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Meeting Nonprofit Challenges with Creative Leadership

March 5, 2012

Last week, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion at the annual Charity Effectiveness Symposium hosted by the Better Business Bureau of New York. The Symposium’s theme was “Thinking Out of the Box: Meeting Challenges with Creative Leadership” and it featured a number of speakers and panel discussions. Ours was the first panel of the day.

My fellow panelists were David Garza, Executive Director of the Henry Street Settlement, Paula Gavin, the President of National Urban Fellows, and Evie Hantzopoulos, Executive Director of Global Kids.

My first question to the panel was: “What are the key challenges facing nonprofit organizations today, and how are you meeting those challenges?” Here are their responses:

David Garza talked about volatility, funding and competition as the major challenges that he thinks that nonprofits are facing. And, the way that he is dealing with those challenges is through developing effective performance, personnel and profile for the Henry Street Settlement.

Paula Gavin spoke of mission impact, funding and accountability as major challenges, and suggested that strategic planning is the best and most effective way of meeting these challenges.

Evie Hantzopoulos talked about the following five challenges:

  • Doing more with less
  • Telling your story effectively
  • Deciding when and how to grow
  • Retaining employees with no clear career path
  • The tension between collecting data and achieving outcomes

Hantzopoulos suggested that engaging your board, staff and constituents in solving these problems, and being able to articulate the outcomes that you want to achieve, are the most effective ways of addressing these challenges. She also said that attitude is everything, and that as a leader you have to make it happen.

During the course of the discussion, we encouraged the 300 or so audience members to tweet using the hashtag #bbbcharitysymposium. While I can’t say that many actually did so, it was interesting to see some of the tweets afterwards.

Here’s a sample:

“What happens when you make a mistake? Quickly declare what you learned, figure out why & move on.”

“Micro management damages culture & creativity of staff, lead, but get out of the way.”

“Great quote Garza: raising your organization’s profile is not self serving, and it doesn’t happen by accident.”

“Paula Gavin: it always comes back to knowing who you are…where you’re going to go & how you are going to get there.”

What do you think are the challenges that are facing nonprofit organizations today? What are you doing to meet those challenges?

Share your comments with us here.

P.S. Did you know that the Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 and is celebrating its Centennial anniversary this year? The BBB has been reviewing and evaluating charities since the 1940s.


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