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Stewarding What’s Broke By R. Scott Rodin

Stewarding What’s Broke in Times of Chaos

There is an adage that says, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” I would encourage leaders of Christian nonprofits to consider a different version of that saying, “If it’s broke, don’t fix it.” What do I mean by that? In working with a large number of nonprofits both through board training and through my consulting work, I am seeing an interesting trend emerge. The coronavirus has broken things in each of our organizations. Those things might include our program delivery, our modes of fundraising, our personnel management practices, our financial controls, our strategic planning, and the culture of our organization. While each of these poses its own set of problems, the trend I am seeing is how steward leaders are turning these challenges into new opportunities. Following a famous dictum, they’re not wasting the crisis.

Common Temptation

The temptation for many organizations, and frankly many boards, is to see this time as a short-term problem that, once past, will allow us to return to a previous normal. As leaders, we can be tempted to play the owner, wanting to take control of the situation and force it back into its old boxes. This seems reassuring and comforting. We knew how things were operating before, and we’d like to return to that time with certainty. Leaders who like control will revert to familiar patterns rather than embrace chaos as an opportunity for much-needed change.

Creative Approaches

On the other hand, steward leaders are free to ask what God is doing amid this crisis and how they might steward it creatively. We see this in how organizations embrace new ways to deliver their programs. By keeping the mission at the center and allowing delivery methods to change and adapt as needed, many nonprofits are demonstrating a level of innovation that would not be possible if the culture valued maintaining the status quo. Given the opportunity through the pandemic’s deconstruction of old systems, steward leaders are stepping into the moment and are going beyond finding ways to be effective during the pandemic. They realize that many of these changes will continue and become the new way of operating for greater mission effectiveness.

Rethinking Connections

The same is true for fundraising. There are a host of creative new ways in which organizations connect with giving partners, rethinking events and using social media and Zoom to keep financial partners engaged at even greater levels than before. Once again, these organizations are discovering a way to maintain and even advance their fundraising amid the crisis and planning to incorporate these practices into a post-COVID world.

The same stories are told in personnel management, strategic planning, financial management, and board work, where there is the freedom to look through the lens of a steward and seek God’s leading through intentional disciplines of discernment, new and even radical ways of operating that will serve nonprofits well into the future are emerging.

A New Future

So, the question I am asking is, are you looking forward to returning to business as usual, or are you seeing this time of crisis as a rare and significant opportunity to steward your organization toward a new future in every area of organizational life?

Let me conclude with three brief recommendations on what that stewarding might look like.

  • First, it would mean suspending linear thinking and being open to the Holy Spirit, leading you in a more inductive process of looking at the world around you and assessing the better future for your organization.
  • Second, it would mean rethinking the ‘why’ behind your mission statement, understanding the original motivation for the organization’s existence, and placing it at the center of your deliberations. Keeping that at the center gives you the freedom to embrace significant change in how you do things without losing the central focus and purpose of the organization’s existence.
  • And finally, this stewarding calls us to a more profound commitment to discernment as a community. How can you lead your organization at every level to embrace disciplines that allow you to hear and affirm God’s leading at a new level?

I pray that you use this moment’s brokenness to build an even better future for your organization, led by the Holy Spirit, embracing a culture of change and holding lightly to the reins as afaithfule steward leader.

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R. Scott Rodin is the Senior Consultant/Chief Strategy Officer for The Focus Group. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the Association of Biblical Higher Education and as board chair for ChinaSource. Over the past thirty-eight years, Scott Rodin has helped hundreds of organizations improve their effectiveness in leadership, fund development, strategic planning, and board development.

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