Category Archives: Nonprofit Articles

Moving From Dissonance to Harmony: Managing Conflict on the Board

Consider the following story:

Emily founded a small nonprofit to address toxic waste in poor communities in her region 25 years ago. Over the years, the nonprofit became a prestigious and well-funded organization. As executive director, Emily hand-picked each board chair and, over time, the power on the board became unequally distributed, leaving some board members frustrated in their efforts to move the organization forward. Board meetings became short and perfunctory; there was little room for new ideas or inquiries about board practices. Although the bylaws called for term limits, they were not enforced. Annual evaluations of the executive director also did not take place. In one meeting, a member of the board suggested that the nonprofit would be stronger with a less enmeshed executive and some board members agreed. When Emily announced her retirement, the board became divided. Some members felt that Emily was being unfairly pushed out of the organization while others viewed her retirement as an opportunity for change. The board recognized that a unified front was necessary for a successful transition, but its members did not know to how to address the conflict they were having internally and feared that it would jeopardize the organization’s success in the future. 

How would you leverage disagreements surrounding the executive transition if you were on this board? Behavior that is accusatory, combative, passive-aggressive, or reticent can lead to an unhealthy board culture. On the other hand, a constructive and dynamic board culture allows your board members and the organization’s leader to discuss issues that are affecting the organization without fear of reproach. It also inspires members to work together to come up with reasonable solutions.

After all, there are consequences to letting serious conflicts fester. Doing so may cause your organization to lose board members, resulting in financial and operational costs to the organization and uninformed decision making. A misaligned board can have an impact on senior leadership, staff members, and, ultimately, the community that the organization serves. At worst, it can impact relationships with funders and put your organization’s survival at risk.

Moving past the “blame game” to shared responsibility

It may seem that all it takes to sour an entire board is one person with a competitive or domineering personality, but it’s the board’s responsibility to manage any conflict that impacts the board’s and the organization’s future. To address conflict successfully, all parties should consider the role they have played in the organization’s unfavorable state, even if that role was to remain silent. Remaining tight-lipped or inactive as conflict spins out of control doesn’t free you from accountability.

When boards move beyond finger-pointing, and begin to share responsibility, they can move towards identifying the root cause of conflict. Further analysis of conflict can reveal that there is a crack in the system that cannot be attributed to one person alone. For example, in the case above, the board had not implemented annual performance evaluations, so a formal process was not in place to provide feedback to the executive director. Because the executive director had such a strong influence on the selection of board president, the leadership power of the board was diluted.

Recognizing bylaws as guardrails to assure efficiency and effectiveness 

Even when boards have policies in place to guide governance, they have to be implemented to be useful. The case above underlines the importance of enforcing policies that address board recruitment, selection of officers, and term limits, as well as evaluation of the executive.  Be careful that the loudest voice (or the deepest pocket) does not have the strongest voice on the board.

It’s also essential that your board have a procedure for termination and a succession plan that outlines the inevitable, e.g., when it’s time for your executive director to step down. If you have a framework that addresses problems that could potentially arise on the board over time, and implement the policies you have in place, there is a better chance that your board can reach a consensus when that conflict does arise.

An annual performance evaluation of the executive director is a mandatory provision that will make disagreements easier to address openly and honestly.  When necessary, the evaluation should include a clearly articulated outline of steps for improvement. If compensation is tied in part to performance, then clearly stated and measurable goals should be included in the performance evaluation, so that everyone is aware of the expectations that the organization’s executive must meet or exceed in the role.

Becoming a conflict competent board

If you’re worried that your nonprofit board is disintegrating because of conflict, make an effort to face conflict head-on for the common good of your board and organization. These five tips can help your board reach its next level of maturity when tempers flare.

