Lead Your Nonprofit Like a Start-up. Again.

Have we lost our “mojo”?

Nonprofit organizations were known to be a bit funky, eccentric, creative, out-of-the-box, risk-taking and entrepreneurial.  We behaved like start-ups long before it was hip and cool.  We operated out of family garages, church or business basements since the 1800’s.  In the 1990’s if we wore a tie or nice dress to the office our bosses were worried we had a job interview somewhere.

We grew (significantly), we were successful, we needed rules, policies, guidelines, structures, plans, metrics, and if we wanted to be taken seriously we had to dress like the big kids — suits.  We pursued new initiatives out of our core competencies, moving to being something to all rather than focusing on what we were truly great at.  It was tiring being “the best kept secret” in town, we needed branding, marketing and advertising too.

Nonprofits are not known to be institutionalized behemoths, but have you looked at some of the org charts?  There is a lot of talk in Washington D.C. of eliminating charitable tax deductions for donors — not the time to be sporting an Armani suit as a nonprofit leader.   

Does the work done in suits still translate to significant community impact?  I hope so.

Quite often our roots are founded in once seeing a community need or gap and mobilizing the energy and resources to resolve it.  Community needs and gaps are our opportunities — we need to not lose that lens from which we once saw our world.

And in terms of being “the best kept secret in town”, they never are for very long.