Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 2

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 18, 2019

This is my second installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010, that has recently been garnering a significant amount of attention: Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies. See Nonprofits and Social Networking for links to that earlier posting and topically related ones, and to this series’ Part 1, for relevant background material for what is to follow here.

My above-cited blue ocean strategy posting was about carving out a defining niche in the nonprofit world: as working towards a mission and vision that a significant share of an overall community would find compellingly important to support, while addressing what might legitimately be seen as unmet and unaddressed needs. It was, and is about finding and presenting mission and vision statement goals that a potentially supportive community could see as both important to them, and fresh.

Part 1 of this series, in turn, raised a challenge, there posed independently of any consideration of newness or freshness in what those mission and vision statements would seek to fulfilled, that nevertheless enters into fulfilling the goals of that earlier posting. Shifting its initial line of discussion to a more explicitly better-nonprofit perspective:

• How can you best develop and draft these organizing statements as practical goals and as goals that might realistically be addressed and worked towards, and by you and your nonprofit in particular?

I raised a perhaps more mundane retail store example in Part 1, as a simplified role model example of how an operationally oriented mission and vision statement might be framed, in order to more clearly state my intentions there and for here. And I ended that posting by posing an at least simple sounding question:

• How can the leaders and the employees and the volunteers as well, who contribute so much to their nonprofits, make them more strategically clear-cut and operationally focused too, and in ways that are more effective in working towards fulfilling their missions and visions as a result – like my above-noted retail business shoe store example, but without sacrificing any of the inspirational qualities or values of their overall nonprofit-oriented mission and vision goals and aspirations?
• And matching that question and expanding upon it, how can they do this in ways that would make their efforts more compelling as being worthy of support, to an outside community audience?

I began this series with a focus on the mission and vision statements in place, that would serve as both goal and road map for a business in general and for a nonprofit in particular, or that at the very least would help keep any road map followed, leading in a right direction for them. And my goal here in this Part 2 installment is to step back from the mission and vision statement of Part 1 itself, to at least begin to strategically and operationally map out how to do this, at least in general terms. And I begin this by openly acknowledging a crucially important point, that probably ultimately applies to essentially any nonprofit that seeks to achieve genuinely significant societal goals, and that is not set up as a short-term, here-and-now only, focused venture. And yes, significant societal goals are rarely here-and-now short term focused or limited so that was repetitive.

Bottom line, this means that essentially any nonprofit that is really worth supporting and certainly long-term, is going to have a largely, if not entirely aspirational mission and vision statement-framed, ultimate goal and in spite of what I offered in Part 1. That said, making those statements and all that support them, functionally better organized and both strategically and operationally, can be realistic and achievable goals, even if ongoing process-defining ones.

Let’s at least start that discussion and begin fleshing out the points made up to here in this posting, by taking a more cause-and-effect approach to the challenge that I am raising and discussing here, which I would organize and present in at least loosely time frame terms:

• An initial perception of significant need is brought into a goals-defined focus through the drafting and sharing of an explicit mission statement and its corresponding vision statement, and at least as first draft efforts.
• As a next step, the initial visionary driver, or drivers of this now-emerging imperative, working with others as needed with for example, organizational skills and experience, and initial financial backing, begin to build a strategy oriented map for how to work towards achieving this.
• These steps overlap and from very early on, with a beginning to organization building efforts made and with at least high level operational considerations starting to be addressed as the issues of the first two bullet points here are still being worked upon.
• Iterative co-development of necessary steps here, is a key to what could become longer-term success.
• Mission and vision and their precise details and wording, and organizational strategy and its operational development as both might be executed upon, should all still be in flux here, with the real world constraints of what is and is not possible, at least for now, helping to bring them into practical focus, and with an initial take at mapping out short and longer-term prioritizations started here too.
• Here, idealism and practicality have to be brought into a sufficiently close enough working alignment, so as to allow this venture to actually launch, with longer-term, more idealized and aspirational aspects of the overall goal set aside – for now, but with them always kept in mind nevertheless.
• I always tell people who are starting a new job, to look for and work to achieve early successes and from as early on in their initial new hire probationary period as possible, in order to set themselves up for longer-term success there. That same basic principle applies here too. Look for smaller pieces of the overall puzzle of your nonprofit’s intended mission and vision statement, that you can work towards now and early, and even when you still have a very limited resource base, limited pre-established name recognition definitely included. And cultivate the success that you can achieve in your work towards such an initial smaller-task goal, to both garner name recognition for what you do, can do and seek to do, and to validate your capability of success going forward.
• Start small and focused, and strategically so, and with a goal of making a name for your organization that you can build to justify from.

This is where the approach that I offered in Part 1 becomes important, and for several reasons:

• Well drafted mission and vision statements can in fact serve as the seeds to strategically and operationally expandable, functionally viable organizations, where vague and undirected ones rarely do and certainly on their own.
• And at the same time that such organizing statements can do this in helping to develop a nonprofit for what it does and how, as viewed perhaps from within, well drafted mission and vision statements can serve as effective marketing and outreach tools too, for cultivating and developing community support.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will begin to flesh out the development outline that I have just offered here as a bullet pointed list. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 1

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on July 11, 2019

I have written over 2,600 postings to this blog as a whole as I write this one, but I have only added 41 of them up until here, to my specifically nonprofit-oriented directory: Nonprofits and Social Networking. And looking back at this ongoing flow of new content here, that strikes me as being at least somewhat of an anomaly. I make note of that here and in that way, because working with nonprofits has been so critically important to me in my work life and professional career path. I am drawn to working with businesses that have good people, and that strive to fulfill positive missions and visions. And good nonprofits tend to develop around both.