  1. Recognize your mission as the sole star of your organization. At times, board members and the organization’s leader can get lost in their own points of view and the squabbling ends up subverting the organization’s mission. A departing executive director’s behavior may be fueled by apprehension about how the organization will survive when he or she steps down. In many cases, the transition inspires the executive’s dedication to the mission, but when self-interests or egos are involved, executives can act in ways that are detrimental to the organization. The same can be said of board members. Their egos must take backseat to the organization’s mission. As you approach conversations with your executive and board, go back to the basics. Start by reminding yourselves of your common interest in furthering the mission of organization. Notice if your board’s inability to tackle uncomfortable issues is reducing its impact. Taking time to make sure that your mission is front and center ensures that toxic behaviors don’t poison your organization’s success or goals for the future.
  2. Be purpose-oriented about conflict resolution. Before undertaking conflict resolution, board members and the organization’s executive should identify the key issues they are grappling with and their impact on the organization as a whole. Don’t jump into conversations about conflict without a clear description of the issues of concern. While the issues may seem obvious, you still need be specific; use observable facts and avoid making judgments. For example, if you’re having a disagreement over your executive director’s financial acumen, it’s important to begin with facts rather than making unsupported assertions: Try “I notice from the financial report that our revenue has decreased from x to y” instead of Oour executive director lacks competence in money management.” By expressing your concerns with specificity and objectivity, you increase the probability of success in addressing the conflict. Also, set parameters about how your team should conduct itself as it addresses conflict; this makes it easier to recognize when conversations go off course. When board members and the organization’s leader agree upon procedures, and they are reminded of this throughout the process, it supports alignment and inspires all parties to work together to reach their desired outcome.
  3. Focus on interest-based solutions rather than position-based solutions. In Roger Fisher and William L. Ury’s classic book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, they emphasize the importance of making a distinction between “positions” and “interests” to manage conflict effectively. A position is a static, usually binary demand: “We should/shouldn’t terminate the waste reduction program.” An interest is flexible, and usually addresses impact: “I have an interest in the cash flow of the agency, and wonder if closing the program would improve our financial health.” Most of us default to speaking about our positions, so it’s important to rein in discussions back to interests throughout the process.  Boards should recruit members who possess strong communication, negotiation, and conflict-resolution skills. While these are also important skills for an executive director to possess, including them as desired qualifications for board members adds an additional layer of strength to the board.
  4. Be curious. Conflict can become volatile if it feels like one side is listening more than the other. If you go into a meeting thinking that you’re right about a situation, and your opponent is wrong, you close off the opportunity to see the issues from his or her perspective. Focus less on having the answer, and more on listening. Make eye contact, ask questions, practice active listening, and summarize the other person’s perspective. These are all important to deepening your understanding of the conflict at hand. Be curious and use phrases like “I’m noticing that…”, “I’m wondering if….”, or “I’m curious about… “ For example, if your board feels the outgoing executive is too involved in your search for the next executive director, you may want to get curious about what his or her desire to be involved stems from and where he or she thinks her input would be most valuable. Are there important relationships that the executive has built that your next leader will need to develop or maintain? This may provide your outgoing executive director with an opportunity to play a less central yet key role in the process without exerting too much power over the board.
  5. Work with a third party to detect unhealthy cliques and encourage inclusion. Most conflicts have stages. In the first stage, the conflict is interpersonal and can be resolved with direct dialogue between the differing parties. If resolving the conflict is not successful at this stage, it moves from individual to group dynamics where each individual develops allies and factions emerge. The differing parties coalesce around their opinions and positions. At this stage, it would certainly help to seek a mediator or coach to provide objective advice to your board on how to address the disunity. Acting as a unit rather than in silos can have a tremendous impact on your board’s ability to resolve issues without strife.

You might be at odds over whether you will be doing more harm than good by shining a light on conflict on your board, but remember, not all conflict results in disaster. If board members and executive directors are inquisitive about what’s happening and share responsibility for the difficulties when they arise, while keeping their focus on the mission of the organization, they can ultimately cultivate a healthy organizational culture that contributes to the future success of their organization. Addressing conflict is not necessarily easy, but when weighing the costs to the benefits, we can see the results are worth the effort.

Understanding Conflict in Nonprofits Organizations

Understanding Conflict in Nonprofits Organizations

The nonprofit sector in America employs a steadily increasing segment of the country’s working population. In recent years, the average annual growth rate in employment for nonprofits (2.5 percent) was significantly higher than for business (1.8 percent) or government (1.6 percent). In the coming years, more growth is forecasted specifically in the areas of health services and social/human services. As the baby boomer generation ages, reliance on health and social services will continue to grow as will reliance on healthy non-profits to deliver these services.

 

Living Organism

Nonprofits come in all shapes and sizes ranging in budget sizes of less than $500,000 to over $1 billion. They are advocacy organizations, health and social services agencies; arts, cultural, educational and religious institutions; nongovernmental organizations, and more. Their common purpose is simple: to serve. However, their ability to serve can be hindered if there is internal conflict in the organization. Like a living organism, disease in one part of the organization can have an impact on the whole. When the organization suffers, so may the community it intends to serve.

One might expect that there is less conflict in nonprofits because they are mission-driven and therefore create a labor-of-love work environment. But conflicts can arise in nonprofits due to a number of issues such as unclear lines of communication, issues of compensation and financial transparency, differences in philosophy and vision for the organization, interpersonal issues, issues related to diversity or lack thereof, and conflict due to organizational growth. Staff members, managers, executives, even members of the Board of Directors can all be party to workplace conflict.

Nonprofits may be hit harder by conflict than corporate or government agencies where integrated conflict management systems are often in place. In their 2006 Annual Study, the Center for Nonprofit Success surveyed approximately 1,700 nonprofit executives or board members nationwide.   Sixty-two percent of the respondents indicated that their organization had established conflict resolution procedures, but that these procedures were seldom put to use. Unfortunately, many nonprofits simply lack the financial padding, operational capacity and human resources to address conflict in a systematic fashion.

