335 posts categorized "Nonprofit Management"

The Sustainable Nonprofit: 'A fundamental shift in the mindset of young Americans'

August 04, 2021

Diversity_GettyImages_gmast3rA mindset shift among young American nonprofit employees

We've all seen people across the country and around the world struggling financially from the fallout of COVID-19. As our Cause and Social Influence researchers have continued to track young Americans' (ages 18-30) behavior related to causes during this time, we sought to understand the ramifications of these financial struggles from two perspectives: that of a young employee and that of a nonprofit. What we found is a fundamental shift in the mindset of young Americans that could hinder nonprofits' ability to recruit and retain talented staff.

Each quarter, our researchers track this age group's behaviors and motivations related to social issues and major moments and movements. In the first report of 2021, we found that their interest in social issues had become much more personal, thanks largely to their experiences during the pandemic. Now, findings from our research conducted in June underscore just how personal those issues have become....

Read the full column article by Derrick Feldmann, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

The responsibility of nonprofits to take care of staff, now and in the future

June 24, 2021

Office_diversity_creative_GettyImages_scyther5When the pandemic hit, everyone panicked, and nonprofits weren't immune. Organizations like mine, Teen Cancer America (TCA), relied significantly on large in-person fundraising events and activities to support our work, and when such events were no longer possible, our entire donor-relations model was disrupted. And this happened just as demand for our services increased as a result of the acute isolation young cancer patients were experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

Nearly every nonprofit has struggled with its own pandemic-related challenges, and while many have found creative ways to keep their heads above water, maintaining and supporting a stressed staff — helping them do their jobs and finding new ways to reward them — has been a challenge. With our operating budgets under pressure, monetary rewards could not be guaranteed. How could I make sure they knew that I authentically cared about their well-being?

I wanted to do something that demonstrated thoughtfulness, truly helped boost team cohesion, and also could signal to donors that TCA was a responsible employer while being fiscally prudent.

The pandemic has highlighted the uncertainty of our futures on a very personal level. I thought about employees like Alec, one of our youngest team members and a cancer survivor: How could I ensure that his and other employees' financial futures were safe? I pondered the responsibility I had to support staff in their future planning and concluded that the charity should investigate 401(k) options, something I hadn't previously considered.

"For people my age, the future of our careers fluctuates, and with that comes financial uncertainty," Alec told me. "Especially with this pandemic and having had cancer myself, I know how important it is to prepare for the future, whatever that looks like for me. I may not be in the same career, I may not have a stable job, or I may not even be able to work for health reasons in the future, but I know I will have this 401(k) account ready for me so I can retire with fewer worries."

Most nonprofit leaders might assume their organizations aren't even eligible for such a plan. I'd assumed that the expense and lack of flexibility would make it impossible for TCA, but it turns out that today's 401(k) plans offer some options.

My criteria had been straightforward: low cost; competent account management; complete flexibility over the level of employer contribution, which would enable me to manage within our means; and simplicity and flexibility for staff to manage their own accounts. I was referred to Human Interest,* and the wealth management company run by one of our board members did due diligence and gave the green light, impressed by its investment philosophy and low fee structure. We also looked into 403(b) plans, but 401(k) plans turned out to be the best option for a nonprofit like ours.

Most of my preconceptions that nonprofits couldn't afford to provide 401(k)s to their employees were smashed: There was flexibility in how much in matching funds I could offer year-to-year, depending on how well our fundraising went. An "auto-enroll" function made sure that everyone in the organization could take advantage of the new benefit right away, and employees could change their contribution level from month to month. And because we had control over the charity's contribution, I could show existing and potential donors that TCA was doing something important to take care of employees both now, during a difficult time, and in the future, as responsible employers.

As someone who has gone through this 401(k) selection process, I want to encourage other leaders to consider what it might mean for their employees' lives. While nonprofits often assume that they can't offer a "full benefits package" that includes retirement plans, many team members under 30 either haven't thought much about retirement or assume it is out of reach because they are used to living paycheck to paycheck. It is our responsibility to help educate them.

The retirement gap (the amount people need to retire comfortably vs. the amount they are currently on track to save by retirement age) is widening into a chasm. This is potentially disastrous for individuals, families, and a society that is ill-equipped to carry the burden of a future aging population. Nonprofits have just as important a role to play as any other employer in closing that gap.

Here are a few practical tips for other nonprofits who may be looking at 401(k) plans as an option:

Communicate with and educate your employees about why retirement matters. Once our staff understood why it was important to save early and, most importantly, why it should be part of the permanent workplace culture at TCA, we had high rates of participation, making it clear the benefit was a worthwhile investment.

Be transparent and communicate to donors about the plan and the reasons behind it. The messaging should emphasize why you are fully committed to helping staff through times like the pandemic and other challenges. Demonstrating that you've chosen a low-cost, manageable plan lets funders — and your board — know that you're controlling costs and using contributions responsbily.

Here are some specific features in a plan that will help in the nonprofit context:

  • Plans with resources to help educate employees and guide their investment choices.
  • Easy initiation, with an option to "auto-enroll" employees. Research has shown that auto-enroll encourages higher participation and savings than the "opt-in" method.
  • Compare fees to get the lowest. Traditional 401(k) providers have tailored their offerings to big companies and often include hefty sign-up, initiation, and termination fees, but now we have far less expensive options to choose from.
  • Make sure it allows for flexibility. Does the plan allow the employer match to change according to a yearly budget? This is a key feature for the sometimes volatile budgetary world we all live in.
  • Think about your employees and the apps they use in their daily lives. Our plan came with a dashboard for millennial and Gen Z staff who are used to managing all things online.

Given nonprofits' often limited budgets, it's easy to ignore what we used to call "nice-to-haves" for our staff, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that well-being matters, and taking our employees' wellness — physical, mental, and financial — seriously is an essential part of keeping our organizations afloat. In the case of a 401(k) or other retirement plan, this nice-to-have should become a must-have. I would like to see this as the universally accepted norm on a global scale.

Simon_Davies_philantopicSimon Davies is executive director of Teen Cancer America (TCA), a nonprofit founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who that helps health providers and systems develop specialized programs and facilities for teenagers.

*Disclosure: TCA is a current customer of Human Interest. However, neither TCA, nor any of its representatives, received compensation for the publication of this article.

A case for self-support: serving ourselves in a time of great stress

April 30, 2021

Man_on_cliff_David Lusvardi_unsplash"How are you doing?" I asked a donor on a phone call last summer. Her response stayed with me. "I'm doing pandemic fine," she said, before explaining that that was the kind of response one gives during a public health emergency instead of something like: "I'm doing okay. I have my job, and it's stressful, but at least I have work. And the family is fine. No one is sick. Virtual homeschooling is a struggle, but we're fine."

Her response was both amusing and perplexing, because when I ask someone how they're doing, I'm the type of person who wants and expects to hear all the details. In fact, I believe it helps explain why I enjoy working in philanthropy as much as I do, and is one of the main reasons so many of my meetings run longer than scheduled.

Organizational experts Paul Davis and Larry Spears would call my exchange with the donor a "fortuitous encounter — "[t]hose moments where a person, place, or thing causes our lives to change in a more positive direction." While I did not feel all that positive after the exchange, in the months since it has contributed to a transformation in the way I think about taking care of myself, my colleagues, and our philanthropic partners.

Of course, the donor's reply was informed by the unprecedented events of the past year — events for which our sector as a whole was largely unprepared. I live in Houston, where hurricanes and flooding events are commonplace, but once the water recedes, we jump back in our cars and check on our friends, neighbors, and even our donors. The coronavirus pandemic, by contrast, has been a "silent" storm during which we've been encouraged to care for others by literally keeping our distance from others.

What fundraising professionals are doing well…and not so well

From a fundraiser's perspective, the sector's collective response to the pandemic has been something of a mishmash. With respect to day-to-day operations, we're seeing good content related to engaging our supporters, innovating in our programming, and staying the course. I can't say enough about the creativity and resilience of the sector and the people who work in it. And without their advice and knowledge, I know I would have been less effective over the last twelve months in mapping out my own organization's fundraising strategies.

