Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leading a nonprofit 12: building and working with the starting-stage board of directors

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on December 12, 2012

This is my twelfth installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-277 for Parts 1-11.) And with this posting I turn to a topic area that I have addressed from other directions, many times: boards of directors and board members.

• For a more general discussion of boards and what they do, see my series: Joining, Serving On and Leading a Board of Directors at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 179-205 for Parts 1-27.)
• For a more focused discussion of nonprofit boards, see Boards of Directors and Nonprofits and I also recommend reviewing the postings on boards that I cite in that. In that regard I particularly note Boards of Directors and Corporate Culture and Strategy.

My focus here is on the board as viewed from the perspective of the nonprofit founder and chief executive officer. And I begin with the fundamentals of what a good startup-stage board can offer a nonprofit founder as they begin to build an organization around their mission and vision.

Well chosen, effective board members can bring a wide range of value to a nonprofit and to its leadership. Simply touching on a few of the more basic and even standard points, board members can:

• Provide focused and immediately relevant advice and insight into setting up a new organization. This can include, among other things, advice in finding and bringing in legal or other relevant expertise, for incorporating the organization as a nonprofit and for meeting other basic legal due diligence requirements.
• This can mean directly providing expertise and that can even include detailed mentoring where there are functional expertise gaps in the founding team. And this can include advice in finding the right new members of an executive team to help fill those gaps.
• Networking and expanding the new organization’s effective networking reach can be very important.
• And with time and perhaps from early on, board members can help bring in funding support as well as seed money for launching the nonprofit.

The basic idea here is that board members help identify and address strategic and operational gaps, and they help the newly forming organization to find its way through its earliest stage uncertainties and learning curves. So who is on the board and certainly from the start is very important.

And to put all of this into perspective and with a very real-world type of working example, I would pick up on a scenario that I have been touching on through the last several series installments:

• Sometimes a nonprofit founder is the right person to express and promote the mission and vision and the right person to bring others together around the goals that this mission and vision would demand – and also the right person to lead this newly forming organization as a business startup and as a business organization that has to meet very stringent and demanding cash flow and revenue utilization requirements.
• But it is common that even if the mission and vision oriented founder could be that business leader as well, they might still need real help and advice – focused mentoring to get there. They might for example have solid business experience but only in well established businesses and be new to working with let alone leading or founding a startup. They might be new to nonprofits and need guidance there.
• Well selected board members can bring that type of mentoring capability to the table. And in this I explicitly note that that calls for tact and mentoring skills, and an understanding as to when to step forward and speak and when to step back, as much as it calls for technical and organizational expertise.
• And this brings me to a point where real tact and judgment is needed. A founder might not know enough about some aspect of actually building a successful organization to even know where they have gaps in their experience and knowledge. A leader who is willing and able to stop and listen and learn can overcome even very significant educational and experiential gaps and come to really succeed in what for them are new areas of action and responsibility. Board members can help make that happen.
• And to repeat a detail from earlier series installments that can come up in this set of issues, sometimes a founder is not the right person for the job of day-to-day chief business leader. A board can help find and bring in the right partner in leadership, and can help the forming executive team find its way forward if this type of splitting of responsibility would make the most sense.
• And of course when one person can take on both sets of roles and do them both well, the board can still offer effective and important advice and insight, and both from their own direct experience and as they network for more community-based knowledge and insight.

Making all of this work begins with finding and bringing onboard the right board members. And this is probably going to begin with the founder’s networking reach and with professionals and others who they already know and who in many cases, they have already worked with.

Note that I have not mentioned board member dedication to the importance of this nonprofit’s specific mission and vision. That can certainly help motivate potential board members to make the effort and to assume the commitment needed. But I have seen board members perform with extraordinary dedication and effectiveness for other reasons too, including personal regard for the nonprofit’s founder from having worked with them, and from that founder having helped them in their own careers. I have specific board members and nonprofits in mind as I note that possible source of motivation. My point is that sources of motivation can be varied and complex. Don’t just look for people who see the specific mission and vision of a nonprofit as the be all and end all of the universe.

• So I have written this from the founder’s and the chief executive officer’s perspective but I have also been writing this in significant part from the board member’s perspective too. To make this work, these varying perspectives have to mesh and align, and for mutual support and in support of the founding organization.

I am going to continue my discussion of working with a board in my next series installment, where I will focus on the established nonprofit and its board of directors. 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 11: building and leading the nonprofit startup 3

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on December 7, 2012

This is my eleventh installment in a series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-276 for Parts 1-10.) This is also my third installment to deal with the issues and decisions that go into founding a nonprofit as a going enterprise (see Part 9 and Part 10.)

