Sunday, November 23, 2008

Questions from a Millennial

Why is change so hard? Why do we constantly disagree about what is the best operating methods for nonprofits? Why are we complaining about how organizations are turning to new forms of earned income and new ways of operating to survive?

Some may think I’m naive and young for asking these trivial questions. I know my mentor and advisor thinks I’m too Kumbaya because I want everyone work together. I know one thing is for sure we cannot continue to focus on our individual interests and organizations without ignoring the system around us. Whether people want to admit it or not the system does affect our organizations, just like a disgruntled employee affects our organizations. And naive or not, I believe we can come together as a nonprofit sector to create social change. We need to focus on the individual, organization, and sector.

Nonprofits are creative, they are trying to find way to sustain themselves and survive. So why are we surprised these new forms of organizations are popping up? Donor and public expectations and perceptions have put too much strain on nonprofits. The systems thinking approach says if you push the system it will push back. The nonprofit sector is pushing back.

I’m really active in the Nonprofit Sector Workforce coalition, a coalition of over 75 national organization with the mission to "(a) connect talented, skilled, and diverse young people to nonprofit sector careers, and (b) help nonprofit organizations recruit, retain, and cultivate the diverse leadership they will need in the decades ahead." Right now we are working on a campaign to promote Nonprofit Sector Careers. I’m also involved with the Nonprofit Congress an initiative of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations that has the mission to bring about change in the nonprofit sector. I’m also part of the Next Generation Leadership Forum that is collecting all the nonprofit leadership research and resources in an effort to address the leadership gap in the sector. These three groups are taking a big picture approach to social change in the sector. We are addressing the challenging issues within the sector, like increasing diversity in the sector, recruiting and retain new people to work in the sector, raise public awareness of the sector and so much more.

But we are having trouble--were having trouble keeping the momentum going, keeping people’s commitment level up when they all have their own day to day jobs and organizations to focus on. Evaluations of these programs show these are important issues but we struggle with how to get our message across in a clear and concise manner. We know what the research says, we know people are crying out for change and more professionalization of the sector, but its easier to have the same conversations that to actually do the change. What if we all worked a little harder to think of the big picture? What would the nonprofit sector really look like if we could truly balance our individual and organizational interests with the interests of the nonprofit sector and truly be “nonprofit citizens”?

1 comment:

JC said...

Hello Heather. I for one do not believe you are kumbaya for asking why it is we cannot work together. It is a question that could be applied to all sectors, not just the non profit sector.

I believe the ability to work together collaboratively will be the saving of many non profits or it will be the creator of future non profits that rise up to replace those that exist today and appear unable and unwilling to fully utilise the talent that exists within their organisation.

World wide there are three key issues being faced by non profits (1)generational change (including generational leadership change), (2) labour shortages and (3) how to generate sufficient revenue to enable service delivery where it is really needed.

Each of these three issues represents a paradigm change for many non profits. Such change requires us to implement practices that are different to those we have used in the past.

Change of this nature requires far-sighted leadership. Not charismatic leadership instead leadership able to draw diverse groups of stakeholders around a common cause. This will require leaders with an understanding of the benefits of collaboration and the ability to form productive relationships with multiple stakeholders, both internal and external.

To me this is where the term 'mission driven' becomes interesting. I believe many present non profits have a narrow mission focus. They are often focused only on the consumer or participant. This can create an imbalance and a misguided perspective on future sustainability.

The challenge is to have a balanced mission focus, whereby the interests of staff, consumers, stakeholders and the overall organisation are considered in their planning and in their strategy.

When a non profit has a narrow focus on only a single constituency they run the risk that all those other constituents are considered peripheral. The reality is it takes all the constitute parts of a non profit to be in balance to achieve an outcome that really matters.

How does this process start? To begin with, recognise the inherent talent within your organisation, amongst consumers, staff, volunteers and associated organisations. Involve them in the planning processes. Seek their vision and let it become the organisations vision and move forward from there.

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