That said, nearly everything I've read over the last year has been focused on practical problems and challenges, things like how to strengthen a pandemic case for support, when to schedule a Zoom meeting with a new prospect, and retaining your supporters after you've made the decision to move your next fundraising event online. Yes, it's important to develop and strengthen our practice in normal times, and even more so during times of uncertainty. But what I'm not seeing are stories about self-care during one of the most challenging periods in recent memory, stories that remind us that if we want to do our best work, we need to make sure we’re well enough to fire on all cylinders. "[J]ust as they tell you on airplanes when the oxygen masks come down,” says Chris Mosunic, chief clinical officer at Vida Health, "we can't help others if we don’t take care of ourselves first."

I’m a realist who knows that a big part of my role as a fundraiser is to deliver maximum net revenue for my organization. I also know that many of us worry about cultivating donor relationships and meeting ambitious goals, but that we are not always honest about how we ourselves are holding up. Sure, I've found a reasonable groove during the pandemic and I'm doing the best I can. But let's face it, the current fundraising environment is different than the one many of us are used to. And, truth be told, it's different for our donors as well.

A practical reason for self-care

You may not know this, but the work of fundraisers is never "done." Between programs, events, and annual reports, the effort to steward and engage donors and prospects is a year-round affair, and at times it can feel like we’re laboring on our own little island, disconnected from the day-to-day work of the organization and with no sign of help on the horizon.

From a purely practical perspective, this has an impact on our work. Leadership guru Kevin Krause suggests that "[e]ngaged employees lead to better business outcomes." And a survey of more than five hundred business leaders by the Harvard Business Review found that 71 percent "rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success."

Also relevant in this context is what Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has to say about an employee-first mentality: "If the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the job they're doing…they're gonna be happy and therefore the customer will have a nice experience."

But how can we expect our donors and supporters to have a "nice experience" if those tasked with engaging them in the work of the organization are struggling?

Doing the work of self-care

The events of the past year are likely to resonate for years to come, and work will continue to be challenging for many frontline and back-end fundraising staff. But there are things we can do for ourselves, and our team members, that will result in a happier, healthier workplace.

First, be mindful of your time. For many, working from home has morphed into living at work. Don't be that person. Instead, set real start and finish times for your workday — and stick to them. It'll be easier to do that if you make the effort to wear work clothes during the work day. And because your day-to-day tasks aren’t going anywhere, unless there's an emergency, don't check your email before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. (Managers, you can help by refraining from the super early/late email messages.) In addition, try to create a schedule for your meals and stick to it. Limiting food consumption to mealtimes can be great for your well-being, and equally beneficial to your waistline.

Second, be mindful of technology. These days, our big, medium, and little screens are where we spend a big chunk of our time. Indeed, Americans spend an average of 2.3 hours a day on social media — the equivalent of roughly thirty-one days a year. To combat screen-induced burnout, try to establish "no glow breaks" throughout the day — on a run, in the bathroom, while out doing errands — where you put the technology in your life on pause. Also, make an effort to incorporate some analog technology like paper into your life. For what it’s worth, Scientific American suggests that our screens "[p]revent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension."

Finally, be mindful of your state of mind. One in six Americans sought counseling in 2020, joining the one-third of Americans who were already receiving some kind of counseling. Perhaps more than at any other time in recent history, we are willing to acknowledge the need for self-care. For those who are feeling stressed, reducing some of the distractions in your life, like  notifications on your phone/tablet, will go a long way to calming an overly busy mind. Similarly, when lodged in your home "spaceship," try to organize your space into discrete areas — a corner of one room for exercise, a certain chair for reading or chatting on the phone — and don’t use your sleep space for other tasks like work or social media.

The last year has been difficult for many. If you find yourself struggling with something more serious than time management or the distractions that come with being plugged in all the time, give yourself permission to talk to a professional or, at the least, a friend. And remember, you may have challenges; but you are not your challenges.

Our colleagues and donors rely on us, but more than anything we are responsible for ourselves.With that in mind, don’t be afraid to take the leading role in your own self-care.

(Photo credit: David Lusvardi via Unsplash)

Evan_Wildstein_PhilanTopicEvan Wildstein has served on the fundraising team at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University since 2017.

3 ways to decolonize philanthropy right now

December 23, 2020

News_globe_africaThe events of 2020 reinforce how desperately a paradigm shift is needed in philanthropy if it hopes to create more durable solutions to the world's most complex challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how important it is to have agile, innovative organizations capable of responding quickly to shifting local contexts. At the same time, the reawakening of the social justice movement in the United States crystallized what happens when people are chronically underrepresented and left out of decisions that affect their lives.

While addressing these challenges can seem overwhelming, it's clear that one of the most effective ways funders can contribute is to support organizations built around community-driven solutions. Why? Because solutions for the people created by the people have the greatest chance of successfully changing the status quo.

While this may seem obvious, it entails a major shift in the way donors currently approach their giving — indeed, nothing less than a desire to "decolonize philanthropy." Decolonizing philanthropy, a term introduced by writer and activist Edgar Villanueva, requires philanthropists to assess to whom they choose to give as well as how their giving perpetuates the very problems they aim to solve.

Whether in the U.S. or in Kenya, where our organization, RefuSHE, operates, we see countless examples of well-intentioned donors pouring money into solutions they think should solve a problem — without checking whether the solution was created with input from the community most impacted by the problem. In the global development space, this often manifests as NGOs working in the Global South being led by leadership that sits in the Global North, far from the realities of the work and with only an anecdotal understanding of the local context. Too often, this modus operandi funnels money into short-lived solutions that feed an organizational culture of dependency rather than one of sustainability.

The approach itself is rooted in the imperialistic origins of "international development." Following World War II, the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan, introducing the building blocks for the international and humanitarian aid structure we see today. During the long decades of the Cold War, the U.S. awarded aid to other countries with the understanding that those countries would play by our rules and that the aid itself would be used in ways we approved of. At the other end of the spectrum, private philanthropic giving was driven, in part, by a "savior" mentality and the need to "lift up" poor people in other countries. In both cases, financial assistance was "given" from a place of control by people who thought they knew what was best for the communities they were trying to help. Solutions were parachuted in, communities were forced to adopt new ways, and, in many cases, the improved quality of life that was promised often failed to materialize.

To ensure greater progress toward a shared prosperity, decolonizing philanthropy presents an opportunity to make every dollar go further by centering investment in community-driven solutions. Here are three ways funders can ensure their investments are more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Invest in local leadership and programs co-designed with the communities served

Time and again, we've seen that lasting change arrives when communities have ownership of the solutions to the challenges they face. Interventions that feel forced not only tend to have a short life span but often yield less impact. The stories of PlayPumps and READ Global illustrate the difference well. The PlayPump system, a merry-go-round-like wheel that pumps water from wells as it is turned, was heavily endorsed by the international aid community and quickly scaled to more than fifteen hundred pumps in Zambia without much research or surveying of communities in advance. Not unpredictably, within two years a quarter of the installed pumps were in need of repairs. PlayPumps, it turned out, were fragile and cost four times what a traditional pump costs. What's more, many local women where the pumps had been installed reported feeling embarrassed every time they had to get water for their families, while a report by the Guardian found that children would have to "play" on the pumps twenty-seven hours a day to meet the per-pump target of delivering water to twenty-five hundred people. In short, the pumps failed to improve clean water availability in communities across Zambia, and much money and time was invested with little to show for it.

By contrast, READ Global embraced a community-driven approach that has stood the test of time. For more than twenty-five years, the organization has partnered with rural villages in Nepal, India, and Bhutan to establish community-driven libraries, resource centers, and social enterprises known as READ Centers that are owned and operated by the local community. There are now more than a hundred self-sustaining centers spread across the three countries, and not one center has closed since the first one opened in 1991.

Locally driven solutions are most effective when an organization's leadership team understands the local context first-hand and is strongly connected to the local community. Local leaders have a better understanding of how to create culturally relevant programs, how to optimize operations for the local context, and how to build trusting relationships with and beyond the community. All of which creates more opportunity for partnerships between those providing the service and those using the service.

