As part of the martyr complex from which so many of them suffer, nonprofit leaders often think that it’s best to push themselves and their organizations harder, faster, farther. Nonprofit leaders are continually faced with new opportunities – new client populations to serve, new demands for program expansion from funders, new partnership opportunities.
And while pursuing new opportunities is a critical part of becoming (and staying) a relevant, impactful social change organization, not every opportunity is the right one for you as a leader, for your staff and board, or for your mission.
So as the leader of your nonprofit, it is up to you to ask yourself these questions before you encourage your staff and board to pursue that next opportunity:
- Is this Best for You as a Human Being?
I know that you selfless, passionate nonprofit leaders like to think that you are a mission-driven machine — that you have endless stores of energy. But you don’t. You are human just like the rest of us. There are limits to the amount you can do and lead. And as the leader, your energy and capacity is the most important driver of success for your organization. So get in the habit of asking yourself first and foremost, “Is this new opportunity something that will fit with everything else on my plate?” If not, can you delegate or get rid of other things to make room for this? Don’t say “Yes” to something simply because you are a caring, giving person or because you think you “should.” Only agree to those things you feel capable of leading well.
- Is this Best for Others In Our Organization?
The selflessness of nonprofits does not just stop at the leader. Sometimes nonprofit leaders will put more and more on their staff and board, without regard for the fact that they can only do so much. So once you’ve figured out whether you can lead a new opportunity make sure that those you are leading also have the capacity and expertise to take this on. Does your board have the appetite for this new effort? Does your staff have the time, bandwidth and energy to execute on it? Do they have the drive and passion to see it to fruition?
- Will This Move Us Closer to Our Mission?
So often in the nonprofit sector we add new things to our organization’s workload because we aim to please, or we like to play the savior. But the more you focus your organization’s work on your core competencies (what you uniquely can do well) and your mission (what you exist to accomplish) the more successful and sustainable you will be. In other words, by sticking to your mission, you are more likely to achieve it. And that’s why you are in business in the first place, right?
You don’t have to agree to everything that comes your way. Indeed, you will be more effective and sustainable as a social change leader when you give some thoughtful “No”s along the way.
If you need help figuring out what opportunities your nonprofit should pursue, let me know.
Photo Credit: Brendan Church