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 has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Otis joined in the fun in 2013 as Turnkey’s resident human behavior expert. One thing led to another, and now as a married couple, they almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism and human decision-making, much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Through their work at Turnkey, the pair works with the likes of the American Lung Association, Best Buddies, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, using human behavioral tendencies and recognition to create attachment and high fundraising in volunteers.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P and Peer to Peer Forum, and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, Dollar Dash. They live in Richmond, Va.