At RefuSHE, we witnessed this first-hand when we invested in bringing on Geoffrey Thige to lead our Kenya operations as executive director. When COVID hit, having that executive presence in Kenya enabled us to navigate the public health crisis much more quickly and effectively. In fact, we were the first organization serving refugees in Kenya to move to virtual learning. And despite initial concerns that some donors might balk, seeing the tangible benefits of Geoffrey's presence in Nairobi gave us the courage to restructure our leadership and shift the majority of our executive functions to Kenya.

Funding is the biggest hurdle facing NGOs looking to similarly restructure. Donors need to trust local leadership and stop supporting organizational infrastructures that are built to cater to them more than the beneficiary communities they are intended to serve. Having an organization's CEO and "top brass" in the West is a relic of a twentieth-century donor model that has lost much of its relevance. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good solutions. If they truly want to support effective, long-lasting solutions, donors need to move away from creating cultures of dependency that too often are perpetuated and reinforced by a "white guilt" mentality.

Fund collaboration rather than competition

The current donor incentive structure is rooted in competition. Organizations in the same field are constantly competing with one another to secure funds they need to survive. Competition for funding among NGOs working in similar spaces also stifles their ability to share information, data, and learnings. This scarcity model disincentivizes transparency and pushes organizations to keep lessons learned to themselves in order to stand out in the quest for funding.

Real, tangible impact requires collaboration. Our NGO, for instance, equips girl and women refugees with housing, education, counseling, and the vocational skills they need to reestablish some semblance of stability in their lives. While our services are rooted in a holistic approach to the plight of refugees, we don't work on resettlement cases (where refugees are formally resettled to a country like the U.S.); instead, we partner with organizations like HIAS and Refuge Point that specialize in refugee resettlement cases. When funding streams disincentivize an ecosystem of NGOs from collaborating, it is a disservice to the very communities we aim to serve.

Funding — and rewarding — organizations that work together to address the root causes of multifaceted issues enables communities to walk through all the doors of opportunity at once, rather than one door at time. Collaboration also fosters a culture where service providers share learnings and don't waste precious resources repeating mistakes. Above all, it means the people we aim to serve can more easily navigate the various services they need to establish productive, fulfilling lives.

Award unrestricted grants

All too often, funding comes with restrictions on how, when, and where it can be used. This assumes the donor knows best just because they have the money, rather than acknowledging the hard-earned insights of organizations working on the ground every day. Unrestricted funding requires trust in the organizations in which you invest. Unfortunately, this kind of trust too often is awarded to organizations led by leaders in the Global North with whom donors feel most comfortable. While many have good track records, the practice cuts out organizations that may be smaller in scale but that have more depth and experience collaborating with the communities they serve.

It's an open secret in Kenya that if you set up a nonprofit and are hoping for funding from the West, you'll have much better luck if your leaders are white and/or of Western origin. Whether in the U.S. or other developed countries, data backs up the observation that Black and African leaders are not awarded the same kind of trust. This leads to nonprofits where white, often well-connected Western leaders earn the top salaries, sucking up resources that could otherwise be used to attract top local talent that is much better suited for the job but too often undervalued.

Unrestricted funding also has the power to build more durable institutions. It allows organizations to balance how much is invested in program implementation and how much is invested in competitive salaries, technology infrastructure, and/or new facilities that can enhance the organization's operations over the long term. (We should all toast Mackenzie Scott for shattering the philanthropic establishment glass ceiling with her unprecedented giving in the form of large unrestricted grants.)

The time for change is now

As with any change, there will be those who resist it, those who say there isn't enough local talent to fill the available leadership positions, and those who say local leadership team won't get enough face time with donors if those donors are based in far-off countries. We ask those naysayers to take a critical look at how that critique is rooted in an imperialist mindset that blames communities in need for their problems rather than seeing them as the solution to those problems.

The movement to decolonize philanthropy is a big step forward in terms of making the most of every dollar invested in social good and creating inclusive, durable solutions to economic prosperity. We can make the choice to stop wasting money on short-sighted solutions. The time for change is now.

Thige_adly_refuSHE_philantopicGeoffrey Thige is the current executive director and incoming CEO of RefuSHE. Jailan Adly is the organization's outgoing CEO and incoming managing director.

Career transitions during a pandemic: things to consider

December 04, 2020

Career_woman_mask_laptop_home_GettyImagesAs an executive recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I can definitely say that along with everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on recruiting and hiring. When the pandemic was first declared in March and April, we saw an immediate slowdown in hiring. Clients paused active searches to focus on supporting their current teams through the transition to remote work, and many candidates were so focused on staying safe and navigating the challenges of remote work and home schooling that they were unable to even think about making a career change.

That changed a bit over the summer. Our nonprofit clients resumed hiring at a rapid clip and candidates became more willing to consider new opportunities. But thinking about making a career change during a pandemic can be complicated. Candidates often need to explore their personal tolerance for risk, want to think about what it would be like to start a new job virtually, and/or worry about whether they can manage kids who are schooling from home while diving into a new professional challenge. All these are legitimate concerns that can only be answered by the individual looking to make a move.

Below are five things to consider if you're contemplating making a career move right now.

Take time to reflect on what's driving your interest in a change. Is your interest in making a move about advancing your career? Aligning your work life more closely with your values? Are you feeling stagnant in your current position? Could that have something to do with you feeling stuck in your personal life because of COVID-related restrictions? Being clear from the outset about your motivation can help you stay focused on what you really want and drive your decision-making throughout the job search process.

Focus on technology as you begin to interview. Learn what you can about what a future employer is doing to create a productive virtual workplace experience for its employees. What platforms is it using for communications and collaboration? How does the organization's IT staff support employees working virtually? Does it offer any support to employees looking to set up a home office? Understanding how an organization has adapted to the pandemic can provide insight into how adaptable the organization's culture is (or isn't).

Be sure to ask about the onboarding and transition process. Many candidates — as well as hiring managers — treat onboarding and the transition to a new job as an afterthought in the search process. But onboarding someone into a new role when s/he can't come into the office can be challenging in all kinds of unexpected ways. Ask about how the organization has onboarded other new employees during the pandemic. What worked and what didn't? What will the organization do to help set you up for success as a new employee?

Be explicit about your needs, particularly when it comes to balancing work and family. Right now,most of us are stretched more than ever. Whether it's caring for an older parent, helping our kids homeschool, or just figuring out how to manage having multiple family members working and learning from home, these are challenging times. As you consider transitioning into a new role, be clear with yourself — and your potential manager — about what you need in order to be successful. This could be flexible scheduling, a specific piece of equipment or technology, or, if you're relocating, help with finding accommodations. Be prepared to talk about your requirements in a straightforward and transparent manner.

Try to be flexible and nimble. As you think about the next phase of your career, you may find that the number of and/or rate at which opportunities present themselves feels different than it has in the past. Here at Koya Partners, we've seen that some searches are moving more slowly than they might have a year or two ago, while others are advancing faster than they might have pre-pandemic. Try to remain open and responsive to opportunities and understand that the amount of time an organization needs to conduct and close a search will differ from organization to organization.

Recognize that due diligence is more important than ever. Not being able to actually visit the office where you may end up working definitely makes it more challenging to get a feel for an organization and assess its culture, so think about other things you can do to learn about the organization. Take advantage of your networks to connect with current or former employees, read everything you can find about the organization online, and go through every page of its website. It's also critical that you ask questions and get information about the organization's financial health as it relates to the pandemic. Nonprofits that traditionally have relied on events for revenue, for example, may need to pivot quickly to other sources of revenue, or face an uncertain future.

Indeed, if we've learned anything over the ten months, it's that uncertainty is the only certainty. But even with all the unknowns out there and the new ways of working and living we've adopted since the spring, opportunities to advance your career exist. You just need to know where to look for them and act.

Molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

The next crisis: nonprofit leadership exodus

November 10, 2020

Let's get realNonprofit leaders are exhausted. Indeed, many were planning to leave their jobs even before 2020 happened. They include white boomers looking to retire, young leaders of color trying to navigate cultures not ready to accept them in positions of power, and the many in between ready to cry uncle because of the neverending uphill climb they face.

