7 Questions Every Nonprofit Should Be Asking Now

by Joan Garry

Imagine you’re about to ask somebody to make a sizable donation. Write down the one word that describes how you most feel. I bet I can guess… anxious?

When Donald Trump became POTUS, the world changed. It’s no longer business as usual.

Nonprofits across the country have spent much of early 2017 trying to understand what this change means for them. Will proposed spending cuts impact the mission? Will non-governmental funders step up? Will there be more people in need?

Regardless of your political bent, whenever there is a big change it can feel scary. Even paralyzing.

Strong and smart leadership is needed at nonprofits now more than ever.

Towards that end, there are seven questions that every single nonprofit leader – staff and board – should be asking itself right now.

Here they are…

1) Does everyone in our organization – board and staff – know how to speak effectively about the nonprofit?

Some organizations are easier to explain to folks than others. But even the easy ones don’t always get it right. Storytelling plays such a critical role in successful leadership. A nonprofit ambassador who can tell a compelling and emotional story can invite folks to know more and do more.

2) Does the Executive Director and board chair have a strong and effective working relationship?

I believe the thing that makes nonprofit leadership unique – more than anything else – is the concept of “shared leadership.” To build a thriving nonprofit, the staff and board leaders must be like co-pilots of the same jet. They must work as thought partners who drive the organization forward together, understand their roles, and are determined to do right by the organization.

In fact, I say a strong relationship between the ED and board chair is the single best sign of a healthy nonprofit.

3) Do we have a strong strategic plan?

An earlier US president once said, “Plans are useless but planning is everything.” Strategic planning has a bad reputation. Done wrong, it can suck the life out of the people involved. But it doesn’t have to be like that. A good strategic plan breathes life into the organization and its stakeholders. And it can absolutely be done on a budget.

4) Do we have the right approach to fundraising?

At its best, fundraising is about an invitation to join you in the remarkable work you do. It’s about building relationships that last. It’s also an art and a science, which means you will make mistakes and a lot of people will say no. And that’s OK.

Most people are not natural fundraisers. They need to be trained. This is true for your development staff, your ED, and your board. You have to know who to ask and how to ask. Do you?

And, are you overly reliant on a single source of funds? If yes, big danger!

5) Do we have all the right people ‘on the bus’?

Nothing destroys an organization faster than having people who are unmotivated, toxic, or it in for the wrong reasons.

Do your leaders have the right attributes? Do you know what they are? Great nonprofit leaders have certain skills and work on honing core attributes.

6) Do we keep our superstars happy and motivated?

Nonprofit folks are rarely in it for the money. Some – like your board – are even volunteers. So if it’s not about the money, how do you make sure your best folks never want to leave?

But sometimes folks do leave. The only constant in life is change. People will come and go – even your superstars. Leadership transitions are the most destabilizing forces in the life of a nonprofit. They can rock an organization to its core. Do you have a deliberate succession plan?

7) Do we know what to do if there’s a real crisis?

This is an area so many nonprofits avoid until it’s too late. Ignore at your own peril.


Do you feel confident after answering these seven questions? Or are you feeling a little queasy?

If these questions made you feel even more anxious, please allow me to help you.

Here are 2 ways I can do just that.

Option 1: Hire me

Yep, I’m available to help you one-on-one.

Need to figure out how to get some new folks on your board and transition some folks out? Or you’re dealing with a crisis and need guidance? I can help you do that.

Or perhaps you’re looking to establish a more effective partnership between the staff and board leadership? I can help with that too.

I work directly with staff and board leaders to help them clean up the mess. Because yes, nonprofits are messy.

If you want more information on how we might work together, or even if you think a quick one-time session with me could help you untangle a particular knot, please visit this page on my website.

But I also know that working with me can be prohibitively expensive for many. I wanted to have a much bigger impact, even for those who can’t afford to hire me one-on-one.

That’s exactly why I wrote a book.

Option 2: Read my book

My new book, Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership has a chapter dedicated to answering each of the seven questions listed above.

But it’s not a typical “clinical” nonprofit leadership book.

