I’m always fascinated by the heavily researched trend forecasts published each December. Rather than jump on that bandwagon, I’ve made three wishes for 2015 – a wish list of how nonprofit organizations might respond to the ongoing pressures they’ll face in the coming year.
Succession issues will only be accelerating as the nonprofit sector faces an unprecedented exodus of senior leaders – voluntary and staff – leaving the sector. Among the many facets of this challenge, recruitment seems to be the tip of the iceberg. A recent report from Robert Half, lower staff morale (39%) and lost productivity (34%) were cited as the most damaging results of a “bad hire” followed by monetary cost (25%). Although it is common to hear senior leaders worry that there are not enough qualified candidates to choose from, as often as not, the problem is looking at candidates through too narrow a lens. The next generation of leaders will have different backgrounds, training, management styles, and expectations from our current leadership. How different? Check out www.nonprofitwithballs.com for a funny and painfully accurate next generation view on nonprofit work.
Which leads to my first wish, which is that senior voluntary and staff leaders work together to bring the best and brightest into the nonprofit sector. Yes, compensation will be an issue to be addressed by many nonprofits (including pay equity, health benefits, reasonable working hours and conditions). But don’t forget the best and the brightest want to make a difference in the world and your nonprofit can be the path. Rather than looking for a cookie-cutter replacement, embrace the energy, connectivity, creativity, and diversity the next wave of leaders will bring. Make sure they have the tools and support they need (up-to-date technology and coaching are two “must haves” to entice the very best candidates) and then watch them shine.
The great recession ain’t over yet. Many nonprofits are still in recovery mode having depleted their financial reserves and human resources in order to continue to meet the needs of their clients and members. Ongoing increases in basic expenses plus the increasingly competitive funding environment mean nonprofits will have to look carefully at mergers, collaborations, and especially new approaches to revenue generation. In many sub-sectors, government initiatives to encourage collaborations have evolved into directives to merge, leaving the field, in some cases, to fight it out for top spot. But there are options other than thinking mergers are a zero sum process.
My second wish is for nonprofits to embrace the future that is no longer coming, its here, and to look seriously at many of the new tools and methods that are emerging. There are many innovative projects in the field now as nonprofit organizations have banded together to address both revenue and expense issues through alliances, collaboration, and mergers. Crowd-sourcing, community bonds, micro-financing, cause marketing, and shared fundraising platforms are all new approaches to revenue generation that were borne out of necessity and, I would argue, when smart people put their heads together. Working across sub-sectors is also rich with possibility as evidenced by the growing number of healthcare organizations partnering with arts organizations to improve patients’ outcomes or when corporations leverage their strengths to increase the capacity and impact of charities and nonprofit organizations. When nonprofits voluntarily explore options the results are often far superior as decisions can be made that strengthen, rather than weaken, core missions. I recommend Melodie Zarzeczny’s excellent post on “organizational integration” for anyone thinking along these lines.
My third wish is for imagination to inspire the nonprofit sector to find creative and innovative solutions to persistent challenges. Taking the time to let ideas percolate up, using storytelling and visuals to demonstrate the organization’s impact, and looking outside the current frame of reference at how businesses and other nonprofits are approaching similar challenges are all great ways to tap into creative responses. For those of us who sometimes get stuck in old thinking or ineffective methods, coaching, peer-learning groups, online communities, or working with a mentor can help to tap into the capacity to imagine more innovative and creative ways forward.
(Originally published for The Osborne Group’s Insights Blog )