Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit leadership’

Options and Opportunities for White Social Justice Leaders

In Advocacy, Community Strategy, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on February 24, 2021 at 1:30 pm

I’m writing this piece as the first step in a conversation that’s been long in coming. I’d like to talk about what the role is or should be of white social justice leaders right now.

There have been calls for white leaders to step aside and internal (possibly unspoken) consideration that maybe we should. Many of my peers, clients, students, and friends are trying to figure out if they’re in the right spot or if the spots to which they aspire are no longer appropriate for them to ascend. Each leader must answer that for themselves.

What is the right way to honor the values that we’ve spent our entire careers advancing?

I would like to offer some food for thought while you’re still in the leadership chair as you contemplate your next move.

We can change both the systems we impact AND the ways we lead. We can change the opinions and minds of other white leaders. We can change ourselves!

If you have spent your whole career, as many of us have, trying to advance social justice and working towards racial equity, continuing on or continuing to apply or aspire to apply for the role of a leader of a social justice agency is complicated.

We have a role to play in changing the landscape of leadership by including new and diverse voices in our quest to achieve social justice.

I’ve heard the questions: “Should we step aside to create space for a person of color to ascend into leadership?” “Should we not apply at all to make space for a leader of color?”

While this sounds and is dramatically ma/paternalistic, is it in service to a larger mission? It may or may not be. Individuals have to determine for themselves what their personal sacrifice might be.

While we’re thinking about these large existential questions, our Boards may not be. The million-dollar question right now is “if we do step aside, will the board just hire a different white leader that may know less about justice, equity, the mission and leadership than we do?” If history is any guide, they likely will.

We know, and there’s certainly enough evidence to support, that white leaders get more resources, get hired more often, get paid more, stay longer, and get more grace when they make a mistake.

If we don’t want to be a part of perpetuating inequity, and we don’t, then we must consider our role. A not insignificant number of white leaders have a lot of experience, significant education, a huge network, and have earned respect across communities.

There are too few good leaders of all races anyway, and we can’t afford to say goodbye to the still majority of them that are white.

Which brings me back to my initial question: What is the role of a white social justice leader right now?

I offer the following ideas for your consideration; they all won’t apply to you, but some of them might. Special thanks to Tasha Booker from City Year Columbus, Tiffany Galvin Green from John Carroll University and John Miller from Boys & Girls Club of America for helping me articulate my thoughts around this issue. You each and all bring light to my life, appreciation to my heart, and depth to my leadership.

These are a starting place as I see it. I encourage you to share other options.

Representation matters

Make sure that you are bringing people into your organization who don’t look like you or look like each other.

Representation is built in a variety of ways; it includes where we recruit, how we hire and who we promote. It’s the Boards we build and the policies and practices we recommend. It’s the values we live, and the cultures of inclusion we craft.

It also means we create processes and outcome measures that can be assessed. Most of us don’t like quotas and also don’t like tokenism; find a way to measure without marginalizing. You will need different metrics to measure awareness, education and transparency. 

To be clear, meeting measurements may not mean you’ve changed the culture. It’s one thing to bring in people of color. It’s another to create a culture that allows them to bring their full selves to work, to be their best selves and do their best work. Retention is a good metric with which to start. 

Representation also means not allowing all white leadership or all white boards. If that happens to be where you find yourself, commit to change. Question the process that got you there. Introduce the need for diversity, educate the group on why diverse groups make better decisions, and why homogeneous groups aren’t representative of the community you (likely) serve. Plant and cultivate the seeds for change.

Talk about and improve systems regarding diversity, equity and inclusion every chance you get.

Celebrate successes and call people in as necessary; commit to creating space for alternative opinions and alternative voices. Commit to not only inviting people to the table but making sure they are embraced and made to feel as if they belong. Also commit to being uncomfortable and to holding others accountable when they’re out of line.

The goal is awareness, understanding and appreciation. You may need to create cultural competency even as you’re changing the cultural make up and landscape. Agencies can’t diversify without changing the cultural cues and raising the competency to understand what different looks like.

Commit to improve the policies and practices at your organization to embrace people from all groups and eliminate the ones that alienate, or worse, discriminate. Critique all with an eye toward potential harm and then (work with the Board to) change what does not meet your new standards.

Differentiate between feeling intimidated and being intimidated

You may feel intimidated in the new more inclusive culture you’ve established, but that may have nothing to do with the actions of other people. Learn to discern the difference between feeling intimated and being intimidated.

