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Leadership In the New Landscape
By Sarah Lange
In the past year, I've been hearing the phrase "the New Normal" more and more. There are several things I've noticed:
I believe it's time to change the conversation and the paradigm. Despite challenging economic conditions, there are numerous things that non-profit leaders can do to create a better version of the "New Normal" than the one that's being offered up and to thrive in this new landscape.
- The people who seem to use this phrase most are legislators or other people in positions of power and influence over how funds are allocated to non-profits.
- The underlying message is: "do more with less."
- The people telling non-profits to "do more with less" usually aren't working to change the conditions that have created this "New Normal."
- Many non-profit leaders have resigned themselves to this new paradigm, and to the idea that now we must do even more for even less.
Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or can't, you're right." Ford was talking about a different kind of Manifest Destiny, one that is manufactured directly by our own thoughts, beliefs and actions. Scarcity thinking is rooted in the belief that there is not enough ____ (fill in the blank) to go around. If one believes there won't be enough, then it is certain this will be the case. But how might things change if we were to believe that there is enough to go around?
Despite challenging economic circumstances, some non-profits have acted with reckless hope. They have demonstrated resiliency and creativity by providing expanded services through innovative partnerships, hiring new staff and increasing salaries, finding ways to cut costs and reduce waste, and engaging key supporters in helping them meet these goals. How are they doing this? It’s simple: they have eliminated limiting beliefs (notice I used the word “simple,” not "easy")! Limiting beliefs emanate from scarcity thinking and act as a barrier to creativity, abundance and success. Many organizations are limited by one or more of these deeply held, limiting beliefs:
- Our organization must stay in business
- Our organization cannot be profitable
- Our organization must rely solely on subsidies (private, corporate, government grants, donations, etc.)
- Growth will only make things harder
- We must focus on expenses, not results
- We must do more for less
- We cannot raise the capital we need to meet our needs
Thriving non-profits understand that “non-profit” is a tax status, not a business model. The leaders in these organizations can often be heard openly discussing the organization's need for program expansion, physical improvements, working capital, concerns about cash flow and the need to create and maintain operating reserves. They continually work to identify and eliminate attitudes, beliefs, business practices, policies and institutional models that thwart creativity and stymie adaptability.
These leaders understand that our “buyers” provide revenue and seek to pay for what the organization is already delivering through fees, foundation, corporate and individual gifts, contracts, interest and investment income, sponsorships, events, etc. These are reliable, repeatable sources of income. Many of these organizations are also developing ways to generate Enterprise Earnings (ex: Girl Scout cookies, museum gift shops, etc.). When it comes to capital improvements, these organizations look to "builders" -- capital and challenge grants, increased individual contributions, earned income, and Enterprise Earnings. They achieve their goals because they continually educate their stakeholders and the general public about the importance of their mission and the impact they are having through a rigorous communications program that is branded and centered on message marketing.
Many non-profits are being suffocated by one or more of the following: real estate holdings, debt, poor (or no) investment strategy and performance, and an antiquated organizational structure, board and staffing pattern. It's time to create more flexible business models, to reconsider organizational structure and function (think function vs. job, and consider how teams might accomplish tasks instead of individuals). Time to staff and scale for intended impact, not the other way around. To consider charging a fee for services provided. To initiate a rebranding initiative and engage in message marketing, to step out into the marketplace in a whole new way. To connect with stakeholders at a meaningful level, enlist strategic partners in the agency's goals and work, create strange and unusual partnerships and make sure that work, mission and vision align.
"A goal without a plan is just a wish." It's imperative to have a plan and to know what "arrival" looks like. In order to achieve their goals, non-profits need to have a financial road map that matches strategy, track progress along the way, acknowledge mistakes and act to correct their course, and project their budget over time. Leaders in growing organizations understand that change takes time -- don't force it!
In order to thrive, non-profits must adopt an enterprising attitude. An organization's leaders need to identify the financial needs and realities of the agency and pursue reliable revenue to fulfill both regular program expectations and to fund innovation and capital improvements. They must consider new business models, and engage everyone – funders, staff, board, donors, etc. – in the change strategy. Finally, they must focus on outcomes and results and broadcast them to all stakeholders.
Rather than accepting the "New Normal" of doing even more with even less, let's create our own version of the "New Normal" in which non-profits garner the resources they need to fulfill their missions. Non-profits are an imperative part of our economy and transform people's lives on a daily basis. With so much at stake, why let others limit our possibilities?
Counsel to more than 150 organizations and their leaders, Sarah Lange is the Principal & Founder of New Era for Non-profits, a consulting firm focused on helping non-profits integrate best practices into their daily operations. Sarah has spent more than two decades in the field of non-profit management and is well known and respected for her depth and breadth of expertise in all aspects of fund development, organizational change, leadership and board development, strategic planning, needs assessments and evaluation. http://newera4nonprofits.com/
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