Much of what I write in my Business Strategy and Operations directory (in its Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4 and Page 5 listings), applies equally fully to for-profit, not for profit and nonprofit businesses, and certainly as I address all of them as they would more effectively follow business model approaches per se. But I have not added as much as I could have and not as much as I probably should have, that would focus on nonprofits in particular in all of this. Then something I did not expect began to happen. All of a sudden I began seeing visitors to this blog, clicking to view the admittedly sparse, explicitly nonprofit content that I have included here, and one posting in particular as an apparent emerging favorite, and with readers of it coming from North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia: Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies.

I have been thinking a lot recently, about adding a new series to this directory that would build from that and related postings already available here, as I think back over my nonprofit work experience and about how these organizations do and do not effectively succeed as businesses per se, and in addressing their missions and visions as a consequence. And this more recent readership interest in my blue ocean strategies posting in particular, has given me the impetus to begin this new series now, rather than wait on it as I continue working my way through the ongoing collection of more business model-agnostic series, that I am already developing and offering here. So with this posting, I increase my actively under-development list of posting series by one again.

And I begin this first posting to it proper, and this series as a whole by stating the obvious: nonprofits, if coherently functionally organized and viable at all as potential ongoing enterprises, are always mission and vision driven. They are set up and run with a long term goal in mind that is defined by the terms of their particular mission and vision statements and those statements form their hearts and souls. And it is almost a truism that a nonprofit mission and vision are going to be long-term and even fundamentally open-ended in nature, as end goals. They can in fact be fundamentally unachievable, at least as absolute goals and more properly serve as aspirational direction pointers, in intent and in practice.

• “End world hunger.”

That overarching absolute goal might be the core message of a nonprofit’s mission and vision. But realistically that organization’s ongoing actionable goal is going to be to help feed the hungry who it can effectively reach out to and connect with, and in ways that at least ideally are self-sustaining for them.

• “Cure cancer” (as in all cancer.)

This may in fact be an attainable goal, some day and even in the world’s least served communities and among its most marginalized people. But realistically, this is a multi-generational goal as are others like it, for their far-reaching and open-ended scope of intent and of proposed action. Any nonprofit that sets out to fully realize this lofty goal is going to, of necessity, plan and work towards fulfilling step by step parts of this seemingly endlessly large and endlessly complex puzzle.

For-profit and not for profit businesses often have missions and visions too, and in principle at least virtually all of them do, at least as roughly considered points of intention. But these mission and vision statements tend to be very different in nature, and certainly when for-profits are considered there, and certainly when they are more formally thought through and written out. Consider the following:

• “Build and run the best shoe store on the planet: the very best shoe store possible.”

The How of curing all cancers or of definitively ending world hunger are still works in progress for even mapping out categorically what should be: what would absolutely need to be done in order to genuinely, completely fulfill them. For the world hunger example, how much of that effort (and at what stages of its fulfillment) should center on developing new crops that can grow in what are currently marginalized environments for agricultural production? And even just considering food production per se here, and setting aside the issues of wider food access and distribution among others, how much of this effort should go towards preserving the environment, through efforts to preserve or even improve soil quality, and water supply and with better buffering in place to protect against the extremes of drought or flood?

Ending world hunger is an aspirational mission goal. And any simple-to-state mission or vision statement like it is in most cases more likely to reflect overall long-term intent, more than it does any more here-and-now operationally specified goal, as could be explicitly encompassed in some timeframe-specified strategic plan or its more here-and-now execution. My shoe store example, on the other hand is more readily applicable as an explicit operational goal; it is more of a briefly stated functional road map, or at least more of an explicit pointer to one. And in this, effective strategy and the operational and other business practices that are developed out of it, can be seen as fleshing out that business’ (admittedly very ambitious) overall long-term goal.

Let’s consider that shoe store in a bit more detail, starting with a simple question, at least for its asking, that the above retail mission statement all but compels. What would the owners and employees of a shoe store need to do, and how would they best do that, in order to make their store really good and even great, and even an at least possible best of the best that they could achieve?

• Obviously, a great retail store needs great merchandise to sell. This in turn means good product design and selection, and high production quality. And it is not going to matter if this store sells the best when it has that in stock, if it cannot reliably have the items their customers would want, in stock. So good, great and best here call for effective supply chain systems and access to the best manufacturers through them, and on an ongoing, reliable basis.
• Price is important here too, so developing and maintaining good contractual relationships with suppliers, for price points and other terms of sale issues enters into this.
• But having the right products and even having them at the right prices is still only part of this puzzle as compacted into that brief above-offered shoe store mission statement. The physical location and the store size and layout are important too. A potentially great store that few can actually get to, posing this in bricks and mortar storefront terms, is not going to succeed very well and even if it has everything else working for it. Location can be king here.
• And the storefront itself, once reached, has to be open and easy for a customer to navigate in, and comfortable to shop in and as stress free for its customers as possible. I distinctly remember walking into a large sporting goods store once just to turn away and leave, and almost immediately – because the volume of the teen consumer-oriented music was so loud that it was literally physically painful! And looking around before leaving, I did not exactly see all that many actively engaged teen shoppers there anyway.
• And this brings me to the sales managers and the sales personnel and others who work with them there and who their customers would actually see and interact with, and both in finding the products that would best meet their needs, and in making purchases there. Training and support need to be great for them if that store is going to be great for their customers. And this brings me to the back-office support staff that this business would need and have too, and their training and support, and with effective communications systems available throughout the store and with all in-house stakeholders there, connected in.