These are the people on the front lines of your mission, people whom philanthropy and society need. So, in addition to providing emergency COVID funding and supporting longer-term recovery efforts, you need to be thinking about what you can do to support the people leading this work so that they rise, stay, and thrive. Here are five ways — none of which involves money — taken from my new book Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change and What They Can Do to Transform Giving (Wiley, 2020).

1. Lead with an abundance mindset. The philanthropy sector generally leads with a scarcity mentality that hinders talent, stalls creativity, and hijacks opportunities to create systemic change. And it seeps into just about every aspect of philanthropic giving. A scarcity mentality leads to reports like the Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, which found a majority of responding organizations experiencing a rising demand for services, struggling to offer competitive pay to their employees, and citing "financial stability" as a "top challenge." With that kind of climate prevailing in 2018, how can we expect nonprofits to deal with the challenges dished out by 2020? Instead of expecting everyone to get by on a shoestring, nonprofits need funders who lead from a mindset of abundance. And that means focusing on relationships, talent, technology, capacity, and operations. It means offering unrestricted, multiyear funding. It means understanding that it's not just about spending money. Funders need to think big and foster cultures of generosity and mutual support.

2. Embrace inclusion. Solving entrenched social problems requires that we come together to identify common goals, include voices and solutions from and across a broad spectrum of perspectives, and do it with an abundance of empathy, trust, and tolerance. But we won't succeed if leaders of color feel underfunded, underrepresented, and undervalued. Carly Hare is the executive director of CHANGE Philanthropy, a coalition of philanthropic networks that challenges philanthropy to embrace and advance equity, support all communities, and ignite positive social change. As she says, "We need to remember that we are all entering conversations about inequities from different places on our life journeys. We need to allow people the grace to be themselves, be vulnerable, feel discomfort, and heal so that together we can have courageous conversations. If we don't do that, we stay in a delusional state. We stay ignorant." And effective and diverse leaders will continue to leave.

3. Build trusting relationships. As human beings, we rely on trust to guide us in new relationships and help us see things through when the going gets tough. That mutual willingness to see things through is both the reason to establish trust and the reward for doing so. But before you get there, you'll need to do what you can to eliminate the pernicious influence of unequal power dynamics. Even if you aren't aware of their existence, you can bet your grantees are. Donors get to choose which causes they support, whom they fund, and what they expect to happen as those funds are spent. Getting beyond those dynamics takes time and a willingness to be open, vulnerable, and willing to admit mistakes. There's a kind of intimacy that comes from admitting weaknesses or failures to others, and a type of honesty that emerges when funders and grantees explore those weaknesses and failures in ways that allow them to learn and change together. Establishing more effective partnerships with grantees also will put you in an excellent position to tackle another insidious and far too common power dynamic: abusive board members. An article by Joan Garry published last year in the Chronicle of Philanthropy details how this dynamic harms people and the nonprofit sector more broadly.

4. Invest in talent and racial equity at the same time. A donor once told me she would not allow grant dollars to pay for her grantees' personnel costs. You read that right. She was willing to fund programs, but not the employees who run the programs. She would fund a tutoring program, but would not provide funding to pay for tutors. She would support policy advocacy, but her grant dollars could not be spent on the advocates working to advance policy. She's not alone. Only about 1 percent of foundation dollars are allocated to nonprofit talent and leadership development. That puts way too much pressure on executive directors and leaves up-and-coming leaders in the organization unsupported. Equally important (and related) is the need to invest in the recruitment and advancement of people of color at every level. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you do that, including Fund the People's Talent Justice Report and Toolkit.

5. Leverage untapped resources. Start by checking out the Billionaire Census 2020 released by Wealth-X earlier this year. The report reveals that just over 10 percent of the world’s billionaires have donated or pledged support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That leaves about 90 percent that haven't! What if many of those billionaires want to do something but haven't been contacted by an organization with a clear call to action? Who better than well-connected philanthropies to effectively tap this group or their financial advisors? Sure, their net worth undoubtedly took a hit earlier in the year, but most of them have seen it recover, and, if nothing else, 2020 has given them a much clearer sense of their privilege and the many problems crying out for solutions.

Unfortunately, just when we need effective leadership the most, the exodus of nonprofit leaders is likely to accelerate. As NFF’s Bugg-Levine told the Wall Street Journal in the spring, "the system sets them up to be fragile." With over half of nonprofits not having more than three months of cash reserves on hand, Bugg-Levine fears that many aren't going to make it. That shouldn't come as a surprise. COVID-19 has made nonprofits' normal uphill climb that much steeper. But the solutions to the impending crisis are right in front of us. The pandemic has laid bare deep, systemic wrongs, as well as how things can be made right — including putting marginalized people and social justice at the center of everything we do. It is time to acknowledge the unequal power dynamics in our sector and change our cultures to address them. We must disrupt longstanding patterns and habits of scarcity. By changing, in fundamental ways, how the philanthropic sector operates, we can ensure that nonprofits don't just limp along in a state of near-failure, bleeding leaders as they go. By acting forcefully to address this crisis, we can position a new generation of leaders and the many critical organizations they lead to succeed and thrive.

Headshot_Kris_Putnam-WalkerlyKris Putnam-Walkerly is a a sought-after philanthropy advisor and award-winning author. This article is reprinted here with permission and appears on the Putnam Consulting blog

Remote Onboarding: Set Up New Hires for Success

September 11, 2020

Remote_onboardingWhat was once unthinkable — hiring someone over Zoom without ever interviewing him or her in person – is, like so much else in our lives in 2020, becoming the norm. At Koya Leadership Partners, we noticed in April and May that many of our clients were uncomfortable with video-only interviewing processes but by June and July were plowing ahead, fully aware that there really wasn't any other option.

We've also heard from hiring managers who've developed safe ways to meet candidates in person as the (video) interview process enters its final stages. One CEO I know set up a series of socially-distanced one-on-one meetings in a public park. Another decided to take Zoom to the next level and have "Zoom coffees" with finalist candidates in an attempt to recreate the less-formal meetings they might have had pre-pandemic.

But what happens after you've negotiated all the challenges of hiring a new employee through a video-interview process and that person is about to start her new role remotely? In a COVID world, how do you successfully onboard a new hire and set her up for success in her role while also familiarizing her with your organizational culture?

Here are a few tips for remote onboarding that you may find useful during these unusual — and unusually challenging — times:

Begin the onboarding process before a new employee's first day. Your new hire won't have the benefit of coming into an office environment, being able to ask questions of those around him, and spontaneously striking up new work-based relationships. You can help jump-start all this by strategically setting the stage for onboarding before an employee's first day. Send the employee a welcome package with an assortment of gifts or swag (anything with the organization's logo that can be displayed on a desktop is a good idea) and any HR documents that need to be signed. A hand-written note from the hiring manager and the employee's future teammates is an especially nice gesture. You should also share the employee's onboarding schedule as soon as it's available so that he knows what to expect and which tech tools and platforms he'll be using.

Speaking of tech, you want to focus on it as soon as a hire has been finalized. Communications platforms are critical during the remote period leading up to a new employee's first day on the job. Make sure new hires are familiar with all the platforms and software they'll be expected to use and that their home-office setups are integrated with your systems and fully functioning. New hires will feel particularly adrift if it takes a while to get up to speed with what's happening at their new place of work.

Consider culture. It's particularly hard for new team members to acclimate to an organizational culture when everyone is working remotely. But many organizations have figured out and are using communications platforms to build and strengthen culture. You can, too. Are there unofficial Slack channels about cooking or movies or other topics that a new hire might be interested in? Be sure to highlight those. It's also a good idea to be intentional about video meetings. Be sure to hold regularly scheduled virtual town halls or team meetings that give employees an opportunity to come together in one (virtual) place to learn together and get to know one another.

Proactively facilitate connections. Pair the new team member with a mentor and a peer who can show them the ropes, answer their questions, and serve as guides to the culture. Task the mentor or "buddy" with setting up regular virtual lunches or coffees with the new hire until they are fully acclimated, and proactively schedule virtual "meet and greets" with other team members (rather than assuming they'll happen on their own).

