As a second wave of COVID infections race across the U.S., nonprofit and foundation leaders face a daunting future. How will you succeed in 2021? The COVID19 pandemic has affected all sectors of society. While most businesses have suffered setbacks and have tried to pivot toward new profitability areas, nonprofits and foundations face particular leadership and management challenges as they strive to continue their organizations’ missions. Nonprofit revenues have fallen by as much as 75 percent, and most organizations cannot provide services in the manner they are used to providing. 

I interviewed seven senior leaders–presidents, vice presidents, executive directors, and senior board members of well-known nonprofits and foundations to learn about the challenges they face. I opted to offer them non-attribution so I could garner their full participation. The leaders were diverse, both female and male, from different geographic regions and backgrounds. I asked each of them about their current thinking on the following: nonprofit leaders’ most important focus areas and tasks; general challenges for a nonprofit or foundation; the importance of organizational culture; the importance of a winning strategy; and what action steps they think leaders should take in the aftermath of the COVID19 pandemic. As a group, they were eager to offer their thoughts and very candid in their responses.

Nonprofit leaders’ most important focus areas and tasks in the current era

People first! The COVID pandemic has upended the lives of our workers. Normally, the focus of a nonprofit or foundation is adherence to the mission. But the majority of leaders I spoke to are concerned about their workers’ mental and physical wellbeing. It is time to keep close tabs on their moods and challenges they and their families face or risk burnout, and low employee engagement and retention. 

That said, more than ever, a nonprofit or foundation must have a clearly articulated mission, vision, and strategy.  Leaders are concerned that a newly distributed or virtual workforce can easily veer from the organization’s priorities, contributing to mission or scope “creep,” which dilutes impact and wastes scarce resources on unimportant work. A way to combat this “creep” is to focus on the “why” of the organization’s mission to maintain focus in a distributed workforce.

Although not their top priority, the leaders I spoke with are adamant that they must continue to focus on sustainable funding and programmatics. A sound business model can weather short to medium term “black swan” events. Also, nonprofit and foundation leaders must involve their board members in the fundraising and revenue planning and require transparency in the metrics.

Current leadership challenges for a nonprofit or foundation

A huge concern of the leaders I spoke with is retention. The cost of hiring and training talented staff is approximately twice the expected annual salary of each worker lost to attrition. So training and retaining a multi-talented workforce, especially during the pandemic, is a critical challenge. I say multi-talented because several leaders were passionate about cross-training their workforce to ensure the loss of any one employee does not hamper operations. Position descriptions must include tasks normally performed by others.

Three leaders’ top concern was their own “leader isolation” from their team, exacerbated by COVID lockdowns and reliance on virtual meetings. They feel that they are losing the ability to sense where the organization is and where it is going. 

The third most common leadership challenge I heard was dealing with the current crisis while keeping an eye on and aligning with the organization’s long-term strategy. Several leaders find themselves in “fire-fighting” mode, focused on the challenges brought on by the pandemic while knowing that they need to spend more time on growing their revenues or modifying their strategy or mission. It has been a juggling act between short-term pivots and long-term action plans.

The importance of a positive organizational culture

All of the leaders I interviewed place a high priority on cultivating a positive workplace culture, especially during these difficult times.   Culture is an outgrowth of the organization’s values and indicates the degree that its leadership and workforce buy into those values. That includes the board.  One leader noted that toxic internal culture could permeate the board. 

Cultural change is challenging and can take significant effort, especially among a distributed workforce. Leaders say you achieve culture change in the long term by continuously communicating and living the organization’s values in all media publications, in meetings, and in staff check-ins. 

Some leaders said it is important to communicate the shorter term “wins” to staff, especially in a virtual workplace. All agreed that frequent staff check-ins are key to gauging staff welfare. At the same time, a few commented that part of their organizations’ culture-building plan is to allow staff work hours flexibility since working at home can create family conflicts that can affect their productivity.

