Adventures of the Irritated Development Professional

In my wanderings through the nonprofit sector I have found two important Truths:

  1. Your mission is your greatest asset
  2. Your second greatest asset is your staff

Volunteers, donors and staff want to work with your organizations for two reasons: they love your (secretary, Executive Director, CEO, board member, case worker, etc), and/or they believe in your mission. I don’t believe it is possible for a nonprofit to survive, especially now, without sticking closely to its mission and treating employees with respect and reverence. Capitalizing on these two assets will provide incredible strength and fortitude.

Almost all nonprofit leaders are mission driven. To be quite frank, no one goes into social services and nonprofits because of the great pay. They are there because they want to believe in what they are doing, and the mission of their organization defines that. It makes for incredibly motivated and loyal employees under the right circumstances.

I was discussing these points with a friend who works as a development professional for a rather large nonprofit outside my vicinity. I may be biased, because I know the work my friend is capable of, but her boss is doing a fantastic job of running off any talent she could hire by refusing to recognize the second Truth. Instead, this stubborn ED has refused to capitalize on the talents of her employees, ignores suggestions and ideas (or steals them without giving any credit) and generally acts superior to everyone around her. Subsequently, her staff turnover rate is pretty impressive. Employees will tolerate this insanity because of the first Truth- they love the mission, but only for about 6 months.

How awful to think the bad decisions of an executive can have such a tangible negative impact on the lives of those in need.

While every industry has those bad apples, in the nonprofit world it is especially devastating because it means the nonprofit will suffer in the long run. If the nonprofit suffers, you can bet the beneficiaries of their services will suffer as well. How awful to think the bad decisions of an executive can have such a tangible negative impact on the lives of those in need.

Sometimes I think executives (in general- not just nonprofits) forget that the mark of an outstanding leader is not what he himself has accomplished, but what can be accomplished without him. A good boss should be able to take a vacation and come back to an organization that is humming along as smoothly as before he left. I have seen this elusive situation with my own two eyes, and it was the direct result of positive, supportive and competent leadership coupled with a strong work environment, incredible staff and a fantastic mission. If you were to ask the executive in charge of that organization how he was able to manage such a feat, he would tell you how great his employees are and that he prides himself in finding great talent, deflecting all credit to his staff.

As you read this, I hope you remember two people- your best boss and your worst boss- and what you were able to learn from both situations. Sometimes a bad example can be just as educational as a good one- and it does leave us with interesting stories!

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