Emulate Your Aspirational Organizations
"Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you'd like to act," Bob Dylan said.
Frequently I hear mentors providing valuable coaching, challenging their mentees to dress, perform and behave like they had the jobs they aspire to have.
We give the same advice to nonprofits.
A recent client was on the verge of embarking on a campaign that eventually would double its size, with all the dynamics, complexities and benefits that come with that kind of growth.
The biggest challenge, most of the board had shared in the planning study, was actually the visionary CEO who had gotten them to that point. While deep in passion and commitment, she was not sophisticated enough to take the organization to where it aspired. For the organization to really achieve its goal, it would have to be with her in a different role or without her.
We told the board that they needed to begin acting like the organization they aspire to be. Part of this was also the functioning of the board. The CEO widely was criticized for being long-winded and causing board meetings to last hours. The organization needed several new board members who would beef up the board’s philanthropic profile, but these new members would not likely sit through a rambling and lengthy board meeting. And staff could not grow and perform because she was micromanaging and slowing progress. The board has some tough calls to make.
One of the finest run organizations I am aware of is the Georgia Society of Association Executives (GSAE). Wendy Kavanagh is the executive director and Jane Sutphin is the manager of membership and communications. They are great at leveraging board members, volunteers, interns and other resources. I will never forget when I first visited their office and kept looking for the other staff.
These two dynamos produce an impressive program of member benefits, and their quarterly meetings feature dynamic speakers and affiliated education programs that pack ballrooms. GSAE operates like it is a much larger organization. And part of its formula is creating a culture of engagement and hospitality that makes members new and old feel valued and important.
Study your aspirational organizations and focus on how they do things differently in regards to leadership, board development, communications and fundraising. Take steps to mirror what they are doing that is particularly effective and can translate to your organization. Start acting like the organization—or department—that you want to become!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.