Set expectations. Carve out some time to talk to your new hire specifically about communications norms and practices. How and when do teams communicate? When do folks send an email or make a phone call instead of using Slack? Are there norms around response time? Are there places or methods for sharing wins or celebrating birthdays? Also be sure to talk about work hours and schedules and to let your new team member know what the expectations are around her online presence and activity (e.g., does the organization support flex hours/schedules? Are employees expected to check emails early in the day? late in the day? all day? Are they expected to be available on weekends?).

Maintain structured communications with your new employee longer than you might in a more normal situation. New hires should have a weekly (at least) check-in with their manager and, ideally, twice a week for the first few weeks. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to reach out if they need additional support beyond regularly scheduled check-in calls. This kind of ongoing communication — both scheduled and impromptu — is key for successfully onboarding new employees in a work-from-home situation where they are unable to walk over to a colleague's desk to ask a question.

Remote onboarding isn't ideal. But with planning and the right kind of follow-through, it is possible to do it well and set a new hire up for long-term success. Good luck!

Headshot_molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

Pay transparency: what it means for job seekers and employer

July 20, 2020

20150319_TransparencypiggybankThere's a growing push for pay transparency in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. For those unfamiliar with the concept, pay transparency includes both radical openness about compensation ranges within a company as well as publicly posting compensation ranges in your job descriptions.

Many see pay transparency as a way to close persistent salary gaps that exist between genders and races. The gap affects women of color the most. A recent report from the National Partnership for Women & Families shows that Latinas are paid 54 cents on every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. And across all racial and ethnic groups, women in the United States are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men.

Many employers have concerns, however, that a shift to pay transparency would generate internal dissatisfaction and render salary negotiations pointless. A recent LinkedIn Global Talent Survey captures the mixed reception the idea has received. According to LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2019 report, 27 percent of HR and hiring professionals say their company currently shares salary ranges with employees or candidates, with a further 22 percent saying they're likely to start doing so within the next five years. But more than half (51 percent) do not disclose salaries or salary ranges.

As executive recruiters serving the nonprofit sector, Koya Leadership Partners has worked with clients on both ends of the spectrum, and many in between. And we've noted that many in the Philanthropic (foundations) and Social Justice sectors have moved toward including salary ranges in their job descriptions as a way to publicly demonstrate their values and help achieve equity compensation in the field. What's more, the move toward pay transparency has picked up speed in the COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter era.

There is some evidence from companies like Buffer, which creates social media tools, that salary transparency policies increase interest from candidates and contribute to greater employee satisfaction and engagement. Buffer uses a publicly available salary calculator to determine salaries for all its employees, and in 2013 it began publishing employee salaries on the Internet for all to see.

Although start-up and tech companies have led the way on pay transparency in the for-profit sector, a number of giants in other sectors have also adopted transparency policies. One of them, Starbucks, has explicitly stated that salary transparency is a tool for achieving gender and racial pay equity, and to that end the coffeehouse chain shares salary bands internally and salary ranges with job candidates who ask. In 2018, the company announced that it had achieved 100 percent pay equity, and the moves it has made on that front have generated a lot of positive press while helping it hire and keep top talent.

So why haven't more organizations adopted transparent pay practices? Compensation can be a charged, highly emotional issue that raises fundamental questions of equity and merit that are not always easy to manage. But in this new era in which we find ourselves, corporate and nonprofit leaders are waking up to the realization that they can and must play a role in creating a more just and equitable society. Creating transparency around pay is one way to do that.

Here are three suggestions for getting started:

1. Conduct an annual compensation audit. Hire a professional to make sure your compensation policies are informed by data and reflect best practices. Identify salary gaps and make a plan for closing them.

2. Leverage the hiring process as a way to begin building transparency. Identify salary bands for new hires before you go to market and communicate them to job candidates, either directly in the job description or through the interview process.

3. Make sure that anyone in the organization in a position to negotiate salaries understands the importance of pay equity and is familiar with best compensation practices — including not asking candidates about their past compensation, which is now illegal in many states.

The trend toward salary transparency seems to be picking up speed and will likely continue to grow as employees demand more from their organizations. Moving toward salary transparency requires organizational change, which is always challenging. But beginning with some of the steps outlined above can help your organization move forward on the path toward becoming more equitable while strengthening your brand and helping you attract exceptional talent along the way.

Headshot_molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

How to work effectively with an outside consultant

July 13, 2020

Working with a ConsultantAs your nonprofit adapts to new realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, strategic guidance from expert consultants can provide invaluable insights for refining your strategy planning, revamping your brand, or rethinking your fundraising strategy. There are a few considerations to keep in mind, however, to ensure that any relationship with an outside consultant produces outcomes that meet your needs.

Here are some tips for working with a consultant or consulting firm:

Don't be stingy with information. Hiring a consultant can provide expertise you may not have in-house, but that doesn't mean you can take a hands-off approach to the project. No one knows your organization as well as you do. To ensure that a consultant fully understands your organization, you'll want to share as much information with him or her as is reasonable. While a good consultant will elicit ideas from team members and pull information together in new ways, he or she will want to review lots of organizational documents and talk to lots of people, from frontline staff to board members. Make sure the relevant documents are ready to go, and be sure to ask key stakeholders to set aside time for a sit-down.

Have a clear process in place. Whether developing a strategic plan or a brand revamp, it's important to know what you're aiming for and how you'll get there. A good consultant will be able to provide a plan for engaging your team that includes stakeholders. That plan should include the key activities, milestones, and outcomes for each step in the process. It should be clear, too, who will be involved in each phase, the decisions that need to be made, and what the deliverables are. Your job is to provide appropriate information, context, and ideas to inform the plan; provide feedback on the work presented; and make the decisions needed to keep the project moving forward.

Understand how decisions will be made. Decisiveness is essential to keeping projects moving forward. Put a plan in place that ensures decisions are made in a timely manner. That means deciding in advance who will give feedback and through what mechanism, who makes the final decision, and how that decision will be made (including considerations with respect to the board's engagement). You'll also need to determine whether key decisions can be made if not all stakeholders are able to present at a critical meeting and what a quorum might look like in such a situation.

Presenting to the board. Even if midstream decisions have been delegated to a committee or staff, keeping the board involved as the project moves forward increases buy-in and will help pave the way for final approval. At Red Rooster Group, our clients have found it helpful to have us make a presentation to the board at key points in the project. Getting information from an outside expert can help busy board members focus on the problem or issue at hand.

There's a flipside to this. For some organizations, the better choice is to have members of the project committee, not the consultant, make presentations to the board, the idea being it will help build trust between board members and staff. Having a board member who has bought into the concept present to the board can also be an effective way to demonstrate stakeholder support for a project. You know your organizational culture and board better than anyone, and a good consultant will defer to your recommendations when it comes to building trust and securing buy-in.

Build your project team. For small nonprofits, a project team may be one or two people. For larger organizations, team members should be drawn from different organizational levels and functions (e.g., executive-level staff, board members, frontline staff members). Members of the team should understand and support the overall goals of the project and be willing to express their ideas and listen to those of others. Meetings and material reviews will take up time, so make sure every team member is given the time needed to do the work.

Designate a point person. At the beginning of the project, decide who will be your organization's liaison to the consultant. The point person may be asked to contact people who are to be interviewed, provide background information and documents, arrange meetings, and make sure that information is shared with key stakeholders.

Establish a schedule. A consultant will need to know in advance about events that may affect the availability of team members. Organizational events, board meetings, vacations, maternity leave, and so on can all affect project workflow and timely feedback and approvals. Working out a schedule in advance will go a long way to eliminating delays and reduce stress for both your team and the consultant.

Have a plan for communicating progress. To facilitate a smooth process, determine who will be included on the project and how you'll communicate with your group — email, phone calls, a project management system, Zoom, Skype, etc. — and how you'll exchange documents and comments on the documents (whether PDFs, Google docs, or Word documents). It's also a good idea to schedule a weekly standing call for quick status updates. This can help reduce the kinds of meeting scheduling problems that often delay the completion of a project.

