Monday, December 17, 2007

Nonprofit Management's Effects on Operations and Dealing With the Negatives...No Sweat!

Come join us and share your response. Christopher Scott, our host for the December Giving Carnival, asks "How much does the leadership of an Executive Director or C.E.O. effect fundraising?" Christopher writes the "Nonprofit Leadership, Innovation, and Change" blog. Email him with a link to your post, responding to his question; or email him your written response at by this Wednesday, December 20th. Be sure to check back the day after to read our colleagues' responses!

I am getting back to Christopher, here. Let me know your response to my response!

My answer is "it depends". 'No duh?', right?

The effect that an executive director or C.E.O. has on fundraising depends upon many of the nonprofit organization's attributes. How much a leader effects the fundraising depends upon:
__ what the needs are of the constituency that the organization's mission serves
__ what the organization's goals are to meet those needs
__ what the plan is to implement programs, etc.
__ the nonprofit's mission
__ its' by laws
__ what the organization's donors prefer
__ the nonprofit's Development Plan
__ how the nonprofit executes its Development Plan
__ its' operations
__ how it is staffed and how much experience/talent the staff has
__ the leadership's experience (from volunteers, to staff, including the board of directors)
__ how much the board is a working board
__ how much oversight and leadership the board retains
__ the C.E.O. or executive director's experience, confidence, and interest in fundraising
__ the organization's office culture
__ many other of a myriad of possible variables, such as the economy, etc.

A nonprofit is overseen by a group of volunteers, typically known as the board of directors or the board of trustees, and beneath them is an executive director or C.E.O. that runs the day to day operations. Beneath the C.E.O. are the volunteers or staff, or both. At each tier there are opportunities, hopefully, for volunteers to contact board members with concerns, for staff to talk with the executive director easily, and for the board to ask volunteers and staff how the executive director is doing. How well a nonprofit is run depends upon how much the volunteers, staff, and leadership know about modern nonprofit operations and management. It also depends upon successful policy, operations, and successful implementation of policies and goals. If our organization is being operated by people who know what 'should' be done for effective success, and they're being honest and communicative about where the organization should be growing, how, and when (and if there are quorums, information is shared, and all parties listen, share, and are willing to compromise (all involved parties have equal weight during talks)) - then the organization is probably setting priorities based on the needs of the mission statement and the clientele or whatever/whomever your organization is serving. The organization is operating as a mission-focused organization. This is the ideal.

We all, no matter how professional, well-meaning, seasoned, how good we are at communicating, planning, and implementing, have limits. The goal is to, in effect, dilute leadership's faults across the entire organization, such that no one person's traits, limits, access, etc. can weaken or hurt the organization, its' goals, or its' operations. The healthy nonprofit needs effective, capable, good leadership, and no one is perfect. So, you acknowledge everyone's imperfection or humanity and get proactive. You don't want the leader's foibles to become the limits to the nonprofit's capabilities. And this does happen...

Let's say that you and I work for a reputable nonprofit that runs smoothly (achieves budgetary benchmarks, meets the community's need, achieves mission success and growth, has healthy cash flow, etc.) and the volunteers, board, and staff work well with our executive director (she communicates well, cares about the mission statement, is a natural leader amongst the volunteers and staff, works well with others, succeeds at various goals, etc.), then we're probably, generally, happy because all seems to be going well. Christopher's question forces us to consider more about our executive director, though. The question, in this scenario, is 'is this all we want?' The executive director usually manages and oversees day to day operations. If our executive director loves to talk with our clients, with our vendors, with the staff and the board, but is not comfortable asking our major donors, for instance, where they connect with our organization, and if they can support the new program; then our nonprofit runs well, day to day, but is not really going after major donors' money. Specifically, a major donor should be approached peer to peer, meaning our organization's leadership (not the staff) should be asking for money and fostering the relationship. Since our particular leader is not pushing themsevles and meeting with major donors, that potential revenue stream is left on the table which may be unfortunate if we need more cash flow for that new program. Now, if our board of directors is a working board, and they're out there developing our major donors because they're happy with our executive director but also see, AND OPENLY ACKNOWLEDGE that she does not develop major donors - then it does not matter that our executive director is less of a face to face fundraiser. The executive director is mostly focusing on the day to day management of the office and its goings on, and the board is fine with that. The board's chosen to take on the major donor fundraising work, themselves. If, though, our board is a young board or a new board - then the major donors and their potential investment into our organization is null.

If our organization's leadership does not properly oversee our executive director or does not understand what modern fundraising, nonprofit operations, or current laws require - how will our organization continuely succeed and grow to meet the need? Our mission statement and our organization's interview or studies' findings that indicate our cause's constituency's needs, should be driving the what, where, when, how, and why that our organization does (or doesn't do). Our leader's personality limits, lesser confidence, or restricted abilities should not be restricting our organization.

It is everyone's responsibility to watch for what is falling through the cracks.

If a leader demonstrates strengths in all but one or two aspects of all of the operations (which is normal) that's fine - but the organization's volunteers, staff, or leadership SHOULD be honest, recognize these reasonable deficits, weigh them against the needs of those your mission serves, and deal with the deficits. Do what is not being done, if it is needed.

Never allow one person's humanity; their limits, become the organization's limits. Your organization's growth, capacity, abilities, and goals are everyone's responsibility.

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