I began a discussion of building a founding team in Part 10 where I focused on finding the right business manager and leader to head the organization for its operational planning and execution, and how that might or might not be the same person as the founder who brings everyone together around a shared mission and vision. I continue that here, turning to consider the other functional chairs that would have to be filled, and the areas of skill and expertise that would be needed early on and from the beginning as the nonprofit forms.

As I noted at the end of Part 10, to keep the discussion more straightforward I will simply write this as if the mission and vision-driving founder and the business leader who would run this organization day-to-day were the same person. With that grammatical housekeeping detail in mind, I start with a basic list of functional areas that might be considered for active inclusion here, and proceed from that. And I begin with the basics. The two most important immediate goals that a just-forming nonprofit startup needs to address are:

• Having a compelling stated purpose to offer that is marketable as a mission and vision goal, that could bring in revenue from donors, and
• The liquidity needed to follow through on that potential until a positive cash flow can be developed, with sufficient income to meet operating expenses while still allocating a high enough percentage of incoming revenue to mission and vision to meet statutory requirements for being a nonprofit.

So a forming nonprofit has to fill the necessary chairs, but limit headcount to that and with a minimum number of participants covering all necessary functional and work load requirements. What are the most important starting skills? What most critically has to be done, and as a series of highest priority tasks?

• As already discussed in earlier series installments, the basic goals of the organization as its mission and vision have to be brought into a focus that can be expressed clearly and succinctly (see Part 3: missions, visions and corporate cultures. But this means more than simply drafting the mission and vision statements. It means developing calls to action that can be shared with specific potential team members, outlining how their contributions could significantly contribute towards the nonprofit’s goals.
• An initial outreach has to be made to bring in and involve a core group of participants as a founding community. This means finding people who can, and are willing to offer hands-on skills, and from clerical work through high level strategic planning and financial and legal advice. And it means bringing in initial seed funding.
• Networking is a key requirement here and for both sides of this initial effort, and developing initial momentum for getting the word out, and help with actually doing so is crucial. Increasingly that means making more effective use of social media and interactive online connectivity.
• Financial and legal advice and help are going to be needed and early, for getting the paperwork going for actually setting the organization up as a nonprofit. And advice from people with startup experience, nonprofit experience or both would be invaluable.

When the organization is just starting and the founding group is small enough to be able to meet sitting around a table, there is not going to be a lot of need for complex or comprehensive organizational structure or for the operational and table of organization systems that would contain that. That has to be prepared for but as a goal to work towards as addressing its issues become necessary.

Marketing and communications are important, and so is fundraising but at the very beginning these are primarily going to be carried out by the founder and any early team joiners, who would be selected both for their skills and experience and for their concern for the basic goals of the forming mission and vision statements. I add that this concern makes joining and working on this founder team a largely self-selecting process where the right people decide that working with this group is important enough for what this startup nonprofit seeks to do, to be worth their time and effort to help make it possible.

• So knowing what does not have to be done at first and certainly to the level of anything like formal operational structure, can be as important as knowing what does have to be done first and with specific assignment and even specifically assigned positions and titles.
• This is a situation where strategy as knowing what not to do, is as important as knowing what to do.

Most nonprofits start, as far as finances are concerned, through self-funding by the founder and a small group around them and from seed money from a small circle. Like any startup, these organizations begin with a small team and with many founding participants holding down separate full-time jobs. So they can only devote part of their overall time and effort into this – even if they devote significantly for both.

• Long-tern success means breaking out of that small initial circle of those who know of this effort and who are willing to support it, to reach and connect with a larger involved community.

That is essential if this effort is to become a sustaining organization with ongoing funding and the financial capacity to continue on. And organizational size and structure would expand out as financial capability to support it does, and with a wider range of functional areas assigned to specific individuals as members of the expanding overall team as that becomes fiscally sound and sustainable too.

I said at the end of Part 10 that I would discuss the early and founding stage board of directors, and with that posting and this as background for that discussion, I will do so in my next series installment. 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 10: building and leading the nonprofit startup 2

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on December 2, 2012

This is my tenth installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-275 for Parts 1-9.) This is also my second posting to this series on founding a nonprofit (see Part 9 in which focused on the motivating mission and vision as a foundation point.) I turn here to the issues of building a founding team, and I begin that by sharing a fundamentally important point of observation:

• No one person can do everything. That is because we all have individual strengths and weaknesses that limit and define what we can do, and expertly. It is because even when we could in principle do more, we are all limited to 24 hour days and 7 day weeks – and when taking on massive, open-ended challenges such as founding a nonprofit we need help. So if founding a nonprofit has to be grounded in mission and vision and what it would seek to do to fulfill them, actually following through on that and founding a nonprofit means building a team.