My goal here has not been to exhaustively outline the operational details or functioning of a retail store. It has been to point out how, unlike ending world hunger or curing all cancer, it is known and in detail, how to build and run an effective retail business. So an effective mission statement for that type of enterprise can in fact be a fairly direct call to action, and with a large and complex set of what are at least in principle, achievable strategic and operational goals built into it.

Now, how can a nonprofit, with its more intrinsically open-ended, aspirational mission and vision statements, frame them and itself as an organization too, so as to be more directly achievable? At the risk of offending those who aspire to mission and vision greatness, as offered in my cancer and hunger examples, how can the leaders and the employees and the volunteers as well, who contribute so much to their nonprofits, make them more strategically clear-cut and operationally focused too, and in ways that are more effective in working towards fulfilling their missions and visions as a result – like that shoe store, and without sacrificing their overall mission and vision goals and aspirations?

My goal for this series is to at least shed some light on how that question can be better answered. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 27: nonprofits, not for profits and for profits 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on October 3, 2013

This is my twenty seventh posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-336 for Parts 1-26.)

I began explicitly discussing working at nonprofits, not for profits and for profits in the context of this series in Part 26. My focus there was on how businesses hire, selecting employees to meet their perceived needs. And as a part of that, I at least began a discussion of a set of issues that would go into widening your career options across business types and industries so that you can be a good candidate for a wider range of work opportunities. This is particularly important in a tight job market and in a time of workplace and economic transition:

• That any candidate looking for work
• Or looking for advancement opportunities,
• Or simply looking to retain ongoing employment,
• Know how to better present themselves for the flexibility and general utility and value of what they can do, and for where they can offer significant value as an employee.

I said at the end of Part 26 that I would continue its narrative here, by more fully discussing for profit, not for profit, and nonprofit workplaces and working in them. And I begin that by repeating that businesses and organizations hold a great deal in common as to basic needs and processes and regardless of industry or business-type specializations. Every business, or at least every one that offers at least something unique as a product or service, or that pursues a customized process or work flow methodology, can be said to have its specializations and even its unique qualities. This applies much more widely than just to companies that happen to hold and maintain explicit trade secrets. But businesses and organizations, and even those businesses hold much in common too, that go way beyond simply following a same set of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for their accounting and bookkeeping. And that is where opportunity becomes available for careers that span industries and other specialization barriers.

I begin here with consideration of points and areas held in common, and then consider differences and how to better address them in job search and career planning and execution.

• One of the points that I have repeatedly raised in the context of nonprofits and working for them is that they face fiscal and cash flow constraints,
• That force them to limit payroll and headcount as much as possible, and still get all essential tasks completed, while still keeping all essential ongoing operations running.
• This means that everyone who works at a nonprofit has to be prepared to take on a very wide range of responsibilities, and certainly when compared to corresponding job descriptions at a for profit that is operating in a more normal competitive environment.
• But “normal” in that last bullet point should probably be seen more as the “old normal” where for profit businesses of all types are also increasingly pressed to be as organizationally lean and agile as possible now. So where this might have once been more a defining quality of nonprofits, it is increasingly just a defining quality of “competitive” per se and for any type of business organization.
• Every employee and every job candidate seeking to become one, should present themselves as being flexibly capable of doing more and taking on wider ranges of responsibility than their peers would, who they are competing against.

Picking up on one of the key words that I have been using here, as of this writing we are facing an inconsistently growing and rebounding economy with hiring still lagging behind the rebounds and improvements that have been achieved in productivity and profits. As I have discussed in addendum postings to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its Part 2 continuation page:

• Some of this discrepancy comes from outsourcing within the same country with specific tasks going to specialty businesses,
• Some might be going to countries where labor costs are lower, and with a primary goal of capturing savings from that,
• Some of this work is disappearing from human hands entirely and into automated systems, and
• Some is simply disappearing as no longer needed at all, except perhaps occasionally or at very low headcount requirements – with that largely outsourced and on its way to being automated away.
• Work that is outsourced, or where third party consultants or contract workers are brought in to do it rather than having it done by in-house employees, is increasingly going to consist of tasks and responsibilities that may be required by the hiring business, but that fall outside of its immediate areas of functionality that are focused on maintaining its competitive position.
• Work that would more explicitly define and support their sources of direct marketplace value and certainly work that would maintain unique sources of such value that they can offer – work that would fit into and directly sustain a business’ core capabilities should remain in-house.
• For professionals who seek to develop ongoing career paths, understanding and addressing these issues means knowing whether the tasks that you would primarily do are central and in-house for a business that you might work for, or more peripheral and either subject to being outsourced completely or turned over to consultants – or likely to be moved out of in-house by one of these routes.
• So when I wrote my first set of bullet points for this posting, above, I was not simply writing about doing lots of things and more indiscriminately as to range of tasks and skills addressed. I was writing about selecting and cultivating a coordinated suite of skills and experience that businesses would need to hire for, and either in-house and full-time, or consistently and reliably through these other (non-automated) channels such as consultants.
• And I would think through whether your work and skills and experience progression would lead you more towards in-house or consulting or outsourcing firm employment. And I would recommend here, that you keep your wider range of options open even if you do preferentially prefer as of now to pursue one of them (e.g. working in-house for stable mid-sized for profits in your general area of skills specialization and with a suite of skills that would help you get and stay employed in that.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will look into specialist and generalist roles, and into parsing the overall job requirement into general and specialty-knowledge and skills. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page.

