If you have an interest in effective nonprofit leadership, I’m sure glad you’re here. I have a lot I want to share.
Nonprofit organizations are messy. It’s inherent in the formula: A + B + C + intense passion = messy!
A) A poorly paid and overworked group (staff) who…
B) Relies on the efforts of people who get paid nothing (volunteers) and is overseen by…
C) Another group of volunteers who get paid nothing and who are supposed to give and get lots of money (board).
All of this is in the service of something that every single one of them cares passionately about. Wow. Now that is a recipe for messy. And that organization you care so deeply about can get messier still if not led and managed well.
This is where I hope my blog can be of value.
Being a nonprofit CEO is no walk in the park. On my very first day as an executive director, I met with the CFO and learned that we had $360 in the bank. With payroll due in a week for 18 employees. Very messy.
Being tapped to be a board chair can be even worse. First you already have one full-time job and no one has really told you that you now have two. And this one pays poorly. Actually it doesn’t pay at all. And what is the job anyway? Are you a boss? A partner? Are you a lead fundraiser? A human ATM? Or is your role to protect your CEO from fellow board members who have a new (read: bad or expensive) idea every month?
Nonprofit leadership is messy. But if you love your organization, it is worth every single minute of it.
I have created this website, and my consulting practice, because I have been there. I’ve been an executive director and I’ve been a board member. Today I work with nonprofit organizations all across the country to help sort out the messes. I have been my clients and use what I learned to help them untangle big knots. I work to create strong partnerships between CEOs and board chairs. I arrive on the scene when an organization is in trouble (financial, programmatic). I diagnose the root of the problem and work with the leadership to solve it. Nine times out of ten the solution revolves around building and strengthening institutional leadership — the board, the CEO and the senior management.
But I run an intentionally small firm – it’s less like a firm than a SWAT team of “fixers.” I’d like to reach more people with observations, insights and ideas that might lead you as a senior staff member or board chair to a more effective and rewarding experience in nonprofit. I will talk about what it is really like, how hard it is to be a nonprofit leader. I will draw from my own experience and my experience with clients on how to navigate the rocky waters of nonprofit leadership.
A few years back, I was on the planning committee for a retreat for a group of nonprofit executive directors. I knew that if we didn’t plan well, there would be an unproductive session about boards. There would be lots of venting. I do not like venting. So I suggested something different. Using a flip chart, let’s have everyone share the stupidest thing a board member has ever said or done. We did that. (Mine was about the toughest question I was asked by a board member on a $4 million budget: how much is a first class stamp these days?) It was absolutely hilarious and very cathartic.
But we didn’t stop there. We had a real conversation about the root cause of the “stupidity.” What could we as executive directors be doing differently? How could we more effectively educate and engage our board members; after all board members want to do a good job. It became a great way to create space for their concerns and convert them into object lessons.
This is how I think and how I work and over the last seven years, my clients have reaped the benefit of my expertise, insights and humor.
Doing work that matters may be messy but it is also joyful. Here’s hoping that through this website, I can help you make things a little less messy and a lot more joyful.