In These Turbulent Times for Nonprofits

2017 has already brought many new challenges for the service sector, and we can expect more to come. So there is no time to waste in getting ready for whatever changes your nonprofit may face.

As leaders, we are continually using internal and external resources as successfully as we can to solve new problems and rebound from adversity strengthened, nd yes, even more resourceful. In this article I suggest ideas to help weather the storm and benefit from the disruptions.

How Prepared Are You for Challenges?

Start with a realistic and timely assessment of where your organization stands now, where it wants to be now, and where it wants to be in the future.

And do this before the water gets choppy.

Leaders face less urgency to act in relatively stable times, when the stresses are routine and the shocks are small and manageable. Calm seas and all that. It is simply hard for us as individuals, and as groups, to focus on preparing for dire things that might happen, when it seems in the moment that things are going pretty well. But acting before a disruption occurs is essential to building resilience. If not, we'll always be reacting -- acting only after things have gone wrong. Sound familiar?

Here are good questions to start an internal assessment.

  • When a potential change looms on the horizon, how does your organization respond?
  • Does your leadership team demonstrate the capacity to rebound from challenging conditions?
  • How do they react to new opportunities?

So much of the money available to address social needs is used to maintain the status quo, because organizations are often wedded to their current solutions, delivery models, and recipients. How often we hear that "we are doing it that way since we've always done it that way." Change is so scary!

Where Do You Need to Change?

Many otherwise-vital nonprofits won't look internally to challenge how people in their organizations interact, coordinate, communicate and make decisions. These organizations focus their resources on anticipating and managing the external environment.

Here are four key questions that innovative leaders explore to re-align resources. Encouraging resilience is a critical way to inspire people given the shifting social sector landscape of 2017.

  • How often does everyone think strategically about the processes that touch everything about the way an organization transforms its resources into value?
  • How are the members of the leadership team assessed and developed regarding their strategic competencies?
  • How are board members engaged in conversations about the challenges and opportunities around innovation and change?
  • How is succession planning and talent management integrated into the updates to the strategic planning goals?

What all these questions have in common is that they help nonprofits to identify opportunities to grow professional and volunteer talent that would help manage the business functions of their enterprise, concurrently promote resilience and innovation, and ensure a bigger impact.

How do you lead in a shifting landscape?

Recognize that change is a constant. That is the most important aspect of nonprofit life in my experience.

Good leaders have the vision and detail-focus to execute on the organization's growth and sustainability. It is important to anticipate that as the environment continues to change, resources will become more abundant or scarce, needs will evolve, and similar organizations will develop with whom you can partner, merge, compete, or ignore.

Creating resilience is really about game-changing, curve-bending opportunities to drive impact, but through vision, adaptation, and a serious commitment to collaboration. Innovation manifests in many ways, whether we call it disruptive, adaptive, or evolutionary. The patterns of interaction, coordination, communication and decision making through which nonprofit and social enterprise organizations can accomplish transformations and fulfill their mission are processes. It is through the integration of these processes that define a culture and determine how organizations can create impact.

When I see goal-focused resilient organizations, I see leaders working with terrific advantages:

  • Employees throughout the organization are empowered to make good goal-focused decisions and to be autonomous and innovative.
  • Extra resources freed from what does not matter to do more of what does.
  • A culture that inspires people in service of what they care about most.
  • Metrics that reflect what really matters: customer/client progress, employee engagement and community impact.

There is so much potential out there to dramatically move the needle on social issues and drive impact, no matter the external environment.

By harnessing innovation to challenge current systems and approaches to achieve a goal-focused entity, organizations can help their employees gain economic self-sufficiency, organizations will retain skilled work forces, public agencies and nonprofits will achieve better programmatic outcomes, and build closer ties to the communities they serve.

I would usually say that 2017 is the time to shake things up. Instead, many organizations are already being shaken. Why not use it as an opportunity to get out of the reaction-response mindset?

Priscilla Rosenwald, MS, is the founder and principal of Leadership Recruiters.

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