I’ve been on the board of 3 major community based nonprofits, and I’ve been called to help launch or consult with over two dozen more, including our local County Commission.
At the forefront of every worthy cause is a gamechanger.
Most gamechangers don’t have a position of power.
But within them, there is a sense of leadership.
Whether you’re a mid-level executive, an entry-level employee, an intern or a volunteer, if you wait on your position to make you a leader, you’ll never become one.
Leadership isn’t about being out front. It’s about shifting dynamics so that fresh insights, greater success and new opportunities are possible. It’s also about being humble enough to serve the bigger picture.
You have a position — be gracious enough to honor it. But be ready to be a gamechanger when the time comes.
1. “It’s the economy, stupid.”
This was the platform that was said to lead to the Republican party’s loss of the 1992 election. Candidates had distanced themselves from the majority of the American people, and therefore couldn’t understand the plight of the middle class.
Your organization (whether corporate or nonprofit) is driven by its economy. How does it generate revenue?
What are its major expenses? What role does its client base play in making sure the lights stay on and employees get paid?
When you understand that, and you ensure that your work contributes to its economy, you are leading the rest of your colleagues who are just interested in their corner of the world.
2. Silence is golden, but paper is platinum.
Nobody wants to be in a meeting longer than 15 minutes. Why are you still talking, then?
Especially in nonprofit work, passion about the work means that personalities will clash. Even when you’re on the same team. So, it’s best to get as much work done virtually as possible. Try to anticipate the questions that will be asked, and provide documents (with graphs and pictures!!) to validate your solutions.
And, oh yeah, talk only when you have a solution. I know it’s tempting to be the one to point out the elephant in the room. But they can all see it. Do that only if you’re telling people that you are about to get it out of the room.
3. Solve the tiniest edge of the biggest problem, and engage others to do the same. AND THEN, SHARE THE CREDIT WIDELY.
The biggest problem in most community work is getting resources. Resources can be volunteers, staff, money, venues for programs, partners, governmental regulations, money.
Did I say money?
So, if you’re there to make a difference, do that for the organization or the company that is investing in you. What in your scope of knowledge gives your organization a little edge? Are you making it accessible to them? Of course, make sure you’re doing your job/volunteer description too. But the biggest problem stays the biggest problem because no one has the boldness to take it on.
Now you do. Bite off just a little bit of it, and solve it. What do you have to lose? If you fail, you had the guts to look outside your department. If you don’t fail, you’re a hero!
Here’s the background of this post.
In my earliest years of community service, I created a long-running social event for one of my favorite nonprofits. Not only was it revenue-generating, it attracted a new client base that increased members. In our volunteer and board meetings, I kept trying to explain how the other departments in our organization could replicate our success. Everyone thought I was trying to toot my own horn. It was the most frustrating experience ever because I loved the organization, but to staff members who had been overworked, I looked like a bright-eyed volunteer who didn’t understand the struggle. So instead, I worked with my “boss” to engage other members of the organization in a way that didn’t overburden them. Each department then had a part in our success, and each department gained re-energized staff and new volunteers.