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 26: nonprofits, not for profits and for profits 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 28, 2013

This is my twenty sixth posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-335 for Parts 1-25.)

I have been writing consistently and repeatedly in this blog about working for and leading businesses. And I have distinguished between for profits, and nonprofits and not for profits throughout that, though I add that I do tend to group businesses that do not explicitly seek to create overall profit together, as much of what I have been writing that would apply to one of them (e.g. nonprofits or not for profits) applies to the other as well. This is at least in part from the way that the two both tend to attract very idealistic and mission-driven people, and both as employees and as outside supporters, and for the way that they tend to follow similar overall business model patterns. For references related to all three basic workplace and business model categories see Business Strategy and Operations and its second page and third page listings for that directory, and Nonprofits and Social Networking.

• When I write about offering unique value as an employee, at whatever level on a table of organization, I often write about what a person explicitly brings to the table.
• But it is exactly as important to consider where they would do this – what table they would bring their skills, experience, drive and enthusiasm to.
• It is at the very least a great deal easier to find and develop a meaningful and satisfying career path if you always, at least wherever possible, seek to find opportunities where the two: what you would offer and where you would offer that, mesh together smoothly.
• That is the topic for this posting, and seeking out good and even best fits that would enable you to be the best that you can be on the job, and for every position that you hold along your career path.

I am going to at least start this discussion from what might be considered the hiring practice fundamentals of businesses and organizations of all three basic categorical types:

1. Businesses and professional organizations hire and take on the responsibilities, expenses and risk of bringing in new employees in order to meet pressing needs that they cannot adequately address with their employees already in place, and where they do not see it as being cost-effective to either outsource or do this work through hired consultants or do without it.
2. So when a business hires and brings a new employee in-house, one of its chief goals is going to be to bring in someone from within their industry, and with all of the required, and even all of the wish-list desired skills and experience – so they can be brought up to speed and cost-effectively contributing their effort as quickly and smoothly as possible.
3. But many skills, and even many of the most crucially important for any given industry, company and position opening, have counterparts in other businesses and even in very different industries, and the core skills requirements for effectively exercising specialty skills are in many cases transferable too.
4. A great deal of value can accrue to a business from hiring more widely than just from within its own industry and its own precise types of business within that. This is particularly true when a hiring company is faced with change and needs fresh eyes and perspectives, and not simply its own familiar tried-and-true as coming in with a fresh face.
5. But there is a pronounced conflict between the requirements of Points 2 and 4 here. A hiring business may need new and fresh ideas and perspectives and it might benefit best from looking further afield than its own pool of successful employees for role models when hiring. But the rapid returns-at-minimal-risk requirements of Point 2 can and usually do dictate not finding and recruiting and bringing in new hires who in fact could bring in those fresh ideas and perspectives needed as that would require hiring less familiar types of employees, with the increased risks that this entails.

I have worked with for profits, not for profits and nonprofits and I have worked with others who have successfully made these transitions. It is possible to do this and to build a fruitful and satisfying career path that bridges these business-type distinctions and barriers. I have also worked with people who have made long and successful careers working entirely within one of these categories, and either with one employer or with a succession of them.

• I see it as important that people in general, understand the dynamics of these options and what would go into transferring between them, if for no other reason than because this affords greater insight into these three options in their own right.

And my explicit goal for the balance of this posting is to offer tools for better and more fully understanding industry and business-specific skills, and general transferable skills, and how to better present what you do more successfully to most effectively serve your needs and regardless of audience.

• Know what you can do, and know that what you most enjoy doing and what you do best.

This is not always obvious to us and particularly when we so often find ourselves focusing on specific hands-on and technical skills, and find ourselves overlooking more general interpersonal and communications, and other perhaps softer skills.

• Even if you start out listing your hard skills, and I do recommend writing this down as a list that you develop over a period of time, be sure to include the soft, people skills that you have too.
• Now think about what goes into each of them, and where you have listed indivisible single skills and where you have in fact listed complex work and experience areas that in fact represent sets of distinct skills. The goal here is to more fully think through and understand who you are professionally and what you can and do bring to the table with you. Job candidates and employees who understand themselves more fully are in a much better position when looking for new job opportunities, working with a business at a position there, or seeking out opportunity for career advancement with a move that for them, would be to their next best work position.
• And if you do find yourself looking for opportunity to cross a divide, for example between for profit and nonprofit, really understanding what you can do and what you do best and enjoy doing best. Really understanding the requirements of the position that you seek out, and knowing how to best present what you can do in terms of transferable skills – in terms that this prospective employer would see as valuable to them, can make the difference in making you their best candidate. With this point, I specifically cite my series: Finding Your Best Practices Plan B when Your Job Search isn’t Working (in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 56-72 for Parts 1-17) and I specifically recommend doing the series of exercises presented in its postings as they collectively comprise a complete strategically planned job search campaign.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will more specifically discuss for profit, nonprofit and not for profit workplaces and finding a best fit to match your skills and experience, your personality and your long-term needs and goals. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page.

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 24: in-house advancement along a career path versus advancement through moving on

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 18, 2013

This is my twenty fourth posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-333 for Parts 1-23.)

