Thoughts on Leadership & Leading

Capacity Building Matters: An Apple is just An Apple

Leaders DO build capacity! Supporting the capacity to deliver change is as important as delivering the change! (Hint: It’s what makes the change possible, people!)

As a friend recently said to me, I had people willing to pay for “apples”, but they didn’t want to pay for the people to identify, source, transport, package, find the people that need the apple, deliver the apple, & tell the story about delivering the apple to the people. Without capacity, no one is eating. It’s just an apple!

OK as an organizational development and capacity building nerd, you might expect me to have this point of view. What thrills me is that other people are saying it, and funding it. (“Investing in Systems Change Capacity” in my fave Stanford Social Innovation Review by Susan Misra & Marissa Guerrero

Most organizations & people are focused on doing the work & delivering the mission (nonprofit)/ products (profit); they forget to tell the story of what they’ve accomplished (grants help people in nonprofit sector/ quarterly earnings in corporate sector). They also they forget to say that it actually takes real capacity (i.e. people, technology, structure, systems, processes, etc.) to deliver the goods!

My experiences in the corporate sector constantly led to chasing earnings, belt tightening, & continuing to be forced to do more & more & more with less & fewer resources. The mantra became “what feels overwhelming today will become routine six months from now.” That can work short term; eventually demanding more & more, and not providing the capacity & resources to actually do the work leads to unintended consequences of burnout, frustration & poor morale. It takes people (and investing in them) to build & maintain capacity to deliver strong, quality results. 

My experiences in the nonprofit sector are not dissimilar. In fact, often there’s an expectation that “psychological income,” i.e., the motivation/ pride that comes from being affiliated with a nonprofit and its mission, is part of the compensation package. I agree working for an organization with a strong mission (or brand in the corporate sector) can be inspiring; there are limits to how far the “psychological income” can compensate vs tangible financial income. Try buying groceries on “psychological income” credit. This continues to be one of the reasons that nonprofit organizations are struggling to recruit & retain top leaders &  junior level staff. 

On a positive note, over the past 25+ years that I’ve worked with nonprofits I  see improvements in pay & benefits at many nonprofit organizations as well as - and as crucially important – an increasing recognition that it takes resources… unrestricted CASH (and intentional capacity building infusions) for investment in capacity building from donors, including individual donors, foundations, & even government grants (looking at you, Virginia Housing) to build capacity to produce strong & resilient organizations, people and projects. Remember, an apple is just an apple with still hungry people without capacity. 

Two decades ago, organizations in the nonprofit sector buried the cost of capacity building because nobody wanted to pay for “overhead” or “fundraising” expenses, etc. so nonprofit leaders had to get creative reassigning the same very dollars under “programs.” YES, there should always be a focus on outcomes in delivering towards the cause/ mission, AND there needs to be a real commitment & increased funding to support the ability to deliver, sustain & grow those very outcomes through investments in capacity building. 

#leadersdo #nonprofitleadership #nonprofit #capacitybuilding #corporatelife #nonprofitmanagement #philanthropy #systemschange



Strategic Thinking Means Thinking You ARE Strategic

Thanks, Nina Bowman for this https://hbr.org/2016/12/4-ways-to-improve-your-strategic-thinking-skills . I’ve been there. I remember thinking, “how can I ‘be more strategic’ when there’s so much work to do & so many details to be across?” The ledge felt just beyond my grasp.

And then, eventually, I pivoted.

I leaned into the mindset that I AM a strategic leader. I began using strategic language in presentations, correspondence, meetings, etc. - sometimes it was a simple as adding the word “strategic “to sentences, sometimes it was about reframing how I had approached or planned to approach some thing.

I began to pay attention to what my boss and my bosses’ boss wanted, needed and how they “showed up.” I adopted, some of their behaviors and approaches.

Next thing I knew, I was being referred to as a “strategic partner,” a “strategic leader,” a “strategic contributor.”

As Nina says, it’s not THAT easy; it takes effort, nuance and commitment. 

