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
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Monisha Kapila. Monisha founded ProInspire to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders by expanding the talent pipeline, developing professionals, and increasing diversity in the social sector. She has created partnerships with leading nonprofits like Global Giving, Share Our Strength, and Year Up. Monisha’s vision to start ProInspire stemmed from her own experience transitioning from business to nonprofit, and her passion for helping organizations and individuals achieve their potential for social impact.
You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: One of the things ProInspire does is train business professionals about how things are different in the nonprofit sector. Can you, and how do you, teach people about fundamental cultural differences between the business and nonprofit sectors?
Monisha: Through our work with the ProInspire Fellowship, we recruit and train business professionals to spend one-year working full-time at a leading nonprofit. Fellows have the opportunity to use their skills for social impact, and gain an entry path into the nonprofit sector. Over the past five years, we have learned that it is less important to focus on differences between business and nonprofit sectors, and more important to focus on how to be successful at a nonprofit. We also help our Fellows think abut how to translate these skills to be effective in the social sector.
Before starting the Fellowship, we send Fellows articles on transitioning (some great ones from Bridgespan) and The First 90 Days book. During orientation, we have Fellows develop their transition strategy and their learning agenda. We also discuss the phases of culture shock that people typically feel when they move to a new country, as we have seen Fellows go through similar emotions as they move through sectors. Finally, we have our alumni share their experiences in moving from business to nonprofit. Just having a common language and a peer group helps Fellows with the transition.
Nell: In the past there has been a backlash in the nonprofit sector against people with a business background entering the sector and ignoring the complexities that differentiate the nonprofit sector from the for-profit sector. How do you address these tensions?
Monisha: We do this in a few ways. First, we have a very competitive selection process and evaluate candidates’ ability to be successful in the nonprofit sector before they are selected to be a Fellow. Things that we look for include humility, flexibility, initiative, and managing up. These are skills we believe are critical for anyone to be successful in the nonprofit sector.
Second, we talk about the challenges many business professionals face when moving into the sector and the Fellows think about how they will address them. The top ten we focus on are:
- Avoiding the “white knight” syndrome
- Proving that you are passionate about the mission
- Working with less resources
- Making decisions in a more complex environment
- Wearing many hats
- Learning to self-manage
- Getting feedback about your performance
- Finding professional development opportunities
- Creating your own career path
- Working hard for less money
Third, we emphasize that the Fellowship is a learning experience. Our partners are looking for Fellows to bring their business skills to the nonprofit, but they must first learn about the organization and then figure out how to adapt their skills in that context.
Nell: What is your view on arguments (like Dan Pallotta’s) that nonprofit leaders are sorely underpaid. Do we need to address social sector salaries in order to attract top talent or are there other more important hurdles to attracting talent to the sector?
Monisha: I think that compensation is definitely a factor in attracting and retaining nonprofit leaders. It will become even more important as we start to see convergence in the social sector, with leaders having opportunities to make social impact in nonprofits, for-profits and government.
I have no doubt that talented people are willing to get paid less to do work that is meaningful. Every year we have hundreds of talented professionals from consulting, banking and corporations who apply to our Fellowship program and take pay cuts to work in the nonprofit sector. But as we see Fellows grow in their careers, compensation becomes a bigger issue.
Nonprofits have a lot of assets they can use to offset the lower compensation. Namely the level of responsibility that leaders get at nonprofits is often higher than they would get in a similar role at a for-profit. When I came out of Harvard Business School, I spent a year as an HBS Leadership Fellow at Accion International. I managed product development, marketing, and partnerships for micro-insurance products. Over time I developed strategic alliances with major companies like Visa. After my Fellowship, I joined Capital One in a product development role, but my responsibilities were more narrow. I was supposed to primarily focus on the product – there were other teams for strategic partnerships and for marketing.
