I like to use this blogging time to capture some themes that I have recently been encountering in the nonprofit world. One of these themes has an elementary, almost mundane ring to it, but one with a profound impact nonetheless. Let me share three conversations I've had recently with individuals who are key players of their respective, successful organizations.
Can you see yourself or your organization in any of these encounters?
1) Near the close of a very productive board retreat, the board completed a self-assessment of themselves and scored themselves low in the “Planning” function required of all nonprofit boards. The comment that raisesd my eyebrows (and others' in the room) was the key leader's declaration: “I have a lot a great ideas on how we could better meet our missiion, but they are all in my head.”
2) I was having a good one-on-one exchange around some capacity building efforts and this key leader confided in me that he was considering the idea of retiring soon, but the board was unaware of this idea. He has been with this organization for years and the board is heavily dependent on his leadership. My question to him was whether the board had a succession plan on how to go about finding a replacement should the retirement happen soon. His response: “No, and that’s what keeps me up at night."
3) An entrepreneurial, high octane person agreed to lead a broken and dysfunctional organization many years ago. With a lot of angst, hard work, late nights and forfeits on her part, the organization slowly began to turn around. Over a multi-year period, the organization became healthy and started to grow. It currently was thriving and our conversation was centered on sustainability and the future legacy of this person’s blood, sweat, and tears. I was thoroughly impressed with all the great actions taken and the related healing and growth she had accomplished. My question was whether another leader could assume some of her responsibilities and ease her transition. Her reply: “I never wrote any of it down and next year’s actions are all in my head.”
Remember, all three of these conversations were with leaders who impress me. So as I reflect on these three conversations, the theme that jumped off the page, was the simple step of capturing these fantastic ideas to paper. It seems so simple, mundane and—quite frankly—almost too basic. However, putting it to paper means other people have access and greater understanding of these profound issues. Organizations thrive when multiple people share the vision for the future. Capturing these ideas, means the great ideas are now mobile and can be easily shared with each other, with funders, or even with people to be recruited for board membership.
What’s the down side of great leaders carrying their fantastic ideas in their head, or with boards operating without a delineated plan? Potentially, a significant setback in programs and progress, or even a loss of financial support due to the public perception that the organization is stalling. A new job prospect, unexpected illness or a well-deserved retirement should not devastate your mission accomplishment or future growth.
I fully realize me saying “get it down on paper” is vastly easier than the actual act of capturing the information. But it's a first step. It is the first step towards ensuring your organization is sustainable in the absence of your key players.
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