Category Archives: Leadership

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.

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.

What not to do in a crisis (Part 2)

Back in November, we shared our thoughts on how Penn State and UC Davis grossly mishandled their PR responses to major campus scandals. By failing to be open with their constituents, issue timely apologies, or take responsibility for their institutions’ failures, leaders at both universities incited the outrage of the public.

This week, the Susan J. Komen Foundation brought another lesson in how a lack of open communication can result in massive public backlash.

On Tuesday, the story broke that Komen would withdraw its longtime funding of many Planned Parenthood affiliates, due to a new policy that prevents grants to organizations under investigation.

Since early fall, Planned Parenthood has been the target of an investigation initiated by Republican Representative Cliff Stearns of Florida into whether government money was spent on abortions.

This morning, Komen Foundation CEO Nancy Brinker released a statement reversing the decision to defund Planned Parenthood, after an enormous outpouring of criticism, online organizing, and a direct request from 26 Democratic senators.

The statement included a public apology for what Komen described as “recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.” Although it goes on to say that “politics has no place in our grant process,” and that only “criminal and conclusive” investigations will affect its funding decisions, it’s unclear whether the foundation is really backing down. Just yesterday, the foundation said the investigation was not the cause of the cuts, and that the real issue was that Planned Parenthood did not directly provide mammograms. The statement issued this morning doesn’t address that concern at all. While some are celebrating the statement as a victory, others are saying it leaves open the possibility that Planned Parenthood’s future grant applications could be rejected.

But even before its current skirting, the foundation made a grave error in delaying its response to an angry public. By not addressing its decision in due time, and letting its critics speak for it, Komen once again demonstrated how a lack of a communications plan can crush an organization’s reputation in a matter of days.

Abortion is clearly one of the most politically divisive issues in the country, and Komen also received praise for its actions from anti-abortion advocates. But regardless of our personal positions and whether or not our work deals with hot button issues, we can all take another lesson from Komen in what not to do in a crisis: stay silent.

In the age of social media, word travels fast. Within a few hours of the AP story breaking, Planned Parenthood sent a fundraising email out to its network, asking supporters to replace the money that Komen pulled for breast cancer screenings for low-income women. It was only minutes before Facebook and Twitter blew up with pro-Planned Parenthood, anti-Komen response.

For two days, the Komen Foundation said zilch. No press release, nothing on the website. It didn’t update its Facebook page, although it did delete critical comments and add a post welcoming Energizer as a new sponsor (leading to a flurry of negative comments on Energizer’s Facebook page and a call to boycott the company.) It didn’t respond via its active Twitter feed,  although somehow it found time to tweet about prostate cancer found in a mummy.

Komen officials ended their silence on Thursday, attempting to manage public outrage. In a conference call with the media, Brinker said the decision was due to changes in its grantee selection process and had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood’s role as an abortion provider.

Brinker’s explanation was not only late, but evasive. It was already clear that the decision was related to a politically motivated investigation, not a simple change in administrative process. A top public health official at Komen even resigned over the decision. By not responding to the criticism and then pretending the decision was unrelated to such a highly controversial social issue, the foundation broke the trust of many of its supporters.

This isn’t Komen Foundation’s first bad PR move. Remember the Buckets for the Cure campaign? Or when the foundation sued smaller nonprofits for using the phrase “for the cure”?

How will the Komen Foundation move forward in the face of an even bigger blowup? It will have a lot of work to do to repair its image. But as a lesson in the value of preparation, honesty, and respect for people on all sides of an issue–hopefully the third time’s a charm.

What not to do in a crisis

Penn State University and the nonprofit Second Mile have major media crises on hand in the wake of sexual assault charges against former football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The New York-based nonprofit A Better Chance, which sends talented students to high performing schools across the country, has scrambled to publicly distance itself from Second Mile, even though it placed 30 adolescents in the residential program between 1988 and 2001.

When it learned of the charges against Sandusky, the nonprofit Fresh Air Foundation contacted Pennsylvania authorities to alert them that up to six children had been placed in the Sandusky home through its program in the 80s and 90s.

The university and nonprofits that worked with Second Mile were suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the story broke that Sandusky is facing 40 grand jury charges of sexually abusing eight young boys. Even though it’s been more than a decade since either A Better Chance or the Fresh Air Foundation had connections with Sandusky, both organizations found themselves making headlines and issuing careful statements about their former relationships with the coach and his organization.

The Penn State scandal, along with last week’s pepper spray incident at the University of California, Davis, should remind us that all organizations are subject to crimes, scandals, media attention, and public outrage, and all organizations should be prepared to handle a crisis.

The first official statements released by both Penn State and UC Davis after the respective incidents are good lessons in what not to do. Calling the assault allegations “presentments,” Penn State President Graham Spanier announced his “complete confidence” in and “unconditional support” for the athletic director and the VP charged with perjury and failure to report information under the Child Protective Services Law. In his statement to the press, Coach Joe Paterno took care to claim his own innocence, stating that “while I did what I was supposed to…I can’t help but be deeply saddened these matters are alleged to have occurred.”

Penn’s Board of Trustees quickly issued a heartfelt statement to the community, expressing its members’ horror and sorrow and pledging swift, decisive action to uncover the truth. But in defending themselves and their own against the grave charges, and distancing themselves from what people were feeling, Penn State leaders had ready left lasting damage to the university in the public eye.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi also took the well-known “CYA” approach in her initial statements to reporters, condemning the police officers’ actions but defending her own role in the incident. Katehi then angered the campus community with the announcement of a 90-day timeline for a task force to investigate the incident. Subsequently, after calls for her resignation, she announced “full responsibility” for the attack on the protesters, suspending the campus police chief and the two officers who used pepper spray and shortening the investigation to 30 days.

Few nonprofit leaders are prepared to deal with devastating scandals like those at Penn State and Davis, and most won’t have to. But regardless of a nonprofit’s size or line of work, basic knowledge of how to handle sudden media attention is an important organizational capacity. For a start, honesty, humility, and empathy with what victims and the public are feeling are key to communicating in a crisis. (Don’t be this guy.)

Effective crisis management also includes anticipating risks and vulnerability before incidents happen, and developing a plan of action that designates roles, coordinates response strategies, and protects the organization and those it serves. A solid crisis communications plan can reduce tensions, ensure a timely and accurate flow of information, and ultimately save a nonprofit from ruin.

Do you have a crisis communications plan? We’d love to hear from members who have developed (and used) this important tool. We’re also interested in hearing from nonprofit leaders who’ve had formal media training–who taught you and what did you learn? Thanks for sharing!

In the meantime, check out these related links:

BoardSource on crisis communications planning.
Mission Controls Fact Sheets on Crisis Management, from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.
Lessons learned about social media in crisis communication, on NTEN.
A great crisis communications toolkit, including policies, checklists, and examples of decision-making tools, from the Colorado Nonprofit Association.
Brad Phillips, aka Mr. Media, says to be prepared for three types of questions from reporters: those you don’t know the answer to, those that call for speculation, and those that ask for a personal opinion.

The Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence wishes all our members and readers a very happy Thanksgiving.

Philanthropic leader on the deficit, nonprofits, and our greatest civic challenges

We hope you were able to join us for the Alliance’s annual conference on April 27. We came away inspired by the speakers and breakouts, full of ideas for our work as an organization, and with a renewed sense of connection to our nonprofit sector and the Mid-South community.

Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, spoke eloquently about recent and expected changes in the nonprofit funding landscape and how Kresge and private foundations in general are preparing to respond.

According to Rapson, the current deficit reduction crisis is the second “tectonic shift in the nonprofit landscape” that will “almost certainly redefine how nonprofits work.”  Budget reductions, he reported, will “cascade down from Federal services and funding flows to the states, from the states to local government, and from local government to real people living in real places.”

Rapson described the scrambling of the sector to survive amid the financial crisis as a “training wheels exercise” that did not fully prepare us for this new era. He urged the audience not to think of the current environment as a passing phase, or a mere funding crisis, observing that “we are witnessing the deconstruction and reconstruction of what constitutes the common good.” Questions about our deepest ethical priorities as a society are at stake, he declared:

“How will we balance the virtue of long-term investment with an insistence on minimizing tax payments?  How do we preserve a civic architecture of compassion for those less fortunate while honoring the accomplishments of those who have achieved positions of economic and political power?  How can we avoid dismantling structures of mutual assistance in the face an impulse to trust and promote market efficiencies?

The combination of these factors – the new normal, the innovation imperative, and the recasting of the common good – presents a civic circumstance that isn’t temporary or minor or limited.  It’s real, it promises to endure, and it’s becoming embedded in virtually every dimension of modern American life.”

You can read Rapson’s speech here to learn how Kresge is responding to the crisis and how the philanthropic sector as a whole might—or must– move forward in this new age. You’ll also find presentations and articles by other conference speakers, including Cynthia Gibson of the Philanthropic Initiative and Richard Brewster from the National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise.