Ensuring nonprofits are prepared for the future

Lifeboat

Is your nonprofit planning for the future or are you stuck in an endless loop of the current moment? 

Over the past few years all organizations, nonprofit and for profit alike, have become accustomed to operating in “crisis mode.” This has led to employee and board member burnout and unsustainable ways of keeping our heads above water. So, how do we truly come up for air and ensure our nonprofits are prepared for the future without our lifeboat floating away in the process? 

Succession planning. We’ve gotten so wrapped up in the present that succession planning has gone out the window. That has to change — now.

Many nonprofit boards and staff froze in place at the start of the pandemic. For many, this meant very little energy went into planning for future growth and engagement. As time carried forward, we all know what happened next: The “Great Resignation” of 2021. 

People walked away from obligations that had become too much. Thousands of people made massive career shifts or retired from the workforce altogether. Volunteers stepped away from boards or stopped volunteering due to demands in their personal lives. This has left us with a nonprofit world filled with overstretched staff and board members who are worn out.

Where do we begin? Start by taking a fresh look at your board members. Look at putting together a board development committee and chairperson, if you don’t already have one. Often, we get used to going to the same circles to ask for people to step up to volunteer on a board and overlook newer people to the community or workforce. 

Expand your circle. Consider reaching out to local colleges and universities to see if there are students nearing graduation who are looking for opportunities to get involved. Start building up your board with the talents that you need and have conversations around succession planning in board leadership. If you wait until everyone walks away, it will be too late. 

Next, look at your team members. How have their jobs changed since they started? Are you still making sure to harness their talents? Or are you so preoccupied with staying afloat that you are overlooking some amazing talents making staff feel undervalued and underutilized? 

Often, the best intentions create unnecessary conflict. Ensure that the board and organizational leadership is allowing the crew to take part in steering the ship. It is OK to help and offer support, but make sure that those doing the job have an ability to be heard and valued. 

Also, don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations. Checking in with your staff on a regular basis will help you know if there are cracks in your boat before the bottom falls out. Paying attention to how your team is doing can prevent attrition while building plans for the future if people have plans that involve moving on at some point. 

It is time to dust ourselves off and get back to the business of looking ahead.

Anna Patty is owner at Be The Good Consulting, LLC, in Cedar Rapids, and also the director of communications and talent acquisition at Covenant Family Solutions, based in Eastern Iowa.