 

Survival Environment

Like other organizations, the economic environment affects nonprofits. For example, nonprofits in the social services sector have historically relied on government funds for a majority of their budget. Changes in funding streams have caused some nonprofits to “follow the money”.   New programs are developed based on availability of grant money – even if the programs do not necessarily serve the community’s needs. This can cause problems related to over-diversification of the organization’s services. Changing demands in service delivery and job requirements can cause frustration for direct service staff, leading to decreased productivity and increased staff turnover.

According to the Center for Nonprofit Success survey, only 58 percent of all nonprofits surveyed said they had sufficient funds to run their programs effectively. The majority of respondents reported that they rely largely on individual contributions to raise funds. Increasingly, nonprofit executives are called to devote more time to developing relationships with donors. This results in less time for administrative and operational issues including managing conflict when it arises.

 

Conflict Catalysts within Nonprofit Organizations. Nonprofits are unique workplaces because they are mission-driven rather than profit-driven, governed by a volunteer Board of Directors; and can be largely influenced by the founder’s vision. These very qualities that make nonprofits unique can also be underlying sources of conflict. Below is a description of some of the distinguishing features of nonprofit organizations and examples of how they might provide a basis for potential workplace conflict.

Mission-Driven.  From top to bottom, staffs of nonprofit organizations are driven by the organization’s cause. However, this passion to serve can overshadow the organization’s ability to function as a whole toward achieving its mission. While a chief executive may feel passionate about raising funds to keep the doors open, the direct service providers are more likely to feel passionate about providing the highest quality services to their clients. For example, in a nonprofit community mental health center, the chief executive secures a multi-million dollar contract with an insurer. In order to satisfy the contract with the insurer, paperwork and administrative requirements increase for direct service providers. The staff becomes frustrated and resentful because the additional paperwork duty reduces the available time for direct care for their clients. This leads to decreased productivity, creating a conflict between the supervisor and front line staff. Both are focused on what they believe is necessary to fulfill to organization’s mission but neither can see the value of the other’s role. Here we can see the “mission-driven” culture of the organization as an underlying contributor to the conflict. A dispute resolution professional might help the parties, or other appropriate personnel, to engage in a dialogue about ways the agency can function more as whole and less as a collection of individual parts.

Founder’s Syndrome.   Nonprofit organizations are birthed and usually nurtured by a founder or group of founders. The founder has invested time, emotional commitment and perhaps money toward the success of the organization. Founder’s syndrome occurs, usually in smaller nonprofits, when a founder (or other dedicated steward of the organization) has unparalleled authority as a decision-maker. It is evident that the organization is not run by an executive or by a team of staff, supervisors and managers. The founder runs it. For example, a founder appears in the office and makes direct demands of the staff, by-passing the administrative authority of the chief executive. There are no clearly delineated roles and responsibilities for the founder, the executive and the staff. Conflict arises because the executive director feels she cannot be effective in administering the organization’s programs, and the staff is frustrated because they feel micromanaged. Here we can see that the unintended influence of the founder contributes to the conflict. Often, an overly involved founder is simply fearful that all their hard work will go undone if they relinquish control. A candid conversation with a founder in this situation might open doors for planning for the future health of the organization; since after all, the agency is likely to outlive the founder. This in turn might reduce the conflict regarding lines of authority and staff micromanagement.

            Board Conflict. The Board of Directors holds ultimate responsibility for the organization regarding governance, fiduciary matters, and hiring or firing of the chief executive. However, many nonprofit organizations overlook the need for orientation or training for Board members. In the long run, this can be detrimental to the organization. For example, a member of a small Board who happens to be the agency’s largest donor, has decided to leave the Board because of a difference in opinion regarding the vision for the organization’s future. The conflict appears on the surface as a difference in vision, but the underlying problem is that the Board lacks the skills to make crucial decisions collaboratively. In the process of consensus-building, a dissenting opinion can be viewed as a helpful concern, which when resolved results in a stronger final decision. Developing a more collaborative decision-making process for major decisions of the Board could turn this difference in opinion into a potential gain for the organization.

 

Conflict as Catalyst for Change

As author Kenneth Cloke says, “Conflict is the sound made by cracks in the system”. Rather than being an enemy of the organization, could workplace conflict be an indicator of underlying organizational issues that are calling out to be addressed? According to Larry Greiner in his classic article entitled, “Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow” (Harvard Business Review, July-August 1972), organizations have a growth cycle and a “crisis” causes the move from one developmental phase to the next.   Disgruntled staff, low productivity, high turnover, volunteer attrition and dysfunctional meetings might not be considered “crisis” situations but they could certainly be seen as a call to attention. In these examples, we can see how some conflicts could be an indicator for underlying organizational issues which when addressed, could move the organization to a higher level of effectiveness.

We are mediators, ombudspersons, human resources specialists, labor representatives, private practitioners, consultants, peer-mediators, facilitators and more. Some of us work directly with organizational leaders and others work in integrated conflict management systems. Regardless of the size of the organization or our place within the organizational structure, our approach and curiosity regarding workplace conflict can help to resolve workplace disputes and sometimes identify opportunities for organizational growth.  Especially in a nonprofit environment, this curiosity can affect the health of the organization and the health of the community it serves.

In my experience as an employment and workplace mediator, I understand that organizational change is not necessarily the end goal, nor is it always appropriate. We do not always have access to, or the allegiance of organizational leaders. If suggestions for change are made, the change process can be very slow, especially in larger agencies. However, this should not deter us from making an impact – small or large – in the organizations in which we serve.

Executive Interviews

I thought some of these interviews might be of interest to Nonprofit Career Advisor readers.   The interviews come in many flavors; featuring nonprofit and corporate executives; men and women executives; new and seasoned executives.

A Social Worker for Pets, as told to Patricia R. Olsen, New York Times, December 5, 2009

Ed Sayres, chief executive at  the A.S.P.C.A. in Manhattan

Work at Eye Level, As told to Patricia R. Olsen, New York Times, October 24, 2009

Tim Shriver, the C.E.O. of Special Olympics

Big Ideas in a Small Room, as told to Amy Zipkin, New York Times, November 14, 2009

Michael Chasen, the chief executive of Blackboard.

Learning in Business by Following the Heart, by Abby Ellin, New York Times, Sept 26, 2009

Josh Silverman, President of Skype

Are You a Tigger, or an Eeyore? conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant, New York Times, November 14, 2009

Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership

From Council on Foundations

“On October 22, 2009, the Council on Foundations released Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership 2009 Baseline Report, which describes how foundations choose their leaders and what those leaders say about the process. Based on the appointments of 440 CEOs and executive directors from January 1, 2004, to December 31, 2008, this first-of-its-kind study contributes to the field’s knowledge of hiring practices, of the professional backgrounds of foundation and grantmaking executives, and of the major milestones contributing to career success and advancement. Key findings and subsequent field dialogues will help to inform stakeholders about the launch of the Council’s Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership project”

Here are the six key highlights from the research:
1. The majority (79.5%) of the 440 foundations appointing CEOs and executive directors during the study period filled them not through internal promotions but from candidates outside the foundations.
2. Most of the successful candidates (63.4%) held executive positions in their immediate prior posi- tion as either chief executive (38.9%) or vice president (24.5%) before successfully landing in their current position.
3. The majority of the successful candidates made the transition from fields outside of philanthropy— primarily from the business (24.3%) and nonprofit (24.8%) sectors.
4. Of the successful candidates, nearly 20 percent were from racially and ethnically diverse back- grounds and about half (48.7%) were women.
5. Thirty percent of field leaders who were interviewed said mentors played a major role in their career advancement.
6. About 85 percent of the interviewees expressed significant skepticism about the willingness of trustees, search consultants, and other hiring decision makers to be influenced by leadership development efforts (such as fellowship programs that train new leaders) as they contemplate hiring decisions about executive candidates.

Here are the six key highlights from the research:

1. The majority (79.5%) of the 440 foundations appointing CEOs and executive directors during the study period filled them not through internal promotions but from candidates outside the foundations.

2. Most of the successful candidates (63.4%) held executive positions in their immediate prior posi- tion as either chief executive (38.9%) or vice president (24.5%) before successfully landing in their current position.

3. The majority of the successful candidates made the transition from fields outside of philanthropy— primarily from the business (24.3%) and nonprofit (24.8%) sectors.

4. Of the successful candidates, nearly 20 percent were from racially and ethnically diverse back- grounds and about half (48.7%) were women.

5. Thirty percent of field leaders who were interviewed said mentors played a major role in their career advancement.

6. About 85 percent of the interviewees expressed significant skepticism about the willingness of trustees, search consultants, and other hiring decision makers to be influenced by leadership development efforts (such as fellowship programs that train new leaders) as they contemplate hiring decisions about executive candidates.

To download the complete study, click here.

Is Workplace Violence Preventable? At Yale and Elsewhere?

I don’t mean to fan the flames of the tragic death of Yale graduate student, Annie M. Le,  nor do I wish to criminalize the suspect, Raymond Clark III.  I do however, want to bring attention to the issue of “workplace violence” and more importantly, its prevention.