So while I think compensation is and continues to be an issue, opportunities for nonprofit professionals to contribute to multiple aspects of the organization’s success are extraordinary. I always tell ProInspire Fellows that one of the benefits of being at a resource-constrained organization is that you will rarely be told “no” if you want to take on more responsibility. This is particularly exciting when you feel very strongly about an organization’s mission. These opportunities to wear many hats, especially near the beginning of one’s career, might not make up for a lower compensation, but we cannot ignore their importance.
Nell: Since ProInspire’s model is based on working with individuals (“Fellows”) how do you reach a tipping point that will address the approaching leadership shortfall for the entire nonprofit sector?
Monisha: ProInspire’s focus is on helping individuals and organizations achieve their potential for social impact. With our Fellowship program, we partner with nonprofits to bring in Fellows who address critical organizational needs. We work closely both with the organizations and the Fellows who are part of our program. The Fellowship demonstrates the ways that nonprofits can expand their talent pools and shows business professionals paths into the sector.
I don’t think we will address the leadership shortfall just by recruiting more people to the sector. Our next area of focus is on how do we support emerging leaders to grow and increase their impact at nonprofits. This summer we are piloting “Managing For Success”, a leadership development program for first-time managers at nonprofits. Our goal is to develop a high quality, cost effective program that can be scaled nationally and reach many more people.
Finally, we think it is important to show thought leadership around the issue of talent and leadership in the nonprofit sector. This is an issue that many organizations have put on the back burner and we are working with other partners to make it a priority. I recently participated in the White House Forum on Cross Sector Leadership and was excited to see this is a priority for our government, corporations, nonprofits, and foundations. We will only reach a tipping point when we have multiple players in the nonprofit sector thinking about developing talent to drive forward these important organizations that make a difference in the world.
Nell: ProInspire was launched at a time when record numbers of college graduates have an interest in social issues. What do you think makes this generation different in terms of their approach to social change and their approach to organizational structure?
Monisha: Millennials commitment to social change is unlike any generation before. This generation has been taught that they can do anything, and they feel drawn to doing work that has an impact. Communication and social media have played a big role in making them more connected to world events and causes they care about. We see this with the high level of interest in our Fellowship program. Young people who have great jobs at places like Bain, JP Morgan, and Microsoft tell us that they have been waiting for this opportunity to do work that has a purpose.
I have seen that Millennials are also “sector agnostic” – they want to make a difference and don’t care what sector they are in. This means that nonprofits will start to compete more and more with tech start-ups, social enterprises, and the public sector for talent that cares about social issues.
But it’s time to move beyond that. I’m starting a new series today about the many different forms of Nonprofit Fear and how to move the sector beyond them.
Because there are many:
- Fear of making an investment
- Fear of change
- Fear of losing a donor
- Fear of being honest
- Fear of money
- Fear of competition
…and the list goes on. Because these fears are so crippling and have the potential to really hold nonprofits back, I want to unpack each one in order to start a conversation about how we move past them.
So today, let’s discuss one of the most crippling, which is the fear of making an investment.
Most nonprofits live hand-to-mouth. They exist in a hamster wheel of raising just enough money to keep going. But if they took a step back, marshaled their resources and made an investment in real transformation they could break free from that hamster wheel.
Nonprofits come to me with a long list of woes: we don’t have enough money, our board isn’t doing anything, our funders are worn out, we can’t meet client needs, we are just getting by, we are worn out. They desperately want to break out of this endless cycle of not having enough and not being able to do enough. I explain that in order to make a significant change, in order to break free from this beast, in order to really transform business as usual, they must make an investment.
Not just an investment in help, but an investment of time, energy, and mind share. They need to rally their board, staff, funders, and advocates around a transformation plan. They need to be willing to take a risk and make an investment in a new way.
Some nonprofits decide that the risk is too great. That instead of overcoming their fear of investment they would rather pull back and continue on as usual. They may still cobble together a strategic plan, or write up a new board recruitment policy, or put together a fundraising plan, but nothing has really changed. They are still thinking and operating in the way they always have.
