“Double-Clicking” for Meaning
I’m starting today’s blog with “Double-Clicking” on the term “nonprofit” because I was recently reminded in a global conversation that the term is still quite confusing. The “Double-Clicking” concept – meaning to open a discussion of terms for greater understanding – is one of the invaluable tools Judith E. Glaser, introduces in her book Conversational Intelligence, How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. After the “Double-Click” on the term “nonprofits” I explore the idea of agility that has always been for me the beautiful magic and power of nonprofits.
“Nonprofit” Covers a Wide Range of Organizations
Globally the designation of an organization as a nonprofit or not-for-profit (United States), charitable incorporated organization (UK) or non-governmental organization (United Nations), is a tax designation that means tax exempt. A nonprofit organization is a legal entity that can enter into contracts, buy or lease property, and employ people in its own right. And because of the nature of its work, it does not distribute profits to shareholders and therefore does not have to pay a state or national income tax. It also means these organizations are governed by a voluntary board of directors whose role is to insure that the organization is serving its purpose or mission and using its resources for that purpose.
In the United States, nonprofit organizations are guided by the 501(c) Code of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Charitable organizations, including private and public foundations, under the 501(c) (3) section of the code are often the most familiar kind of nonprofit because they are the most public and visible.
What’s surprising for many people is that the 501(c) tax exempt designation applies to many other types of organizations. This includes labor organizations, trade/business associations, social clubs, including professional sports, , fraternities, employee benefit associations/funds, veterans’ organizations, credit unions, teacher retirement funds, benevolent life insurance associations, cemetery companies, mutual insurance companies, childcare organizations, and political organizations.
The Power of “WE” & Conversational Agility
I’ve had the good fortune throughout my career to work with a wide variety of 501(c) organizations, primary among them charitable and social welfare organizations, private and public foundations, and trade and business associations. What is most magical and powerful about all these organizations is what Judith E. Glaser terms the power of “WE” in conversations. Nonprofit organizations by their very essence require volunteers, professional staff, and other community partners representing diverse interests and perspectives to come together for a common purpose for a common positive impact. And to be successful these diverse interests must be agile in the way they work together through one, often hard, conversation after another.
For nonprofit organization leaders, agility like the kind that characterizes a rubber band, is one of the essential core competencies for effectiveness. The qualities of a rubber band are flexibility to change shape, expansive strength to hold many or a few things together, pliability to be tied back together when there’s a break, nimbleness to attach to other things or to stand alone, and stretch to pull back to ricochet forward. This rubber band agility makes it possible for nonprofit leaders to imagine different futures and alternative ways to get there, and to see many ways of accomplishing something and pursuing it from many angles. It makes it possible for nonprofit leaders to go with the flow of continuously evolving and to appreciate that the business as usual for nonprofits is to continuously seek new and different ways of doing things.
The impact on nonprofit organization leaders of not being agile is much too risky. Not being agile could mean getting left out of accessing critical resources or seeing new opportunities, not attracting and retaining quality committed volunteers and the right staff, not operating on the leading edge with high quality supports and solutions, not being open to new partners and doing the work to have solid partnerships, not paying attention to what others say are important considerations, and not being willing to try new things. For professional associations it can also mean a loss of members. In other words, there’s a great cost to nonprofit organizations with leaders who prefer to be risk adverse.
The truth is there’s an inherent risk in everything nonprofit organization leaders do every day. That’s why organizations have liability insurance, workers compensation insurance, and why leadership has so much responsibility attached to it. It’s the role of leaders to mitigate risk by digging deeply enough to understand where risk comes from and to draw on agile rubber band strength to anticipate risk and build solutions that address it.
“Truth and Consequences”
In the world of nonprofit leadership, agility in managing risk – while advancing powerful conversations – is an essential tool in trade. It means being able to help any group move from being stuck in groupthink to group cohesion and partnering. An impactful exercise Judith offers to do this is “truth and consequences.” Here’s how it works. “When a group makes a decision, ask people to step back from the conversation to take time out to reflect on it. Ask them to step aside from what they agreed upon to see if there is anything that was left behind-any great idea that was overlooked. Look for gaps and work through the gaps between perception and reality.” Judith says, “This gives people permission to bring forward ideas that could benefit the whole group that might have been left behind. This narrows the gaps and reframes them from “my idea” to “our idea,” and keeps the conversation to a higher level of group processing.” Successful nonprofit leaders are agile. They are ready to embrace opportunities that advance their organization’s purpose. They see emerging trends and work together with other leaders to respond proactively. And they experience change as exciting and experimental that can make their organizations even better. Indeed, the capacity for agility is the one thing that repeatedly has changed the course of history and the course of many lives.
Managance Consulting & Coaching is on a mission to ignite passion and energize opportunity in nonprofit work places. Denice Hinden, PhD, PCC, President and her team inspire leaders and teams to their next level of leadership and develop more trusting “we-centered” organizational cultures with transformational leadership development and engaging strategic thinking. Denice is Certified in Conversational Intelligence®. Judith E. Glaser is the founder and CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating We Institute. We are honored to partner with Judith to bring you our 2017-2018 Leveling Up Leadership Blog.
Copyright © 2017 by Managance Consulting & Coaching and Judith E. Glaser