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New Research Encourages Leaders to Shift Their Thinking

by Molly O'Connell

courtesyJaysThoughtBlogLast week, Third Sector New England published the results of their Leadership New England survey. The report’s authors encourage leaders in the sector to make three shifts in perspective.

#1 Shift the framework for succession planning to deep sustainability

“It is time to change how the sector thinks about and approaches succession planning.”

Almost 60% of responding Maine leaders anticipate transitioning out of their role in the next 5 years (we know about that here at MANP!), and only 3 in 10 respondents report that their organization has a succession plan. Nonprofit boards would be wise to seek out training and resources to enhance their ability to manage a transition, but we agree with Nonprofit Quarterly’s paraphrase of the authors that “we need way more than one super-competent leader to make an organization thrive.” We have a responsibility to our missions to think holistically about building “leaderful organizations” and to invest in professional development of all staff.

#2 Shift the vision for governance

“The expectations and responsibilities of boards need to shift in favor of governance over fundraising.”

There is no doubt that the financial environment in which nonprofits are operating has been challenging. While the economy is slowly recovering, nonprofit finances remain precarious, with the majority of Maine respondents reporting less than three months of cash reserves. According to the most recent Nonprofit Finance Fund State of the Sector Report more than 1/3 of government payments to nonprofit contractors are late. Almost half of Maine nonprofits anticipated they would be unable to meet rising demand for their services in 2015.

Our communities rely on us to build sustainable, responsive, effective organizations. This requires “a higher level of engagement and learning…between leaders and boards” and an investment in board capacity rather than a short-term focus on fundraising. A strong board/CEO partnership provides a foundation not only for strategic visioning, but for the effective implementation of that vision, including raising funds to see it through.

This report makes clear that Maine boards must bring new voices to the table. Only 11% of board members are under age 45, and survey respondents reported no racial or ethnic diversity on their boards. None! What would transformational inclusion look like for your organization? Are you inviting the next generation of leaders to join the conversation? We’re looking forward to tackling these challenges alongside our members.

#3 Shift the structural paradigm to robust investment in the sector

“The expectations placed on nonprofits and their leaders remain high, yet the core needs of nonprofits are often discounted with the outdated rationale and culture of thinking that low overhead = efficient and effective management.”

In our most recent strategic planning process, we heard frequently about the feeling of being “under attack” as a sector, with increasing political and economic barriers to innovation and achievement. This won’t change unless we stand for our missions, speak up about the incredible contributions our sector makes to Maine’s economy and quality of life, and learn how to advocate for the true costs of our important work.

Within our organizations we can invest in learning and growth that will improve our effectiveness. Collectively we can transform our context and our communities.

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