Avoid stumbling blocks that raise costs. Delaying feedback or reversing decisions can stall or even sink a project. And rethinking or revising decisions that have already been made can lead to additional costs and even undermine a project's viability. This often happens when the plan calls for the executive director to make the decisions but, come time for final approval, board members jump in and start to second guess or reverse decisions made earlier in the process. To avoid those kinds of costly delays, provide the board or a committee with regular updates and lots of opportunities to provide feedback. Any serious concerns should be discussed with the consultant and team so a satisfactory resolution can be reached to avoid costly backtracking later.

The consultant is your partner. Defining how that partnership will work can make it — and your project —more successful.

(Photo credit: Red Rooster Group)

Howard_Adam_Levy_Red_Rooster_Group_PhilanTopicHoward Adam Levy is the president of Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

A good RFP attracts better partners for your project

June 05, 2020

Handshake_over_table_PhilanTopicjpgWhen thinking about what your organization should do to adjust to the "new normal," you may need a partner who can help you reimagine your mission and vision and develop a strategy. The partner may be a branding agency, a fundraising consultant, or someone who can assist you in revising your strategic plan. If the services you offer or the way you provide them has changed, it may be even more important to hire an objective outsider who can help you understand and shape your organization's future.

When hiring a consultant, your chances of finding the right partner will be greatly improved if you develop a clear Request for Proposal (RFP). If you don't know exactly what it is you want from a consultant, when you want it, and how much you are willing to pay, take a step back. You need to nail that down and develop a realistic timeline and budget. And that process itself may require some outside help.

Not only will a good RFP attract the right partner, it will also help your team come together around the details of the project.

To that end, every RFP should include:

1. An overview of your organization: Explain your mission, services, history, and structure so that interested consultants understand what you do and can determine whether their agency is a good match. You want to attract an agency that understands your issues and is enthusiastic about your cause, so provide them with accurate information. This doesn't have to become a writing project; use material from your website, brochures, grant proposals, and strategic plan. A few paragraphs should suffice.

2. Need and goals: The RFP should answer the following questions: What do you need and what are you hoping to accomplish with the project? How will your organization be improved as a result?

3. Outcomes: If possible, describe the specific outcomes you hope to achieve and the specific metrics you will use to measure the success of the initiative.

4. Reasons for the RFP: Explain what's specifically precipitating the need for the project at this time and any other relevant information that can provide context. Was the project planned before the pandemic or in response to it? What are the other urgent factors at play? The need to raise more funds? Changes in programs? New leadership and a new direction? A potential merger? The more the consultant knows, the better they will be able to address your specific needs.

5. Description of the project: Provide a full description of the project, including your overall objectives and the specific deliverables you are requesting. If there's a particular process that you want followed, indicate that. The more information you can provide, the better.

6. Audiences: Describe all the different audiences you want to reach with the project and any information you have about those audiences. This will help the consultant tailor their proposal appropriately.

7. Current and past efforts and results: Describe any previous projects you've undertaken that had similar goals or were targeted to similar audiences. Describe what worked and what didn't. If your project is a fundraising campaign, describe past appeals and their success. It's important to establish a baseline for what your organization has already accomplished.

8. Materials and data you already have: If you have donor or membership databases that can yield insights about your audiences, include that fact in your RFP. If you've sent out surveys recently or gathered data for a strategic plan,let the bidders know. If you have a brand manual or other materials that might be used in the project, specify that. Information you already have may reduce the scope of work and, therefore, the cost.

9. Relevance of project: Describe how the project relates to other initiatives or affects other areas of the organization. For example, you might explain how you hope an organizational branding project will be used as a model for chapters or programs, or how a strategic plan will guide the development of new revenue streams. Providing the larger context so that the consultant can help you achieve the outcomes you want.

10. Parties and process: Describe who will be involved in the project and what your work, review, and approval processes are. Indicate whether a subcommittee will be formed to handle the project, who the day-to-day contact is, what role the board will play, and who has or gives final approval.This can help the consultant to understand the flow and meetings and map out a plan that accommodates your needs.

11. Expectations for working together: Different consultants have different styles. Be clear about your expectations so that you find one likely to work well with your staff and who will fit in with your organization's culture. Explain what it is you are looking for in terms of work process, deliverables and results, methods of communication, and any other aspect of the collaboration that is important to you.

11. Creative expectations: Understanding your expectations for a creative outcome can be difficult, so try to provide asmuch information as possible about it as you can. Mention any guidelines that would be relevant for the project (e.g., a brand style guide). For a branding and marketing project, it's also very helpful to provide samples of materials and websites that your team likes. These can give potential partners a better idea of the outcomes you're expecting. If you have specific requirements or requests regarding outcomes, include them in the RFP.

12. Timing: Be realistic about how much time the process will take and the amount of work required. The more research needed upfront, the longer the project will take. You also need to allow time for input and approval from all parties, as well as time for the consultant to do his or her work. Recognize,too, that a "rush" project will affect the process and the fee.

13. Budget: It is essential to let bidders know your budget for the project. Determine your budget based on the value the project will bring to your organization and then find an agency that can deliver what you need within budget. If you ask for bids without specifying a budget, you may get Cadillac bids fora Chevy budget, which wastes both your time and the consultant's. Conversely, if your rebranding requirements and budget are Cadillacs, don't waste your time looking at Chevys.

If you are at a loss about how much a project might cost, spend some time talking with outside firms to get a general idea of possible cost.And ask other nonprofits what they spent on similar projects and what they received in return.

14. Evaluation criteria: Explain the criteria you'll use to evaluate and select a consultant for the project. It takes a lot of time to develop a good proposal, so be fair to the consultants you've engaged. Spell out your top three selection criteria and be specific. Is experience in the nonprofit sector important? Do you want a partner with specific skills?

15. Evaluation process and timing: On the first page of the RFP, give the due date for the proposal and the name, email, and phone number of the contact person to whom the proposal should be sent. Indicate who will make your decisions for each step. For example:

  • Proposals due June 1, as a PDF, emailed to [name, title, and email address].
  • Review of proposals by Executive Director and Development Director.
  • Selection of three firms by June 15.
  • Meetings of Committee with firms from June 15–25.
  • Final selection on June 30.

Stick to your schedule. If you can't, let the competing agencies know — they're expecting to hear from you and may be turning down other projects in anticipation of working with your organization.

The RFP is just the beginning

Don't put walls between yourself and those who interested in responding to the RFP. The best firms will want to speak with you before submitting a proposal, so let them. In fact, be wary of firms that don't call or ask questions. If requested, provide access to your leadership as well. These pre-proposal discussions can result in proposals tailored to your needs and are an opportunity for you to get to know the competing firms before you make a commitment to one.

Be sure to let bidders know who else you sent the RFP to so they can decide whether they want to participate and, if they do, can use that information to help highlight what sets them apart from the others.

Some nonprofits ask for all questions to be submitted in writing and then send out the answers to everyone's questions to all bidders under the assumption that it is fair and serves their interests in getting the strongest proposals. In fact, it does the opposite. By giving away one firm's questions, you are essentially eliminating what makes them special — handicapping them. For example, if you put out an RFP for an ad campaign and an agency asks if you are open to using public relations or social media to accomplish your goals, and you let all the bidders know you are, then they will all scramble to add that to their proposal by partnering with other agencies with those skills. You, on the other hand, will have no idea that the agency that asked that question is the only one that is thinking creatively about how to solve your marketing needs.

Follow-up

Finally, be professional. Communicate with the firms during the process so they know where they stand. Let all firms know when you have made your final selection. Some agencies spend a lot of time developing customized proposals, so give them the courtesy of letting them know a decision has been made. Also, let them know why they were not selected. It will help them do a better job next time.

Howard_Adam_Levy_Red_Rooster_Group_PhilanTopicHoward Adam Levy is president of the Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

The power of diverse boards: an argument for change

June 04, 2020

Diversity_board_PhilanTopic_GettyImagesWe have a lot of work to do. Most of us have known this for some time, but the events of the last few weeks highlight just how much work remains to be done. The fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion never ends, and a clear and ongoing commitment to all three is needed if we are to create positive change. That commitment must start at the top.