It also takes support from that leader who is telling you to “be more strategic” to support, endorse, and help you reach the next ledge. That’s also what strategic leaders do. They lift people up to their potential. 

#leadersdo #leadership #executivecoaching #leadwithintention 


Staffing: Remote, Hybrid, In-Office, Fractional 

Leaders DO try new ways of working. Staffing is a trend that keeps coming up for nonprofits, small business, etc. While paying a living and competitive wage is important, increasingly people want flexibility in their work.

For me, one of the key lessons from COVID that organizations are trying is offering more flexibility with remote and hybrid roles. As Jim Rendon wrote in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, trends including remote/ hybrid, flexible work schedules, and supported DEI programs are showing promise as evidenced in a study done by the National Council of Nonprofits.

As someone who worked in an office with a private office that eventually went to going to to an office without an office aka "hot desk," I found it challenging to focus on strategic work and engaging with clients who were offsite. Ironically I ended up sitting in a phone booth for 4/5ths of my day on calls/ zoom, etc. as most of my clients were scattered across the USA and the globe. The flexibility to work from home/ anywhere was key to my and many of my colleagues' ability to get the more strategic work done. 

Another consideration for organizations trying to find the right people, might be trying a different model. Fractional staff: potentially consider hiring a more experienced person at the same rate with fewer days working, e.g., I might work for a client 1.5 vs 5 days a week at the same pay as a less experienced person. What does the organization gain? My 30 years of experience for what they might pay someone with 3-5 years of experience. If it's processing widgets this isn't the best model; if it's being a strategic partner, coaching, setting up a new initiative, realigning a program, it just might be the best use of funds.


#leadersdo #staffing #hybrid #remotework #bestpractices #fractionalexecutive


Tech Governance: The Next Frontier in Board Leadership

Leaders DO think about tech governance at nonprofits as another key ingredient as a board grows in scale and sophistication.  Scaling it appropriately is key to success.

The enterprising team at Board.Dev of Alethea Hannemann and Aaron Hurst  and Okta for Good’s Erin Baudo Felter offer an interesting call to action for boards to consider having a “tech governance seat” in the article below in my fave pub Stanford Social Innovation Review https://ssir.org/articles/entry/taking_on_tech_governance.

While I applaud and like the idea of boards thinking about the future, how technology is impacting their engagement with clients, donors, public, etc, and how it might enhance delivery of their mission, I think it needs to be made very clear the line between board and staff roles.

I have led initiatives at nonprofits and for profits to develop systems that relied heavily on technology to increase efficiency, reduce staff time, offer insights and deliver impact. At one particular nonprofit, rather than pulling tech folks on to the board, I stood up a tech subcommittee to support a staff-led initiative to consult with the staff on details and advise the board on policy and parameters as the organization did not have the expertise on staff nor on the board. 

Simply by demonstrating the need, and putting out a call to action, we had double the number of people we hoped we would attract that were willing to help! These folks willing raised their hands and jumped in to a defined scope. They wanted to focus on tech, not overall organizational governance nor day-to-day operations. It was the right solution for that organization at that time.

While a best practice of boards is to do assessments of what their needs might be - 1. individual members of the board do a self assessment that’s designed to assess individual interest, expertise, etc., that is designed/ aligned with what the board as whole needs/ wants, and 2. also do an assessment of how the board as a whole is doing its job that informs board development and recruitment/ retention, needing a “tech governance seat” might be a stretch for many organizations.

I do strongly agree that most nonprofits would benefit from having IT/ Tech experts on a committee, task force, working group, etc. that is either a committee of the board (strategic/ policy oriented) or committee of the staff (staff-led for operational roll up the sleeves work when the staff leads) to offer expertise, guidance and advice.

The 4 things to think about to set this up for success in the article are smart, well thought-through and keep an eye on the prize, and hands out of the details.

#boarddevelopment #nonprofitboards #LeadersDo #LeadWithIntention #nonprofitexcellence #techcommunity #governance 

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