How do you lead in an uncertain future? Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution.” For us working in the nonprofit world I think we may be overdue. As we celebrate our July 4th holiday I would like to challenge your thinking on what the future may bring for nonprofits. For many of the people I talk with, they are all concerned about the global economic conditions fearing, at worst, another severe global depression and, at best, a stagnate economy for the next several years. I believe the best way to have a better future is to create it. Because of several major changes I see, nonprofits that succeed in moving forward have to change the way they do things if they hope to continue to succeed. I do not believe incremental improvement or standing still will be enough to help create the revolution we require if we hope to leave the world better place for our children.
I think innovation is the most powerful tool in the successful nonprofit’s toolkit moving forward. But how do you innovate in challenging times with less resources available and increasing demand for your services? I believe applying technology to many of your most pressing challenges by getting a better understanding of what opportunities exist and how to augment your efforts. New technologies can impact your stakeholders in many different ways. Many of your best donors and contributors are getting to an age where they may not be able to provide the kind of support to which your organization has grown accustomed. Many aging stakeholders’ physical conditions have become more limited and many are adjusting to hearing aids, less physical mobility, and increased dependency on others to help them with their activities. On the other hand many middle aged people are becoming caregivers for several generations of their families, leaving less time to volunteer with nonprofits.
I can hear you out there grumbling, “Tell me something I don’t know, Tripp.” I believe this is the good news for you and your nonprofit organization. You have an increased opportunity to serve your communities in many different ways. Your programming must reflect and take advantage of these new trends. Can you organization create opportunities to be involved with all the many different generations within the same household? Many organizations are just beginning to offer programs for the whole family, a social mixer, so to speak. By taking advantage of your staff’s creativity you can increase your customers’ involvement in your organization. Have your younger customers help your older ones by bringing them together in activities that use both their capabilities and gifts.
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is how access to low cost / high touch technology dramatically changes the cost structures for your nonprofit organization. In the past, a nonprofit organization would have to invest significant resources in creating and engaging their communities. Today’s social technologies allow you the opportunity to be in front of your stakeholders on a regular basis. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest all offer incredible opportunities to communicate with your key stakeholders in a way that was done only in person in the past. You can use these technologies to keep people apprised of your progress, promote special events, and in some cases, help you find the most involved people in your community.
This ongoing communication capability is the changing power of an individual who has become effective at sharing stories in a number of media. It also can amplify perceived weaknesses in your organization. I’ve found once people learn to use new technologies they expect to use them in all aspects of their lives. Once the tipping point is reached you must adapt or risk becoming extinct.
For many of my partner organizations we are helping our teams better adapt to the new paradigm. We are helping leverage the best from their many of the stakeholders by teaching our teams to delegate more and create more leadership opportunities for their volunteers. Both formal and informal mentoring programs are creating excitement for the many different stakeholders across their organizations. To complement the ongoing communications strategies we are providing contests, special events, and technology that will allow our communities to be more involved on a daily basis.
These opportunities create a revolution in how responsive we can be in promoting our mission to a wider variety of stakeholders in our organizations. But what is our mission? Next week we will share an exercise that will help you reconnect with your mission and help extend your organization’s capability to engage your community.