Boards of directors operate at the highest level of organizational leadership, with each director expected to play a role in the development of the organization's strategic vision, operations, and overall culture. Numerous studies have shown that diversity positively impacts a company's financial performance. Indeed, a McKinsey & Company study found that firms in the top quartile for ethnic diversity in management and board composition are 35 percent more likely to earn financial returns above their respective national industry median.

Is the same true for the social sector? Is it important for nonprofit boards to embrace and model diversity, equity, and inclusion? The answer, unequivocally, is yes, and here's why:

Diversity drives organizational performance

Diversity inspires innovation. A board that is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and skill sets is more likely to generate innovation and push all its members to be more creative and open-minded. Today more than ever, social sector organizations need to develop multiple revenue streams, and leading-edge expertise in areas ranging from strategy to financial planning to operations is critical to a board's ability to conduct effective oversight.

Diversity catalyzes creativity. Diverse boards tend to be better at creative problem solving. Those who have had to adapt to physical disabilities encounter challenges on a daily, if not hourly, basis, while those subjected to systematic racism have had to adapt their entire lives. The ability to overcome challenges often translates to adaptive leadership, opening a world of possibilities in terms of program execution and organizational management.

Diversity fosters network breadth. Current or past clients who serve as board members add an element of authenticity and credibility to board deliberations and can serve as a "voice of experience" that informs and improves program planning. A greater awareness of who is actually being served gives boards information they need to develop strategies grounded in real-world facts. Such an understanding also provides context for proper resource allocation and effective strategic action, while helping to deepen an organization's relevance and impact.

Inclusion drives action

Let's try a thought experiment: take away all the benefits created by more diverse boards and imagine what the sector would look like :

  • too many nonprofits relying on a single, precarious revenue stream;
  • approaches to problem solving that are never improved on because "it has always been done that way";
  • clients who are viewed as beneficiaries rather than as equal partners in collective change efforts;
  • recruitment of staff and donors from among those who look and think like us; and
  • logic models and outcomes metrics informed by a single point of view.

Something magical and important happens when differences not only are not dismissed but are valued. But the benefits that diversity brings to a board are unlikely to be realized without an equal focus on inclusion. The perspective of all board members must be continuously sought and heard, and differences of opinion should always be welcomed.

Equity is the result

Equity and systems change are the outcomes of leaders fully embracing diversity and inclusion. In the absence of inclusion, it is too easy to become comfortable in our silence. Without diversity of thought and perspective, our value systems are compromised and systemic injustice goes unchallenged.

It is clear that board diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for all organizations, and especially so for nonprofits. To truly maximize a nonprofit's effectiveness, as well as its financial success, nonprofit boards must work diligently to ensure that different viewpoints are heard and incorporated. Change doesn't happen automatically or overnight. Boards must actively seek out those who can bring new perspectives to the table and challenge the status quo.

For those who currently serve on a nonprofit board, now is the time to act. Speak to your colleagues about steps the board can take to develop internal policies aimed at strengthening its diversity and begin to build a foundation for organizational leadership that supports change.

Similarly, if you've ever considered lending your time and talent to a nonprofit, now is the time to connect with one that is aligned with your passion and expertise. In these challenging, uncertain times, nonprofits are looking for all the expertise they can get their hands on.

The success of any organization starts at the top. Boards that want to maximize their effectiveness and performance must include socially and professionally diverse individuals who are committed to doing the work and are prepared to speak up and act for change. Good luck!

Pam Cannell_for_PhilanTopicPam Cannell is CEO of BoardBuild and has dedicated her entire career to nonprofit leadership and board governance.

Overcoming Founder’s Syndrome on the Road to Success

May 08, 2020

BatonPicture this: An organization's founder has been in place for decades. They are well-respected for their years of hard work and are credited with driving the organization’s long-term success. They've been in the position for so long, in fact, that people outside the organization can't imagine it existing without them. So when they announce their imminent retirement, the board and staff are paralyzed by the notion of bringing in someone new.

The mere thought of a major leadership transition can be frightening, and unless a successor is obvious, beginning the process of finding a replacement for a long-tenured executive can feel overwhelming. Indeed, in many cases, the initial reaction is to look for the same type of leader as the person who is leaving.

As millions of boomers near retirement age, this scenario is playing out in organizations nationwide. According to TSNE MissionWorks, 68 percent of executive directors and 66 percent of board chairs are over the age 50 and, in many cases, are beginning to think about retirement. In other words, thousands, if not tens of thousands, of nonprofits are facing the prospect of losing their long-serving founders, CEOs, presidents, and executive directors.

When an organization is faced with replacing a long-time leader who has been in place for so long that board and staff cannot remember his or her predecessor, identifying a new leader can seem like a hopeless task. That task is even more complicated when the founding ED or long-serving executive is having a difficult time imagining the organization carrying on successfully without her. Often, this confluence of circumstances results in the phenomenon known as "founder's syndrome," a situation in which an organization’s funding, capacity, and overall well-being seem to be largely dependent on her efforts, causing stakeholders to be uneasy about the prospect of her leaving or, in the worst-case situation, a founder resistant to turning over the reins to a successor. In many such cases, people cannot imagine how the organization will find its next leader because their image of the current leader is fixed.

For these and other reasons, a successful search for a new leader hinges on board members first recognizing that founder's syndrome is a factor in the planned transition. Indeed, if the transition to a new leader is planned carefully and strategically, it's possible to reframe founder's syndrome as an opportunity for the board to honor the founding leader's legacy while simultaneously positioning the next leader for success.

To ensure that the transition to a new leader is successful, the organization’s board and leadership team should pay attention to the following:

Be clear about your expectations. What are your goals and priorities for the next leader? Do you expect her to boost fundraising, help the organization close a deficit, create a better operational model, increase the diversity of staff, strengthen the endowment? What parts of your organization's identity do you want to retain and which parts need to evolve? What are your leadership needs and what should leadership for the organization over the next five to ten years look like?

Avoid 'Founder 2.0'. When an organization's mission is so tied to a founder’s vision, it can be difficult to imagine someone different in that role. In many cases, board and executive team members who have worked closely with the founder often want to replace him or her with exactly same type of leader. The fact is, however, that organizations need different kinds of leaders at different moments in their evolution. The leadership qualities that may have been critical at the earlier stages of an organization's development may not be as necessary or even appropriate a decade or more down the road. Just as children outgrow their favorite clothes and toys and seek new and different stimuli as they mature, organizations also evolve in terms of what they need from a leader. A "start-up" situation encourages people to wear multiple hats and be entrepreneurial. At a later point in an organization’s evolution, more formal systems and roles often are required in order to make sure everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction. Organizations naturally tend to move from a "crawling and toddling" stage, to an "awkward adolescence," to a more mature stage of growth and development. Organizations therefore ought to assess the stage they’re currently in, their future goals and where they hope to be in five or ten years, and the kind of leader that is most likely to get them there. Remember: Change is your friend and can be a valuable driver in ensuring that an organization continues to be successful.

Fix up the house. Longtime homeowners are familiar with the joys of deferred maintenance. If you've owned a house for a while, you're probably surrounded by things that are broken or not working as well as they used to, but you've put up with them because you're too busy — or it’s too expensive — to fix them. But small inconveniences and annoyances add up over time, and at a certain point you realize that things have slipped a bit too much and it's time to address those longstanding issues. The same holds true for a long-time leader. When a leader has been in place for a long time, he has likely settled into certain routines and grown comfortable with systems and processes that generally work well but could use some updating. If the founder is a naturally creative type, for instance, he may have overlooked some of the finer details of revenue recognition and financial planning. Or he might be wonderful at engaging external stakeholders but less adept at hiring and managing a senior management team. In such cases, a transition to a new leader should be viewed as an opportunity to repair what may be broken.

Embrace a fresh vision. Even when the board and staff are pleased with the job the founder-leader has done, there almost always are things that can be built off his or her legacy. It's important to recognize that longtime leaders and the organizations they lead can become less adaptable to change — and more susceptible to inertia — over time, which in turn can prevent them from evolving and realizing their full potential. Transitioning to someone who brings fresh ideas, energy, and perspective to the work can help an organization and the people who make it go see themselves in a new way.