A winning strategy is key

Six of the seven leaders said that their organization has a written strategy and that it is a must-do, as it creates alignment and guides their annual action plans. Two leaders noted that it’s best to keep the strategy short, simple, and easy to communicate. Most agreed that the strategy should look out no longer than three to five years, and it must be flexible to changing conditions to remain relevant during upheavals like the COVID pandemic. 

The leaders unanimously stated that nonprofit strategies are important for the board, who are not in constant contact with the organization. Hence, the board must be part of the strategy writing process and help shape it. Once the strategy is final, the board must support and promote it.

Finally, several leaders noted that adhering to a winning strategy helps prevent nonprofits and foundations from mission or scope creep and the possible resulting staff confusion or burnout in the event of massive disruptions like COVID.

Action steps to take in the aftermath of the COVID19 pandemic

Five of the nonprofit and foundation leaders I interviewed offered some great action steps to move your organization forward during an upheaval like COVID:

·      Nonprofit leaders must recognize both immediate and emerging community needs and realize that while providing material needs first, the effort must also identify emerging social requirements. An example: While providing food, shelter, and medical assistance to the jobless population, a successful nonprofit leader also partners with the local business community to find identify emerging local workforce shortages in the IT sector, and then creates IT training programs that benefit both the jobless and the local economy.

·      Nonprofits must prove their relevance and be responsible to their stakeholders. A leadership training program for executive directors, senior staff, and the board of directors can help improve alignment to strategy and immediate priorities and build trust to improve return on investment in the current environment. Also, make sure to place staff in positions that maximize their talent and interests to improve productivity and guard against a toxic workplace culture or worker burnout.

·      Nonprofit leaders must have the ability to pivot to their community’s needs. The key is trained staff who can recognize shifting requirements or priorities and make bold decisions. And be agile and ready to continuously pivot as needs are met and new conditions arise.

·      Nonprofit leaders, including boards, should conduct a look-back, or “hot wash” of their organization’s reaction to the onset of the COVID pandemic, and create an after-action report to recommend changes required to their strategy; realign their mission/vision/goals/priorities; create a staff training program to deal with “black swan” events, and most importantly, decide if a fundamental change in mission is needed, or even a merger with another organization. 

·      Find the wins. Embrace innovation to continue your mission with new IT tools. An unexpected outgrowth of the virtual workplace is recognizing that it levels the playing field between headquarters staff and field workers. Virtual meetings provide opportunities for inclusion as each staff member is a distinct “square” on the screen rather than sitting behind the leaders in a conference room. Headquarters junior staff and staff in the field are speaking up and having their voices heard for the first time. Also, one organization broke its annual plan into three 4-month sprints to maximize its flexibility to pivot as conditions change. 

I would offer the following two action steps nonprofit leaders can take now to create momentum going into 2021:

·      Individual weekly check-ins with your leadership and middle management teams are a great way to communicate your organization’s values. Don’t forget to ask each team member what you can do to help them overcome the challenges of working remotely. Here is a link to a free worksheet that will guide you through the check-ins: https://strategicleadersacademy.com/check-in

·      Leading with authenticity begins with knowing your WHO — your leader-persona. Leaders tend to be one of four broad leader-archetypes. Some people lead like Steve Jobs. Others like Oprah Winfrey, Queen Elizabeth II, or Abraham Lincoln. Authenticity is about understanding and owning your WHO — being yourself as a leader. Once you know your WHO, you can be very intentional about becoming the best version of yourself. Once you know the WHOs of your team, you can help them become the best versions of themselves. Imagine the increase in productivity, engagement, and morale when everyone brings the best version of themselves to work every day. Take our assessment to find out if you are a Maverick, Pioneer, Operator, or Reconciler. Share it with your team and compare results. Do you have key leaders among all 4 types? Check out our free quiz: https://strategicleadersacademy.com/TLleaderquiz 

The events of 2020 have certainly brought a lot of upheaval to the nonprofit industry. But with the right mindset, leaders can set up their organizations to thrive in 2021. While focusing on mission is important, nonprofit leaders should also be evaluating organizational changes that result in increased resilience in their teams. If the events of 2020 tell us anything, it is that our people are and should be our priority. 

