surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?

Leadership Training ROI Karin Hurt and David Dye

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Leadership Training Sticks

“Don’t bother me with this crap. I don’t believe in leadership training. It’s a complete waste of time. It’s nothing against you as the new Training Director. I get that I have to work with you in some way. If you MUST talk training, please work through Joe (one of my directors), he’s the most touchy-feely of my direct reports, I’m sure he’ll be nice to you.”

Yikes. Those were the words I heard from Beth, one of the Presidents I was asked to support, in my new role as training director at Verizon.

The truth is, I appreciated her candor. She’s not alone. A lot of senior leaders are skeptical of training ROI.

“You want me to take my people out of the field, where they could be serving customers and bringing in new business for theory and games? No thank you.”

And I get it. No one wants that kind of training. I’ve certainly been to my fair share of flavor-of-the-month training, and have my own bookshelf of binders full of good ideas, not implemented.

I’ve also attended great training that helped me change the game.

I imagine you have too. What makes the difference?

5 Ways to Make Leadership Training Stick and Increase ROI

Training is only valuable when it leads to sustained behavior change and improved business results.

Great leadership training is a process, not an event.

Great leadership training is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.

Great leadership training inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.

Great leadership training creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.

I’m grateful for Beth’s challenge in the first few weeks of a job that what was to become a formative role, both in my Verizon career and now, running my own leadership development company.

I was sure that Beth couldn’t hate training that truly made her people and results stronger. She just hated bad training. Who doesn’t? (P.S. Beth later promoted me into my most significant operations role at Verizon where I reported directly to her).

Here are 5 ways to ensure a stronger ROI and to make training stick:

  1. Design the training around business outcomes.
    Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
  2. Build programs that include the participant’s manager.
    Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. We love to do an executive briefing session before our programs so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions, and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application.
  3. Include teams in implementation.
    It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Be sure your managers know how to talk with their teams about what they are doing differently and why. The best leadership training has an ROI that cascades beyond the manager being trained.
  4. Deliver training in digestible learning over time.
    You can’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. We love to leverage new technology that incorporates simple micro-learning push-technology to learners’ phones via text message between sessions to inspire and reinforce real-world application.
  5. Welcome new ideas, insights, and help them take the next step
    Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Listen to their insights and find ways say “Yes” to what might happen next. When they come back with ideas to improve the business, listen. If it’s something you’ve tried before, invite them to the next step. Rather than “We tried that, it doesn’t work” you might try: “In the past when we’ve tried that, we ran into an issue with X. I’d love for you to think about how we might overcome that and implement your idea.”

Your Turn

How do you ensure your leadership training create real behavior change and lasting results?

5 Top Leadership Articles Week of October 23 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the week of October 23, 2017

Each week I read leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. Click on the title of the article to read the full text. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

Why Make Managers a Strategic Priority? By Larry Sternberg & Kim Turnage

What would your organization be like if every employee had a great manager? What would happen to productivity, quality, morale and customer satisfaction? In every organization, managers are a key leverage point to drive higher performance and better business results. Managers maintain service and quality standards and ensure adherence to company policies and regulatory requirements. They also drive engagement and retention of employees.

Managers influence at least 75 percent of the reasons people give for voluntary job turnover, and they account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement. The impact managers have on turnover and engagement go straight to the organization’s bottom line. Turnover costs range from 48 to 61 percent of an employee’s annual salary, and disengaged employees cost organizations $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact a great manager can have on organizational performance.

My Comment: You would never trust your customers to an untrained frontline employee. And yet, if your business is like most, your managers get little or no training before being entrusted with your most valuable resource: your people.

If you want to improve your employee engagement, your productivity, and your culture, invest in your managers, team leaders, and supervisors. Understand that just being good at their work doesn’t mean they know or are qualified to lead people. Give them the practical tools they need to succeed. Wondering where to start? That’s why we wrote Winning Well, to give managers the practical tools they need to succeed.

The 5 Things Mediocre Managers Forget (But Inspirational Leaders Never Do) by Chad Perry

Most of my career has been in leadership roles — and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I mean, a lot of mistakes. More than I can count.

I’ve learned about leadership the hard way. I’ve learned the most about leading by doing it the wrong way.

I can still remember when I first hit the management track. My very first thought? “Finally, I don’t have to be ‘on’ all day!”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

So with that in mind, here are some things I once forgot, and I’m sure others have too at some point in their careers.

My Comment: This is a fun list and full of real life issues that managers do indeed forget. I love the first item on the list: “They forget what it’s like to follow.” Can you remember what it was like to never be encouraged and only be criticized? Or to never understand why you were doing what you were doing? Or to work hard while you colleague slacked off? The more you can remember, the more empathy you will have, and the better job you will do cultivating an environment that releases your team’s energy and motivation.

From Career Mobility to Opportunity Mobility by Julie Winkle Guilioni on SmartBrief

Career mobility is defined as the movement of employees across levels, positions and even industries. In the past, it was a yardstick by which people measured their progress and success. And it was also a tool for incenting employees and calibrating the value of their contributions to the organization.

Today, however, rather than being a helpful feature within the talent management landscape, issues related to career mobility frequently immobilize organizations and undermine optimal engagement and results. Nearly three out of four Americans report being less than satisfied with the career development they receive.

Much of the disappointment boils down to a common complaint: “I’m stuck – ready for something new – but without a promotion or other move available to me.”

My Comment: This is an important topic. It’s not just that promotion opportunities might be unavailable. In many cases, the employee might not want or be ready for leadership responsibilities. And yet, a sense of growth is one of the greatest contributions to engaged, energized employees. Guilioni gives us a useful frame to view solutions: think of opportunities that allow people to stretch, acquire new skills, and accomplish something new. How can you help them to expand their capacity and effectiveness?

10 Ways to Cut Workplace Drama and Make Work Fun Again by Martin Zwiling at Inc.com

Is it just me in my role as business advisor, or is emotional drama in the workplace increasing? Team members seem to be spending more and more time venting to anyone who will listen about the motives and actions of others, and less time introspectively focused on their own productivity and accountability.

The result is less real engagement and more negativity for all to endure.

My Comment: Today we boarded an airplane on our way to share one of our most popular programs: Mastering the

Leaders ditch the diaper drama

Art of the Tough Conversation. We carried our Winning Well Diaper Genie™ with us and the flight attendant asked us to explain our unusual carry-on.

As we explained how to “ditch the diaper drama” and have the conversations you need to have, she smiled.

“Yes! The crew and I were just talking about this…too many people have a problem with someone and instead of talking with them, they run to management and complain. That’s nuts. We fly together for several days at a time. I don’t want to let the issue fester. Let’s talk about it and resolve it.”

Great advice – and Zwiling gives you ten ways to do this and avoid unnecessary drama in your work life.

Would You Hire You? by Dan Rockwell

If we aren’t careful, as time passes, leaders expect more from others and less from themselves.

Would you hire you, if you interviewed yourself?

You expect the people you interview to answer important questions with concise clarity. Maybe it’s time to hold yourself to the same standard.

My Comment: The title says it all. Take a look at the self-interview questions Rockwell recommends. How would you fare?

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.

The Morning After: 6 Sure-Fire Ways to Ensure Your Training Sticks

“John” glanced excitedly at the conference room walls filled with easel sheets, plans and ideas. And then sighed deeply as he shuffled though his deep pile of notes and action items.

“Karin, I guarantee you, I’ll be a better leader tomorrow morning as a result of your Winning Well bootcamp. And I’m almost certain I’ll still be a better leader the following week, and maybe even the week after that.

It’s week three that worries me. How can I be sure to maintain the ROI and that I keep applying these Winning Well techniques when real life hits the fan?” 

John’s question is real. If you’re like most managers, you’ve left more than one training program with good intentions, only to fall back into old behaviors. So how do you make the training stick? 

6 Sure-Fire Ways to Ensure Your Training Sticks

  1. Focus on one behavior change at a time.
    When you learn game-changing leadership techniques, it’s tempting to try everything all at once. After all, if these techniques produce results, you owe it to your team to use them. Right? Perhaps. But not all at the same time. Pick one specific behavior or approach you know will make the impact and integrate it into your leadership approach. Practice it consistently. Tweak it. Make it your own. Ask for feedback. Once you feel confident and competent in that behavior, the timing might be right to add in another technique. Too much change all at once will overwhelm both you and your team.
  2. Find an accountability partner.
    Change is hard, and it can be lonely. It’s much easier to give up when no one’s looking. Find someone you trust who understands what you’ve just learned (someone else in your training class is a great choice). Share the behavior you’re working on and make a commitment to check in with one another once a week to see how things are going and discuss challenges and brainstorm next steps.
  3. Invite your team on the journey.
    Tell your team what you’ve learned and what you’ve chosen to work on and why. Invite them to notice when it’s working and offer suggestions as to what you can do better. Your team already knows you’re not perfect, and they’ll be delighted to know you’re working on becoming a more effective manager.
  4. Teach what you’ve learned.
    One of the best ways to become a rock star at a skill is to teach it. Consider sharing some of the tools you’ve learned and teach them to others.
  5. Ask for feedback.
    Make it a point to ask for feedback on the impact your new approach is having on the people you’re leading. Ask open-ended questions about what you can do to improve.
  6. ww-winning-well-sidebar-impact-live-dec2016-370x370taglineWhen you screw up, apologize and try again.
    New habits don’t come easy. If you slip back into old behaviors, apologize and try again. Your team knows you’re not perfect. They just want to know you’re trying. 

    Training is important, but what matters most is what you do when you get back to your team. With just a bit of focus, you can ensure the strongest ROI for you and your team.

Give yourself (and your team) the gift of a fast start to the new year. Join our Winning Well event in MD this December. Click on the image to the left for more information.