“Good to Great and the Social Sectors”, “Leadership on the Line”, “Forces for Good”, etc. If you are in the c-suite of a non-profit organization or shooting to get there, someone has recommended one, if not all, of these books to you. You have read the book(s), found some insight, but for the most part, you are only modestly considering changes to your day to day management routine. It’s not that they are bad books; they are just not direct and structured in a way that clearly lays out how to improve the leadership and scale of your organization. Moreover, these books typically take you down the Socratic path of analyzing your own problems and creatively attempting to solve them.
My favorite type of leadership advice, given and received, is always explicit and lays out a practical framework for implementation. After 15 years in the private sector, helping both for-profit and non-profit organizations solve problems of growth, contraction, and re-imagining, I decided to transition into the non-profit sector full time and focus on working with organizations in need of a change agent. I recently wrapped up 12 months in Oakland, CA, leading the turnaround of a 20-year old non-profit organization. It was the most rewarding work of my career and I look forward to doing more of it. Here are 3 basic practices to help you run your organization better (maybe even save it).
Formalize YOUR Strategic Business Plan
You know this or at least you should. Everyone has told you should make a business plan, but you are caught up putting out daily fires and cannot find the time to pull away and focus on this. Perhaps, you are even thinking to yourself, “I’ll just hire someone to do it for me”. STOP, I repeat STOP.
DO NOT hire someone to create a business plan for you! This is one of those experiences in life where if you do not do it yourself, you will never really appreciate the work and will be unlikely to utilize the plan. Allow me to clarify this further, think of the creation of your business plan as learning to ride a bicycle. Sure, someone probably taught you how to do it. They purchased your bike with training wheels, pushed behind you to give you momentum, and eventually, you got the hang of it. Yes, you had help, but YOU had to learn balance. No one could do that part for you. This is the same concept. Help and guidance are good, but YOU must ultimately do this work in order to achieve the desired outcome.
Business plans should be flexible and unique to your organization. If you are in a cutting edge Ed Tech start up, then your plan needs to be updated constantly (perhaps, weekly or monthly). If your organization is in public broadcasting, then you probably need a very robust marketing section. It is not an exact formula, so do not be afraid to customize your plan to the needs and aspirations of your service. Moreover, perhaps, what you really need is not a full business plan, but rather an abbreviated version, the strategic plan. Strategic plans are typically internal documents, and therefore, do not require concern for how third parties will respond.
Here are the key components of a strategic plan that typically make sense for non-profit organizations:
Section 1: Organizational Summary
Section 2: Mission, Theory of Change, Beliefs
Section 3: Marketing & Communication Strategy
• Value Proposition
• Targeted Customers
• Referral Strategy
Section 4: Financial Planning
• Fundraising Strategy
• Financial Projections
Section 5: Succession Planning
• Board of Directors
• Executive Leadership Transition
Section 6: Miscellaneous (all the stuff that did not fit elsewhere)
Leadership and Succession Planning
Letting go is our greatest obstacle in overcoming human nature. We covet what is familiar and often cling to relationships, ignoring the need for their evolution. We do this with our parents, our children, our possessions, and even our business practices. However, at some point, every organization, if it is going to continue to operate, has to undergo a leadership change.
Much like life insurance and estate planning, you should proactively plan for your succession from the organization. This should be written, thoughtful, and transparent, and as a result, should be in your strategic plan (referenced above). In general, planned leadership changes are good every 6-11 years if your organization intends to undergo significant growth. This is an opportunity to create innovation as well as groom internal staff.
Strategically build your social media network. Make LinkedIn your PRIMARY focus, Twitter secondary, and dedicate time to everything else sparingly.
With very few exceptions, non-profit organizations are not effectively using social media to raise money or get their message out. You are on Facebook, you have 1200 followers. That is really great! But what are you REALLY getting from that? Chances are, your organization is really only on Facebook because all of your peers are. That’s actually not a bad reason (if/when the revolution happens, you don’t want to be the only one not ready). However, it does mean that you should be efficient with the use of your most precious resource, which is time.
You may be thinking to yourself, “If I can only get to 50,000 followers on Facebook, the money will start rolling in”. Well, that may be true, but ironically, to get there, you will need a break through with your traditional media outlets – TV, print, or radio. TRUTH: Social Media does NOT trump mainstream TV exposure.
Focusing on building your social media following should never take precedence over doing your traditional market outreach and business development. You MUST continue to call, (e)mail, meet, and network. Social media marketing can, however, complement and enhance your traditional methods. Assuming your time is limited and you have to prioritize your efforts, LinkedIn and Twitter should be the preferred social media platforms for your organization. They have the highest levels of interactive engagement between their users. Furthermore, you can still utilize Facebook and Instagram by redirecting your updates there from Twitter or LinkedIn.
Good luck, stay positive, and plan for your success!
(Charon Darris is currently the Interim Executive Director for OTX West, a non-profit with a 20+ year history of addressing the digital divide in Oakland, California. Prior to joining OTX West, Darris spent 15 years in the private sector, with the later years as a nationally recognized, top performing, and award winning business development executive and strategic leader. He is a 2012 Network Journal 40 Under Forty honoree.)