Now is a great time to renew your focus on your nonprofit or foundation’s mission, values, culture, and strategy. If you’d like to schedule a call, we can discuss your top three goals for 2021, the top three obstacles that are preventing you from obtaining those goals, and some action steps you can take now, all for free. I can be reached at [email protected]

Decide’s Latin origin means to kill off or to sever.

To make a decision thus means to kill off the alternatives.

Common decision-making errors result in you killing off the better alternatives – they are short cuts to expensive failure

Here are two doozies.

Confirmation bias happens when leaders place excessive weight on data that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and discounts contrary information.

We are living this problem right now. 

People on one side of the political spectrum highlight worst-case data on COVID-19. Their opponents emphasize opposite data. 

So many “expert” assessments and statements by political leaders are tainted by confirmation bias that ordinary people like you and me lose faith in their credibility.

It’s not just a political problem.

I fell into the confirmation bias trap myself. 

I wanted to take people on leadership trips to Normandy battlefields. I know the impact these experiences have on leaders and teams, and I’m very good at delivering them.

I wanted to do a lot of good for a lot of people, so I was eager to get going.

I believed that a good social media campaign could lead to mass interest.

A digital marketing agency I hired felt the same and suggested that Facebook ads would be a winner. They had had success with Facebook ads before, with a life-coach. They believed that they could replicate the outcomes. 

We made a series of (really cool) videos, created a complicated sales funnel, and crafted the ads carefully. 

We launched the ads. The videos were really popular and we saw superb engagement rates.

No prospects. 

We needed to create enough volume, we told ourselves, and the ads would pay off. Even if only .1 percent were interested, one million views should lead to 1000 prospects. 

We spent more.

We got nearly 2 million views and 300k “likes.” 

No prospects. No buyers.

I finally shut off the ads.

It turns out that we had tapped into an audience that loved military history, but they were not leaders or buyers.

Most entrepreneurs and leaders go to Facebook to keep up with friends and family, not for business advice.

That was an expensive lesson. 

******

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

*******

Status quo bias, on the other hand, increases resistance to change, even if your situation sucks and your plan is failing.

Leaders perceive that the status quo is safe. After all, the executive team signed up for the approach at one time.  

Board members or executives poke holes in alternatives, shoot-down proposals, and emphasize the risks of change.

Some resist change for fear of being “wrong” in adopting the current plan. 

Others do not have an apples-to-apples comparison of risk, so they place more confidence in managing the challenges of the failing plan they know than in a proposed alternative that they don’t. 

Solo-entrepreneurs and small business leaders with status quo bias make a decision one day and then talk themselves out of moving forward the next morning. 

You get trapped in the hamster wheel.

Here are two action steps to deal with these problems.

First, assess your assumptions. 

Ask “what must be true” for the plan to work. Those are your assumptions. 

Do a sanity check on the validity of the assumptions.

Do the same with alternate plans. 

This approach gives you an apples-to-apples comparison of the risks and opportunities.

It also helps you check your confirmation bias.

Second, use premortems.

A premortem is a story or two about how the plan failed so that you can identify the indicators and warnings. 

Make those indicators and warnings part of your risk assessment.

When the indicators and warnings light up in the wrong direction, you know it’s time to make a change.

Red-teams or designated critics can be helpful, too, but I prefer the pre-mortems. 

Leaders may rationalize away the former because they are supposed to point out problems. 

They go with the plan anyway and lose the benefit of the premortem’s indicators and warnings.

The premortem is something the decision-makers own, so they are more likely to take them seriously.

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

Yes, it’s free and takes only ten seconds to sign-up. There are no sales, no gimmicks, just value for you.

Sign up now while this article is in front of you. You are one decision away from making even better decisions :0)

Get the peace of mind that you have decided to work ON your business

What is your top takeaway from this article? 

P.S. Do you want to nail your next 100 days? Of course, you do. Here’s the free training that will help you do exactly that. It’s perfect for solo-entrepreneurs, consultants, and micro-business owners.

You are one decision away from nailing your next 100 days.