I have discussed a fairly wide range of issues and challenges, and learning opportunities as well in this series and throughout my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its continuation page. When I address the issues of this posting, I take on the task of clarifying and offering insight as to one of the most challenging and difficult topic areas that any of us is likely to face in our career path, to the extent that we explicitly acknowledge and face this at all:

• Pursuing in-house career advancement where we are working in our here-and-now, or looking elsewhere for advancement and pursuing it as part of a job change,
• And understanding the pros and cons of these two alternative paths, for us as we are positioned now and as we think and plan ahead.

One of the primary reasons why this is so difficult a set of issues is that we slip so easily into work and workplace ruts, and we grow complacent there. Experience shows that this is more the usual pattern even when a business that employs us is slipping and running into problems. Experience shows that even when the warning evidence was clear, in retrospect, many of us even fail to see a downsizing coming – until we arrive at work and find our computer login doesn’t work and there is a note on our desk asking us to report as soon as we arrive to someone in HR. I am very intentionally putting this in stark terms; most of us, most of the time come to take our current work and our current job for granted. And this, long term, is always a mistake. If this form of blindness does not literally put us out on the street without an immediate Plan B for getting back into the workforce again, it is at the very least quite likely to limit our career planning and development capabilities and stunt our long-term professional and career development.

So I begin here by stating flatly that this posting is very largely about looking directly and clearly in what for many if not most of us, would qualify as uncomfortable directions. Changing jobs is scary. But if we do not think and plan at least in part for the possibility of having to do that, it is certain that any job change that we do have to go through will arrive with us unprepared and in terms that we cannot negotiate or shape to meet our needs – at least with anything like the ease or flexibility that we would have if we saw this coming, or if we ourselves planned for it. And this brings me directly to the topic of this posting, and to my first working example: working for a nonprofit.

• Nonprofits, by legal definition and as a requirement to secure and keep a tax exempt status, are required to devote the vast majority of their incoming revenue towards fulfilling their expressed mission and vision. Legal guidelines generally set a large, explicitly stated minimum percentage of gross income that has to be expended in this way.
• That leaves a lean and even minimal amount left over that has to cover fixed operating expenses in general and for purposes of this discussion payroll, and marketing and fundraising expenditures and so on – funding that does not directly address mission and vision goals.
• This means headcounts have to be kept very lean with everyone there wearing multiple hats and carrying out more complex and diverse jobs – in order that everything essential get done.
• And this means that it is rare for a position to open up in a nonprofit that would be a good next career step for anyone who was looking for advancement opportunity. And that means that when someone who preferentially works in the nonprofit sector seeks to make a career advancement move, their best and even only path forward might very well require looking elsewhere, and at the pool of all nonprofits that they would find acceptable for quality of life issues such as location.
• Real, steady advancement up the table of organization in a nonprofit system generally means finding that best next step up at a new nonprofit organization and even repeatedly.
• And for higher level positions that can often mean relocation too, and even repeated long distance relocation.

By contrast, and as a perhaps opposite point on a spectrum from that of the nonprofit, I would cite a high-tech company in a rapidly developing and expanding industry, where new skills are called for on an ongoing basis and where new teams that use them for addressing current high priority projects and tasks are repeatedly being formed. Here, advancement might be quite possible in-house and with a same employer, but:

• Achieving that in-house promotion is going to call for demonstrating both the right new skills, and effective communications and management skills.
• And this should be balanced against presenting yourself as an insider for that business who would not have to be brought up to speed as to what it does or how it functions or who does what, or where necessary resources can be found and secured and most cost-effectively.
• The goal here is to advance in-house by simultaneously showing that you represent a safe and secure career advancement investment who can be offering more value than you cost, as quickly as possible,
• While offering the new and cutting edge skills and capabilities that this business needs and across the board if it is remain strongly competitive.
• And the downside to this is that as new technologies are brought in and become prominent for their high priority value, and as teams form to carry out current and new high priority tasks and projects, old ones drop away – and people are let go.

Nonprofits also find themselves in situations where they have to lay off and downsize too. One of the consequence of their legally mandated budget constraints is that few nonprofits can ever develop anything in the way of significant cash reserves. Ideally, a working nonprofit will have sufficient available liquidity to maintain operations, payroll and marketing and all, for at least six months even absent incoming revenue. But even if the numbers in their books indicate reserves of that six month scale, in practice, a nonprofit that was facing significant revenue shortfalls could not go anywhere near that long before taking protective measures, to keep from running out of funds and having to close down. And concern of possible insolvency would be expected to adversely impact on all ongoing cash flow processes with for example, suppliers no longer honoring 60 days receivable payment terms if they did before, or even 30 days receivable. My point here is that job openings and their potential arise but jobs disappear and people are let go too. So if you want to develop an active and successful long-term career and face as few real disruptions in it as possible, you have to look both in-house and outside for possible next opportunities and even just for ongoing here and now employment security.

• This means knowing your industry, and your current employer, but not just for what they produce and provide as products and services – but also for how their employees fare and how people advance in their systems, or fail to.
• And this means making a clear and objective assessment of yourself and of what you offer and as weaknesses as well as for your strengths, and how best to address the former and augment the later.
• And this also means thinking through how you could best market yourself too. I would recommend at least perusing my postings and series on job search, and particularly in my first Guide directory page, and for insights into the HR and hiring-business side of this, I would recommend a review of at least select postings and series from my HR and Personnel directory too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin to focus on change management and other specialty work situations and contexts. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page. I am also listing this posting in Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Leading a nonprofit 18: when nonprofits merge 2

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on January 11, 2013

This is my eighteenth installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-283 for Parts 1-17.) And this is also a direct continuation of Part 17 in which I began a discussion of mergers in the nonprofit context. More specifically, I discussed the rationale behind nonprofit mergers, and something of the criteria by which that would make sense, citing a quickly sketched case study as a working example, involving a larger American organization and smaller but robustly successful Canadian organization.