Yes, it’s instructive. But it’s a lot more than that. It has a sense of humor. It draws on my personal experiences as an ED, a board leader, a volunteer, and a donor. It helps that I’ve played every position on the nonprofit field.

The very first line in the book is, “I could have killed my development director.”

Like I said, this isn’t your average nonprofit leadership book.

Through compelling stories, I cover things like:

  • How to build a real leadership team
  • How to attract great people to your mission and keep your superstars happy and motivated
  • How to build and nurture the board of your dreams
  • How to get the staff and board to actually work together as partners
  • The right way to approach strategic planning, even on a budget
  • How to build a sustainable and balanced fundraising program
  • How to create a crisis management plan
  • The best way to navigate – and prepare for – leadership transitions

For me, writing this book was a dream come true. I just know it will be enormously helpful for you and anybody ­– staff or board – who wants to step up their nonprofit game right now.

And as I wrote above, there’s no time to waste.

You can order it on Amazon today.


Pre-orders on Amazon make a difference in how much exposure the book gets. So I want to incent you to buy it before March 6 (and if you’re reading this AFTER March 6, 2017, don’t worry – the book itself will still be enormously valuable for you and your nonprofit.)

So here are two great reasons to buy it right now…

1) You will save money. The book is selling right now at 35% off the list price. I have no idea how long Amazon will keep that sale going, but they have promised to keep the discount for anybody who pre-orders.

2) You will get extra free bonuses. The details are on my book website at NonprofitsAreMessy.com. But only Bonus 1 will remain available after launch.


Some reviews have already come in from people who got an early copy. Note: these are actual unsolicited reviews from people who have actually read the book.

Beth Kanter: “First, let me say this now – this is a MUST-READ book for nonprofit leaders and board members. Go buy the book now because it is going to be a huge hit.”  (Full review here)

Danielle Kempe: “[Joan’s] book is WONDERFUL! I hate putting it down and read it every chance I get. I even stopped playing Pokemon Go on my subway commute… so I can read this book instead. Thank you for telling it like it is but also having practical real-world advice… It’s also helped me think about what I need to add to my own leadership skills to be ready to be a Development Director… I’m going to recommend the book to all of my friends in the nonprofit space!”

Matt Glazer: Half way through the book and it is already highlighted, marked up, and something I want to make sure every chair and chair-elect reads on my board. Thank you Joan!”

George Hayes: “Wow! Bursting with tips and a delight to read. It’s a huge help to me already.”


A lot of nonprofit leaders are feeling anxious right now. If you know anybody who feels that way, please share this blog post. They – and I – will appreciate it.

10 thoughts on “7 Questions Every Nonprofit Should Be Asking Now”

  1. How could this possibly have been less partisan? All it does is acknowledge that the country is in political transition, and it would have been frankly irresponsible to do less. In fact, I wish there were more targeted information on how things like Trump’s massive proposed cuts to social safety nets and international aid are likely to impact nonprofits in the coming months. Still, another useful piece from Joan, and I’ve preordered the book.

  2. Bekka. I appreciate the feedback and will acknowledge that while I work hard to check my politics at the door, I need to think more broadly so that my advice is relevant to every reader. Thank you for the thoughtful feedback and for purchasing my book. I will be anxious to hear what you think of it.

  3. LeftCoastPacker. As I just said below, I try to check my own politics at the blog door clearly with varying degrees of advice. You (and Bekka below) offer me a kind and thoughtful wake up call.

  4. Michael.
    Thank you. Amazon is experiencing some shipping delays – driving me and those who pre-ordered a bit crazy. I hope you will have the book soon and look forward to an honest review on amazon when you are finished.

  5. yes, I discovered that when they sent me a notice saying ETA was between March 30 and May something or other. Wow. Please note, it’s Michal – no ‘e’. 🙂

  6. Thanks, I am looking forward to reading it! I also want to clarify that my intention was to defend your piece as quite successful in limiting personal political opinion, not to critique it. As more information comes out about how his budgets will potentially affect NGO funding and beneficiaries, I hope you will continue to thoughtfully inform us on the issues we may face! (And of course, this would apply to any president proposing major changings in international aid and social safety net funding.)

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