But the nonprofits that I do work with decide to take that first step. They decide to put a stake in the ground and chart a new direction for their organization. They release the status quo and instead make an investment in their future, a better future for their organization and the community change they seek. They are willing to ask hard questions, to make hard decisions, to take risks, to try a new approach.
Instead of shrinking from the opportunity, they stand up and say “enough is enough.” They decide that in order to achieve the vision that sparked their organization’s beginning long ago, they must make an investment in their future.
Photo Credit: briandeadly
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!
There is a lot of talk about succession planning in the nonprofit sector, but for the most part, it’s approached in the wrong way. The problem with traditional succession planning is that nonprofits take a too narrow view of nonprofit leadership. It’s not enough to have a strong nonprofit executive director or CEO and to create a “succession plan” to guard against their eventual departure. Instead nonprofits need to develop a new approach to leadership that brings many people together to drive strategy.
In order to have truly sustainable and effective leadership a nonprofit must integrate four key elements into the leadership of their organization:
- An Empowered Executive Director or CEO
- Emboldened Staff (beyond the nonprofit leader)
- Invested External Stakeholders (funders, regulators, policy makers, collaborators)
- Elevated Board of Directors
These four groups should each have a role to play in any strategic decision the organization makes, like this:
If you develop an integrated leadership model like this, the organization is not overly-reliant on any single element to keep it going. So in the worst case scenario if your executive director leaves tomorrow the organization would be able to continue on until a new executive director replaced her. Similarly, an integrated leadership model like this guards against the debilitating challenges that founder’s syndrome, or the over-reliance on one leader, can pose for a nonprofit.
In order to determine whether your nonprofit has an integrated leadership model, start by asking yourself these questions:
- Does your staff feel comfortable speaking their mind at staff and board meetings?
- If your executive director left tomorrow would your nonprofit survive?
- Does your board get excited and engaged at most board meetings?
- Do they have and express diverse viewpoints?
- Do they drive the strategic direction of your organization?
- Do you have a real strategic plan that drives the day-to-day work of the organization?
- Do funders, board, stakeholders have relationships with staff members beyond just the executive director?
If you answered “No” to many of these questions, you may need to strengthen these four elements so that your nonprofit has a sustainable leadership model. How do you get there? You:
Create a groundbreaking board that focuses on strategy, not weeds, and structures itself for engagement.
Create and monitor a REAL strategic plan.
- Evaluate the performance of the board and the Executive Director at least annually.
Conduct annual, anonymous 360 staff evaluations, where each staff member (including the ED) evaluates herself, any of her direct reports, and her supervisor.
Have staff contribute at board meetings and encourage their relationships with board and external stakeholders.
- Make external stakeholders (funders, policy makers, influencers) a key part of your organization by including them in committees or meeting with them regularly to solicit thoughts and feedback.
The nonprofit organization of the 21st century must be led by a diverse and distributed army of people both inside and outside the organization. Relying on only one person to lead is setting the organization up for failure.
To learn more about this distributed leadership model, download the Moving Beyond Your Nonprofit’s Founder webinar.
Photo Credit: stephclark
The following list comes from the Resources page of the Social Velocity web site. The page includes social innovation conferences, organizations, funders, blogs, books and other things that anyone involved in the social change space should be aware of. It could be a starting point or an ongoing exploration of what’s going on in the space.
We are constantly adding to the Resources page, so if we are missing something, let us know in the comments.