A great many issues and challenges are touched upon and perhaps glossed over in that bullet point and operationally and strategically, building a successful nonprofit means unraveling and addressing the details to that. So my goal in this posting is simply to begin breaking out and discussing the implicit details. And I begin that by citing a core founder challenge and requirement:

• A nonprofit founder, like the founder of any successful startup, has to be brutally honest with themselves as to what they can and cannot do, and both by range of skills and ability, and by limitations of time and energy. And even there, they need to know when sharing the workload with the right people can instill a real sense of buy-in and commitment, and yes of ownership in them that would be needed to build that dedicated team.

I will pick up on that with a specific example that I in fact mentioned in passing in Part 9 when focusing on mission and vision. Not all nonprofit founders are equipped by skills, experience or temperament to build and run a successfully working business per se, and whether for-profit or nonprofit. You might be the right person to develop and convey a shared vision and mission for what can and should be done, but not be the person needed to operationally lead that happening. There is no reason why a driving-force founder cannot work with a business-side partner in building the organization at the most senior executive level, with a skilled and appropriate business leader stepping in as president and day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter operational leader, and with the founder focusing on overall strategy and vision. That can mean their taking the title chief executive officer with a separate and significantly empowered president, or it can mean their leading the board of directors with an organizationally and operationally expert CEO/President working with them to manage the business side of the nonprofit. The core idea here is self-honesty and the core requirement is one of leaving egos at the door.

In follow up to this I cite a more general startup oriented posting that I initially wrote and posted in follow-up to conversations and meetings held with a for-profit business founder, I was then working with: Maintaining a Vision While Loosening Our Grip. That founder’s efforts failed, and in large part because he was never willing or able to loosen his grip and give the members of the team he was building, a real sense of involvement or ownership. He was never willing to trust the value or meaning of his vision so he was never willing to trust the people he needed if it were to be realized as a successful enterprise.

For purpose of this discussion and to keep it focused I will simply assume in how I continue on, that the founder can loosen their grip and work with others in building a real, effective team. And for simplicity I will assume they are going to lead and both as holder and conveyer of mission and vision, and as business leader too. So if you are founding a nonprofit under circumstances where those tasks are divided out to more than one set of hands, think you plural, where I write you singular, and divide out what I write of accordingly as to who would do what and be responsible for what.

I am going to continue this discussion with a more detailed look into building a team to cover all of the core functional requirements, while keeping headcount lean and communications and decision making easy. I will also be discussing the issues of building a board, which is an essential step for building that team. 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 9: building and leading the nonprofit startup 1

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

This is my ninth installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-274 for Parts 1-8.) So far I have primarily focused on leading an established nonprofit with a history and structure, and an ongoing cash flow and an established supporting community. With this posting I turn to consider the challenges of starting a nonprofit, as its founding leader and visionary. And chances are that if you are looking to found and build a nonprofit, you do so driven by the imperative of a specific mission and vision and its societal significance.

I have been writing on an ongoing basis about startups in this blog, and in that more general context I cite my various postings and series as can be found at: Startups and Early Stage Businesses. My hope is that at least some of that material would be of value to the founder of a nonprofit startup, even as the same general principles would apply to the new for-profit business as well. And in that regard and with the stringent cash flow requirements needed to gain and maintain a tax exempt nonprofit status, I specifically cite my series: Understanding and Navigating Burn Rate: a startup primer, as included there as postings 67-78. But in keeping with the basic thrust of this series, I focus here on issues particular to nonprofits and their leadership. And I begin with some basic questions.

• What is the specific value defining core idea or issue that gives your proposed mission and vision statements meaning?
• Can you clearly and compellingly explain it and with the brevity of an elevator pitch that you would use if seeking a job? (See Structuring an Effective Elevator Pitch.)

Who is your natural audience for this message? Throw a wide net in answering that, as you want to include everyone who is or is likely to be directly impacted upon by the challenges you would address in your nonprofit, and you also want to include people and groups who would wish to support those so afflicted. Think in terms of potential donors here who have discretionary income to share with charitable organizations and nonprofits, but also think in terms of the people who would influence them to pick your mission and vision statements to support, and your nonprofit for seeking to actively, meaningfully address them.

