5 Powerful Questions for Nonprofit Leaders

As an executive director, I suspect you often feel like you are caught up in a virtual whirlwind. From the time you walk into the office until the time you go home at night people are tugging at your sleeve looking for “just a couple of minutes of your time”.

As a leader, it is hard not to accommodate all those requests but when you add your other duties and responsibilities on top of these you are left with no time to do perhaps the most important part of your job-being strategic and taking time to think about the direction the agency is going, the long term needs of your client base, and how well the agency is performing.

While is may seem impossible to carve out quality time to just think, it may be the most critical part of your role. Who else is going to do it if not you?

Download the 5 Powerful Questions Workbook

With that in mind, here are 5 powerful questions successful leaders must carve out time to consider.

1. Let’s fast-forward to year-end 2017 and assume it was a tremendously successful year for your agency (however you define success). Ask yourself: What did you do, or caused to happen, that made it such a success?

  • List any new initiatives or approaches you undertook resulting in this year’s impact to exceeded expectations. Describe how they contributed to overall success.
  • List any changes made to the board of directors you would describe as both significant and beneficial. How did these changes increase the board’s value to the agency?
  • Which agency department(s) significantly exceeded its’ goals? What did they do differently? How can you apply those ideas and practices elsewhere in the agency to improve performance throughout?
  • What did you do differently in your leadership style or carrying out your day-to-day responsibilities that contributed to the year’s success?
  • Did your leadership team’s performance result in greater results and impact? If so, how, and what can be done to continue raising its’ performance in the future?

2.  To improve your agency’s future impact and effectiveness, what should you stop doing immediately, start doing immediately, or protect at all costs?

  • Are each of your programs or services still delivering the same high value to clients as originally designed?
    1. When was the last time you measured each program’s effectiveness and what were the results?
    2. What qualitative and quantitative measurements do you use?
  • Which programs, initiatives, or projects require revision or major overhaul in order to deliver acceptable results once again?
  • How do you know whether your current program offerings are still exactly what your current clients need to succeed?
  • Which of your current programs or services could be dropped immediately without harming your client’s overall experiences and end results? Are all of your programs and services still mission critical?
  • Would each of your agency’s programs and services “pass” a cost vs benefit test, if conducted?

3. What are the top 2-3 problems you and your agency face today?

  • List your agency’s top 5 problems and rank them from most to least significant.
  • Which of these problems pose the most significant threat to your agency’s mission or existence?
  • List the initial steps that, in your opinion, should be taken towards resolving the most those problems threatening your agency’s mission or existence.
  • Identify which individuals (executive director, board member, staff, etc) should be assigned the responsibility of taking each of these initial steps and what should be their timeframe for taking action?
  • How will you keep the entire board and any other appropriate parties informed of developments?

4. What were your agency’s biggest disappointments last year and how can they be addressed in the new year?

  • List any disappointments you believe are critical to the agency’s growth, success, or operations?
  • Rank these critical issues in order of relative importance to future success
  • Which ones can be resolved within current budget constraints? Who can you immediately assign to each one to resolve the issue?
  • For those issues outside current budget constraints, which ones can you differ until next year and which ones will you need special funding or other accommodations to make good?
  • Whose help will you need to address the disappointments needing special funding or handling?

5. If you were suddenly faced with 3-4 unanticipated openings on your board of directors today, do you have candidates in queue to step onto the board?

  • Do you have a working list of candidates to approach and recruit onto the board?
  • What skill sets, competencies, or community connections does your board currently lack that would help in achieving your mission and strategic plan?
  • List two candidates for each open spot who may be qualified to fill each of those skill or knowledge gaps on the board
  • Which former board members are gifted with specific skills or abilities that would be most helpful to have back on the board at this time?
  • Do you have a New Board Member Orientation Program?

Why not try taking one hour per week over the next five weeks to reflect on each of these groups of questions? If you cannot close your door for an hour of quiet, then just stay home and get to your office a little later. The key is to give yourself the margin necessary to stop and reflect on who things are going. I’m sure you’ll discover new insights that you can put to d=good use immediately to better serve your clients.

Download the 5 Powerful Questions Workbook