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Future Value and the Nonprofit Leader By Mark L. Vincent

Have you considered the future value you bring as a nonprofit leader?

If you are a nonprofit leader who intends the organization to continue beyond your steward leadership, you must solve for future value. And yet, the idea of future value seems somehow tinged for many nonprofit leaders. Some seem to feel that a focus on future value sounds greedy as if they seek growth for growth’s sake. Others believe they might be placing their trust in a fiscal god rather than the God of heaven.

But what if future value means more of the mission?

More delivery of it.

More people who love it.

More people who can lead it.

For this blog post, we will take the first on the above list, future value as more delivery of the mission, More delivery of a mission is possible because:

  • resources we already have are directed more efficiently and effectively (avoiding mission drift)
  • or because we increase our leverage or acquisition of even more resources, or hopefully both (being unafraid of money)

Mission Drift

Let’s give credit to Peter Greer for helping us become familiar with this term. Mission Drift happens when we give ourselves to something that is very much like the mission or is tangentially connected to the mission, but it is not the mission itself. Mission drift sends us down the side channel of good to do rather than best to do. Mission drift introduces inefficiency and dilutes effectiveness. Mission drift gets in the way of being able to direct resources wisely. We counter mission drift through our fastidiousness about the mission being front and center. Always.

Fear of Money

The fear of money gets in the way of our ability to see and then act on opportunities to leverage or acquire more resources supporting the mission. Some leaders are afraid because they believe they do not or cannot understand money matters. They say, “I don’t do money.” Others are afraid because they do not wish to be perceived as loving money when the bible instructs otherwise. They say, “God will provide.” And they stop (ac)counting. Both approaches become blinders whereby the leader cannot perceive possibilities for action and where more of the mission might be achieved.

Organizational development types like me know that informal and relaxed communication is the more reliable data source when an organization’s informal conversation does not match its formal/public communication. For instance: across our cups of coffee, I often ask executive leaders about the organization’s strategy. The usual response is their next steps regarding organizational size and program: employees, donor base, audience reach, number of divisions or programs. They rarely say anything about the mission and how pursuing more of the mission informs their strategy. It is as if organizational capacity and strategy replaced the mission. The marketing and development departments may identify the mission on the website’s mission or in a donor appeal, but the mission isn’t the main driver of C-Suite or board conversation. Organizational size and sustainability are. The result is a wide-open door for mission drift to make itself at home.

Similarly, when I ask executive leaders about the organization’s size, those who run businesses tend to name the largest income they ever achieved, even if some years ago. Those who own businesses describe the margin or profitability of the company; usually the peak margin reached rather than the current one. And, those who lead nonprofits often identify the total expenses intended for the year, whether or not they have yet raised the money for it. However, it is very rare for any of these leaders to describe the size or scope of the mission.

Mission and Current Value

Do you see the contradiction for nonprofit leaders? Some do not want to talk about future value because it sounds to their ears as if it is only about money, and they want to remain focused on the mission. And yet, when asked about current value (organizational size), the response is often solely about money with no mention of the mission. When I point out the contradiction, pushback happens.

“We always feature that at our banquet.”

“That is the headline on our website.”

“Well, of course!”

But the fact remains that in an informal conversation where asked about organizational size, the first answer is the annual expense and not delivery on the mission. Friends, if we cannot get our minds around current value in relation to mission, it is nearly impossible to look to a future that intends to do even more.

Summarizing this, to do more of the mission requires a set of resources that either grows in abundance, becomes more efficiently and effectively used, or ideally both.* Certainly, we do not want the finding and wise use of the resources to become a substitute for the mission. But neither do we want a mission to be disconnected from the fuel that makes the mission happen.

Suppose we can better align our minds toward more of the mission so that its measure is the reason for our strategic choices and the need for healthy balance sheets, positive cash flow, and buttoned-down financial reports. In that case, we can make more of the mission what we do and measure. Even more, we can look to the future and ask, “how might we do more of it?” Those who are privileged to ask and then seek answers to this question will quickly discover that more of the mission requires additional leaders who will lead long after the they hand off the baton.  And so, the Maestro-level leader journey begins….

Every year, there is an inflationary bite. For some time it has been a steady 3%. For 2021, it looks to be 5% or greater. The nonprofit leader must either grow the organization by that percentage or find that much in cost reduction/efficiencies to remain the same size. Grow by only 2%, and the organization is less capable than it was before.

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Mark L. Vincent  is the Founder of Design Group International and the Society for Process Consulting. He hosts the Third Turn Podcast and facilitates Maestro-level leaders.

 

What is a Maestro-level Leader?

It is a  four-year peer-based leadership journey to explore, map, and implement what succession, sustained organizational success, and legacy look like in each leader’s unique life and organizational context.

It is for organizational leaders/founders who know it’s time to not only think about but actually plan for succession, and who want to approach What’s Next with a broader lens–planning for a new season of growth, value, impact, and significance for themselves, their successor, and the organization as a whole. Leaders who believe that fostering the success of their successors and building (versus eroding) value are non-negotiable for their transition and leadership legacy.

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