Based on my experiences as a workplace mediator and advocate, I have come to learn that workplace conflict can escalate from a simple dispute to all out rage.  Nationally known organizational consultant Speed Leas describes five “levels of conflict intensity”:

  • Level I:  Problems to Solve – Differences exist, people understand one another, and they have conflicting goals, values, needs, action plans, or information.
  • Level II:  Disagreement – A mixing of personalities and issues occurs; problem cannot be clearly defined.
  • Level III: Contest – Distortion becomes a serious problem. The dynamics of win/lose begin. There is resistance to peace overtures.
  • Level IV: Fight, Flight – Conflict shifts from winning to getting rid of person(s). They no longer believe others can change, or want them to change.
  • Level V: Intractable – Conflict is now unmanageable.  Vindictive. There is no objectivity or control of emotion.  People usually perceive themselves to be a part of an eternal cause, fighting for universal principles.

work-place-violence-68330I am not suggesting that the Yale case followed this particular pattern, or that the suspect demonstrated any particular conflict cues.  I am suggesting that chances of preventing a highly destructive outcome are increased in most workplaces when conflict is addressed at lower levels of intensity.  For example, in response to the workplace violence that took place at the US Postal Service, the REDRESS (Resolve Employment Disputes Reach Equitable Solutions Swiftly) program was created.  I serve as a mediator for this program, and it is designed to address workplace conflict at the lowest level of intensity.  There have been fewer incidents of dramatic violence since this program was instituted.

There are many qualified professionals who understand how to manage and prevent workplace conflict such as members of the Association for Conflict Resolution (which includes specialists in workplace dispute resolution).

Following are a few quotes from the New York Times article Lab Technician Arrested in Murder of  Yale Student (September 17, 2009), which underscore the importance of paying attention to workplace conflict.

New Haven Chief James Lewis says of the murder of  Ms. Le “It is important to note that this is not about urban crime, university crime, domestic crime, but an issue of workplace violence, which is becoming a growing concern around the country.”

“Chief Lewis  repeated that it was not a “street crime” or a “domestic crime.” He added: “We have to really educate ourselves who we work with and how we deal with each other and those issues.”

Richard C. Levin, the president of Yale, released a statement that echoed Chief Lewis’s comment describing the killing as workplace related. “This incident could have happened in any city, in any university, or in any workplace,” he said. “It says more about the dark side of the human soul than it does about the extent of security measures.”

I certainly understand the perspective of the Yale president that “It says more about the dark side of the human soul than it does about the extent of security measures.”  And, employers must also take responsibility to reduce the chances of such horrific events.  For example, by creating integrated conflict management programs that address workplace problems when they arise.

For information about preventing conflict in a nonprofit setting, see my article Understanding Conflict in Nonprofit Organizations

Contact me to learn more about my conflict management services.

What You Didn’t Say in the Job Interview That Landed You the Job

LISTEN In Phyllis Korkki’s article entitled Subtle Cues Can Tell an Interviewer ‘Pick Me (New York Times “The Search” column,  September 12, 2009), I found several points well worth emphasizing for the nonprofit job seeker.  But, no lesson could be more important than to do your due diligence before a job interview.   Be prepared to speak intelligibly about your understanding of the organization, its mission and challenges.    And by all means, understand what not to say.

Below is my commentary on some key points in this article:

1) “…your success may depend on the company’s culture and the preferences of the people doing the hiring…”

The importance of  the company’s culture cannot be underestimated, especially in the nonprofit sector.  I work with nonprofits of all shapes and sizes and consequently with all sorts of “cultures”.  For example, some organization’s culture is “corporate”,  others are “family-oriented”, some are “consensus driven”,  others are “founder led.”   Understand the importance of the organization’s culture and its impact on your chances of success (and satisfaction) within the organization.  Demonstrate a sense of self-awareness of how you’d perform in such a culture.  For example, if the organization is founder-led or  family-oriented, you may wish to make appropriate references to successes you’ve had in such an environment.   Or, you may determine (before or after the interview) that a particular organizational culture is not a good fit for your style.  It may feel like a leap to make such a determination, but cultures are hard to change so the fit really is important.

2) “Try to establish common ground with your interviewer so you stand out … leverage your referrals”

Most of us understand that “who” you know is at times as important as “what” you know.  I emphasize “at times”  because you really want to be careful here in developing “common ground”.  Allow the interviewer to lead you to the areas where you may have things in common. For example, if the interviewer mentions an interest they have in a particular sport or team or brand (etc), and you sincerely share that interest, allow a conversation to flow from there.   With regard to referrals, if indeed you share some relevant or significant friendships, then hopefully the mutual friend has already talked to the interviewer about you.   Be careful not to appear as a “name dropper” and be even more careful to make sure there are good relationships between the interviewer and the person whose name you drop.     For example, if you know someone who works at the organization, make sure that person is a valued employee.   Do your due diligence!

3) “Make sure your questions show knowledge of the company and your interest in contributing to its success” and research the organization at which you will be interviewing.