Talk to the team. In any leadership transition, it's important to have honest conversations with the board, senior management, and staff at all levels about what's working and what needs to be fixed. With a new leader at the helm, what might the organization look like in five years? And what can the board, senior management, and staff do to ensure that the new leader, and the organization, succeeds?

Encourage a graceful exit. As a general rule, founders shouldn't have an active role in the organization (or on its board) immediately after they've stepped down. More often than not, the continued involvement of a founder creates awkwardness and makes it difficult for a successor to operate. In addition, most qualified candidates for the job will not to want hear that, should they get the job, they'll be managing a founder-leader -- a prospect that can deter even the most determined applicant. Last but not least, it can be confusing and unsettling for staff to have a founder hanging around as a new leader is trying to establish herself. Whom should they go to turn to for direction and advice — the person who has led the organization for years or the new person? At best, it can create a divided sense of loyalty among staff, while at worst…

Expect things to get emotional. Understand that the board and staff may have harbored tremendous affection for the person who is leaving and could have a visceral reaction to his or her departure. It's human nature to want stability and resist change, and any transition involving a beloved and long-serving leader can be difficult to process emotionally. In addition, many employees, fearing the unknown, will feel anxious that the new leader will want to build a new team and/or make significant changes.

Use an outside consultant. Unless an organization already has a successor in mind, the board and staff may not know how to manage a transition from a founder or long-serving leader to someone new — or even where to begin the search process for a successor. An outside recruiter from an executive search firm can be an invaluable addition to the search team and bring a fresh (and objective) perspective to the table. As part of her job, the consultant will conduct due diligence, talking to the board, key staff members, and other stakeholders and constituents to determine what type of leadership is needed and appropriate in terms of the organization's next chapter. In some instances, having an interim leader in place while a search is under way can give the search team time and distance to orient itself to the needs and requirements of the future.

Honor the founder's legacy. It's important that the organization, led by the board, acknowledges and celebrates the founder's legacy and accomplishments in a meaningful, memorable way. Allowing time and space for her to take a final "victory lap," a series of events over the course of several months or even up to a year, will put a well-deserved spotlight on the departing leader and help her ease into a new role as an eminence grise rather than the top executive.

When a founder steps down, you shouldn’t worry about how his or her shoes will be filled. Instead, focus your efforts on identifying and recruiting a talented new leader to replace the departing founder and then do everything you can to help him or her lead the organization forward to an even brighter and more successful future.

Headshot_Naree Viner_KoyaNaree W.S. Viner, managing director at Koya Leadership Partners, has deep experience in executive recruiting and has partnered closely with board members at public and private organizations to identify, develop, and recruit executive talent, including chief executives and senior team members.

Tips to Help Make Your Organization More Inclusive

February 07, 2020

Diversity_1Recruiting and retaining employees is a top priority and challenge for most organizations. But many fail to take even the basic steps needed to attract and retain candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This is unfortunate, for many reasons, but especially because the benefits of diversity in the workplace are significant and numerous, and because research shows that the workforce of the future will be diverse.

Creating an inclusive organizational culture requires commitment. The goal should be to ensure that everyone in an organization feels welcome, valued, and supported. This is how you strengthen employee engagement and retention, and how you create a stage for teams that perform at a high level. On the flip side, organizational cultures that are not inclusive are more likely to experience negative outcomes in terms of employee satisfaction and retention, resulting in higher turnover rates and lower organizational performance.

Below are a few things you and your colleagues can do to create a more inclusive organizational culture. Note, however, that the suggestions are only a starting point. Building a truly inclusive culture requires deep commitment to change at every level of the organization as well as a willingness to model and sustain that change through shared values, the actions of leadership, and effective accountability mechanisms.

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The Best-Kept Secret: A Strategic ‘Pivot’

December 10, 2019

Greater-Denver-Jewish-Community-Study-2018-300x300There are countless examples of strategic "pivots" to point to in the for-profit world, many of them from the not-too-distant past. Remember when Amazon just sold books, when Netflix mailed DVDs, or when the Gap was a record store that sold Levi's? It's rare, on the other hand, to hear about nonprofits making the same kind of massive changes in strategy. Of course, taking a risk in Silicon Valley (where companies are expected to produce financial returns for their investors) is different than risk-taking in the nonprofit world, where organizations are responsible for having an impact on a social or environmental problem.

But pivoting — a shift in strategy that helps an organization achieve its desired impact — is crucial for nonprofits that want to succeed over the long-term. "Pivot" doesn’t have to be a bad word or signal failure. Think of it, instead, as a natural part of organizational evolution.

Pivots can be large or small, but they should emerge from a clear understanding of what is working and what is not. Using data (e.g., performance metrics, evaluations, and direct observation) to decide whether or not it's time to pivot will ensure that you pivot in the right direction. This kind of intentionality, coupled with the ability to admit what isn't working, makes a strategic pivot different than just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Organizations that don't pivot eventually end up stuck doing the same old thing, even when evidence points them in another direction. In such a scenario, funders often start to wonder about their investment in a "stuck" organization and whether it's truly creating the impact they would like to see. To help nonprofits that are struggling with the pivot issue, as well as funders who may be sitting on the other side of the table, I wanted to share a story about a pivot made by my organization, UpStart, what we learned from it, and how you can benefit from the same kind of thinking and tactics.

UpStart's flagship initiative in Colorado was our Teen Fellowship program, which each year engaged twenty-four fellows in the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship through a Jewish lens. This program was a part of the larger Denver-Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative to increase engagement of diverse local Jewish teens. In the fellowship, teens worked in small teams to solve a particular problem in their respective communities, developing new initiatives and learning key skills that would help them navigate the world. The program was rated favorably by the teens who participated, but from an outcomes perspective it was becoming increasingly clear it was off-strategy.

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What It Takes to Manage Leadership Change in the Nonprofit Sector

December 05, 2019

ChangesEvery organization experiences leadership change. But these days, the nonprofit sector is experiencing a big demographic shift. Which is why it's essential for all nonprofits to start planning for the kind of thoughtful leadership transitions —including those resulting from both expected and sudden departures — any organization needs to survive and thrive.

According to the 2017 BoardSource report Leading With Intent, only 27 percent of nonprofits have a formal succession plan in place. That's unfortunate, because having such a plan in place can help any organization overcome the challenges and bumps in the road that almost always pop up in the wake of a leadership transition.

In the past, the process was commonly referred to "succession planning." However, that term often refers to identifying a successor for a specific leader and, in our view, has outgrown its usefulness. It's more helpful, instead, to think about the work of preparing for and managing leadership change as "intentional pathway planning," a more expansive term that serves as a reminder that leadership change involves much more than thinking about a single role or person; it's a holistic approach and lens that should be applied to every step of the hiring and onboarding process.

While every organization’s circumstances are different (involving things like leadership configuration, organizational goals, skills gaps, etc.), all nonprofits would be well-served to take a proactive approach to building a strong leadership pipeline, developing internal talent for higher-level roles, and making themselves aware of specific knowledge and/or diversity gaps that need to be addressed.

Tips for successful intentional pathway planning include:

Consider the big picture. A critical first step in intentional pathway planning is to understand your organization's leadership needs and mission-focused objectives. What are you trying to do? What type of talent will you need to get there? What are your organization’s knowledge gaps, and how can they be filled?

Plan and train. To ensure there's a robust pipeline of talent available to take advantage of future leadership opportunities, you need to proactively take steps to support talent. Provide employees with ample training and development opportunities — as well as continual mentoring and coaching — to help them learn, grow, and thrive. Check in with individual employees about their goals and aspirations, and then tailor development plans for them as appropriate. To ensure you have a deep bench of future leaders, allow staff at various levels to flex their leadership skills — and assume additional responsibilities. Such an approach is just as beneficial for the organization as it is for individuals on the receiving end of these training opportunities and can be pitched to job candidates as an organizational value proposition.

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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