A View from Blue Grotto

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A tale of two Chief Executive Officers

While researching nonprofit best practices, I came across an interesting article, What Business Execs don’t know – but Should – about Nonprofits. Les Silverman and Lynn Taliento, of McKinsey & Company’s Nonprofit Practice, discuss the differences in challenges facing leaders of nonprofits and their counterparts in the for-profit world.

Beyond the obvious, that leaders of nonprofits are forced to do more with far less resources than any for-profit management team, two challenges cited by nonprofit leaders stood out for me.

One was the difference in the role of the board in corporate and nonprofit communities. While agreeing to the mission of the organization, the nonprofit board often reflects diversity in its members’ vision of how to achieve it. And while the competitive nature of industry requires for-profit companies to be highly-responsive and definitive in their decision-making process, the volunteer capacity of nonprofit board members calls for consensus-building and they can be slower to act. Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, described it as needing “a much more consultative, inclusive decision-making style."

The second point I found interesting was the role of communications and its importance in an organization’s success, especially in fundraising. The nonprofit CEO is almost always the chief communicator for the organization, both internally and externally. And the comparison of investor relations in for-profit CEO responsibilities to that of “chief fundraiser” title of the nonprofit CEO highlights the unique nature of communications in a nonprofit.

Storytelling is an incredible tool in nonprofit communications. Not just the feel good, pull at your heartstrings stories about your mission of “saving the world” “one child at a time,” but the micro-level stories about your organization’s best practices - the purposeful ways you accomplish great things. As the authors of this article found, quantifiable results can sometimes be elusive in nonprofits, yet important to the corporate community when asked to support a nonprofit’s mission. Corporate leadership can better understand and appreciate the challenges their nonprofit counterparts face, and overcome, through an evaluation of decision-making, leadership, innovation and philosophy.

Email me with examples of how your organization leverages the inherent philosophies, values and best practices that make up your competitive advantages. And I challenge you to think strategically about communicating your organization’s traditions of leadership, advocacy and innovation – beyond the mission statement.

You can find the full article on the Stanford Center for Social Innovation website:

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.