It is not unusual to hear nonprofit organizations and consultants discuss how they need to become more “corporate” in their approach or how they need to operate more “like a business.” Yet, this is not where most nonprofits are willing to put precious resources. Why?
The third sector continues to place an emphasis on vision over management. We want to hire the best “visionary” we can find for our nonprofit mission.
However, this choice can come at the expense of effective management. Management (e.g., talented people, IT systems, and effective human resources) does not excite donors. Donors rarely want to fund supportive administrative operations. I know I do not look here first. I want my dollars to support the grass root level of service.
The dynamic of the board of directors, without any doubt, drives the selection and supervision of the Chief Executive Officer or the Executive Director. Nonprofits, to turn a phrase, continue to look for Superman to lead their operation, especially at the local or regional nonprofit level. But is this feasible? Is it realistic?
No, it is not feasible or realistic. Truth be told, the vast majority of nonprofit corporations do not have the financial means to employ a chief executive who has not only a superior managerial track record and experience in the relevant field but one who also can drive the vision. Although the field is evolving, very few of us actually planned to become significant players in the nonprofit world.
The impact of the career path is most nonprofit leaders cut their operational teeth in the nonprofit world with more emphasis on mission and delivery of services than enhancing management and leadership skills.
Training and development resources are precious in the nonprofit community. When we determine where to invest our resources we look first to fundraising and development or training specific to the mission. We do not invest in the managerial development of our future and current leaders. It is just the truth of the matter.
When was the last time you remember a nonprofit executive recognized for his or her exceptional managerial skills? When we refer to all sorts of precious resources in small and mid-size nonprofits, we usually turn to anything but professional development (see also this post with six affordable nonprofit development ideas).
The greatest resources we have are the people who are so committed and work hard every day. So how come that professional development in our organizations is a nonprofit thing?
To answer this question, check out this video of a TEDxWilmington in which Chris Grundner talks about modern-day nonprofit governance and states that passion is not enough. Mr. Grundner is the CEO and president of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement.
Perhaps it is time for the nonprofit leadership paradigm to evolve based on a rethinking of nonprofit leadership. Yes, nonprofits need visionaries and cheerleaders in their executive officers. But organizations also need a strong manager who serves as the operations officer or director of operations and who has been tasked with making hard recommendations.
Think about this: If you had to cut 20% of your operations today for survivability (and you have no choice), could you make this decision? We do not have to become corporate vipers without souls, but we do have to invest in our future and place a premium on managerial skills.