So I write here about the dual and deeply interconnected tasks of crafting a message and knowing who that message could favorably reach as a call to action.

This is a short posting by word count but it covers a lot of ground in outlining steps that need taking, and that would come from the founder and people they can bring in early on. I am going to pick up on the second half of that last sentence in my next series installment, where I will look into some of the issues that nonprofit founders face in building a team. And I note in anticipation of that, that an effective founder of a nonprofit need not be an effective chief executive officer. But they do need to know if someone else should be found to actually manage the organization as a business, and they do need to be able to find and bring onboard such a person if needed, as well as help to find the rest of a starting team. 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 8: some implications of the nonprofit funding base as donor’s discretionary income

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

This is my eighth installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-273 for Parts 1-7.) As I noted in Part 7: benchmarking and keeping the organization focused and effective, my goal here has been to focus on issues and perspectives that are particular to leading a nonprofit organization, as I have already been posting fairly extensively on executive level management and leadership per se. And with that point noted, I turn in this posting to consider what in many respects is the central, defining issue that would set nonprofit leadership apart from leadership of any other type of organization: for profit or not for profit in the private sector or leadership of a governmental organization or agency in the public sector.

• Nonprofits are mission and vision driven, and mission and vision-oriented sources of direct value that are created through the organization almost always go to different individuals and families than the ones who donate the funds that would enable those direct benefits. Donors, I add, make their contributions in this from what they can be brought to see as their available discretionary income.
• So in a very fundamental sense, and looking at this from the perspective of the people who make donations and who provide the nonprofit’s incoming revenue streams, nonprofits are in the business of creating and providing a sustaining sense of hope.
• Nonprofits are in the hope business, and that ultimately is their product and service, and even as they actually succeed in taking successful steps towards specifically fulfilling their overall mission and vision statement goals.

I find myself thinking of healthcare-oriented nonprofits that I have worked with as I write this, and particularly The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And I find myself thinking of educational opportunity and community development oriented nonprofits that I have worked with too, and in that regard I find myself thinking of Per Scholas.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society supports translational research that brings discoveries from the laboratory into clinical practice and application where they can save lives and improve the quality of life for many. And the Society also provides direct support for individuals and their families who are confronted with the at times terrifying challenges of blood cancer. Per Scholas offers opportunity for people from under-served and impoverished communities to create futures for themselves and their families. Both take positive steps and every single day towards fulfilling their missions and visions. But bottom line, their primary product and certainly as offered to those who financially support them is hope. In a fundamental sense and longer-term, that sense of hope means that they would in effect put themselves out of business by completing the realization of their mission and vision goals.

• So in a fundamental sense and certainly long-term, a mission and vision driven nonprofit seeks to put itself out of business by making itself no longer needed.

And this brings me to nonprofit leadership and to the type of person it takes to run a nonprofit on an ongoing basis.

• As I have already noted in other postings, the one consistent route to advancement up the table of organization in nonprofit systems, is to move between nonprofits (see for example, Nonprofits – Staffing and Career Potential.) With their limited staffing – a basic tool for limiting personnel and other non-mission expenses, most nonprofits rarely offer real, consistent opportunity for advancement from within.
• So people advance to higher levels of responsibility by moving on to work with other nonprofits. And this applies to top leadership positions for already established nonprofits, just as it does for every other non-entry level type of position, and certainly for higher level positions in those organizations.

That means that most new chief executive officers for established nonprofits at least, start there as outside hires with extensive experience in the nonprofit sector from working with other organizations – and in support of other missions and visions.

• Effective leadership of a nonprofit organization does not necessarily call for a specific overriding drive towards supporting any one particular mission or vision – though some nonprofit leaders start out with such a focus and maintain it throughout their overall career paths.
• Effective nonprofit leadership calls for an understanding and appreciation of the overarching value of societally important missions and visions per se, and a willingness to enter into and work to support them and on an ongoing basis.
• And when an executive assumes leadership with a specific nonprofit they do so agreeing to wholeheartedly support its mission and vision and for as long as they work there.

Any CEO should be expected to show loyalty to their organization and to the employees they lead there, and to their customers and others who rely on them. That is a general principle, and a test of principle and character that any chief executive officer should be measured against. Nonprofit leaders, or at least good ones, exemplify the spirit of that in their day to day lives. That at least is what I have seen in the best of them and the most effective of them as leaders. Businesses with primarily self-serving leaders who are in it only for themselves suffer from that; nonprofits with that type of leadership fail. And mission and vision become litmus tests for a nonprofit’s and a nonprofit’s leader’s success.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next installment where I will shift focus from the established nonprofit, to building and leading a new nonprofit – a nonprofit startup. 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 7: benchmarking and keeping the organization focused and effective

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on November 17, 2012

This is my seventh installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-272 for Parts 1-6.) I have already posted a 21 part series on transitioning into senior management and on executive management per se at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see postings 158-178) and I have been posting about organizational leadership on an ongoing if periodic basis in several directories to this blog. I have been focusing in on the issues and challenges that arise specifically for nonprofits and their chief executive officers in this series.

