Why Organizations Thrive Intro and Assessment

Why OrganFinal Cover JPG versionizations Thrive

On January 2, 1997, I showed up for my first day of work as the Executive Director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (Oregon LCV).

The Board shouldn’t have hired me.

I was only 30.  I had zero fundraising experience, virtually no personnel supervision experience, and had only been involved previously with one other nonprofit organization.

A few weeks into the job, I had the good fortune of attending a four-day boot camp designed for nonprofit Executive Directors.   The boot camp was very valuable – almost a lifesaver as I struggled to learn new skills.  The boot camp covered traditional areas of responsibility for an Executive Director, such as fundraising, financial management, personnel management, strategic planning, and board development.

But even with its value, there was something missing from that boot camp and from other nonprofit trainings I attended over the years.

What I rarely encountered was training that identified the patterns of behavior that separate Executive Directors who make their organizations thrive from those that merely do well.

Of course, part of what separates thriving nonprofits from others will always be better performance at the discrete skills that go into being an Executive Director.  All things being equal, the better fundraiser will raise more money.  More money allows organizations to do more good.

But in my own experience over a dozen years as Oregon LCV Executive Director, and in collaborating with, volunteering with, and consulting for dozens of nonprofits, I’ve come away convinced it’s not primarily about the skill set.

It’s about how those skills are applied, with what emphasis, and with what mind-set.

Ever since I launched my organizational development consulting practice in late 2009, I’ve been working to encapsulate my thinking into a series of Lessons that any new or newish Executive Director would benefit from learning.  Together, these Lessons attempt to give an Executive Director a path by which they can transform their discrete skills into effective leadership.

In the end, this is the book I wish I’d been able to read in my first year as an Executive Director.   Or my third.  Or my fifth for that matter.

Of course, the book has clear value as well for board members thinking about their role overseeing an Executive Director and for nonprofit staff who’re contemplating a future as an Executive Director.

Download Why Organizations Thrive. 

A Self-Assessment Tool

As you read the book, or after you’ve read it, I encourage readers to ask the following questions as a quick and dirty self-assessment based on the 15 lessons.

Question 1:  Do you have a conscious plan for how you cultivate relationships for your organization?

Question 2: Would your board describe you as communicating with them very well?

Question 3: Is the one-on-one meeting with donors and/or stakeholders a significant part of your work plan?

Question 4: Do you have a clear understanding of how your organization’s work builds upon and builds up other organizations with overlapping missions?

Question 5: Does your organization have both a long-term (e.g. strategic) plan and does it use shorter-term work plans?

Question 6: Is there one aspect of your program where you can honestly say “we’re the best there is at this?”

Question 7: Are there clearly identified ways in which your different programs lead to outcomes that build upon each other?

Question 8: Do you have a regular process for evaluating your work and adapting your work based on what you learn?

Question 9: Would you describe yourself as an excellent personnel manager?

Question 10: Is your fiscal management system designed to generate information helpful to strategic decision-making?

Question 11: Is your organization effectively using a content management system to track its relationships?

Question 12: Do you implement one big organizational change at a time?

Question 13: Do you know and tell your organization’s stories instead of speaking in bullet points?

Question 14: Are you a good public speaker?

Question 15: Are you in the process of giving away your power in order to build up the power of your team?

To better understand the individual questions, you can read the corresponding chapters in the book.

While the answers to these questions are inherently subjective, the process of answering them can be a good guide for where you should put your own professional development and leadership in building your nonprofit’s capacity.

Download Why Organizations Thrive. 


Be Sociable, Share!

Content © Copyright 2010-2013 • Jonathan Poisner Strategic Consulting LLC. All rights reserved.