The Courage to Ask

| by Bert Armstrong

Are We Deserving of the Philanthropy We Seek?

Today is National Philanthropy Day – a time to celebrate the giving spirit of our donors who share their time, talents and treasure with our nonprofit community.  Donors give with the anticipation that their investments will help find solutions to many of the challenges facing our community, state, nation and world.  With over $390 billion dollars being invested in nonprofits across our sector, it is right for us to celebrate this generosity and honor those who step forward and invest for the sake of others. 

So, thank you to all those who give joyfully and expectantly.  May your gifts help bring about the impact you seek to have in your neighborhood or on an issue we face across the globe.  

As we raise our glasses and toast those who help fund the work we do, we owe it to these generous supporters to evaluate how deserving our nonprofit organizations are of their philanthropic investments, no matter how big or small.

Just as a donor wants their gift to have maximum impact, nonprofit leaders take up the challenge to optimize the impact of their organization on its stated mission.  A November 1st article in the NonProfit Times offers an overview of “The Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector” that indicates only 11 percent of survey respondents “are prepared to scale for optimal impact.” Consider some of their findings:

  • 56 percent of nonprofits struggle with weak board governance;
  • 52 percent struggle with fundraising;
  • Half struggle with impact evaluation;
  • 52 percent are not ready to scale their impact because they exhibit “weakness in strategic thinking,” such as, mission, strategy, impact evaluation, or insight and courage;” and,
  • 27 percent exhibit “weakness in strategic management,” such as, organization and talent, funding, or board governance, despite exhibiting strong strategic thinking.

Researchers identified seven essential components necessary for high-performing nonprofits seeking to maximize their impact. Six of the seven – mission, strategy, impact evaluation, organization and talent, funding, and board governance are things that every nonprofit worth their salt is spending time working on. These essential elements of high-performance are the go to topics of just about every study, educational conference, or issue forum I have participated in during my 28 years focused on capacity building work. Each is critical to success and each requires constant attention and accountability. 

The seventh component, Insight and Courage, stood out to me as perhaps being the area we fail to explore and champion most often.  Yet the intersection of these two elements may be the key to flipping the switch for many organizations looking to join the ranks of the high performers. 

  • When our leaders have the courage to open up themselves and their decisions to the scrutiny of clients, staff, board members and community partners, they gain insights that can be used to strengthen programs and services. 
  • When leaders use the insights gained by shining a light on its organization’s strengths and challenges, they gain courage to invest deeper in the people and the processes that make for great programs and products. 

When nonprofits leaders have the courage to ask, they are rewarded with insights into their organizations and the communities they serve.  With these insights comes an understanding of where to focus efforts that will result in a high performing nonprofit.  While we celebrate the generosity of donors today, let’s also celebrate those nonprofit leaders who have the courage to ask.

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