Avoid being Scapegoated

Want to avoid being scapegoated for the next breach?
You need Total Trust alongside Zero Trust

You are a new CISO in the financial services industry. You are excited about the job but anxious due to the scale of the cyber threat from a range of actors: lone-wolf hackers, organized crime syndicates, governments and their proxies, and insiders. As you think through your game plan for addressing these threats, what’s your most important first step?

A. Get the latest technology and management tools.
B. Develop new, mandatory, IT security training for the company or client.
C. Bring in consultants to advise you on the latest threats.
D. Tighten protocols and increase penetration stress tests.
E. None of the above

Unless you picked E you will end up as just another victim. Your company will be
inadequately prepared to prevent a breach. Your team’s flat-footed response after the breach
will result in major losses to the business. You will be the scapegoat.

When your back is against the wall and you have to prepare your team to deal with new and
unprecedented threats, this is what you should do. It’s the opposite of what every guru is
preaching.

Your first step: Build Trust. Up and Out; Down and In

Zero Trust is an important technology and cyber security precaution. No one should be
granted total access to information.

A zero-trust approach to workplace relationships, however, is disastrous. When dealing with
your people and teams and those you support, you need to earn Total Trust.

You were hired because you seemed to be the best qualified person for the job, but that does
not mean you are trusted by your CEO, peers or team.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, notes a Harvard Business Review study, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

Lack of total trust sets you up for failure:
 You will not make much headway on getting cyber security imbedded in the culture;
 You will not be invited to board meetings to discuss cyber security;
 You will have little interaction with the CEO;
 Your C-suite colleagues will try to poach your budget and client;
 You will be seen as an impediment to growth; a distraction from business;
 You will have high rates of employee burnout and turnover;
 Your team’s vigilance and responsiveness to threats will be unequal to the task.

Fortunately, you do not have to share in this fate.

When building trust, think 1) Up and Out and 2) Down and In.

Up and Out: It is tempting, particularly for leaders of highly technical teams whose missions
are poorly understood across the company, to start building relationships from your silo –
your comfort zone and point of view. This common approach is the fast track to poor
communication and mistrust.

To build a trusting relationship with your boss and your peers, you have to meet them at their
bus stop. That is, you must see things from their point of view, talk their language, and
understand their interests and concerns. They won’t trust you fully unless they know you “get
it.”

How do you know that you are on the right track?
 You can “see yourself” and the business from their point of view.
 You discern how they view you and your team.
 You recognize their perceptions about how you affect their performance and the company overall.
 You understand the company’s vision, mission, goals and values and how you contribute to success.

Question: Can you explain all the above so clearly that it makes sense to a 5-year-old? If not,
you do not know it well enough.

Down and In. Build trust with your team. Trust is earned. It is not given because of your
position.

Being trustworthy means being worthy of trust. This is most powerfully expressed in your
competence and your character. Your team needs to believe that you can do the job, that your
word is good, that you will treat each employee with respect, and that you will be a good
steward of your people, teams and organization.

How do you know that you are on the right track?
 You set clear performance and behavior expectations;
 You meet those expectations yourself;
 You hold everyone equally accountable – no favorites;
 People bring you bad news immediately without sugar coating;
 Employees provide you with candid feedback without fear of backlash;
 Your employees understand their mission clearly and how it relates to the mission and goals of the company.

Question: What have you done today to show your team that you are worthy of their trust and
respect?

When you have total trust, your CEO and board want to hear what you have to say, your
colleagues will see you are a partner, and your team will have higher rates of engagement and
lower risk of burnout and turnover. Your company’s cyber security will be far stronger, too.

Christopher Kolenda, PhD, founder of the Strategic Leaders Academy, helps CISOs and
Cyber Security leaders elevate the performance of their teams, slash disengagement and
burnout, and boost the quality of their strategies and plans.

When you are ready, here are four great ways to work together

Speaking: Do you want a professional keynote speaker to talk with your team on leadership, culture, and strategy? I’ve talked to business, NFL, academic, government, nonprofit, and military audiences. I always tailor the presentation to you, so the message inspires action for you and your team. I’m a professional member of the National Speakers Association, which means I have a proven track record of professionalism and performance.