• They had compatible missions and visions and
• Each brought resources and capabilities to this merger that the other lacked and needed, and that they each could not simply develop in-house, within anything like an acceptable timeframe or level of cost-effectiveness.

So in Part 17, I discussed nonprofit mergers per se as a joining of organizations. Here I discuss making those mergers work, where that calls for particular leadership skills and effort. And as I noted at the beginning of Part 17, this is a situation where everything that goes into determining leadership best practices for nonprofits, comes into sharp focus.

1. I will assume at least initially and for purposes of this discussion that both of the nonprofit organizations entering this merger are financially sound and well run, and with effective leadership for meeting their ongoing needs.
2. I will come back to reconsider that set of assumptions in follow-up discussion, where I will consider mergers where one of these organizations has problems that its leadership cannot effectively address, at least to the level of finding long-term solutions. And I add here that this can be a reason why a merger, or more properly an acquisition might or might not make sense.

But I begin this part of the overall discussion of this series considering mergers of nonprofits that are functioning as effective businesses, and that are in fact making significant efforts toward fulfilling their missions and visions. And for this, and as general background references regarding mergers per se, I cite two postings that I added to an earlier series on leading through a merger or acquisition:

Transitioning into senior management – Part 15: M&A leadership – 1 and
Transitioning into senior management – Part 16: M&A leadership – 2.

When two nonprofits merge their leaderships have to do so as well, and with resolution as to who will take what positions in the post-merger senior executive team constituting a significant part of that. In the case study example I cited beginning in Part 17:

• The chief executive officer of the larger nonprofit involved stayed on as CEO for the enlarged organization that resulted from that merger, and most all of the senior executives of the larger organization retained their titles and positions for the newly combined overall organization too. They brought new levels of organizational and operational strength to their new partners so this made sense to preserve the specific sources of value that they brought to the table.
• The smaller, Canadian nonprofit’s CEO became a key member of the senior executive team for the overall organization with a senior vice president title, and his executive team going into this all stayed on, retaining local oversight and managerial control over all Canadian operations and offices.
• Boards of directors, I add, were also combined and in this case most everyone was kept on there too – nonprofit boards can be very large and still work, as noted in Boards of Directors and Nonprofits and Joining, Serving On and Leading a Board of Directors – 5: joining nonprofit boards.

The important point is that this was not decided strictly to the benefit of the leadership of the larger, stronger organization entering this merger or at the allowed expense of the smaller.

• When duplications occur with two executives carrying the same level and type of responsibility and title, and only one is going to be needed to continue in that position, the best fit for meeting current and anticipated needs for the merged, larger organization should be selected,
• And with a secondary, though still significant goal of ending up with both executive teams represented.
• And the overall goal should always be to capture and retain the sources of value that each of these joining organizations bring to the table.

Yes, that can mean competent, dedicated people having to move onto new career opportunities and new jobs elsewhere and certainly if they are to retain their old title and responsibilities moving forward. From the organizational perspective though, this should be all about retaining and combining sources of value and strength, so the newly combined organization starts out much stronger than either of the nonprofits going into this merger could have reached on their own.

• And out of all of this, the new CEO for the newly combined organization has to embody the mission and vision of this new combined entity,
• And for all of its employees and from both original nonprofits that entered this merger,
• And for the now larger, combined communities that this newly enlarged organization supports, and that it connects to for its own support.

I have written in this series of the role that a leader carries within a single ongoing organization. Here these same skills and experience are called upon but with numerous new and emerging complications faced. Yes, most of these operational and process complications and resource access and allocation issues, and personnel issues will probably arise as the “little details”, but those are the ones most easily overlooked and taken for granted in pre-merger planning. Leadership has to be there for the whole newly combined organization, and as the kinks and details of the merger and its consequences come to light and need resolution.

• An effective leader of a newly merged organization never comes across as playing favorite towards those who they led prior to the merger. They never take steps that raise the question as to whose leader they really are.

And resolving all of this and coming together as a single, coherent organization takes time, and this process of finding and resolving issues in and of itself has to be allowed for in operational and strategic planning, with extra funds, for example, allocated in budgeting infrastructure expense in support of this transition.

And with that I turn to the second numbered scenario listed towards the top of this posting where one of the organizations entering into a proposed merger has problems or brings significant sources of weakness with it.

• Under these circumstances an effective leader of a newly merged overall organization has to reassure employees and other stakeholders internal to the organizations merging that they are being listened to
• And they have to reach out to and both speak to and listen to members of the now combined external community that they turn to for support and that they in turn support too. An effective leader coming out of a merger agreement in combining two nonprofits has to reassure their now larger community of stakeholders that their concerns and problems are understood and that they are listened to as solutions are found and implemented. Communications skills are crucial here.

Some weaknesses and problems can simply be addressed through the merger process itself where one organization shares resources and capabilities with the other to fill gaps, where it brings real in-depth strength and the other has faced real unmet need. As a simple example there, consider two healthcare-oriented nonprofits where both provide professionally vetted booklets and brochures and online web and blog-based content related to the medical conditions addressed by their missions. And one of the merging nonprofits has had real problems securing the help of high level, well recognized medical authorities to write and review content for their informational offerings. The other has real strength in depth for that with close ties to several renowned medical schools and key faculty there. The merger itself resolves this problem when this font of expertise is now shared.

