A New Year, New Leadership, a New Nonprofit Landscape…

Change is in the air, no doubt about it. Many nonprofit leaders and boards are concerned right now as they try to figure out what their new operating environment will look like next year and beyond. 

After eight years, we have a new administration with new ideas and priorities coming to Washington, DC and with that many nonprofit leaders have questions…

  • Will there be changes to certain government programs?
  • Will government grants continue to be available?
  • Will donors continue to support nonprofits when tax rates decrease?
  • Could there will be yet another spike in new client growth at their agencies, especially social service agencies?
  • Will their boards have the ability to pivot and face up to the new challenges right around the corner?
  • Will their volunteers stay, and and how will they find additional and even better volunteers to serve anticipated increased loads?
  • Do they personally have what it takes to face — and overcome — the new surprises and change?

What might our new landscape look like in 2017 and beyond? How different will 2017 look from the past? Here are a few suggestions to consider as you assess your priorities going forward:

  • Every agency will be very active sharing its message and trying to garner new donors.
  • Expect a busy and cluttered social media environment and work to develop creative messages that will resonate with your audience.
  • High value directors will be worth their weight in gold. Those directors who are highly respected, well known, and who are part of a valuable network will be in great demand.
  • Be sure your board is full of the very best members you can find and keep in close touch with your all of your directors, but especially your top ones, because they may start receiving overtures to join other agencies.
  • Same goes for your development staff.
  • Be sure to continue re-recruiting your development director since the good ones are always being eyed by others to augment their own staff.
  • Many agencies will be chasing fewer grant and foundation dollars.
  • Be sure you have the best grant writing talent available on your side and then double check the due dates so you don’t miss any opportunities to apply.
  • In an effort to serve larger numbers of clients better, while holding down costs, you may want to consider partnering with other agencies. It could be a merger, a joint venture or merely a closer working relationship to spread overhead across broader base or to easy collaboration. Do not discard those overtures out of hand. There may be value to all sides by sharing the load until you feel you understand the new landscape.

Because of all this change and uncertainty, your staff and volunteers may harbor a lot of unspoken concerns about the future, maybe even their jobs. As the leader, you need to get ahead of this before these negative thoughts set in and stifles your agency’s performance and demeanor.

If your agency’s values include “Truth”, ‘Transparency”, “Honesty”, etc. you have an obligation to speak with everyone and let them know you what you intend to do to keep your operations running smoothly. You need your teams to continue delivering services to your clients, even as you work to better understand what the future holds.

Worry and uncertainly are a hard and unavoidable part of life. To accomplish your mission you’ll need to accept change, help your staff accept it, determine how to accommodate it, and look for the opportunities that change presents.

Becoming frozen in place or yearning for the past only does a disservice to your clients, staff,  board, and donors. As leaders, everyone is looking to you, to be the example.

They need you…

  • To provide a sense of calm, certainly and confidence in their ability to cope.
  • To find the new paths chart a positive future.
  • To assure them everything will be OK.
  • To prepare them and lead them successfully into a new, undetermined future.

How do you do this?

What can you do to maintain and display a sense of calm and confidence as you think through how change may impact your agency? After all, you are expected to continue leading and avoidance is not an option.

Here are some things to try. I used several of these myself when I led a for-profit organization through tremendous organization change, and then later when it was acquired by another entity.

  1. Remain calm. Everyone will be watching you and taking their cues from your demeanor
  2. Always be honest with everyone and never engage in wishful, unsubstantiated, empty hopefulness or chatter.
  3. Walk around a lot. Take time at least once per day to walk through your building or offices and engage with as many people as you can. Find out what is on their mind and what the latest rumor mill is spinning.
  4. Share facts with staff as soon as you can. In the absence of information people will make up things based on what they see and hear so try to stay ahead of them.
  5. Hold unstructured Q&A sessions with your staff and volunteers so they can get things off of their chest. You are not expected to have all the answers (well, yes you’re a leader so, actually, you are) but they will understand, at least in the short term if you simply don’t know an answer.
  6. Promise to get answers back to them for questions or concerns you are unable to address at that time. Then, get back to them as soon as possible.
  7. Once you feel you understand how to manage through the changes, be sure to share it with your team to everyone can “buy-in” and help you implement it. You’ll need everyone to get behind it to make it work.
  8. Begin thinking worse case scenarios. How will you change your operations if things do change for the worse?

          • Can you quickly cultivate alternative revenue sources?
          • Should you merge with a complementary agency?
          • Should you eliminate one or more programs?
          • Can you acquire other similar agencies to leverage size?
          • Can you bring your board and/or Advisory Council together for a brainstorming session?
          • Are all of your programs directly aligned with your mission and vision or have you allowed mission creep to dilute and weaken your efforts?
  9. Stay in close contact and discussion with your board or its executive committee. They need to know exactly what is going on and can be a valuable source of insight, thoughtful reflection, and support for you.
  10. You may need to reach out to your nest supporters and key strategic partners to let them know what is going on. Better to hear from you rather than “the street”.

Now is not the time to sit behind your desk and wait for things to settle down. You are the face of the organization and you have to be out front with donors, staff, clients, and strategic partners.

Simon Sinek says leadership is about making people feel safe by cultivating a culture of trust. If everyone trusts you and believes you’re in control of the situation, they will perform well for you — even during turbulent times.

Will your agency survive 2017? The Break Through assessment can help give you insight into the stability of your nonprofit. I invite you to spend a few moments and learn about the health of your organization.