Training: If you want an even higher impact for your team, training and workshops are a great way to go. I teach teams and organizations on a range of Leadership, Culture, and Strategy themes, to include: how to elevate your team’s performance, how to build a culture of excellence, how to slash employee burnout and turnover, how to develop a winning strategy and how to prevent expensive mistakes. Programs for you range from half-day primers to three-day intensives, to include offsite at places like Normandy and Gettysburg.

Self-Directed Courses: Do you want your team to stay engaged on these key themes but do not want to send them away to an executive education course? We have a suite of online programs that are perfect for you. The courses are excellent ways to follow-up a training event to keep your team learning at your own pace.

Consulting: Do you want to improve your leadership development programs, build a culture of excellence, and create a winning strategy? Unlike the big, gucci, consulting firms that are slow, bureaucratic, and stick you with junior MBAs, I work personally with you and your team, so you get results quickly and cost-effectively with no hassle.

What results can you expect? Check out these video testimonials.
Reach out to me anytime you are curious about working together.

Are Expert Board Members Killing Your Nonprofit?

Expert Board Members could be Killing your Nonprofit

So, you or someone you know are starting a nonprofit or looking to bring new members to your existing board of directors.

Seeking subject matter experts seems to be the right way to go. After all, shouldn’t any nonprofit want the top academics, advocates, and expats from the areas you serve to guide the organization?

But here’s a surprise.  Often, the answer is no.

Certainly, many expert board members take their governance responsibilities seriously. But others, with the best of intentions, carry their own agendas and pet projects into the nonprofit. This can result in significant conflicts of interest, decision-making paralysis, wasted resources, and bickering and back-biting. These problems undermine the integrity of the board and the impact the nonprofit seeks to make.

The purpose of a board of directors is to govern the nonprofit.

Governance responsibilities fall into three categories: Strategy, Oversight, and Policy. Strategy determines how the nonprofit aims to pursue its mission and vision with the greatest possible impact. Oversight deals with stewardship of donor dollars, transparency in spending, and adherence to acceptable accounting practices. Policy addresses matters such as by-laws, hiring and evaluating the executive director, and selecting and maintaining a competent board that governs according to sound rules.

Unfortunately, being a subject matter expert, academic, advocate, or expat does not necessarily help board members fulfill their primary responsibilities. Superb thought leaders or people with important lived experiences who have little to no training or experience with governance can damage your organization, usually inadvertently, by drowning meetings in esoteric debate and scrimmaging to fund pet projects.

These problems create internal revenue bleeding. Decision-making paralysis forces the organization to tread water. Shifting priorities lurch the efforts of your team from one initiative to another. This burns the time and energy of your team. You cannot create and sustain momentum or generate the kind of productivity that comes from consistency. Your employees get frustrated, which lowers their levels of engagement. You spend endless hours dealing with drama, interpersonal disputes, and sometimes even subterfuge, rather than growing the organization. Many nonprofits detect the damage too late and never recover.

To add to the problem, experts may be less likely to donate to your nonprofit. Many rationalize that their academic work and volunteer support for the board is sufficient skin-in-the-game. This is an understandable sentiment, but it could hurt your organization. Nonprofit watchdogs and grant-makers want to know if each member of your board is a donor. When board members do not donate, watchdogs and grant-makers perceive that significant internal problems must exist.

What to do

  1. Hire board members with governance experience who agree to donate to the organization. The amount of the donation does not matter.
    Create a board of advisers for subject matter experts. They can give you the benefits of their research and experience and not be put in a position to damage your organization.
  2. Develop conflict of interest policies that prevent board members from participating in discussions in which they have a vested personal, financial or professional interest.
  3. Conduct governance training as a part of your board development process.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau famously remarked that war is too important to be left to the generals. Like generals, subject matter experts can be helpful to your nonprofit with their research, experiences, and professional backgrounds. Exercise great caution before letting them run the show.