Friday, June 2, 2017

The Parallel Universes of Nonprofit Work


I've been following some of the running commentary in a couple of Facebook groups that cater to nonprofit leaders, both veteran and emerging. I'm glad to know there are active and supportive fora where folks can vent their frustrations and celebrate their accomplishments. We all need a safe space in which to do just that.

The venting focuses almost exclusively on workplace issues -- you can probably guess them -- lousy pay, crushing hours, troubles with subordinates, trouble with board members, ethical dilemmas, general frustration with the pervasive notion of scarcity to which many nonprofits cling. While the members of the Facebook groups represent a teeny fraction of the actual nonprofit workforce, I believe their challenges are widespread and probably growing as the number of nonprofits continues to expand.

These challenges aren't new, although increased external scrutiny and competition have made them more pressing, more in-your-face, and no longer avoidable.  Taken together, the nonprofit sector lives in at least two parallel universes:  the lofty, mission-driven world of doing good and the pernicious world of scarcity where board and staff leaders lack the foundational knowledge or the discussion/planning space to grow healthy, prosperous organizations.

The disconnect between these two universes is wide and growing. And we need the entire nonprofit ecosystem (individuals, institutions, professional associations, graduate programs, etc.) working together to close the gap by making nonprofit workplaces as great as the public benefit they say they provide.




Sunday, January 1, 2017

Nonprofit Board Resolutions for a New, Uncertain Year


I've written about resolutions for nonprofits before (see the infographic and read more here), but this year -- especially this year -- nonprofit boards will be put to the test in the face of civic dissonance, uncertain government support for education, arts, history, and science; and the continuation of dramatically shifting demographics.

So, here's my short list:

Know your organization's mission cold and I don't mean memorize the mission statement.  I mean deeply and fully understand the impact your nonprofit makes to those who benefit from the work you do. Understand how you meet the need, how you excel at doing so, and why that's important.  Be able to tell the stories about your organization's impact to anyone.

Get up to speed on what real governance is all about.  Set goals and success measures, exercise oversight, consider the future (a lot), strategize pathways to success, and keep at it.  Good governance is intentional and sustained.

Be the partner your staff leadership needs and wants. Ask what you as a board and as individual board members can do to help staff leaders. Listen. Act together.

Understand that constraints often lead to creative solutions. It's easy (and lazy) to bemoan the lack of resources. Frankly, no institution ever has enough. So, figure out how to use constraints to your advantage.

Know that you are not alone. Almost every nonprofit in the US is considering its options in the face of the next four years. We're traveling the same road, meeting similar, if not the same, challenges along the way.  Reach out. Share information and knowledge. Work together.

We're part of a big, beautiful nonprofit sector. Let's all work together.