Especially in the nonprofit sector, there is no excuse for not knowing the basics about an organization.   Nonprofit organizations are required to disclose basic general information (agency mission, staffing, board or directors) as well as financial information (copies of their 990 tax returns).  This information is available free of charge at Guidestar and also at Charity Navigator.   As well, many nonprofits have extensive websites.    Again, do your due diligence!

4) “It seems that just being yourself — albeit a formal, polite, alert and attentive version of yourself — is the best way to behave during interviews.”

Great advice!  If I sense the person I am interviewing is just being themselves (not “faking it”  or “trying too hard”), most often I will move that candidate to the next step in the process.    When I sense a person is comfortable with themselves, I feel an unspoken confidence.  For example, sometimes a candidate will honestly tell me they don’t know an answer to a question.  This way of  being …  a way of being oneself … is more impressive than a candidate who tries what we call the “dump truck” approach and responds to a question with three or more answers in hope that one of them will be “right”.   But, guess what?  That’s just the wrong way to impress an interviewer.

Creative Commons License photo credit: bionicteaching

Fall in Love; That is — a Labor of Love.

I am a big advocate of volunteerism. For me, it’s a labor of love.  So I was thrilled to hear about other “love stories” in David W. Chen’s article Without a Job, but Working the Campaign Trail (New York Times, September 7, 2009).

As I read this article, I began to uncover just what is about volunteering that causes the “love” of this volunteer labor.
1. Networking.  Volunteers have the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, some “incredibly well educated, well trained, successful” such as “P.J. Kim, a 30-year-old Princeton and Harvard graduate, who is a City Council candidate in Lower Manhattan.”
2. Opportunity to Demonstrate Your Skills. A former commercial litigator in Manhattan  offered legal advice, called supporters, canvassed neighborhoods, trained volunteers.
3. Restored Self Esteem. A former loan officer says “The contact with other people, the chance to do something different, the learning experience — it can all help you out with your emotions.”
4. Self-Discovery.   A former equities analyst says “It’s not the money anymore; I want to do things that will have a real effect on people’s lives, as opposed to just trying to get a company out of a situation.”
5. Meaningfulness. Volunteering “restores some of what they lost along with their jobs: a place to go every day, a reason to put on a clean suit, people to work beside, a sense of purpose.”
Whether you are in a career transition or not, I hope you will consider the opportunity to network with others; demonstrate your skills; deepen your self esteem; discover what it is you want most; and find meaningfulness in your labor.  That is, I hope you’ll consider volunteering.
See my earlier article Find the Groove or any of the links below to learn more about volunteer opportunities.I  am a big advocate of volunteerism. For me, it’s a labor of love.  So I was thrilled to hear about other “love stories” in David W. Chen’s article Without a Job, but Working the Campaign Trail (New York Times, September 7, 2009).

anna modelling the new t-shirtsAs I read this article, I began to uncover just what it is about volunteering that causes the “love” of this particular labor.  The quotes  below provide some clues.

1. Networking. Volunteers have the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, some “incredibly well educated, well trained, successful” such as “P.J. Kim, a 30-year-old Princeton and Harvard graduate, who is a City Council candidate in Lower Manhattan.”

2. Opportunity to Demonstrate Your Skills. A former commercial litigator in Manhattan  “offered legal advice, called supporters, canvassed neighborhoods, trained volunteers.”

3. Restored Self Esteem. A former loan officer says “The contact with other people, the chance to do something different, the learning experience — it can all help you out with your emotions.”

4. Self-Discovery. A former equities analyst says “It’s not the money anymore; I want to do things that will have a real effect on people’s lives, as opposed to just trying to get a company out of a situation.”

5. Meaningfulness. Volunteering “restores some of what they lost along with their jobs: a place to go every day, a reason to put on a clean suit, people to work beside, a sense of purpose.”

Whether you are in a career transition or not, I hope you will consider the opportunity to network with others; demonstrate your skills; deepen your self esteem; discover what it is you want most; and find meaningfulness in your labor.  That is, I hope you’ll consider volunteering.

For more on volunteerism, see my earlier article Finding Your Groove in Career Transition and check out  Idealist.org or VolunteerMatch

Creative Commons License photo credit: darlene is evil

Waiting Is the Hardest Part

But the important thing about learning to wait, I feel sure, is to know what you are waiting for.
Anna Neagle

If you’re in a job transition, chances are you have been waiting for something — a response to a résumé, a call for an interview, or a job offer.

In her column Where, Oh Where, Has My Application Gone?, New York Times columnist Phyllis Korkki suggests that it’s understandable that one might not hear back from an employer once they have submitted a résumé.  This could be due to any number of obvious factors such as too many resumes and too few staff to follow up, your resume got lost in the shuffle or in cyberspace, or … a lack of interest in your candidacy. So, should you follow up and if so, when?

