Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Community's Confidence in A Nonprofit Is the Ultimate Key to An Organization's Future

So much of any nonprofit's leader's work is envisioning what can be. Organizations' leaders, in the very nature of their work, envision what could be better for the community, they imagine what could get done through the work of the agencies that they work for, and they imagine what could improve the world. One person may say 'I wish things were better...' but the person who works for a nonprofit and believes in the organization's mission and capabilities is actually working to 'make things better'. It is this empowerment of what is possible that is both attractive to the community that would support this nonprofit, and the hope for the community's needs, sometime the needs of the most vulnerable, the least well represented, or those without a voice where voices are needed.

In this economy we all, who work for nonprofits, have besides the normal challenges in the work to enable our organizations' missions, the additional burden of successfully fully funding our missions' programs, projects, services, and products.

The fact is nonprofits that are meeting real current community needs, through excellent programs and projects, succeeding at achieving program goals and meeting those community needs, while running the organization ethically, transparently, professionally, as guided by the mission will raise support of all kinds, today (even in this economy), as it did, yesterday. This economy will force all of us nonprofit volunteers, staff, consultants, partners, supporters, etc. to consider our organizations. Is the organization's work meeting a real need (still) and if we think that it does, is our esteemed perception of our own work in line with the community's perception of our organization (as a community's support is how a nonprofit thrives or dies)? Are we listening to and hearing the beneficiaries of our organization's work? Is the mission of the agency our first consideration, in decision making, or do we, as an organization, tend to pad decisions based on comforting egos, playing politics, fears that we harbor, or avoiding talent that is offered to our agency due to disbelief in others' abilities to be successful, too, etc.?

This kind of self-reflection upon the nonprofits that we work for is healthy, good for the agency, and excellent for the beneficiaries of the organization's work; and should be done relatively often and regularly, anyway.

The economy is forcing self reflection, in the interest in survival. If we are not doing enough or not succeeding often or do not operate the organization a a high level of nonprofit professionalism, we are not deserving of a donor's donation, or of a sponsor's support, or other community buy in. Why would this lesser quality organization beat out a better driven and successful nonprofit when competing for a $80,000 grant, for instance? The same is true of a donor who has a few nonprofits to consider when going to their checkbook, but feels confidence in one or two nonprofits, above the others.

Perhaps in a good economy it is easier to lose track of what a nonprofit exists for (and it is not for the founder, it is not to pad the resumes of the board members, it is not to expect something simply because a group of people is providing for the community). A nonprofit exists because its mission statement has a goal. No insecurities among the agency's leaders or staff, and no personal need to over-control can co-exist with the need each and all nonprofits inherently retain for their community's support (and buy in). Community buy-in is earned and retained because a nonprofit is worthy of its community's support. Not the other way around. Eventually, when a nonprofit's staff, leaders, or other supporters lose sight of why the organization is operating, or how it will survive, the lack of the right perspective catches up with the agency and may lead to its closure if these unhealthy operations, organizational hubris, etc. aren't stopped.

Not all nonprofits that close are victims of major organizational operational failures, or its leaders' failures to put the mission first, truly - but many are.

Meanwhile, those nonprofits that retain the critical asset in their leaders and staff which is creating an organizational culture of only having one guiding concern (and one 'star' among its ranks) which is the mission statement - they are sailing through the storm, weathering some bumps, but they, despite this difficult period, confidently believe the organization will come out of the storm better for the experience. And they are probably correct. It is not lost on these nonprofits' leaders the lifeblood that they have in their community's confidence in the organization. Any nonprofit that goes into a difficulty economy supported by a community that is so confident about the agency's ability, that the community knows that the organization will be around tomorrow, also has leaders who have a reason to think the same about the organization; it will be around tomorrow. This mutual confidence is no luxury. It is developed by the nonprofits' leaders, over time, through organizational excellence and success. I mean, what donor or volunteer that is confident about the nonprofit it supports is not invaluable? Giving our communities reason to feel confident about our organizations is an excellent nonprofit survival method, for this tough economy, and anything else that may create storms in the years to come.

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