It’s no secret we’re living in a world of increasing turmoil. Protests are climbing. Hate is rising. Lines are being drawn and redrawn every day as portions of our country band together to oppose others. Culturally and politically, we are as divided as we ever have been.

On the other side, we have those battling for unity, for acceptance, for peace. We have those willing to listen to their opposition, try to understand each other’s views and ultimately work together to find answers.

This is not the time for weak or indecisive leadership. Nervous staff, volunteers, and key partners are looking for nonprofit leadership to provide a sense of calm and steady direction to navigate through all the noise.

We need strong leadership right now! We need leaders who will take initiative. Those who can make sense of the chaos and use it to guide followers down a path of understanding, reinvigoration and progress.

Leaders need to step out in front and show the way forward for their agencies. They need to draw upon their moral courage to make the tough decisions called for in this challenging environment. In other words, to lead well even when the heat is on. 

Culturally, the country is divided:

  • Left/right
  • North/South
  • Faith-based/secular
  • Federal power/state power

Additionally, it seems truth is no longer an absolute, but something that can differ from person to person, classroom to classroom or news channel to news channel.  Fewer people are actually listening to the “other side” and instead are solely reinforcing their own version of the truth. We need openminded leaders with the ability to bring people together and tap into the greatest source of truth we have: each other.

This is not your father’s nonprofit sector:

    • Demands from outside parties and donors for transparency are at all time highs
    • Your same old development plans seem stale and underperforming
    • The annual gala seems passé and is shrinking
    • Donors are seeking much more information and accountability
    • Donors are conflicted about what cause(s) to support:
      • Veteran causes
      • Social services for the poor
      • The environment
      • Animal rescue/abuse
      • National disaster relief
    • Many nonprofit agencies are either closing down, merging or significantly shrinking due to ever tightening budgets
    • The is a great deal of social media engagement, but it may be suffocating rather than providing better communication
    • There are new nonprofit agencies opening up almost daily who compete for the same limited number of directors, dollars, attention, staff/vol’s, and marketing attention.
    • It is hard to get out a clear message to attract new followers with so much going on in the world.
    • There is a greater number of nonprofits (both old and new) today telling their story, seeking connections, and contacting as many people as possible to ensure they do not get lost in the social media noise.
    • Some board members up for re-election need to be counseled about their unsatisfactory job performance. Others, who have done a poor job should not be invited back

Yet, at the same time this is a period of great opportunity:

    • We have millennials armed with technology and social media, with the ability to share their message with thousands at the touch of a button. If you can find a way to connect with them, you can also connect with their network of peers on social media.
    • Old ways of success may no longer work well, giving you the opportunity to create new ways to succeed. You don’t have to follow the old rules or do things the way the other guys did it.
    • There is plenty of room for smarter, more nimble, creative nonprofits to thrive since old rules and constrictions no longer apply.
    • Technology levels the playing field for everyone. Being big, or the most established nonprofit in your community is no longer a protection from new competition, nor is it a requirement to thrive. You don’t have to be big and established to look big and established.
    • How do you crack the code of engaging millennials? The answer is yet to be found, leaving a “blue ocean” for you to experiment.
    • Technology allows for greater mobility and flexibility
    • Today’s new leaders think in drastically new ways. Look at Amazon, Lyft, Uber. So many gifted people with a great deal to offer nonprofits are available, just sitting at home and looking for a cause beyond themselves to help.

Notwithstanding this turmoil, there is much work to be done and little time to waste:

    • The homeless still need shelter
    • The hungry still need food
    • The aged still need assistance
    • Teen moms still need mentoring
    • Unemployed still need training in new skills
    • Those living in extreme poverty still need help to survive 
    • Believers still have their calling to fulfill
    • Victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma need immediate and long term help

Strong leaders and strong boards can still live out their mission and make a huge difference, even in light of this turbulence. Here is what it will take to succeed in today’s environment.

  • Leaders must be freed from old thinking to make the necessary changes so the agency can effectively carry out its’ calling.
  • Leaders and boards must be absolutely clear on their mission, and stay focused on it. When necessary, provide clear and actionable explanations to anyone who may be confused.
  • Leaders and boards must ensure they have a clear implementation plan so everyone knows their role in achieving your strategy and improving nonprofit leadership.
  • Leaders must hold everyone accountable to carry out their commitments and responsibilities.
  • Leaders must provide frequent and consistent communication – internally and externally.
  • Leaders and boards must demonstrate strong moral courage to make tough calls, speak truth to others, and review the viability of struggling programs even in the face of opposition.
  • Directors must remember their fiduciary role and governance responsibilities regardless of turmoil.
  • Directors must be crystal clear in understanding the expectations placed on them and their unique roles.
  • Leaders must be ready to change how they lead to match the challenges presented by today’s operational environment.
  • Volunteers, donors, and key partners need to see that the agency leader and board are:
    • Confident in their abilities
    • Informed
    • Committed
    • Up to the challenges of today
    • Being coached, mentored, or part of a mastermind group to stay sharp and to think outside of the box
    • Are able to retain key staff and volunteers
    • Are able to complete for and retain the very best directors
    • Are  not locked in to old ways but are willing to try new techniques and approaches to confront new challenges
    • Are in control yet demonstrating an appropriate level of healthy discomfort to keep everyone on their toes
    • Are up to date on the status of key on top of all the key things going on

You are leading in a period of enormous change and even greater potential change. This chapter of great adjustment will continue into 2018 and probably occur even faster than before. I believe periods of great change demand strong and innovative leaders. Leaders that will change the world. Leaders that will drive forward their causes, despite challenges. Leaders who are smart, flexible, and driven by passion.

What do you need to up your game so your agency can succeed? Better leadership skills, a stronger board, a mix of different skill sets, better training and a new strategic plan. Now you must decide: What will it take to propel your organization forward and what are you willing to do to acquire that?


Learn how your unique qualities can benefit your organization in times of turmoil