, there was a great post by Linda Wood from the Haas Fund bemoaning the fact that 73% of nonprofit leaders in a recent Center for Effective Philanthropy study said they lack resources to build their leadership skills. And the recent Meyer Foundation Executive Director Listening Project found that nonprofit leaders’ biggest challenges are fundraising, human capital management and board of directors management — all leadership challenges.
This doesn’t surprise me at all.
I constantly witness the lack of support nonprofit leaders receive for building their leadership skills. Leading a nonprofit is an incredibly demanding task and the challenges are only growing. Nonprofit leaders are expected to magically solve the world’s problems, on a shoestring, while herding a disparate group of volunteers, funders, clients.
Which is why I think nonprofit leader coaching holds so much promise for the sector. If a struggling nonprofit leader had a strategic partner who could help her think through staffing, fundraising, board management and strategic decisions, instead of having to figure it out all on her own, it could be transformative.
Nonprofit leader coaching is one-on-one strategic counsel from someone with deep management, financial, and strategy expertise. With a strategic coach, a nonprofit leader can find solutions to issues like how to:
- Create the most effective staffing structure for growth
- Recruit and engage an effective board
- Diversify and grow funding streams aligned with the nonprofit’s specific mission and operations
- Analyze strategic opportunities for the organization
- Develop effective collaborations that build on the organization’s assets
The return on investment of coaching can be really exciting. Let me give you some examples:
Increased Board Fundraising
Fundraising is such a tricky business. Often nonprofit boards are fairly ineffective at it, largely because they and their nonprofit leader don’t know how to focus the board’s efforts. This was true for one of my clients whose board didn’t understand fundraising and was confused about their role. Through coaching, both with the executive director and board members, the board now understands how each of them individually can contribute to bringing money in the door. They also understand how to focus their efforts on the most profitable activities and now have the skills and knowledge to move the organization’s financial strategy forward. As a result, the board has dramatically increased the number of new donors to the organization.
Clearer Strategic Thinking
Nonprofits are constantly bombarded with new opportunities, new partnerships, new funding ideas. A coach can help a nonprofit leader think through how a new opportunity might fit with the overall organization strategy, ask hard questions and analyze the costs and benefits. In this coaching role, I encourage nonprofit leaders to take a step back and examine all of the implications of a decision, how it might draw resources away, what impact it will have on the larger work, how it moves the organization closer to or farther away from strategic alignment, and so on. Coaching can get nonprofits away from group think and towards making smarter, more strategic decisions.
More Productive Staff
Management of staff is one of the hardest jobs of being a leader in any setting, but I think it’s particularly tricky in the nonprofit sector where resources are tighter and nonprofits are often encouraged to play nice at all costs. In coaching around staff challenges, I help a leader create an effective staffing structure for the organization, analyze and resolve staff conflicts, and make sure all staff are playing to their strengths.
Strategic coaching is not right for every nonprofit leader because it takes a real commitment to change, a willingness to analyze situations, and an openness to making difficult decisions.
But coaching is right for a leader who:
- Leads an organization that is ready for change
- Is open to trying new approaches
- Wants to have difficult, but important, conversations with board, staff and funders
- Needs a thinking partner to help make strategic decisions
- Recognizes that she doesn’t have all of the answers
- Is ready to build her leadership skills
Photo Credit: PhilanTopic
There was a really interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently about a Los Angeles nonprofit for aging Hollywood actors that was in danger of closing its doors but is now raising hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a rags to riches story that demonstrates how nonprofit leaders who embrace change when change is necessary can completely transform an organization.
Arguably the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) is not your average nonprofit organization. Set up in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Mary Pickford it asked actors to donate spare change to help fellow actors down on their luck. MPTF later expanded to become a $100 million organization that serves 150,000 needy actors with healthcare, housing, and retirement services. And although MPTF enjoys a budget with a few more zeros than the average nonprofit, their approach to change can serve as a model for other nonprofits.
In the early 2000s MPTF lost its way. Financial hardship forced the organization to consider closing one of its retirement centers which drew the ire of celebrities like George Clooney. But unlike other nonprofits that lose their way and have to eventually close, Hull House being the most recent and troubling example, MPTF turned things around.