As a nonprofit executive recruiter, I add this advice   1)  wait at least two weeks before following up, 2) follow up by email first and if necessary by phone, 3) seriously consider if you would be a strong candidate for the position before you do anything, and 4) keep your follow up short and simple.

Although few and far between, there have been some strong résumés that have been lost in a SPAM filter or in some other virtual location.  In these cases, I was delighted that the candidate followed up to determine if their résumé had been received (our search firm acknowledges receipt of every résumé received).  I’ve also had the experience of hearing from the most unqualified candidates (this usually comes in the form of a long voicemail explaining how qualified the candidate is for the position).

Respect the judgement of a recruiter or hiring manager, and defer to their expertise in evaluating if you are a perfect candidate.  If you do follow up, make it a simple question “Did you receive my resume?” and/or “Did you receive my resume and did you determine if my background is appropriate for the position”, and leave it at that.

Adaptable and Flexible are Desirable in a “Downsized” Environment

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I really loved reading Todd Cohen’s article,Real-world skills valued in nonprofit workplace (Philanthropy Journal, May 12, 2009).   It was refreshing to learn about what some nonprofit organizations are doing to optimize the capacity of their remaining “downsized” staff such as creating opportunities for on-the-job learning or focusing on leadership development.  Some employers have retained professionals who are able to take on responsibilities outside the scope of their traditional title.    The take-away points for job-seekers are 1) be prepared to show your flexibility to work outside a designated role 2)  include “leadership development” opportunities or experiences you have had, even if they were internal or interim,  3) be prepared to offer examples of times when you have been adaptable in previous workplaces.    Oh, and of course it goes almost without saying, that you should be able to demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively, even under stressful conditions.

Creative Commons License photo credit: SideLong

Best Places to Look for Nonprofit Jobs

There are a number of websites to peruse for Nonprofit job opportunities.  Which are the best?  Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. My top five favorites are listed below:

If your head is spinning from looking at this list, please consider taking advantage of my introductory offer for a Customized Job List for only $50.

1.   Idealist, is an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas.  You can customize your search based on the type of organization, academic qualifications, region of the world, and more.

2. For Executive level searches, I recommend Execsearch.com, a job board that has been serving the nonprofit, government, education and health sectors since 1999. Their goal is to be the most efficient, online source for connecting mission and talent.

3.  Also for Executive positions, CEO Update is a widely circulated jobs newsletter for association and nonprofit executives. CEO Update has grown to become an influential news source on executive careers and pivotal events that shape the association sector.

4. Philanthropy Careers hosted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy lists hundreds of nonprofit jobs AND also provides in-depth information for job seekers about potential employers. You can also learn about  live discussions and other events relevant to the nonprofit community.

5.  If you’re looking for work at a Foundation, then The Foundation Center’s Job Corner which provides listings of current full-time job openings at U.S.-based foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Other sites to check out include:

Women In Development (an honorary member of my top 5 list) is a membership organization whose mission is to maintain a supportive and collegial network through which women in development and related fields can assist one another’s professional growth.

Women in Communications (an honorary member of my top 5 list) empowers women in all communications disciplines to reach their full potential by promoting their professional growth and inspiring them to achieve and share their successes in the rapidly changing world of communications.

Bridgestar, provides a nonprofit management job board but you must apply through Bridgespan for positions.

Nonprofitjobs is an on-line gathering place where not-for-profit employers and management personnel can meet one another. By posting a job opportunity or candidate credentials with Nonprofitjobs, you can link with thousands of Internet users who may bring new opportunity to your organization or to your career.

Opportunity Knocks is the national online job site focused exclusively on the nonprofit community.  For Nonprofit professionals, Opportunity Knocks is the premier destination to find nonprofit jobs and access valuable resources for developing successful careers in the nonprofit community.

The Nonprofit Jobs Cooperative is a collaboration of nonprofit management centers from across the United States. Our goal is to provide a one-stop source for job seekers to search for nonprofit jobs, and for employers to easily publish job opportunities within specific regions.

The New York Times & MonsterJobs.com have partnered to provide job seekers with listings of nonprofit jobs from around the world.

Professionals for Nonprofits with offices in New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC, provides exceptional temporary, direct hire, and consulting staff exclusively to the nonprofit sector. PNP has built an excellent reputation as an expert in the nonprofit employment field and an outstanding track record of successful job placements in nonprofit organizations.

If you got this far and your head is spinning from looking at this list, please consider taking advantage of my introductory offer for a Customized Job List for only $50.

What Do Nonprofit Employers Really Want?

