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Early Insights from the Nonprofit Management Institute

Last week, I participated in the Nonprofit Management Institute hosted by CompassPoint.  It was a great opportunity to get an overview of some key areas related to my new role as Managing Director and get the chance to learn from other peers working in the sector.  I am still processing all the information but wanted to share a few insights with the community:

Difference Between Leadership and Management

The entire workshop began with an overview of what leadership is and how it helps to frame our role in the organization. We started by reviewing how CompassPoint defines leadership – “a process of engaging others to move forward an organizational or community agenda, rather than a position of authority.”  That definition is really aligned with how we at LLC define leadership, with an emphasis on the group process rather than the individual.  


By applying that overarching frame to thinking about how work gets implemented within the organization, we try to empower everyone on the team to take leadership on different projects and hold the collective success of the organization.  However, we have struggled with some of the implementation aspects of how that happens on a day-to-day basis, particularly around decision-making and power dynamics.  The workshop reminded me that there is some preparation required for distributed leadership to work, in which individuals that participate have relative/relevant experience and a readiness to engage in group processes.  Leadership is a process of mobilizing people towards a common goal, but it requires a process and structures to support it – in other words, it requires a level of management.  At LLC, we are committed to finding ways to support the leadership process across the organization, and our immediate emphasis will be in identifying and implementing the necessary management structures to support that process.

Importance of Recognizing and Understanding the Culture of the Organization

External and internal factors are always influencing organizations to change and adapt based on new situations and priorities.  However, change is not easy to undertake.  The workshop talked about three dimensions that should be considered when dealing with organizational change: skills, systems and culture. Culture is the overarching context in which the organization operates, and it’s the most difficult thing to change.  The most important considerations to take when dealing with culture is acknowledging that every organization or group has a culture, and understanding what that culture is.  That is going to inform whether or not a specific change is aligned with the organization, and whether or not it is going to be a successful change.  The systems are necessary to support the change – building or improving infrastructure, such as databases, tools and procedures.  Lastly, the skills are the easiest dimension to manage since individuals can learn new skills to operate in the new systems. 

Sustainability and Strategy

Another important topic that we discussed during the workshop was sustainability, which was described in the following way, “sustainability encompasses both financial sustainability (the ability to generate resources that meet the needs of the present without compromising the future) and programmatic sustainability (the ability to develop, mature, and cycle out programs to be responsive to constituencies over time).” (Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability)  This expanded definition was a great context to frame the conversation about financial leadership, since it has to be directly related to the strategy and mission of an organization.  In the workshop, we discussed how the traditional view of “strategic planning” as a process that is somewhat static is changing to a more dynamic process that views strategy as a set of actions to create and sustain an organization’s unique value to positively impact social change.  In this sense, strategies are continuously redefined, do not have a set lifespan, are adaptive, and are about execution.

We also talked about how the Theory of Change can help articulate the underlining direction for the organization (what is the impact they want to have, what are the assumptions they are considering, and how are they contributing to that impact).  The Theory of Change can be the guiding frame for formulating, testing, and implementing strategies.

There are many more take-aways from the workshop and I will continue to share ideas in the next few months!  For LLC, I am already thinking about implementing some specific strategies around management structures, articulating and communicating the culture of LLC, and exploring how our strategic directions for the next three years are aligned with our assumptions about social impact.