Nonprofit Leadership: Conformity and Individuality
Leaders with good judgment know when to force conformity and when to celebrate individuality. That sounds a lot like a great parent doesn't it?
Getting the balance right can mean millions of dollars for nonprofits and avoiding a fractured relationship with a teenage child.
Successful nonprofits sooner or later must offer shared resources to their subdivisions (we'll call them chapters for this piece). And, typically, they have to enforce use of those shared resources for great reasons, just like a parent has to force conformity to some standards, like getting home before curfew.
Like teenagers, chapters feel frustrated and annoyed by this top-down directive, even when intellectually they understand its purpose. Chapters want to do their own thing. National "doesn't understand how we are in this community." Sometimes chapters throw their hands up and say things like, "I don't know how it works," or, "It just doesn't work like that for us here."
Sometimes, national forgets that most great ideas bubble out of chapters, from individuals. Sometimes, the leaders at national stop listening to their teenagers ... er ... chapters because they've had a long day, are behind goal or have too many chapters hammering on them for attention, and they are just trying to find a way to get it all done.
The empowered chapter represents the empowered staff person and the empowered volunteer. Empowerment leads to hard work, creativity and success. In children, empowerment—when done well—leads to independence, trustworthiness and confidence. Overuse of required conformity in both leads to disenfranchisement, intellectual malaise and discontent.
I can't tell you the perfect balance; you know your world best. But I can tell you how vitally important it is to recognize that you are making decisions each day about what you require for conformity and how much you allow individuality among your subordinates (and kids). And I can tell you that the forces at work on you (stress, pressure, time constraints) don't always position you to make the best choice. Be wary.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.