Here’s what the MPTF story teaches nonprofits about embracing the challenge of change:
- Remove What Stands In Your Way
In order to survive it’s critical that nonprofits do something not easy for the sector: recognize and address the obstacle. Whether it’s an unmovable executive director, a deficient board, a broken financial model, or a distracting funder, a nonprofit must face the challenge head on. MPTF realized that they needed new leadership and replaced the fund’s president in 2010. Hull House’s board, however, refused to address changing the organization’s financial model despite seeing glaring financial issues for several years.
- Force Honest Conversations
When George Clooney voiced his dismay at MPTF’s decisions, new MPTF president Bob Beitcher approached Clooney and listened to his concerns. Beitcher explained that they were facing closure of the center because of financial dire straits. Over time he turned Clooney’s concerns into passion for the organization and eventually convinced him to c0-chair MPTF’s capital campaign. Hull House board and staff, on the other hand, kept conversation light. The staff sugar-coated financial reports and the board failed to ask hard questions. It is essential that nonprofits tackle difficult conversations in order to emerge stronger.
- Create a Financial Runway
MPTF had a practice of keeping several months of operating reserves on hand. Hull House, by contrast, lived on the edge — to the point of holding negative $2.3 million in net assets in June of 2007, long before the recession really hit. So when it did, they were in big trouble. Nonprofits (and funders!) must get over the taboo against operating reserves. You simply cannot survive, let alone create social change, if you don’t have the financial runway to do so.
- Connect Mission to Money
MPTF now enjoys a large donor base, but that wasn’t always the case. In order to get there they articulated to specific potential donors why their work was so critical and why they should get involved. They are currently raising millions of dollars because they have connected the dots for a specific target audience between their need for investment and the impact they are creating. Nonprofits need to articulate what they are trying to change and then find donors for whom that change is attractive.
The closure of such a stalwart and venerated nonprofit institution like Hull House should have been a wake up call for the nonprofit sector. If it could happen to Hull House, it could happen to any organization. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of blaming the recession, the board, fundraising, or anything else, nonprofits need to embrace the challenge of change.
If you need help addressing a challenge facing your nonprofit, let me know.
Photo Credit: Mary Pickford, 1924 from fotopedia
Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit aimed at ending childhood hunger in America, wrote a really interesting post recently. He argues that nonprofits must be more bold, that the risk aversion that defines the sector is itself holding nonprofits back from creating change.
Shore encourages nonprofit leaders to figure out exactly what they are trying to accomplish:
Nonprofit organizations would be well served to step back from the day-to-day operations and ask themselves what success means, how will they know when they have accomplished their mission, and how will they measure it along the way. It sounds like common sense, but almost no one does it, in part because it’s so hard to do. But if you answer those questions with precision and clarity, and articulate the goal you hope to achieve, everything else falls into place.
And Bill is not alone in making this charge to the nonprofit sector. The Case Foundation, founded by Steve and Jean Case who made millions from AOL, has made its focus getting nonprofits to be more bold, to Be Fearless.
But if we are going to ask nonprofits to think bigger we have to address the elephant in the room: money. Nonprofit leaders often put themselves in a vicious cycle of thinking they don’t have enough money to be risky, so they don’t create ambitious goals, and then their lack of ambition impedes greater outside investment.
It is in fact the very act of being bold that inspires action and investment, that marshals resources to do the impossible. The most obvious example is John F. Kennedy’s 1962 charge to “to go to the moon in this decade.” At the time, the goal he set was crazy. NASA had no idea how they were going to make that happen, and they were already behind the Russian space program. But the very fact that the goal was set, and set so publicly, was inspiring. That simple act of inspiration moved people, money, resources. And Kennedy’s goal came to fruition in July of 1969. The impossible became possible simply because he set a goal.
Often nonprofit leaders are hesitant to set a bold goal because they know they currently don’t have the money, staff, relationships to make it happen. They don’t want to set a goal whose execution is not readily evident. So often nonprofit leaders start from a point of scarcity. They ask the question:
“How much can we accomplish with what we can raise?”
Instead, nonprofit leaders need to start asking the question:
“How much should we raise to accomplish our goals?”
