by Alex Carter
There’s a common perception that nonprofits and their leaders are running
full-tilt all the time. With so much to do, and so little time, nonprofit leaders
often do work hard. But every organization has cycles of activity and focus
that can change depending on funding, seasons, legislative sessions or other
One of my clients is the executive director of an advocacy organization that
successfully supported a legislative change that will benefit thousands of young
people in her state. The effort included grassroots organizing, testimony before
the state legislature and countless hours of relationship-building and education.
In a recent session, my client said she is suffering from a lack of focus and
direction. Her laser focus on legislative change has ended, the implementation
issues are being addressed and there isn’t any one issue crying out for
a clear and immediate response. A high achiever, she feels like there is no
purpose for the meetings she’s attending, and no clear way to divide responsibilities
among her tiny staff. How can she know she’s making a difference?
My client is suffering from a bit of a dry spot. She’s still attending
meetings, writing white papers and otherwise keeping busy, but she’s not
sure what it all adds up to.
Making the most of these dry spots is a key leadership skill. Dry spots are
opportunities to re-assess organizational strengths, and determine whether and
where those strengths can be applied to move the overall work forward. Properly
approached, they can propel an organization with renewed focus. An assessment
was the next step in my work with this client.
The key questions in my client’s assessment were:
- What are we good at? In my client’s case, her organization
excels in using data to define problems, measure success and convene stakeholders.
- What’s our brand? (What is our unique approach or role?)
My client’s organization is seen as independent, as an honest broker
and as having integrity in their commitment.
- What work will have the most impact? My client has a sense of what
might benefit the greatest number of youth, but doesn’t have any firm
Once my client and her staff had answered these questions, a path of action
became clearer. They decided to spend the next few months digging into data
from state agencies and teasing out what issues affect the most youth. From
there, they can develop strategies to address those issues.
My client’s lack of focus is gone. She now has a clear path of action
that is squarely in her organization’s “sweet spot” where
mission and strengths converge.
How can you support your clients through their professional and personal “dry
Alex Carter, Your Nonprofit Coach, specializes in helping new Executive Directors
become outstanding managers and leaders, while keeping their sanity. She can
be reached through her web site, www.yournonprofitcoach.com.