Some weaknesses and problems are much less easily resolved, and here I cite as example a situation where one of the organizations seeking to merge carries large financial debt that it cannot simply, easily pay down. Consider loss of office equipment and other resources not covered fully by insurance during a fire or as a result of a natural disaster as an example there. If this merger is to take place, that decision has to be arrived at as an outcome of a coldly dispassionate review and evaluation of feasibility and of process for making it work. And as a matter of leadership, any issues that would challenge the feasibility of a merger will have to be addressed in the midst of all of the rest of the change that takes place with any merger, and at all levels throughout the combining organization. I will simply add in this context that leadership has to mean setting aside the emotionality of mission and vision to consider realistic feasibility too, and it always has to be remembered that not all potential mergers can work. That possibility highlights the fact that “strategy as what you decide not to do”, can be as significantly valid an approach as “strategy as what you in fact do.”

So I end this posting by noting that leadership of a nonprofit with its idealism and the drive that engenders, can mean making hard choices and difficult decisions as with any other type of business. And that definitely holds for nonprofits entering mergers.

I am going to finish this series at this point though I am certain to come back to further discuss issues raised and touched upon here. 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.

Leading a nonprofit 17: when nonprofits merge 1

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on January 6, 2013

This is my seventeenth installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-282 for Parts 1-16.) And up to here I have focused on the single organization and its community context, and on leading and leadership in that overall context. I turn in this posting to consider a situation where everything that goes into determining leadership best practices for nonprofits, comes into sharp focus – when two nonprofits merge. Each has its own history and culture and traditions, and its own organizational mindset. Each has its own internal organization and staff, and its own leadership and its own operational and strategic processes and its own goals and priorities. Each has its own supportive and connected community. And now both seek to in some way join forces.

• This generally means the leadership, and in their executive suites and in their board rooms see a fundamental congruence and alignment of mission and vision pursued. But recognition of communality of overall and long-range goals and aspirations, while important here, cannot be enough to bring two functioning nonprofits to merge, in and of itself. On the face of it, matching mission and vision on their own would only serve to make them more direct competitors for the same discretionary income derived donor dollars.
• The leadership of these separate organizations have to also see critical gaps in what they can do and in their resources for action, that merging with this other nonprofit would correct. And these need to be gaps they could not simply address, at least with any real cost-effectiveness, strictly in-house and as a matter of ongoing strategically planned out growth within their own organizations.

In principle these conditions could arise and be recognized as highly significant for two nonprofits that are equivalent for organizational size, revenue generation, community reach and for other criteria that would enter this discussion. My own direct experience has been with much more asymmetrical mergers where a much larger nonprofit has in effect acquired a smaller though robustly effective nonprofit, with specific resources and community reach capabilities that the larger did not have, and could not otherwise realistically hope to achieve. I write this posting with a specific such merger firmly in mind with the larger nonprofit organized and operating in the United States and the smaller in Canada.

• Both held to essentially identical missions and visions. Their wording in their mission and vision statements differed, of course, but the basic core goals and priorities represented were essentially the same. If there were differences there, that would have had to be reconciled and I add here that is easiest where one of the two organizations (probably the larger) seeks to achieve everything in the other’s mission and vision, but with wider-ranging goals added in as well. Then this would not be a matter of one or both making fundamental changes in their core charter as to what they have stood for; this would be a matter of one or perhaps both simply expanding their charter and their overall goals to accommodate a compatible but wider mission and vision.
• The larger, US based organization had a much more comprehensive and a much more fully developed program and capability for addressing its needs and goals. And it had more than ten times as many local chapter offices, distributed nationally across its area of involvement than its Canadian counterpart, which was at that time limited to roughly half a dozen office locations spread relatively uniformly across the country east to west. Here, I add that some 90% of the Canadian population is located within 200 miles of their border with the United States so with a more tightly localized population a larger percentage of Canadians could be reached from a smaller number of office locations. But many people in the less densely populated regions of that country also needed help of a type this nonprofit sought to provide in meeting its mission and vision. So the Canadian organization wanted to expand its system and with added best practices vetted resources needed to make that possible.
• The United States based nonprofit had long-standing goals of reaching out into Canada, and perhaps eventually into Mexico as well, with that a very long term goal and of low priority through any realistic immediately foreseeable future. But they wanted to expand north into Canada now. They had an organizational and programs-based capability that was essentially linearly expandable if they were to make this jump in scale, with little need to change most of their internal operations, for example to meet new requirements. Or at least this was their understanding, where their basic assumption was that expanding north would be much like their already successful experience of expanding west and south throughout the United States. When current chapter offices became too large and cumbersome from increased local community reach and involvement, new chapters were split off and larger regions were split up and divided between old and established, and new and needed to keep them all leanly effective and without need for major reorganizational change in how chapter offices were structured and run. True, they did develop some explicitly identified “super-chapters” and particularly for serving large urban centers and their surroundings but they had grown for the most part along a single standard pattern. And they had moved into new territories within the United States, setting up new chapter offices in the same way, following established and vetted practices. But Canada was going to be different.
• The relationship between the United States and Canada has always been complex, with the two countries seeing each other as closest of friends and allies, but with each valuing their independent identities. And this has perhaps been more pressing for Canadians than for Americans, as Canadians have felt the pressure of American homogenizing influence, and politically and through television and other entertainment media and from business and economic pressure and more – Canadians have at times seen this as a challenge to their maintaining a true Canadian culture and identity. So any effective outreach by this United States-based nonprofit would have to have a very genuine Canadian face to it; it would have to be Canadian in spirit and fact. This smaller Canadian nonprofit was built upon a deep and fundamental foundation of Canadian community and as such, working with and even merging with it could open doors that would otherwise not be available for its American counterpart.
• Each of these organizations held sources of strength and value that the other needed and wanted and as a very high priority. These included fundamentally important elements that would have been very difficult if at all realistically possible, to independently develop strictly in-house as separate organizations. And their core similarities made their joining a very attractive possibility.