Organizations Moving Social Innovation Forward
- 130 Ways to Fund Your Social Venture
- Center for Effective Philanthropy
- Dell Social Innovation Competition
- Echoing Green
- New Profit
- Nonprofit Finance Fund
- Public-Philanthropic Partnerships at the Council on Foundations
- Robert Wood Johnson’s Pioneer Portfolio
- Sea Change Capital
- Unreasonable Institute
- Venture Philanthropy Partners
- Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship in the Age of Austerity
- Bottom Billions Bottom Line
- Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting
- Conference on Scaling Impact (by Social Impact Exchange)
- FSG and SSIR Collective Impact Conference
- Grantmakers for Effective Organizations Conference
- Harvard Social Enterprise Conference
- Net Change Week
- Net Impact 2011 Conference
- NextGen: Charity
- The Nonprofit Management Institute (by Stanford Social Innovation Review)
- Opportunity Collaboration
- ReVisioning Value
- Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship
- Social Capital Markets Conference
- Social Enterprise Summit
- Social Enterprise World Forum
- Social Good Summit
- Social Venture Capital / Social Enterprise (Miami)
- Social Venture Network Conference
- Social Venture Partners International Annual Conference
- The Feast
- UST Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship
Philanthropic Thought Leaders
Things to Read
- SSIR Opinion Blog: Social Entrepreneurship
- SSIR Opinion Blog: Nonprofit Management
- Philanthropy 2173
- NFF's Social Currency Blog
- New Philanthropy Capital's Blog
- Money and Mission
- GuideStar: Bob Ottenhoff Blog
- Full Contact Philanthropy
- Deep Social Impact
- Dan Pallotta: Harvard Business Review
- Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits are Using Social Media to Power Change
- Against the Grain
- About.com Nonprofit Charitable Orgs
- A Smart Bear: Startups & Marketing for Geeks
- Beyond Fundraising
- Nonprofit Growth Capital, Building is not Buying
- The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle
- Social Finance
- Social Impact Bonds
- The Task Force on Social Finance
- Understanding Nonprofit Financial Statements
Using Social Media
- Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
- Creating Public Value
- Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits
- Good to Great
- Good to Great and the Social Sector
- Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity
- Strategic Management of Charter Schools
- Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed
- How to Change the World
- One Day, All Children…: The Unlikely Triumph Of Teach For America And What I Learned Along The Way
- Social Innovation Generation
- The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World
- The Social Innovation Dynamic
- Work on Purpose
- Franchise Organizations
- Scaling Social Impact: Strategies for Spreading Social Innovations. Stanford Social Innovation Review
- The Five Meanings of Scale
- The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox
Photo Credit: annabellaphoto
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Beth Kanter. Beth is a leading thinker and innovator around social media for nonprofits. She writes one of the longest running and most popular (and one of my favorite) blogs for nonprofits Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media. She also co-authored the seminal book The Networked Nonprofit with Allison Fine in 2010, which gives nonprofits a road map for understanding the brave new world of social media and how to embrace it. I often recommend the book to my clients because it provides a completely new way of understanding how nonprofits can and should fit into the wider marketplace. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Because the nonprofit sector is undercapitalized it is highly competitive and individual nonprofits tend to isolate themselves and become “fortresses” as you call them. Yet what you are arguing for, a networked or connected mentality, is a huge change for a risk-averse sector. How realistic is it to think that the majority of nonprofits will embrace this change? What will convince the majority of nonprofits to change?
Beth: That’s a great question. I’m suggesting that nonprofit shift from a scarcity mentality to embrace abundance. It is a much less exhausting way of working, plus it is more sustainable. Here’s more, here and here.
Nell: For those nonprofits that haven’t yet recognized social media as a tool for achieving their mission, what do you think is holding them back? What are the hurdles that keep them from a networked approach?
Beth: Risk adversity – issues around organizational culture or changing the way they work or deliver programs. Here’s a recent example from the classical music world. Nonprofits need to establish a social media policy, there’s more here.
Nell: One idea that you propose is that nonprofit boards use social media to get those outside the organization to contribute to the direction and strategy of the organization (online board meetings, etc). This is a radical idea in a sector that has historically kept their board exclusive and elusive. What is the value of a more disbursed form of leadership, and can it work for every nonprofit?
