How to build leadership and capacity in NFP orgs

The not–for-profit sector is a large employment sector. It’s important to economies. It does things neither government or the private sector can do.


With a few notable exceptions, it is starved of quality management!

The sector is funded both by public money and donor funders. Now that economies are shrinking / consolidating…

a) The old funding model is grinding to a halt,

b) The recipients are competing fiercely for a shrinking pie,

c) Governments and other funders are aligning their handouts with their own goals and converting the funding / granting process to a bidding system.

Hence, the funding crisis is actually a leadership crisis. It’s at both the board and executive leadership level.

Here are 18 proven ways to help the NFP organization make progress on an issue that’s no longer under the radar and can easily be turned into an opportunity!

1. The #1 opportunity / task, by far, is to change what’s measured. Measure outcomes, not budgets and programs. Change or re-frame the desired outcomes. Beyond that…

2. Think larger systems* Start focusing on outcomes for the larger community, not just the narrow interest of the NFP.

3. Audit the body of knowledge your NFP has and the unique skill sets you possess. Align them with the larger need. Stop doing the things that others do better than you.

4. Don’t make fundraising a key strategy if that’s your main survival tactic. What you do should be so good and distinct that funding comes to you.

5. Change happens all the time. Endlessly! Find the useful change that’s needed and amplify your skill set within it.

6. Consider partnerships, collaborations and consortiums among which you can shine and deliver real value. Perhaps be the lead or backbone of the group.

7. Think about the needs of your funders. What value do you need to deliver to them so they can continue to support you? Incidentally, this is often simply the data that funders need to rationalize supporting you.

8. Pitch your audience on purposeful outcomes (e.g., prosperity, self-reliance, etc.) beyond solving the immediate ‘problem’.

9. Focus on strategy and outcomes over the long haul (which will keep changing). Budgets and programs follow strategy, they don’t lead it.

10. Use fact-based information and insights to drive your strategic questions. Ideology makes for passion but limits change and forces a narrow focus.

11. Make strategy a ‘learn / do’ effort, not a theoretical or administrative exercise.

12. Set measurable goals, track them, don’t expect miracles, but demand progress.

13. Don’t think about shrinking funding. Reframe it as capital generation, (i.e., more than money). Look elsewhere for the resources you need.

14. Think about leadership at all levels. Don’t tolerate the administrative and programme delivery mindset.

15. Develop a leadership strategy for the board. Refresh the board regularly with people who have skills that contribute to the organization’s vision and strategy.

16. Set in place a decision-making framework for the board and staff. Encourage dialogue and challenge. Eliminate recursive debate, especially about problems.

17. Send your staff executive to management school. If they resist change, (especially the change strategy) let them be successful elsewhere.

18. Use Solution Focus throughout to frame the opportunities, strategies and implementation plans.

How do we know this will work? It’s already happened in the best practice NFPs. Go find them and ask for their advice.

*Also, take a look at this approach, Collective Impact