And this brings me to consider their leadership and what it takes for two nonprofits to see both need and opportunity where a merger might make sense, and challenge and incompatibility that might have to be addressed in even a most successful merger. I was initially planning on covering this topic in one posting (this) but I will pick up on this start in a next installment where I will address issues of leadership and of establishing buy-in, and both within these organizations and for their supporting outside communities. 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.

Leading a nonprofit 16: facing and dealing with crisis and the unpredictable

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on January 1, 2013

This is my sixteenth installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-281 for Parts 1-15.)

I began a discussion of change, and of planning for and responding to it as a nonprofit leader in Part 15: facing and dealing with change and its imperatives. There, my focus was on change per se and its steady evolving pressures. I turn here to consider the more dramatic, sudden and unpredictable change that arrives as crisis.

And I begin by citing as a case study example, a locally focused nonprofit that I have some experience with. They actively reach out to the homeless to help provide food and clothing, and to help find shelter and a variety of other forms of support. In this, they work with other organizations and agencies to help bring them and members of their community in need, together. And they have weathered change as levels of funding have gone up and down and as economic and other pressures have shifted the size of the population they serve too. In severe winter weather they have traditionally been stretched to the limit but have somehow managed to take care of those in significant need. Then the building next door – an auto repair shop had a fire and burned down, and between the smoke damage from this fire itself and water damage from the Fire Department’s response, their facilities sustained massive damage too. Fire Department efforts saved their building from burning down too, but furniture and food, kitchen equipment and office equipment, carpeting and most everything else in their space was lost – and on top of that, literally, was damage to the sheetrock in all of their walls.

Fortunately this happened in warm weather and when they were not trying to meet the needs of large numbers of people who could not stay outdoors because of the weather but who otherwise had no place to go. Unfortunately, this had an immediate impact of stopping their major programs and especially their ongoing efforts to provide meals.

I do not know if the auto facility had passed its fire safety inspections or it if was carrying citations of code violations, but either way this came as a sudden and unexpected crisis to this nonprofit. And crisis leadership for it meant quickly organizing an effort to get going again.

• This meant reaching out to their supportive community for help, and with money but also with supplies and equipment, and a place they could at least temporarily use for preparing sandwiches and other foods that do not require stoves or ovens or other major kitchen appliances.
• This meant securing the materials needed to actually make those sandwiches and for assembling food packages they would be added to.
• This meant managing an assessment of damage and of what was left, and of organizing early, mid-term and longer term responses that would cover the full range from temporary fixes through long term rebuilding. Their building itself was still structurally sound even if there was a great deal of non-structural damage so rebuilding on the same site was quite feasible.

I could simply continue this narrative from there, but I will stop at this point to note that I actually began it way after its true beginning, when I started with the fire itself. Crisis leadership has to be grounded in preparation, even if that is general preparation that can flexibly respond to a wide range of unexpected contingencies.

I come to this from an Information Technology perspective so I will focus here, as a case study example, on a crucial area where businesses have to be prepared in advance and where leadership really has to come from the top: continuity of records keeping and of crucial business intelligence and documentation. Note that in my above example, everything in the building used by this single site nonprofit was lost. But thanks to cloud computing and distantly physically located online server access, their records did not have to be, except for paper invoices and other documents recently received which in many cases could be resent to them as replacement duplicate copies.

• As a matter of general principle, preparation of this type begins with identification of possible single points of failure, where if a system component goes down there is no backup or ready work-around to fill the gap of its absence.
• And as a general process, this cannot simply be relegated to a Risk Management office. Cost considerations and a need for comprehensive integration into overall operations and planning require that this be overseen by senior management, starting from the top.

Even with the best planning and the most flexible and adaptive operational execution, crises and disasters and immediate dislocations can, and with time will happen. Leadership in this calls for response with crisis management skills, and with crisis limiting systems, already in place.

I am going to finish this posting by going back very explicitly to the nonprofit setting, and to the case study example touched upon above. A nonprofit leader should prepare for and lead through crises with the full range of constituencies dependent upon their leadership in mind. That at the very least includes:

• The communities served by their organization through its pursuit of meeting the goals of mission and vision,
• Its employees and their needs, and
• Its supporters and backers.

In all of this, leadership means maintaining contact and a sense of ongoing continuity in the face of uncertainty and sudden change. Fiscal and other organizational goals set and processes followed need to be prioritized with that in mind, and the goal of returning to stability and normality as smoothly and quickly and cost-effectively as possible – with all of the trade-offs that seeking to simultaneously meet all three of those sometimes conflicting objectives implies.

I am going to conclude this series at least for now with one final installment in which I will discuss issues I have seen arise with the merger of two nonprofits under a single overall leadership. And that brings into clear focus a range of issues as to what nonprofits are and how they run, and both organizationally and interpersonally. 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.

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.

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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