Non-profit organizations turn, turn, turn . . .


Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, I am focusing on a post that John wrote that was inspired by a baby crib mobile. He uses the mobile as an analogy for organizational change and equilibrium. Throughout his post he references both major and minor changes in the corporate landscape and talks about how those cultures balance and re-balance.

As I dwell on this post, I think about a number of non-profits who I’ve had the honor of working with throughout the years:

  • There is the organization who employed one of the most talented fundraising professionals I ever knew, and they decided not to re-hire the position after his departure. Needless to say, their resource development efforts are struggling.
  • There is the agency whose most influential and engaging board volunteer resigned due to “burn out,” and they decided to not find ways to keep him engaged. Needless to say, he faded away and isn’t even a donor anymore.
  • There is an executive director who freaked out after the economic crash in 2008, decided to lay off his grant writer and assumed on all of those responsibilities in addition to his regular responsibilities. Needless to say, someone is feeling overwhelmed and burned out.

I think the baby crib mobile is such a great analogy for what non-profits deal with on a daily basis. In fact, I think it is even more appropriate for non-profit organizations than for-profit corporations. Why? Simply look at how much juggling the average organization does because of significantly limited resources. Consider how much more important a board of directors is to the functioning of a non-profit organization compared to a for-profit corporation. So, when one talented employee or influential board volunteer leaves, then everything feels off off-kilter and the struggle for equilibrium feels like a roller coaster ride.

Looking at a non-profit through this mobile lens, I see a chaotic, whirling dance of people that’s bobbing and dipping and threatening to crash and burn.

The difference between a non-profit organization crashing and burning versus re-balancing to find a new equilibrium is huge and highly dependent on their approach to managing change. To some extent, I also believe that organizational cultures that embrace planning at their core and actually implement and adhere to those plans (e.g. succession plan) during times of change are the most successful at re-balancing in a graceful manner.

Those organizations, who don’t have very much capacity and make poor decisions during tumultuous times, end up in crisis. Sure, balance is ultimately achieved, but at what price?

The bad news for these types of non-profits is that change is a constant in our world, and their baby crib mobile probably looks like the tangled and dysfunctional one that hung above my crib (because you know that I was the kid who could never leave anything well enough alone).  🙂

Looking back at the three examples that I described at the beginning of this post, I see a common thread . . . LEADERSHIP. I am talking about both board leadership as well as executive leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that the key to successfully keeping your organization from getting tangled and unbalanced is talented, engaged and committed leaders.

And isn’t that just the perfect cherry on top of the sundae when you look back of all of this week’s blog posts? Again, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Dani Robbins, for guest posting all week-long on board development and executive leadership. I am very happy that she will be contributing a board development post to DonorDreams blog every month.

After reading John’s blog post, I can’t get this song out of my head. So, I thought it would be appropriate to end this post with it.

How chaotic is your organizational mobile? Do you have a story about how your agency managed “change” really well? Please scroll down and share it with the rest of us in the comment section.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on August 24, 2012, in Board development, leadership, nonprofit, organizational development, Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I can think of one example that is pretty much exactly as you have described. After even just one leadership change it can make a difference to a whole organisation and it’s output as an agent for good. It’s really disappointing to see, though I know there’s the long term – and in the long term, you hope things will improve!

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew! As John Greco said in his post, organizations will always re-balance and find equilibrium . . . as I tried to articulate, that quest for equilibrium that can be graceful or it can be chaotic. When it is chaotic, I share your sense of disappointment. Again, thanks for the comment and please consider subscribing if you already haven’t.

  2. Hi Erik- I couldn’t agree more! I believe that to make organizational change a reality everyone needs to be aligned around a few strategic goals and moving forward on specific assignments to meet those goals. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of nice people trying to do the right thing without any agreement as to what the right thing is, which ends up with people getting disengaged.

    • Amen, Dani! I love your point about strategic goals. If I were to continue John Greco’s analogy and apply it to your comment, then those few strategic goals would be the rods in the mobile from which weighted objects or further rods hang. Again, thanks for the guest posts this last week. Everyone I’ve spoken with is now looking forward to your monthly board development guest post. This is going to be a lot of fun!

  3. This, my good friend, is an exceptional post, IMHO … your point about this being especially apt within the non-profit world, given the resource constraints, is strong … In such environments, minor change can be a major disruption … requiring considerable leadership skill to rebalance … I would imagine your non-profit audience would see real value in drawing their own insights from your thoughts here!

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