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The Sustainability Hero

The sustainability of your nonprofit probably depends more on the talent of your executive than any other single factor.  Other factors deserve and receive attention, yet often the executive’s talent is taken for granted.

The executive was hired or promoted based upon his or her talent.  With a strong executive in place, the board can be confident that the executive will alert the board when other areas of sustainability need attention. Therefore, the board needs to focus on keeping the executive well prepared to handle the evolving needs of the nonprofit.

Consider a nonprofit who hired its executive 10 years ago.  The board was exceptionally pleased with the new executive.  Today, the board is ready to fire the executive because the nonprofit is struggling and they blame the executive for the struggles.  While it is true that the executive could be doing several things differently, someone needed to teach the executive about the new ways that could replace the old ways.  Of course, requests from the executive for additional training should be encouraged.  Without ongoing training, it is hard to blame the executive for being unable to see what could be different.

Keeping talent relevant and up to the evolving challenges of your nonprofit is critical.  As your organization grows, the talent must grow with it.  After all, no organization can grow beyond the leader’s capacity to lead.  Every nonprofit must grow at least as fast as the population its serves and its fundraising must grow at least as fast as the population it serves plus the rate of inflation.  When an organization outruns its leader the organization begins to decline and so does its sustainability.

Executive talent is the key to having engaged employees.  Without an executive who is always more than ready for the challenges the organization faces, it is difficult for the employees to have faith in the future of the nonprofit.  Without faith in the future, it is hard for any employee to be fully engaged.  The donors, referral sources, advocates, and clients are unlikely to be more engaged than the people they interact with.  Everyone’s engagement is an important part of sustainability.

The talent of your executive is also a key factor in his or her effectiveness.  Effectiveness is contagious.  When your executive is the model of effectiveness, it challenges your staff to reach higher.  It also tells your stakeholders that creating value is important to your nonprofit.

In other words, executive talent determines your nonprofit’s performance.  When you place an emphasis on developing the talent of your nonprofit, you will be improving the performance of your nonprofit and by extension increasing its sustainability.  Without a talent development program, it is unfair for anyone to be critical of your executive’s performance.

Next Step:

Create a talent development program for your nonprofit’s professional leaders and especially your executive

Use the level of engagement of your employees as an indicator of how well your talent development program is working

Use the quality and strength of all of your programs (client services, fundraising, hiring, finances, etc.) as indicators of your nonprofit’s effectiveness

Use the level of engagement of your staff and its quality and strength to guide your budgeting for talent development (more money for talent development means better performance in all areas)

Besides talent, you hired your executive because of his or her commitment to your mission and your clients.  That passion makes your executive willing to learn and drives your executive to be successful. Reward your executive for his or her commitment and service by helping him or her develop their full potential.  It is one of the best ways you can compensate your executive for his or her years of service and dedication. It is also one of the best ways to increase the sustainability of your nonprofit.

Take It Further:

Encourage your board to create a talent strategy for your nonprofit

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