Impact your sphere

Take a look at everything in your sphere of influence where you can affect change.

  • How is your organization investing their resources?
  • What are your hiring practices?
  • Where are you advertising your open positions?
    • If only white people apply, what do you do next?  (hint: shoulder shrugging is not the right answer; changing where you’re advertising might be.)
  • Who are you grooming for leadership?
  • Who is in your succession?

If you don’t like what you see, change it.

Send the elevator back down

We are all standing on other people’s shoulders. Make sure there are people who don’t look like you standing on yours. Create opportunities for leaders and potential leaders of color to grow and to learn, to safely make mistakes, and to step into their power.

Normalize and invite feedback

If someone calls you out, consider your role in whatever you’ve been accused of and commit to do better. None of us are going to get this right all the time. We have to be gracious enough to realize that and to welcome opportunities to learn.

Create mechanisms and space for feedback- in whatever form it’s offered.  Everyone comes to the table from the personal perspective of their own safety. It’s the leader’s job to create a culture of safety.

Some mechanism will have to be built; we can create the polices, practice and history that demonstrate our ability to hear, accept and integrate feedback and create trust.

Amplify leaders of color whenever possible.

We can amplify others’ voice. Compliment leaders publicly and provide opportunities for them privately. We can reinforce their statements, while giving them credit for making them. We can be an ally and an accomplice to their success. This is true of our colleagues in the community, our peers in the organization and also our team members.

For our teams, I’m going to dip back to the ma/paternalistic for a minute, and we have to, because white leaders are still the majority of leaders.

We can advocate for leadership projects and provide real ongoing feedback. We can position our up-and-coming or current leaders of colors to be in a place to receive public compliments. We can identify them privately with other (hopefully not all white) leaders, provide opportunities for them to take on projects to create a profile for them to publicly represent the organization.

We can find a way to put people of color in situations where they can shine which also advances the mission, and the work of justice.

Avoid performative statements and insist on action

A commitment to diversity is great but only if it moves the action forward. Commitment must be supported by action. It can’t just be on paper and then we all go along the way we always have. If you want change, you have to change.

Consider your place and your role

The questions where we began are tough, and so are you.

Yes, you should probably apply. The hiring decision isn’t yours to make. If you get the job, know that you have an obligation.

You have an obligation to develop every person on your team to become their very best, to be prepared for whatever role they aspire to next, to step into their power and away from feeling like they’re not worthy. You should push and support them in considering roles you see they’re capable of, even if they don’t.

If you are stepping down and you’ve developed your team, encourage them to apply and cheerlead for them to be hired. Consider also keeping an eye out for jobs outside of your organization. Social justice is advanced when we work together as a community to affect change.

Change management requires change in leaders as well.

It’s not enough to change the organization. We have to change ourselves.

It’s much easier to defend our values than to live up to them.

Let’s live up to them. If all we have are words and war, let’s talk. Let’s hold up, mentor and create opportunities for the leaders our communities need. Let’s be the change and let’s develop it in others as well.

This is the way we honor the values that we’ve spent our entire careers advancing.

What Nonprofits can do NOW

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, nonprofit executives, Organizational Development, Uncategorized on March 29, 2020 at 5:49 pm

The job of a nonprofit executive is to ensure their agency will open tomorrow, or if it shouldn’t, to shut it down.

The list of things we don’t know and information we don’t have is long:

·         How long will this last?

·         How big of an economic hit will it be?

·         What will happen to the people we serve?

·         How can I protect my team and my agency?

·         How many of our donors will be impacted?

·         Will our foundations loosen the restrictions?

·         Will I get the Federal loan?

·         Will I have to lay off staff?

·         Will I get laid off myself?

·         Will I have to shut down this program that I love and have spent no small part of my life cultivating?

Then there’s the much more personal and terrifying:

·         Will I get sick?

·         Will someone I love?

·         How can I pay the mortgage without a job?

·         How can I protect my family?

We are all scared and varying degrees of angry, anxious, grateful, bored and terrified and, sometimes, how we feel changes by the minute.

Moreover, for those of us who have spent our lives in the field, sitting at home doing nothing makes us feel helpless. 

We are not helpless.  We are trained professionals.  Let’s get to work!

We are at an unprecedented point in leadership. Every decision we make will determine what happens tomorrow, even as we are aware that we are all making those decisions with limited information while standing on constantly shifting sand.

