Monthly Archives: June 2013

Nonprofit Leadership: Making a Difference

ACTimBoldingAwardOur 21 years of experience have taught us that when you invest in building great nonprofit leadership, you invest in building a stronger community.  Effective leaders not only make a difference in their own organizations but also in the communities and the people they serve.  As Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky said in their book, Leadership on the Line, “Exercising leadership is a way of giving meaning to your life by contributing to the lives of others.”

Over the years, the Alliance has recognized ten defining characteristics of strong leaders:

  • A passion for the cause and the ability to keep the organization focused on advancing its mission, always looking at the bigger picture.
  • An inspiring motivator, encouraging others to be the best they can be at accomplishing their work.
  • Analytical, objective and strategic, with the ability to step back from a situation and make rational decisions based on fact and free of bias.
  • Honest, humble and willing to listen to employees at all levels of the organization.
  • Courageous, tenacious, and patient, not afraid to stand alone, succumb to pressure and keep moving forward toward the organization’s goals.
  • Responsible—the first to accept the blame and the first to spread the accolades.
  • Relationship builder, embracing the idea of a networked nonprofit, letting the world in as fully engaged partners.
  • Articulate in communicating both internally and externally.
  • Adaptive to the environment, challenging long-held beliefs, embracing learning and risk taking as fundamental competencies.
  • A focus on impact and outcomes.

At our eighth annual conference on May 1st, it was the Alliance’s distinct honor to recognize a Mid-South nonprofit leader who exemplifies these characteristics. Tim Bolding, Executive Director of United Housing, was presented our first Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership award for his passion, tenacity and continuous efforts to champion affordable housing in Memphis for more than 30 years.  Tim works everyday to make United Housing the best it can be at serving its clients and closely follows his own rules of leadership – check your ego at the door, being right is irrelevant and take what you have to make what you need to get what you want.

Beginning his career as an intern in the Shelby County Office of Intergovernmental Relations, Tim took the initiative to write a grant that led to the creation of the county’s first Department of Housing.  After serving as the department’s first administrator for a number of years, he became the Executive Director of the Memphis Multibank Community Development Corporation and oversaw the development of a United Way grant, which initially funded United Housing.  Under Tim’s leadership the past 18 years, United Housing has counseled more than 6,800 individuals and families and facilitated the purchase of more than 2,500 homes in Memphis and ShelbyCounty.

United Housing is a graduate of the Alliance’s Program for Nonprofit Excellence.  Upon entering the program, Tim is remembered as saying that he had no interest in working with or partnering with other organizations—it was just too much trouble.  Going through the PNE process, Tim recognized the importance of being a networked organization. Over the past ten years, he has helped to spearhead numerous partnerships in the Memphis community and across the state of Tennessee, which have included both nonprofit and for-profit partners. These partnerships have had a collective impact of over $300 million in housing development in our community.

What qualities do you think make someone a strong leader?  Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Board Engagement: The Most Unorthodox Development Committee Meeting Ever


Reprinted with permission from Creation in Common. Originally posted May 28, 2013.

“This will be the most unorthodox development committee meeting you have ever attended” promised Tom, the committee chair. Admittedly, I was skeptical, yet the energy in the room was palpable as more and more committee members stuffed themselves into the tiny, clown-car-like space, where we were meeting. While the need for the organization’s services had grown significantly, the development effort, though robust, had remained relatively flat over the last five years. This group of people committed themselves to find a way to take their work to the next level.

The board/volunteer development committee has the difficult job of generating high performance while overcoming significant negative stereotypes about fundraising. Endemic to many failed efforts is a misunderstanding about what is needed from the committee. Often we think about it in terms of more influence, better contacts, and deeper pockets. These are important, but these are the outcomes not solutions to building an effective development program. By chasing these, committee members put themselves in a very unproductive position — reacting to each others ideas, hoping that someone will discover the secret that will make asking their friends for money less painful.

What I appreciated most about Tom’s “unorthodox development committee meeting” was that this group of people had moved beyond reacting to each other’s ideas before they walked through the door. For the last few months, the committee has ruminated over reams of data about the organization’s past fundraising performance– understanding the structure of the program, the kind of results it has generated, how it cultivates new donor prospects and how it impacts the donor relationship. More importantly, they were able to dispel several assumptions creating a clear picture about their situation. Now, they were ready to begin the discussion about what a redesigned effort might look like.

According to organizational learning guru Peter Senge, “understanding the creative process is the foundation of genuine mastery.” Yet, he goes on to say, “muddling through is the strategy that characterizes most of us.” For the development committee to work (or any board committee for that matter), we need to embrace the creative process by utilizing the skills and expertise around the table to assess situations, broaden perceptions, and surface deep assumptions. From there we can take action on a fresh perspectives that will give way to strategies rooted deeply in the committee’s beliefs and collective thinking. This will lead to building new activities and processes and ultimately develop new structures and practices that will maintain the effort.

Key to the creative process is a deepening of commitment. When development committee members react to each other, there is no skin in the game. Ideas are a dime a dozen. But when members delve into the issues, examine assumptions, and discuss new solutions, they are also sharing their passions, beliefs, and desires for the organization. As the committee seeks a solution, the individual member is expressing why they are there and the group must navigate its way through these different perspectives synthesizing them into a shared vision forward.

After introductions in the small cramped room, Tom had us get up and walk next door into a larger open space and there we worked individually and in teams to explore the organization’s situation and identify potential strategies. It was not the large room, the paper on the wall, or the collaborative brainstorming that made this meeting “unorthodox.” It was that this committee was ready and energized to go to the next level, and at the end of the meeting more committed than when they started to continue on their creative journey.

Executive Coaching, An Essential Leadership Development Tool for Today’s Business Landscape


Guest Contributor: Sonja Mustiful, Essence of Coaching LLC, Alliance Consultant

Executive Coaching is the active and collaborative participation of both the coach and the client. Coaching helps the client leverage their strengths, with a deliberate focus on first identifying and assessing their professional development needs and then helping clients make specific behavioral changes resulting in a more effective leader.

In my work as an executive coach, I meet at least twice a month with each of my coaching clients.  I often talk to them in person, on the phone and exchange emails with them as we work on their real-time business challenges. It is completely confidential giving the client an opportunity to share personal concerns while gaining an external perspective.

Executive Coaching focuses on what it is that you need to do to facilitate the change you desire. This is why organizations are increasingly enlisting the services of certified executive coaches. It is about identifying and clarifying your concerns, enhancing effective action, building capabilities and practicing new behaviors. It is about eliminating things that are not working and establishing boundaries. Coaching helps clarify personal and professional goals and identify ineffective attitudes or blind spots that may be detracting from otherwise exceptional performance.

The client process of Executive Coaching addresses where you are today and where you would like to be in the future. It is forward-looking and action-oriented.  Coaching is more than a quick fix. It may be necessary to look at a number of variables including how you are perceived by your peers; how you prefer to interact with others; how you make decisions; your strengths and weaknesses; your management, conflict resolution style and your communications patterns.

Executive Coaching focuses on five key areas: 1) understanding your Leadership Style; 2) assisting in assessing your core values and life mission (if desired); 3) focusing in on what you want to achieve; 4) taking responsibility for your actions and implementing change; 5) increasing your skill levels.

An executive coach is able to objectively provide a supportive mechanism for making realistic progress by giving feedback, helping clients increase their confidence in new situations and holding clients accountable to their development plans.

The Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence invites you to read an interview with author Bill Ryan about his study, “Coaching Practices and Prospects: The Flexible Leadership Awards Program in Context”.  The interview was originally published by The Nonprofit Quarterly on May 14, 2013.