Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leading a nonprofit 15: facing and dealing with change and its imperatives

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on December 27, 2012

This is my fifteenth installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-280 for Parts 1-14.) And I come in this posting to consider a set of issues that every leader faces if they stay with an organization long enough: change, and its cumulative impact. Change as a general and more rounded topic of discussion would mean addressing important issues for leaders per se. But my focus here is going to be on change for aspects of the organization that are more specific to nonprofits and their supporting communities.

As a starting point I would begin this from what for any specific nonprofit would be its core fundamentals: its mission and vision statements and the goals they represent. And I will consider as a working example, a healthcare-oriented nonprofit that seeks to support the development of cures for a currently intractable disease.

• They lobby in support of its sufferers that they not be discriminated against in the workplace or when finding housing, as people with disabilities.
• They reach out to offer support to disease sufferers and their families with professionally vetted information and related resources.
• And they actively support research by raising money for translational research that would bring findings from the laboratory to clinical practice,
• As well as some more basic clinical research and particularly in supporting young, next generation clinical researchers as they launch their careers.
• So they seek to offer a fairly comprehensive package, primarily and intentionally leaving out direct participation in clinical practice.
• And they do not serve as a clearing house for finding clinicians for help with specific patients either – they stay out of the arena of diagnosis and treatment.
• And with this, I note their strategic goals and both in terms of what they do and seek to do, and for what they intentionally chose not to do as well, as falling outside of their core capabilities and resource limitations. (And yes, I have a specific nonprofit in mind here that I have worked with.)

And change happens. The population demographics they serve change and they find that an increasing percentage of the people they would reach out to do not speak or read English, or at least well enough for them to be comfortable in that language, addressing issues as complex and important as life challenging health problems. This organization was built initially in terms of serving an entirely English speaking audience. Now it has to address an increasingly Spanish speaking audience, and Russian and several other languages. Partly this is because immigrant groups that the organization had not effectively reached out to, are beginning to reach back after finding this organization online. Partly it is because of changing overall population demographics because of new immigrants. This might also be because of changes in how accurately and early people are being diagnosed for this disease in their local communities. The precise how and why for this shift is not entirely understood, but the organization is facing a lot of people who would find it a lot easier to get help in their native, non-English languages.

• What resources offered that are patient and family oriented are going to be duplicated into these new languages, and into which languages and with what priorities and with what translation services and vetting, and for phone and online chat with what interpretation support?

And picking up on the above point of providing explicitly professionally vetted information from expert clinicians, simply bringing in native speakers and/or language experts for translation and interpretation might not meet crucial due diligence requirements – and certainly if a bilingual native speaker of a new target language does not really know much about the disease or its medical vocabulary. This is an organizational growth question, and if budgets do not expand to match the new and larger range of need, a perhaps highly constrained prioritization question, or rather series of such questions too.

• As a second scenario, what happens if a breakthrough is made and suddenly one of the major forms of this disease can be treated as a highly controllable chronic condition?
• And to add a third, what happens when there is a deep and widespread downturn in the overall economy and the overall pool of potentially available discretionary income that could be donated in support of nonprofits reduces – a lot? This, I add might happen suddenly, or with a slower moving downturn it might take time and arrive as a steady trend and one that could be added into ongoing strategic and operational planning. So I include it here.

I began this with the fundamentals of mission and vision. And I would argue that if the organization is to remain a nonprofit, its ongoing responses to change would have to be grounded in mission and vision too.

• This, with time, might very well mean functionally updating the mission and vision statements to address current and changing realities.
• This is also certain to include updating and reframing strategy and planning, and their ongoing operational execution.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment, there turning to consider explicit crises and the challenge of the sudden and unpredictable. 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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