Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leading a nonprofit 14: working with outside communities and building community support

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on December 22, 2012

This is my fourteenth installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-279 for Parts 1-13.)

When someone sits down to write about business practices and best practices approaches, there is always a measure of leeway as to what they would see as most important and most pertinent to address. There is also a significant amount of leeway available in selecting and presenting advice as to the issues and processes chosen for discussion. That definitely applies for my writing and for this blog, and I add for professional talks I have given. My own hands-on experience and an awareness of context guide my selection process and determine what I focus on and prioritize too. And I simply add to round this out, that how we decide and what we decide on for this this is largely shaped by what we have seen work, or not. That same filtering and selecting process, I contend, applies to every business writer. And this series fits that pattern too.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the topic of this posting is, or at least should be crucial for inclusion by anyone who would address leadership in the nonprofit sector. And I begin explaining that and writing this posting by referring to the absolute essentials as to what a nonprofit is as a legally defined business entity, and in its operational practices in fulfilling those requirements.

• Nonprofits as a matter of statutory requirement are business organizations that devote at least a large mandated minimum percentage of their incoming revenue towards their mission and vision, and with only the fraction left over after that allowed to go toward administrative and operation expenses, marketing and so on.
• Benefits created by the nonprofit and its activities rarely directly go back to those who provide this incoming revenue stream. Value comes in from one group and goes out to benefit the needs of others.
• And this incoming revenue stream is derived essentially entirely from the discretionary income of its donors.

This all adds up to a single, crucial point: nonprofits depend entirely upon outside communities that they bring together as support structures and enablers. And one of the core responsibilities of the leader of a nonprofit is to help organize and involve this outside supportive community and its members to get them actively involved, and to help keep them so involved too. Most of what I have been writing in this series has involved working within the organization as an executive officer, and with the board of directors. Here, I turn outward and look to the role of the nonprofit CEO as they reach out to the world as a whole.

• This means connecting with and working with members of the donating community and certainly with higher level donors and with those who could help them network to potential high-level donors.
• This means reaching out to the press and to reporters and others who would convey the nonprofit’s story.
• This means setting a positive example as a high visibility spokesperson of the nonprofit and its mission and vision.
• And ultimately, this is what makes leading a nonprofit a 24/7 job. As a nonprofit’s leader you can never really be off-duty and certainly where ever and whenever you are facing any members of the public.

Nonprofit leaders represent their organizations as public speakers and at conferences and meetings, through formal and informal interviews, on social media sites and in text and through visually oriented channels such as YouTube and more. And in this, selecting where and how to reach out and connect cannot entirely be limited to the nonprofit leader’s own personal preferences. As a leader you have to reach out through the channels that the people you seek to connect with prefer. Eloquence shared in an empty room is not eloquent.

There is a lot to this posting and to the points raised in it, and certainly when it is fleshed out in the real-world, day-to-day details of executive performance and follow-through. It is imperative that the nonprofit leader not simply seek to do all of this as a solo effort and as if in a vacuum. They should work on this community-facing activity in close collaboration with members of their in-house team and in Marketing and Communications and Fundraising and other services, and with their Board:

• In setting goals and priorities and deciding what channels and messages to focus on,
• In capturing unexpected opportunities to reach out and communicate and connect,
• And for offering a more effective, consistent message that will really resonate with the audiences reached.
• And this has to be viewed as an ongoing and continually evolving responsibility, and whether or not pursuing it is considered a challenge or a source of joy. I add it is a lot easier to sustain this if you enjoy it though.

I am going to turn to consider change in my next series installment, and the role of a nonprofit’s leadership in preparing for and responding to it, and in leading effective change. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development. You can also find this and related postings at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

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