Reality (You’ve Got to Deal With It)
I’ve seen great turnarounds in poor-performing nonprofits. I’ve also seen many fail terribly. To map out a plan for greater mission focus, increased impact, heightened leadership and transformational philanthropic support are invigorating. But to get to that vision, you must first deal with reality—where you are. And that often means making tough decisions.
In our 18 years, three times we have discerned that our culture and values would prohibit us from working further with a client.
In the first instance, the board was asleep, the culture was imploding, the CEO was ineffective and another consulting firm was making huge sums “coaching” the CEO. The culture and ineffective CEO led to a financial spiral through which the organization closed several of its branches and lost its leadership position in the community and, subsequently, the faith of many leaders and donors.
The second instance was when a donor funded a development plan. In reality, he wanted to know more about the organization headquarters that now had his name on it. We presented our findings, highlighting that the organization was in chaos. The CEO circled the wagons and brought in a nationally known consultant to contradict us. Within 2 years, the CEO was fired and the nonprofit filed for bankruptcy—a sad validation of our position.
In the third instance, a donor paid for our fees. After crafting an advancement plan and working with a highly competent chief development officer, it became apparent that the university’s primary issue was the president. We shared our findings with the donor and resigned the account. A short time later, the organization’s financial and cultural problems became public through some poor decisions made by the president.
In all three circumstances, the board was not fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility. Too, the boards were too close to the CEO. Employees had approached board members with concerns. However, they were not willing to investigate further or act upon it.
Part of being a good leader—staff or board—is discerning truthfully where you are. This means that when you don’t feel you have all the facts, you dig deeper. If you are a board member, you can’t be afraid to ask important questions—it is often your duty. Knowing where you are, you can either continue a climb towards excellence or craft a plan to get there.
The great philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.”
Well, if you don’t know truly where you are, you will never hit your goals and aspirations for sure!
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.