I began a more detailed discussion of the strategic decisions involved in making sure that a nonprofit is working on the right mission-oriented tasks and projects in Part 6: feedback and follow-through in the context of task and goals prioritization and I continue that here with this posting, where I will add in the complexities of change and effectively responding to the unexpected and unplanned for. Last time I wrote about feedback and developing and maintaining two way flows of communication and information sharing. Here, I add in benchmarking and standards of evaluation. And I begin this with the fundamentals and by noting a couple of basic, fundamental points.

• A nonprofit is first and foremost a business and effective nonprofits have to be run as effective businesses if they are to have the capacity to address the goals of their mission and vision.
• And that means that bottom line, any meaningful measures of performance have to be translatable into monetary and cash flow terms, and both for impact on revenue generated and for effectiveness in use of monetary resources expended.
• This second point becomes particularly important for nonprofits as businesses, given their requirement that maximal levels of revenue coming in be directed towards fulfilling the goals of mission and vision.

So communication is important. And one of the key topic areas that has to be included in this conversation flow is about campaign and project performance, and effectiveness – and about benchmarking and about how ongoing activities measure up against benchmarks and goals set. And this conversation, of course, also has to include background discussion required to make sure that benchmarks and goals set are realistic and mutually understood by all involved stakeholders, and that they shift and evolve as needed to stay meaningful and realistic and for both basic goals that have to be met at minimum and for stretch goals that would exceed them for accomplishment reached.

I add this posting to this series because it is so easy to get caught up in the societal and other nonmonetary understandings of mission and vision that the business side of working towards them can get lost. This can easily turn into conflict between the Chief Financial Officer and their counterparts directly responsible for the management of projects and programs. And one of the goals and responsibilities of the nonprofit CEO has to be in monitoring the conversation, or lack thereof between the lines on the table of organization that they oversee, to note and respond where miscommunications are developing. I have seen even basically well-run nonprofits drift into conflict between their chief financial officer and the senior executives responsible for specific mission project oriented work, and that should be entirely avoidable and even with differences in personality and related challenges.

I have been writing about nonprofits as businesses up to here, and about the importance of liquidity and cash flow for them. I am going to turn in my next installment to consider some of the implications of how nonprofits derive their incoming revenue from the discretionary income of potential donors, and the role of the nonprofit CEO in making that work. 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 6: feedback and follow-through in the context of task and goals prioritization

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on November 12, 2012

This is my sixth installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-271 for Parts 1-5.) I focused in Part 5: starting a new job as a nonprofit’s CEO on first steps in working with a nonprofit as its chief executive officer, and I continue from there in this posting with a discussion of issues that are in most cases going to be important from day one and for as long as a person works as that nonprofit’s CEO. I stated at the end of Part 5 and again in the title of this posting that my goal here is to discuss issues of feedback and follow-through and I will be doing so – but not in the abstract. My focus here is going to on a specific set of crucially important executive decision-making issues, and on how they would be communicated about and followed through upon, and with appropriate feedback as needed. And to set the stage for that, I set up a brief scenario:

• Effective nonprofits seek to devote as large a percentage of their gross incoming revenue towards their mission and vision as possible, managing and limiting non-mission operational and other expenses while still meeting all necessary organizational maintenance needs. This is necessary if they are to gain and retain nonprofit, tax exempt status. And depending on where they are incorporated as a nonprofit, the minimum percentage of total revenue that goes toward mission and vision can be as high as 80% and in some cases might be even higher.
• Let’s assume that the nonprofit you are running is exceeding that, and expending as much as 90% of total incoming revenue towards mission and vision. From a strictly cash management and Financial Department perspective that is exceptionally good. But what is the organization doing with that 90% and does all of this activity actually promote achieving its mission and vision statements?
• Is the organization simply doing a lot of disconnected things, and few of them very well or is there an underlying rationale and strategy in all of this activity? Is the right blend of large and ongoing, and small and localized campaigns being worked on? And what is being done to even know that? So this scenario is all about bringing and keeping the organization on-track, and that is where communication and feedback and follow-through enter in.
• Ultimately, the measure of effectiveness of a nonprofit CEO is not in meeting that minimum percentage of revenue that goes toward mission. It is in using those funds effectively and in communicating that. That, I add is what drives revenue generation in the first place, that potential donors see their money would be well spent and in ways that serve a real, effective purpose. So as fundamental driver of all else, this is the core area of responsibility that a nonprofit CEO has to manage, coordinately with their fellow employees and with a host of other stakeholders.

The CEO of a nonprofit holds responsibility for championing the organization’s mission and vision but this is not simply a matter of expressing intent. It is in the day to day of keeping the organization focused in what it does, to more cost-effectively work towards achieving its publically stated mission and vision.

• This means two way communication and with feedback in both directions too and with senior executives and on down the table of organization to keep everyone on the same page, with a shared understanding of what is being done and why.
• This means communicating, and to that same level of effective two way feedback sharing with the Board and its members, and with the members of the outside communities that rely on this nonprofit for its work, and that the nonprofit in turn relies upon too.
• For communication and feedback between nonprofit and outside community and constituencies, social media has revolutionized nonprofits everywhere and what they can do – and what they are expected to do and to be able to do as well. So technological advances have simply raised the bar as to what has to be done here, and how quickly and timely and effectively.
• And the CEO this is and has to be all about benchmarking and communicating execution and the results of decisions made and actions taken.

Different people have different communications styles and approaches, and nonprofit leaders generally have very full schedules and need to make as effective a use of their time as possible to get their jobs done. So a simple open door policy might not be practical or even possible. But communication and the sharing and receiving of feedback are core to what an effective nonprofit leader does, and they are essential for effective planning and prioritization, and for managing the types of crucial issues, as exemplified in my above example/scenario, that CEO’s lead on.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to discuss benchmarking, and bringing organizations together around a single shared operational and priority based vision and understanding, in pursuit of fulfilling the nonprofits overall mission and vision statements and their long-term goals. 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 5: starting a new job as a nonprofit’s CEO

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on November 7, 2012

This is my fifth installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-270 for Parts 1-4.) I began this series with a brief orienting discussion as to the similarities and differences between a for-profit and a nonprofit business. I then went on to consider the issues of finding and bringing in the right new chief executive officer for an established nonprofit, at least briefly considering this from the job candidate’s perspective and also from the nonprofit’s board’s perspective. I continue this discussion and here from the candidate’s perspective as they are offered that job and accept it and as they begin work as a nonprofit’s new CEO. And I begin that with some basic, orienting questions:

• What are the most important challenges that this nonprofit, your new employer faces and both immediately and short-term?
• Are they on the business side of this organization and on how it operates as a business, or are they on the mission and vision, and the more ideals-driven side of the organization, or do they span both?
• Is this organization focused and heading in the right direction or are you coming in to in effect, chart out a new path forward? And closely aligned to that, how is morale, and both within the organization and for its employees, and outside of it in its supporting community?

Think of this as starting out performing at least an informal nonprofit-oriented SWOT analysis so you know what you are walking into and so you can be more prepared from that, for getting off to a strong start. Now take a deep breath and set aside any presumptions that you can in some way ride in as if a savior on a big white horse and simply set things right on your own. As a leader your job is to lead, and in this case that means working with others and for any organization of any significant scale, lots of others.

• You need to find an early opportunity for a quick if small success where you can begin to bond with these people if they are to find the confidence to follow your lead on more challenging issues: a confidence-building measure.
• You have to do this with an acute awareness of the dichotomy of the nonprofit as I began discussing in Part 1 of this series.
• And as a leader you have to take the initiative to step forward and communicate your positive vision and particularly if you have to start out making difficult and challenging decisions.
• Here, by way of example, consider the situation where you may have to start out by closing a program that has been hemorrhaging the organization’s funds without correspondingly meeting any of its business or its mission and vision-driven needs. Or consider a situation where even a relatively preliminary evaluation shows that you need to close an office or carry through on at least a limited downsizing and staff reduction.
• In most cases a new CEO to an organization does not find themselves immediately walking into a crisis remediation situation, but that can happen, and once you are there and actually working there, new issues and challenges as well as positive opportunities will come to light. You need to be prepared for all of that. And starting from day one you have to be thinking and planning as to how to bring the entire organization and its staff and its connected communities along with you as you do this.

And as a new hire (even if from inside the organization), you set out to do this while still on probation as a new hire. So along with meeting with and working with your senior managers and your staff and your external communities, you need to work with the board that formally hired you and that you formally report to.