Many agencies are looking at cuts. “Leaders should start developing models and anticipate what levels of revenue drops may occur … even “as substantial variances are likely based upon the type of” organizations, relationship with state legislature, and historical financial models.” (The Great Recession Was Bad…)

Where to start? As always, you start with your values, your mission and your commitment to intentional aligned leadership.

I recommend the Board of Directors:

  • Set the priorities for 2020 and 2021
  • Determine the level of saving that needs to be realized
  • Approve the cessation of services that will no longer be offered
  • Determine how long you will continue to pay staff
    • for work that can’t billed
    • for services that can’t be offered
    • who may not be able to work
  • Set severance levels

The CEO:

  • Review your policies including sick time, family leave, and severance
  • Review your insurance, including short and long term disability
  • Make recommendations to the Board for policy revision, as necessary
  • Reach out to every funder and ask for special circumstances
  • Review and apply for forgivable loans
  • Plan out interim leadership for every critical role, including yours
  • Cheerlead
  • Sell the story

The finance team:

  • Clarify the staff that can do billable work (identified as work that will still generate revenue)
  • Identify staff that might have to be furloughed based on work that is unable to be done
  • Assess income that is unable to be realized

The development department:

  • get clarity around if the money that they’ve projected for this year is actually going to come in
  • Clarify if any money that has been pledged is available for operating or if it is restricted to other expenses
  • Consider asking if any and all restricted gifts can be used for operating
  • Consider asking all capital donors if you can use their gifts for general operating this year, as possible
  • Prepare an emergency funding campaign that clearly tells the story and the need for additional support
  • Prepare on-going communication with donors

Once the above is completed, I recommend:

The Board approve a staged step down, as necessary:

  1. easy expense reductions that can happen now
  2. reductions in the next round based on the priorities and the savings needed
  3. Worst case cuts to keep the organization solvent

Other points of note:

  • Pay cuts require a Board vote, even “voluntary” ones. 
  • The CEO should not forgo their own paycheck or lend money to the agency. You can, of course, donate back a portion of your paycheck. If you do, make sure it is your choice, aligned with your family’s circumstances, and follows your donor acknowledgement procedures. Three More Things to Stop Doing
  • If necessarily, individual Board members can lend money to the agency, with an appropriate paper trail.  If you do, I recommend paying yourself back not be your first order of business once the smoke clears.

That’s my list for today. Hopefully, you won’t need it. If you do, I wanted to get a framework out there in case it’s helpful. If you have a framework you’ve developed that you can share, please do. We will get through this, together. We will persevere!

As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Ten Years of Change, Growth and Nonprofit Evolution

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2020 at 10:33 am

Last October marked ten years for my company.  It was a transformational decade for me professionally, for our sector and our work. 

Professionally, I had the opportunity to

  • build a semi successful consulting firm
  • co-write a leadership book (Thank you Maureen Metcalf!)
  • become a nonprofit thought leader (Thank you readers of my book and blog!)
  • teach at the college level (Thank you Rob Greenbaum and OSU’s Glenn College!)
  • Fall in love with teaching (Thank you students!)
  • Get my dream job (Thank you Anne Kugler and John Carroll University!)

I’ve taught over 250 college and graduate students and had the honor to mentor, coach, encourage and support dozens of nonprofit leaders.

Our sector is facing immense opportunities, unprecedented challenges, old issues and emerging threats. We will have to come to consensus on how we respond to:

  • The loss of charitable deductions, and the gifts that go with them
  • The impact of Donor Advised Funds
  • The possible loss of the Johnson Amendment
  • Big philanthropy
  • Immigration
  • Climate change
  • Hate
  • Guns
  • Violence against women
  • Systemic racism
  • #MeToo
  • Voting rights
  • All of the above and much more

There are multiple and competing issues that challenge our democracy, our souls and our future. In honor of each person who reads this blog, and the hundreds of people and myriad issues for which you get up every day ready once again to take up the fight, I offer the most popular and poignant posts from the last decade:

Strong Boards beget strong agencies which beget strong communities. Here’s how to build your board, support them in doing their work and do your own:

An Open Letter to Board Members I Have Known and Loved is the most popular post I have ever written, by thousands.  I wrote it to honor several of my Board members, especially Bud Rogers, officially Bruce W. Rogers of Akron Ohio.  He is, for me, the quintessential board member. He is my ideal. I learned more from his grace, his leadership and his generosity that I can ever explain. May he rest in peace.

