How Nonprofit Leaders Can Keep Learning on the Job
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Whether an executive on staff or a member of the board, new to the organization or a long-time veteran, a nonprofit leader sometimes faces tough challenges that a formal development class won’t address. But don’t lose heart.
According to the nonprofit Community Resource Exchange (CRE), learning on the job itself can be a rich source of leadership and management development. The CRE advocates two self-coaching opportunities that lean on resources you can find in yourself, within the workplace and among your networks.
Strategies that work
The CRE’s first technique is a method known as “reframing.” It refers to the ability to shift your perspective and unlock a fresh approach to problems.
The organization also urges leaders to follow what it calls the 1-2-3 steps, which target low-hanging fruit first. This approach calls for beginning with the first few, relatively easy actions you can take to address a specific challenge. The idea is that these initial steps will help move you from understanding the problem to taking action and accomplishing real change.
Example 1: Managing an inadequate infrastructure
These strategies can work, for example, to reframe a problem familiar to many nonprofits — the lack of the strong accounting systems and staff needed to ensure the accurate and timely reporting required for continued funding of your organization.
You could reframe this situation by shifting staff from other areas of the organization to shared responsibilities in finance, thus encouraging managers to think beyond narrow roles. Would involvement of a board member or volunteer supply the manhours and controls you’re missing? You also can get past hiring the additional person you can’t afford by trying to improve the processes in place, and by inviting and seriously considering creative suggestions from your staff.
From here, you can identify the 1-2-3 steps to get the ball rolling. For instance, you might establish a team from various areas of the organization to outline what needs to be completed on a project and when. Are there tasks that should be prioritized to satisfy government and grantor requirements? Are there other nonessential recordkeeping tasks that could be minimized or eliminated? You also could obtain information and pricing from professional outside accounting firms that specialize in this type of work. Then compare those costs with providing accounting in-house.
Example 2: Managing differences
The CRE also has applied its suggested strategies to the challenges of managing differences. Imagine you’re dealing with several diverse groups that use your library’s services. Reframing would shift from viewing the different groups as a hodgepodge to seeking common ground among the personalities, demographics and needs. Are these groups all from the local community? Do they all need access to the programs in person? Are they all readers? You also could move from trying to achieve uniformity of interest to mining their diversity.
Easy steps might include convening all of the relevant parties to develop an initial plan for priority activities in the coming year. How best can these groups interact? Possibly, you could bring the children from Story Hour to share an activity with the Writers’ Group.
You also could take time to learn more about strategies for managing differences by reading relevant books and articles, meeting to share what you’ve learned, and planning how to handle future interactions with the various groups that benefit from your services.
Learning as a lifelong pursuit
The most effective leaders always encourage their employees to seek more knowledge and then lead by example. Employing the methods above can help you continually hone your leadership and management skills, even when you don’t have the time or money for formal development