Beth: It can work, but the nonprofit culture and way of working has to be open enough to accept it and do it. The value — better quality programs, ideas, potential revenue, and more. More here and here.
Nell: What does a networked executive director look like? Or does the whole understanding of the nonprofit executive director need to change as well?
Beth: Wow, that is such a good question! The big thing that needs to change is that ED’s need to work with a networked mindset, a stance toward leadership that prioritizes openness, transparency, relationship building and distributed decision-making, more here.
Nell: What do you think will happen to those nonprofits that don’t move toward a networked approach?
Beth: There will be degrees of networked approaches, but this approach helps nonprofits remain relevant so they don’t need to over think.
Nell: For those nonprofits who have embraced the ideas of the networked nonprofit, what’s the next frontier? What do they need to be doing, thinking about, or experimenting with next?
Beth: Master the networked approach and the next thing on the horizon is the anytime, anywhere nonprofit – the impact of mobility – not just the use of smartphones, but the idea that we’re no longer tethered to a screen.
For the nonprofit sector to truly climb aboard the social innovation train, as opposed to being abandoned by it, nonprofit leaders need to move past the reactive toward the strategic.
But is that possible? Have nonprofits been stuck in a resource-constrained, charity mindset for too long to be made strategic, bold, big thinkers? It’s been a vicious cycle. Nonprofits lack adequate resources so they become very protective of what they have and wary of any actions which might threaten those resources. Therefore they become exceedingly risk averse and fearful of innovation. They focus more often than not on keeping the doors open as opposed to investing time, energy and resources in long-term strategy.
But that’ s just not going to cut it anymore. These times demand a radically different mindset and approach. The nonprofit sector must move from the reactive to the strategic. So how does a reactive approach differ from a strategic one? It looks like this:
When a financial crisis hits the organization, the reactive approach is to focus on keeping the doors open and staying afloat. But a strategic approach focuses on what caused the crisis and how to fix the underlying problem, model or system so that they never return there again.
When a funder wants to award a significant sum to an organization for new programs that detract from, rather than bolster, the organization’s theory of change, a reactive approach focuses on the increase in revenue, but a strategic approach recognizes the misalignment and turns the money down.
A reactive approach allows program staff to continue with a status quo method of program delivery, but a strategic approach constantly asks hard questions, tracks results, pushes outcomes, restructures inefficient processes, gets underneath the surface to make programs better, stronger, more impactful, more sustainable.
A reactive leader arrives at board meetings with reports, charts and status updates, gets a rubber stamp on day-to-day activities and breathes a sigh of relief that the board didn’t ask too many questions. But a strategic leader analyzes the unique contributions each individual board member and the board as a whole can make and leverages those contributions effectively, engages the board in meaningful discussions and actions around where the organization is going and trends in the external marketplace, and focuses board work on big picture issues and opportunities, creating key external networks, and building a strong financial future.
A reactive approach helps the board recruit new members that fit narrow definitions of experience, gender, ethnicity, and size of pocketbook. A strategic approach compares the long-term goals of the organization to the competencies, networks, experience and resources required and creates an intentional board recruitment strategy to get there.
A reactive leader crosses things of their daily to do list and feels satisfied because the trains ran on time, crises were avoided, and everyone got a paycheck. A strategic leader is rarely satisfied and constantly works to build key alliances with external partners, learns new skills, pushes their staff harder, evaluates their work, continually refines their model and responds effectively to a constantly changing environment all in the name of greater impact.
A reactive leader allows the natural uncertainty of running a nonprofit to cause fear and inaction. A strategic leader, like a true entrepreneur, recognizes the opportunity for innovation that uncertainty offers and embraces and uses that opportunity to continually mold the organization’s solution to the external market of need and funding.
It remains to be seen whether a reactive leader can transform into a strategic one. I would bet that the success of the social innovation movement as a whole rides on it.
Photo Credit: Loren Javier
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