It may seem like semantics, but I believe the distinction is profound. Instead of money holding you back, money becomes a tool to employ in accomplishing something much bigger. If you start by setting bold goals about what change you want to create, that very act, the act of putting a stake in the sand, can inspire. And that inspiration can attract the things you need to make your goal a reality.
In order to set bold goals, nonprofit leaders need to remember why they started their organization in the first place and why they continue to come to work each day. What is that passionate resolve that keeps you going every day? Why are you pouring your heart and soul into the work? What ultimately are you trying to change about the world we live in?
Start there. Create your bold goal from that place. Remove the obstacle of not having enough and watch how you suddenly have more than you could have ever imagined. That’s where real change begins.
Photo Credit: Mission Controls celebrates the moon landing, NASA.
I announced last month that I was recommitting to the Reader Question Series on the blog. I received some really great questions, thanks to all of you who submitted a question. As I read through the questions, I thought it might make sense to combine two of my new year’s resolutions (the relaunched Reader Question series and using more video on the blog) into this new series. So I’m going to start answering the Reader Questions via video. Below is my answer to this great question from a reader:
“The executive director is often so busy putting out the day-to-day fires that they lose time to work on the big strategic goals. How can an ED break the cycle of jumping from crisis to crisis?”
If you have a question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming Reader Question video, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading “Reader Question.” I look forward to reading your questions. Thanks!
Being the leader of a nonprofit can be incredibly lonely. You have a million demands on your time, countless people to keep happy, ambitious (if not impossible) goals to achieve, and few resources with which to achieve them. It can be an overwhelming place to be.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have found that if a nonprofit leader has someone to confide their challenges and concerns, strategize solutions, brainstorm new approaches, and hear about alternative options they can emerge with greater confidence, inspiration and energy.
I believe there is a tremendous need for this kind of coach for the leaders of the nonprofit sector. That is why I’ve begun offering nonprofit staff coaching services.
I coach executive directors to:
- Create a more effective, engaged board of directors
- Structure your staff to better meet your goals
- Implement and monitor your strategic plan
- Establish or strengthen key external relationships
- Better communicate with and engage staff
- Develop dashboards for reporting progress to board and funders
- Raise growth or capacity capital
- And much more
And I coach development directors (and executive directors who also wear the development director hat) to:
- Create an effective annual financing plan
- Launch a major donor campaign
- Engage your board in fundraising
- Use social media to recruit donors
- Develop compelling fundraising letters, proposals and materials
- Streamline donor cultivation and stewardship
- Develop more efficient and effective back-end fundraising systems
- And much more
I provide phone, email, and in-person coaching to nonprofit staff to help gain new perspective, try new ideas, get unstuck and move their organization forward. You can download the Coaching one sheet here.
The duration and price of coaching depends on the level of counsel your staff needs. You can purchase a package of coaching hours to use over a month, several months, or a year. The more hours you purchase, the lower the hourly coaching rate. Coaching prices range from $250 for a single hour of coaching to $10,000+ for 50+ hours of coaching.
And if you’d like to schedule a free consultation to learn more about how coaching might work for your nonprofit, email email@example.com.
Photo Credit: JPtHart
I launched a Reader Questions series on the blog a little less than a year ago, but I have to admit I have been lazy about soliciting questions for it. The one time I asked for reader questions I got great ones and did a couple of blog posts responding to those questions here and here. But then I got busy and stopped soliciting questions.
So I want to reinvigorate the Reader Questions series now. I’d love to more consistently answer questions from readers and turn it into a much more regular series.
And I need your help. I’d love to hear about what issues are really tripping you up, what hurdles you encounter, what you’d like to learn more about.
So send me your questions about:
- Getting your board moving
- Being up front with donors
- Empowering your staff
- Raising capacity capital
- Developing a financing plan
- Finding new donors
- Creating a strategic plan
- Articulating your message
- Growing a nonprofit
- And anything else…
Whatever you struggle with and want to learn more about. Because the beauty of it is, if you are struggling with something, there are probably 100 other people who are as well, and they’d love to learn from your experience.
So if you start sending me your questions, I promise to be more consistent about the series. You can submit your questions on the Reader Questions blog page, in the comments of this blog post, on the Social Velocity Facebook page, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t worry, if your question is a sensitive one, you can ask to remain anonymous.
I can’t wait to hear your great questions. Thanks!
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