When was the last time you read a book on nonprofit leadership – or a book on leadership of any kind, for that matter – that made you laugh out loud, tugged your heartstrings, and compelled you to keep reading? Maybe never, right? That’s about to change if you pick up a copy of Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership (Because Nonprofits Are Messy).
You’ll be treated to over 200 pages of wisdom, wittily written. Here are my chapter-by-chapter takeaways:
- The Superpowers of Nonprofit Leadership – I loved Joan’s use of the Superman-Spiderman-Gumby-Kermit the Frog analogy to explore the challenges and trade-offs inherent in everyday leadership in the nonprofit world and what’s a good fit in various situations.
- You Got to Get Me at Hello – Nugget after nugget about how to tell the story of your organization, but amidst all that, the discussion about giving your elevator pitch to a 10-year-old was priceless.
- Copilots in a Twin Engine Plane – As a longtime advocate for the importance of what I call the board-executive social contract, this chapter had me singing. I loved her “five-star board chair checklist,” “telltale signs of wrong,” ”getting it right from the start,” and “feeding the board.” Brilliant.
- The Key Is Not in the Answers. It’s in the Questions – Compared to the others, I found this to be one of the more conventional chapters in the book, but nonetheless a solid discussion of strategy development and planning.
- You Can Do This – An excellent discussion of the fear and loathing about fundraising, and, ultimately, the joys of taking responsibility for this lifeblood area.
- Managing the Paid and Unpaid (or I Came to Change the World, Not Conduct Evaluations) – A rich exploration of managing people, staff, and volunteers. I especially liked the section on managing in 3-D.
- When It Hits the Fan – Having sat on two insurance company boards and played a small but early role in the formation of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, I know nonprofits do face significant risks in their operations, and some more than others. Having a contingency plan for crisis management and business continuity can spell the difference between survival and early death, if and when it does hit the fan.
- Hello, I Must Be Going (or Navigating Leadership Transitions) – As a leadership succession consultant, this is “my” chapter. First, I love that she deals with both board and staff transitions. She does a solid job looking at some of the symptoms and challenges of various types of board leadership, especially when it goes awry. (Hey, anybody can fly the plane when it’s smooth going.) Also, Joan does a great job outlining symptoms, challenges, and antidotes to various scenarios involving CEO transitions. But, she won my heart by talking about how too often transitions are couched in terms of crisis. In fact, I think her final quote in this chapter should be cast in bronze and sent to every nonprofit board and executive in the country: “Build a stable, effective organization with great people and I guarantee you the transition will be stable too.” Amen, sister. Amen!
- You Are the Champions – Oh no, the last chapter! Let’s see how she closes. There are some nice callbacks to some of the points that she made earlier in the book. But wait, only five pages? There’s some discussion about the intensity of the leadership roles, and she nicely ties it to the analogy of sprinters versus marathoners. But I think there’s a lot more that could have been done in this chapter to address personal resiliency in nonprofit leadership roles. Okay, this is a small gripe – sort of like complaining about the caramelization of my crème brûlée after being treated to a rich banquet of ideas.
(Switching metaphors.) I’m a hiker. And I especially love hiking in the spring. That’s how I felt reading this book. A spring walk in the woods is an immersion in an awakening land. There are fresh breezes. All around you there are items big and small that capture your imagination and inspire you. There’s the promise of growth, and you feel enveloped in possibility. If you are a nonprofit executive or board member, take a trip through this book and see if you don’t feel the same.
Review – The Sustainability Mindset (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014)
Reviewed by Don Tebbe
I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it. I was expecting a sequel to Zimmerman and Bell’s earlier book, Nonprofit Sustainability. But The Sustainability Mindset is actually a successor to that important, earlier work. Available from Amazon.com.
My first impression is awe at the authors’ ability to pack so many rich ideas and useful tools into just 200 pages. Beyond the sage advice, I counted no less than 43 figures, 7 tables, 4 sample exhibits, 3 case studies and 23 templates.
The book walks you through a six-step sustainability planning process. As in their earlier work, the central tool of this book is the “matrix map,” a 2-axis, 4-quadrant table that plots the dual bottom-line of a nonprofit: mission impact and financial viability. The idea is that the leadership team assesses the organization’s programs and determines each program’s “profitability” and mission impact. The results are plotted on the matrix map, using circles that are scaled according to each program’s expenses. The composite map provides a comprehensive picture of the organization’s business model. See the example below.
The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide covers not just the mechanics of the transition process but important related topics such as the opportunity to ensure leadership diversity, addressing founders and founder transitions, dealing with emotions during the transition process, succession planning, and leader development. The concluding chapter – Many Paths to a Leaderful Organization – sums up the book nicely. 384 pages, 9 chapters, 5 appendices and 15 tools. Available from Amazon.
Tim Wolfred is a long-time, key thought leader on the topic of nonprofit executive transitions. Organized around three phases – Prepare, Pivot, and Thrive – Tim provides practical advice on how to manage leadership turnover in ways that can heighten mission impact while avoiding potential downsides.
Prepare – board members, staff, volunteers, and funders engage in an efficient process for updating the agency’s strategic directions and crafting a profile of the skills needed in the next executive.
Pivot – a search ensues, conducted by a board reinvigorated and excited about the agency’s future impact.
Thrive – the board engages the newly hired executive as a leadership partner and gives him or her clear performance priorities derived from the strategic directions.
Managing Executive Transitions provides engaging case studies and hands-on tools such as planning agendas, timelines, sample letters, and communication tips will smooth the transition to new executive leadership. 165 pages, 6 chapters, 3 appendices and 28 tools. Available from Amazon.
The Community Action Partnership Sustainability Toolkit (Washington, DC: The Community Action Partnership, 2012)
The Community Action Partnership Sustainability Toolkit is a three-part series of succession and sustainability guides published by the Community Action Partnership, the national association for Community Action Agencies and their leaders. Although the guides were written with Community Action Agencies in mind, the principles apply to all nonprofits. They were designed to help leaders strengthen the capacity of their organizations, especially those organizations facing a CEO transition in the near future. Each of the guides can be used individually, but they can be used together to help leaders strengthen their organizations and manage leadership turnover.
The Organizational Sustainability Planning Guide is a tool for assessing and strengthening the areas critical to the organization’s long-term sustainability by conducting an organizational sustainability assessment and using the results to develop an organizational sustainability action plan. Click here for FREE download.
The Executive Succession Planning Guide provides an overview of three approaches to succession planning and presents a detailed approach for developing “succession essentials,” a board-adopted succession policy for the chief executive position and a companion emergency backup plan for the CEO position, but it can be adapted to other staff leadership positions as well. Click here for FREE download.
The Executive Transition Management Guide presents a three-phase approach for managing turnover in a leadership position, especially the CEO position. Click here for FREE download.
Nonprofit Executive Succession Planning Toolkit (Kansas City: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, 2011)
Commissioned by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, this toolkit is a free resource for nonprofit boards of directors and executive leaders to effectively implement succession planning and overcome barriers.