• This is all about learning curves: yours and theirs and about taking thought out steps.
• And this is all about communicating, and listening as well as speaking, and with goals of both accomplishing tasks and developing trust-mutual trust.
• Build a supportive constituency and plan from day one for doing so.

Be a student of organizational culture, and particularly if you come from more of a for-profit background; learn the culture there in your nonprofit with an acute awareness of its importance. And learn the history of this organization and of how it has functioned with its ups and downs. Reach out to people who have been there long-term: twenty years and more and pick their brains for insight and perspective. This can tell you a lot as to the organization’s default ways of doing things and that is invaluable for understanding and anticipating both easy paths forward and paths that would face organizational resistance.

• You can fight trends and sometimes you will need to, but you can sometimes achieve the exact same goals by framing them and the tasks for accomplishing them in more familiar terms.
• And this can also help you identify the stakeholders you need to win over and work with and any members of the overall team who would be more barriers than anything else, and who you will also have to work around and deal with.

I am writing all of this in terms of day one on the job and clearly I have been discussing issues and approaches that can only actually play out over weeks and months and even a year and more. But you want to start on day one with this larger framework approach in mind so you can begin carrying through upon it.

I have discussed the issues of getting oriented and set up as a new hire, with email and business cards, a login to the intranet and so on elsewhere and will leave those discussions to those postings for here. The point to focus on here is on getting off to a strong start from day one and with a plan in mind for proceeding in that. And as a final thought for this posting, make sure that your plan allows for flexibility in the face of the unexpected because unexpected is one thing you absolutely can expect.

I am going to turn to the issues of feedback and follow-through in my next series installment with that leading up to your first formal performance review and your first formal presentation to the board, which might or might not amount to the same thing. 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 4: finding and hiring the right leader

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on November 2, 2012

This is my third installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 267-269 for Parts 1-3.)

I substantially began my discussion of finding and hiring a new chief executive officer in Part 3 where my focus was more on the issues of managing a nonprofit as a lean, efficient business while simultaneously recognizing the idealism driving its adherence to the goals of mission and vision, and with the potential for conflicts that this strategic and operational dichotomy can lead to. I continue that overall discussion here picking up on both sides of that, starting with the hiring process and the board members who can make or break a nonprofit CEO hiring decision.

• In many cases, board members are brought in because of their business backgrounds and experience. And it also worth noting that their networks of contacts developed through their professional work lives can bring real value to the nonprofit for connecting with high level potential donors from the for-profit sector too.
• But even when they come to a nonprofit board from a for-profit background, board members can be strongly driven by the idealism of the mission and vision and by a compelling commitment to fulfill that. I think of board members I have met as I write this, who have become actively involved with healthcare oriented nonprofits because they or a member of their family have suffered. Cancer and the drive to find cures for it in its many forms, comes to mind.

Board members need to be acutely aware of the basic dichotomy of needs that they have to deal with when finding and bringing in a new chief executive officer. And any prospective job candidate needs to be aware of the board and its dynamics, and both as they meet with board members and when they meet with members of the senior executive team they would be working with.

• For board members who would participate in a CEO candidate search, I would recommend my series: Joining, Serving On and Leading a Board of Directors, as is included in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 as postings 179-205. I particularly note series installments 14-17 of that on vetting and interviewing, hiring and managing a prospective CEO.
• For perspective senior executive candidates seeking that CEO position, I would recommend my postings on job search in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development, and for this I particularly recommend starting with my series Finding Your Best Practices Plan B when Your Job Search isn’t Working (postings 56-72). (The “Your [n.b. Current] Job Search isn’t Working” part of this series’ title aside, I offer this here as a very systematic approach to conducting a complete, strategically planned out and executed search. And my installments in this series include a series of vetted hands-on exercises that collectively and in order constitute a full job search campaign when done.)

I am going to switch in my next series installment, to writing specifically to the job candidate for chief executive officer position with a nonprofit. And I will at least start that with a focus on candidate searches for a new leader for an established nonprofit organization. And I will start that installment from the hiring decision and point of agreement to accept the job and with that candidate now a new hire. And in this, anyone promoted from inside the organization to fill this position should also consider themself a new hire because for this role they are, and no matter how long they have worked there in other capacities. 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 3: missions, visions and corporate cultures

Posted in career development, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on October 28, 2012

This is my third installment in a new series on leading a nonprofit (see Part 1: comparing for-profits and nonprofits and putting nonprofits in a business perspective and Part 2: who a nonprofit leader works with.) And I begin this posting by repeating a fundamentally important point that many who work at nonprofits, and many who connect to and relate with nonprofits from the surrounding community lose track of:

• First and foremost, a nonprofit is a business, and it is a business that operates in an intensely competitive marketplace. So it is crucially important that it presents itself there from a foundation of operational and strategic excellence, as a business if it is to succeed.

But at the same time an effective nonprofit, more than essentially any for-profit business is mission and vision-driven. And this means a nonprofit is driven by a sense of idealism, with that motivating drive built around intense desire to act in support of mission and to achieve the goals of their vision statement.

For a healthcare-oriented nonprofit that might mean actively reaching out to help and support individuals and families in need, who suffer from some specific disease or disease category that they actively address through their mission and vision: childhood leukemia or multiple sclerosis for example. And that nonprofit would in many cases seek to fund research on their disease, and to offer informational support for those afflicted. And increasingly and through social media, they would provide channels for peer to peer support too, helping people so affected come together to share their stories and their strength. And many lobby for those afflicted by their disease and for legal and legislative support and protection for their affected communities. And their vision, written big, would seek to find cures and means of preventing those diseases so they would no longer be scourges to those afflicted or to society as a whole. Work towards fulfilling all of this may be carried out and acted upon in small practical day-to-day steps but it is all very idealistic too. Nonprofits are businesses, but they are also vessels of hope, driven by the idealism that their hoped for goals can be realized.

And one of the principle goals of a nonprofit leader, as the person who all turn to for guidance, is to find a path forward through the potential conflicts of goals and priorities that this dichotomy creates: that their organization simultaneously be that lean and effectively run, highly competitive business but that it also and just as compellingly be idealistic and supportive of those who dream to fulfill mission and vision.

• A nonprofit leader who focuses too much on either the hands-on practical business side or the idealistic mission and vision side of this will create discord and inefficiencies, and for both sides of this.

And with that, consider the nonprofit board of an established organization that faces a potential crisis. Their organization’s long-term president and chief executive officer is stepping down through retirement, or for health reasons. They are leaving and the board has to find a successor. Where do they look and who do they look for? I have seen this challenge and this search process several times now and for both small and very large nonprofits. Do you in fact look to select an internal candidate and promote them or do you primarily look outside and to bring in new ideas and approaches? If the later, do you look to other nonprofits and to people who have experience working in senior executive positions in the nonprofit world or do you throw a wider net and consider people with experience primarily based in the for-profit world?

Answers reached to these questions will in many if not most cases, depend on that nonprofit’s immediate needs and circumstances, and on who might be immediately available as a known quantity as a potential candidate.

• So, by way of example and I am thinking of a specific nonprofit as I write this, if the CEO retires and they have been working with a highly respected Chief Strategy Officer as a second in command who they have trained for leadership, that current member of the nonprofit’s team might be considered a very good candidate to move up to top leadership position.
• If, on the other hand, there is widespread concern that this nonprofit needs new ideas as it has become out of date in its approaches and in how it connects with its communities and its supporters, this search might be exclusively directed towards finding outside candidates with effective, creative outside nonprofit experience who can bring new blood to the organization.
• If this nonprofit has been failing as a business, and it needs more expertise and experience at the helm at simply running it as a business, this CEO search might primarily be for someone who has solid business experience per se but who also happens to be an active supporter of nonprofits and their missions.

And with that, I make two fundamental observations. The first is that boards should not fall into the temptation of only considering short-term and immediate needs when filling a long-term position such as CEO. That might mean starting with a search for an interim leader – who might come from in-house or who might come from the outside. There are a wide range of possible paths forward here and all call for long term thinking and planning. (The issues and complexities that come with this point are more than sufficient to call for an entire posting and I will address them separately in this series.)

The second is that this is where a nonprofit’s corporate culture enters this narrative. A chief executive officer can and does influence, and at times can even strongly serve to shape the corporate culture of the organization they lead. But that can take a long time to develop, and by that I mean sufficient ongoing tenure for that leader to be seen as the face of the organization and of its mission and vision. A new leader is going to have to fit into and know how to navigate and work within the existing corporate culture – and even if they need to buck its tendencies and trends in addressing real need for change. And that is why I chose to write this posting about the trinity of mission, vision and culture. The three all go together and on a day-to-day basis it can be hard to tell where the boundaries between them are, as decisions are made and actions taken in support of the organization and its immediate goals.

I am going to continue this discussion of issues of selecting a nonprofit leader in my next series installment. And I will also look at this process from the candidate perspective. 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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