The Role of the Board “Every time I speak on issues related to nonprofits, someone asks “What is the role of the Board?” “The Board is responsible for governance, which includes setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Direction; Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director; acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, setting Policy and Raising Money. Everything else is done in concert with the Executive Director or by the Executive Director.” The question that follows or should follow is “What is The Role of the Nonprofit CEO? “Leading an organization is a big job that looks much easier than it is. In fact, like all leadership done well, it looks like nothing.”

While we’re at it, here’s one on Becoming a new Board President, the fist in the series Governance the Work of the Board and the most important, exciting and engaging opportunity for Board leadership: Generative Governance.

“If your Board is not fund raising the way you want them to, I submit you do not have a fund raising issue; you have an engagement issue and possibly a Board Development issue.” Not Fundraising? Not Engaged. Alternatively, or additionally, if they are not fulfilling their role, it may be because you’re doing their work. If you are, stop. Here’s how: Five Thing to Stop Doing Right Now and Three More Things to Stop Doing.

For my students, young people everywhere and all of our daughters:

Advice for Graduating Students Joining the Workforce

An Open Letter to College Bound Daughters, including My Own

Discretion and Discernment: A Call to Action on Behalf of Our Young People

Finally, the three posts that are closest to my philosophy of leadership and what I believe about how we can move forward social justice:

Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance

Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice

Thank you for reading. Thank you for your leadership, advocacy and activism.  May you and may I still be standing, still fighting, and still inspired to change the world throughout this new decade. Lead on!

The Role of the Nonprofit CEO

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on May 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

I coach a lot of new CEOs, and quite a few not so new CEOs.  Leading an organization is a big job that looks much easier than it is.  In fact, like all leadership done well, it looks like nothing.

I’ve always said that if you asked a cross section of my staff over the years what I did when I was a CEO, they would tell you they didn’t really know all the details, but I went to lunch a lot.  And I did.  And while I was at lunch, I built the profile of the organization, raised significant money, and helped build our board to be the board of choice in our community.  You can do a lot at lunch.

What do nonprofit CEOs really do?

The CEO assists in building the board, both initially through encouraging an appropriate prospecting, vetting, and orientation process and on-going though Board education and evaluation.  Please note that I said “through encouraging” and not “by doing.”  It is the CEO’s role to support good board process, and the board development committee’s role to lead the process.

The CEO is the chief fund raiser, the chief cheerleader, and the leader in building a culture of philanthropy.  The development staff raises money independently and also supports the CEO and the board to fulfill their fund raising roles. As discussed in greater detail in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives  “Resource development functions most effectively in a culture of servant leadership and philanthropy among the board and leadership team, as well as an agency-wide commitment.  A community cannot and will not invest in an agency without the investment of the board and staff.  Development staff cannot raise money without the support of the CEO. CEOs cannot raise money without the support of the board. Resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.”

The CEO is the face of the organization.  That means that everything they do, whether at work, at the store or elsewhere – both good and bad – will reflect on the organization.

The public pieces aren’t the sum total of the role, there’s internal work to be done as well.  That includes policy and plan development, staff leadership and system development, and program assessment, development, implementation, and evaluation.

It is your job to engage, inspire and ensure that your team in fulfilling their role and moving forward your mission. That means you have to set and hold people accountable to high standards; live, infuse and model your organization’s values; and make sure every day that your mission and your clients are paramount. It’s very easy to begin to think that donors, community leaders, politicians or the Board are the ones we exist to serve, yet they are not. Our agencies exist to serve our clients.

Finally- and this is what most people miss most- strategic thinking and planning will help you align your organization and change your community.

Good leaders get out of the trenches.  Crisis management is an option when necessary- and we all know it is occasionally necessary- but it cannot become the CEO’s default leadership style.  Good CEOs find the time to think, to assess, to challenge and to wonder if there isn’t a better way.

CEOs also encourage and support their board to do a strategic plan and then implement that plan.  “Strategic planning is a process in which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.”   (Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives )

At the end of the day, the job of the CEO is to ensure the organization is still standing tomorrow, and preferably thriving!  They understand the organization is the vehicle, but the focus is the mission and the clients.  CEOs inspire and engage everyone with whom they come into contact to work for the betterment of their clients and their community.

And you thought we just went to lunch.

As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: