• Christa Dhimo, Impono LLC

The Non-Profit Perspective: The Power of Transformation



​​Transformation is powerful, extraordinary, usually miraculous-- and non-profits are all about transformation. People found, volunteer for, become members of, give to, sit on volunteer Boards for and lead non-profits because they believe in the specific goodness that their non-profit will add to the world-- how it will transform the world.

Our Impono Community believes that non-profits have a unique Spirit of Transformation that is rarely seen in other business types, and we absolutely love them for that.

And yet, there is too little attention to nurture that same transformational spirit when managing profitability and operational scale as revenues change. This is especially true as a non-profit grows: growth is scale and scale means transformation... but with increased revenue comes a hubris that no company is immune to:

"Why do we need to transform? We're not in trouble..." OR

"No, no, no, we have MORE revenue now, which means we can afford more people, so we don't need to transform we just need to hire..." OR

"But transformation is about rescuing a failed business, we haven't failed!"

(OK, but imagine that butterfly trying to survive in its chrysalis?)

We contend that all businesses need a Culture of Transformation the most during growth stages. With non-profits, where profitability is so essential to how they are able to transform the world, it is critical. What holds them back from creating a Culture of Transformation to match that Spirit of Transformation is common: a perspective that they do not have the time.

And so, we present to you three bare essential tips and tricks for transformation, particularly for non-profits, that will set your transformation-foundation.


TIP #1: TRANSFORMATION ALWAYS STARTS AT THE TOP (THAT MEANS THE BOARD)

Your Board, even a working Board, is not staff.

They are not there to hand assignments off to, create or be a part of a social club, or pontificate about the goings on in the non-profit world.

As with any business, those topics are full game for everyone after you get your Board work done, but a Board is there to be a Board.

Your Checklist:

* Seek cultural and talent match for scale (inclusive of growth and lost revenue) when on-boarding Board members. This is really important during swing-times, when high growth or revenue decrease is expected and transformation is of key importance. Not everyone is comfortable with ambiguity and transformation-- exciting growth can be just as stressful as lost revenues, sometimes even more. The Board sets that tone with you, so they must be capable to manage and support decisions when faced with the prospects of scale.

* Look for Board members with a network that can advance your cause. They are part of your fundraising by virtue of their positions, but they are also part of your business health. If they aren't naturally wired to be direct fundraisers, or if they aren't networked to fundraise, look for other non-profit business strengths such as how they might contribute to optimizing your operations.

* Treat Board Member acquisition and management as you would any other Human Resource process: have a role description and some structure for the interviewing and holding-accountable process. These are key roles and appropriately requires a Goldilocks rigor. In their role description, include an expectation that each brings leadership activity and passivity to the team. We cannot each of us be active in-the-front leaders every day among a group of leaders. The most high functioning Boards are those with leaders who know when to step up and when to step back.

* Expect Board Members to support, encourage AND challenge. There should be a mix of Board members who see things differently, capable of communicating new views in a professional manner within an open environment and without judgement to or from. For Founding Presidents who have ruled-the-roost from the beginning, putting all of his or her soul into the non-profit, a Board member who constructively and compassionately challenges what has always been may feel very uncomfortable. Setting an expectation that this is part of a Board's role for a successful business scale transformation, facilitated by an expert outside team if needed, will increase chances of success.


TIP #2: GO FOR SHORT (vs EASY) TRANSFORMATION POINTS

Many people think the first steps of Transformation are the easiest, and others think the easiest steps should be the first. Quit the labels and go for short, not easy.

Most of us know that becoming healthier by lifestyle doesn't mean you completely change your diet in one day. It is the same for any business.

The most successful transformations are deliberate:

- Purpose remains intact.

- Goal is clear.

- Pace is steady.

Here are some reminders about Transformation...

* Transformation is not change; it is a bunch of little changes that occur over time.

* Transformation should not feel drastic or revolutionary, nor will it be nearly as disruptive as it sounds when it is done properly.

* Transformation is short-term mindful for long-term gains. It is incremental in structure, directional by nature, and must be flexible if it is to be sustainable.

... and also some steps to take for your Transformation:

* Start with one operational shift that will save costs, or reduce a process to only the essential steps, or enhance your fundraising campaigns by one click.

* Get in the habit of sustaining small changes over time, and be sure those small changes actually enhance your mission, goals or employee/volunteer efforts.

* In a Culture of Transformation, there are only a few rules to remember to set and keep tone and pace; those rules are well-worth the focus and discipline to remain business-healthy.


TIP #3: YOUR PEOPLE ARE THE LINK TO YOUR SUCCESS - INVOLVE THEM

Growth is hard if people have stopped growing.

Change is hard if people have never changed.

Commitment is hard if you've never had to commit.

But all of that is easier when the culture supports growth, change and commitment, and it is certainly easier when growth, change and commitment feels positive.

After you assure your Board is "transformation-ready," and that your leadership mindset is aligned (small incremental changes vs a radical change), the most critical elements are your people.

The Cardinal Word for Transformation: Involve.

To involve people means they are part of the cause through personal engagement, part of the bigger decisions, part of the navigation stream. You are involving them in the root of the transformation: here's where we are, here's what we are thinking to keep to scale, what do you think? Do you have different ideas?

The goal isn't consensus; rather, it's to open a framework toward transformation, particularly for scale (up or down). The way in which you involve others will be related to your organization's size and situation, but by and large we have seen that involving-- deeper than inclusion-- is the success linchpin with transformations.

- Involve them.

- Trust them.

- Lead the way and then stand out of the way.

And remember: not all people can or will get there, even when involved. Sometimes transformational goals lead to a place where some simply don't want to go, though we have seen that with transformation (vs straight-on change), nearly all come onboard within a few months despite early resistance-- they simply needed some time to process and digest what they heard vs what it means.


FINAL NOTE: TRANSFORMATION IS REQUIRED THROUGHOUT A BUSINESS'S LIFECYCLE WHETHER YOU ARE PREPARED OR NOT

As with any business, the more closed off you are to the inevitable, the more closed off you will be to influencing the inevitable. If you aren't thinking about the importance of a Transformational Culture, we implore you start today:

  • We all know the business that stopped growing because it couldn't "keep up," or the customers who left because they stopped perceiving value, or the funding that dwindled from lack of results or simply from lack of initial support.

  • Life moves in waves, rarely excluding a single company or individual. It brings everyone along whether prepared or not, and preparation isn't always something that can be planned.

  • As a leader, it is up to you to determine how you will set a tone and capability to assure transformation is a bare essential in your culture-- a key driver to your success, especially for non-profits.

We at Impono hold a special place for non-profits and often provide pro-bono consults to help specifically with non-profit transformations. If you require deeper expertise, we happily reach into our Community and facilitate those connections.

We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

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