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What do the results of this election mean for your nonprofit?

by Guest Blogger
We’re pleased to present this guest post from Jeff Wahlstrom, managing director of Starboard Leadership Consulting.

No matter how you feel about the results of the 2018 election season, the reality for Maine nonprofit organizations is: “changes are coming.” With a new governor and many new legislators in place, you can anticipate leadership turnover at the department level and revised priorities that will result in new policies and practices, shifts in funding, and opportunities to shape and impact program development.

You can wait on the sidelines for things to settle out, or you can bring your board and staff together to ask the “what if?” questions you may have been holding for a while. It may be the right time to reexamine your vision for the future, to reconsider those programs that once seemed out-of-reach, or to reassess your strategy in the current context.

In workshops I advise executive directors and their board chairs: “If you can’t identify a key strategic question to pose to your board at its next meeting, then don’t meet.” Well, here’s the question to pose:

“What opportunities and threats do the results of the election pose for our nonprofit?”

Put this question on a flip-chart. Dispense with reports. Don’t debrief on how people voted or let yourselves get bogged down in the details of the process or the “who said what.” Clear the decks and spend time talking about your future and what it could be.

Here are some prompts to choose from to help with that discussion:

  • What is likely to change, and what will probably remain the same?
    Be sure to consider a likely shift in priorities, new funding opportunities, and changes in key departmental roles.
  • How will those anticipated changes impact our organization and our clients?
    While it will be natural to consider what anticipated changes may mean for your nonprofit, be sure to ask: “How will the results of this election impact the people we serve?”
  • What are the potential opportunities and the possible threats?
    Create two lists and then ask whether there is anything on either list that needs to be addressed now…or very soon.
  • How do the identified opportunities and threats impact the goals/priorities within our strategic plan? Ask:
    What do we want to accomplish before November of 2020? By 2022?
    What might we consider that seemed impossible just weeks ago?
    Is it time to take a new look at our mission, vision, and strategic goals?
  • What opportunities do we see in the upcoming legislative session?
    Consider the kinds of legislation or “good bills” you’d like to see enacted.
  • Think about the relationships to build now to help advance your goals.

Be sure to capture the answers to these questions on a flip-chart. These notes will give you a running head-start if a strategic planning process is in your future or, at the very least, serve as a “to do” list to guide your work in the coming weeks and months.

It may be tempting to take a “wait and see” approach following the election, but experience has shown us that the organizations that thrived during the past eight years didn’t wait for opportunity to come knocking. They may have been playing defense part of the time, responding to the political realities of the moment, but they were always on offense when it came to pursuing their own vision, shaping their own future, and advancing their own mission.

Is this the moment for you to do the same?

About the Author

Jeff Wahlstrom is managing director of Starboard Leadership Consulting and a MANP-endorsed provider of executive search services. He has more than 30 years of hands-on experience as a nonprofit leader, board member, and consultant to an extensive list of clients, large and small, throughout Maine. He regularly provides counsel to boards on governance best practices, leadership succession and transition planning, and strategic planning. Jeff has developed an online board self-assessment tool and strategic board recruitment toolkit for Maine nonprofits, and he is a frequent speaker on a wide range of board governance and nonprofit management topics.

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