Creative Commons License photo credit: epSos.de
Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach

Over the years in my nonprofit executive recruitment work, several themes have emerged in answer to the question “What do Nonprofit Employers Really Want?”   Regardless of the senior level executive position I have helped to fill, I have found that most nonprofit employers want to meet candidates who can demonstrate:

  • Good Track Record. Your resume should highlight important accomplishments and successes.  These can include professional achievements, awards, personal achievements and/or recognition.
  • Stability.  Employers want to see candidates with “staying power”.  A resume that shows job changes every year or two will require some extra work (for example, you might want to include a strong cover letter to explain the career moves)
  • Commitment to the Organization’s Mission.  Your interest in the organization’s mission should be clearly indicated in your cover letter (especially if it is not clear from your resume’s career history).
  • Cultural/Institutional Fit. Every organization has a “culture” (ie, consensus driven culture, hierarchal culture, small “family” culture, etc).  Being able to work within an organization’s particular cultural framework is often overlooked by both the organization and the prospective employee.  But for any senior nonprofit executive, being able to work well within a particular culture is key to success. This is a “soft skill” that may not reveal itself on paper (resume or cover letter), but will likely become clear during the interview process.

“What Do Nonprofit Employees Want?” I strongly encourage you to answer this question for yourself. What size organization will you be most successful in?  What organizational missions are you most passionate about?  What story does your resume tell about you with regard to stability and growth in your career?   What have been your successes (professional or volunteer)?

Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about ways in which I can help  you direct your nonprofit career search, and optimize your chances for finding the right job match for you!    I am offering a free customized search list, with Career Advising and Resume Renovation services.

Health Reform: What Nonprofit Employers Need to Know

This may seem an odd post for a “career advisor”,  but I tend to take a broad view in life.  Anyone working or seeking to work in a nonprofit healthcare facility needs to understand future trends that may impact their employers.

The Center for Nonprofit in partnership with the National Council of Nonprofits, will be presenting a Webinar “Health Reform:  What Nonprofit Employers Need to Know” briefing to discuss how the different federal health reform proposals would affect nonprofit employers. What are the particular concerns of nonprofits on this issue?  How can nonprofits educate the media, the public and policy makers about our unique issues?    To learn more about what the National Council of Nonprofits’ is doing, see the letter from President & CEO Tim Delaney’s letter to the Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

Date: Thursday, August 27, 2009
Time: 3:00 – 4:30 pm Eastern
Cost: $40 State Association Members | $55 Non-members

On-line Discussion: Tuesday August 25th: Changing Careers to Change the World

Tuesday, August 25, at 12 noon, U.S. Eastern time

Excerpted from Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Increasingly, people who work outside of the nonprofit world are pursuing long-held dreams of starting a charity to attempt to solve many of the world’s most intractable problems.

But establishing one’s own nonprofit organization is not easy, and often presents a set of challenges not usually found in the business world. So how do you set up a charity? What are the toughest obstacles? And how are these new charities and the people who establish them changing the philanthropic landscape?

Join us on August 25 as we hear from a woman who, after leaving the high stakes world of Wall Street, started a charity to help some of Afghanistan’s most impoverished women; and another who learned through interviews with those who’ve established their own nonprofit groups the challenges in trying to respond to, through private philanthropic action, the globe’s most pressing social problems.

Click here for the full article

Finding Your Groove in Transition

There’s no need to sulk through another job search. It is possible to learn, love, and rediscover during your next job transition. Here’s how:

Relax! Really. Consider relaxation to be an important part of your job search. Things like bicycle riding, gardening, creating art, or dancing can increase the alpha wave activity in your brain, which is said to allow you to use your imagination and express your creativity through your conscious mind.  Relaxation can help you stay connected to your higher goals and keep you from getting caught up in a plethora of possibilities to pursue.

Rediscover. From a relaxed state of mind, brainstorm a list of professional activities that you enjoy such as counseling, organizing, creating, analyzing, or managing. Brainstorm a list of organizations at which you would love to work. Create your lists in the “here and now”, keeping in mind that what once felt like the ideal job may no longer resonate with you.

Explore the World (Wide Web). Conduct Internet research to learn about organizations and people who are doing work that interests you. For example, Guidestar, (see http://www.guidestar.org/) offers a searchable database of more than 1.8 million nonprofit organizations. From here, you can create a spreadsheet and use it to 1) rate the agencies most attractive to you, 2) keep track of relevant contact information, and 3) record notes from conversations you may have with people from these organizations.

Informational Interviews. Give yourself some time to meet with people you admire or who are doing the type of work you  feel juiced about. This could be a friend, an acquaintance or someone you discover through your research. Ask them what they love about their work and also what they don’t love as much. Give yourself the opportunity to feel if this is work that really resonates with you, or just sounds good on paper.

Volunteer. No doubt you’ve got a bunch of great skills so offer to put them to use at one of the organizations on your “would love to work for” list. As a volunteer, you will get a chance to learn the culture of the organization (which has immense intrinsic value) and become known by other colleagues. This is extremely helpful since many employers feel more comfortable hiring someone they know — someone whose work they have seen. If it feels more comfortable to you, set a time limit on your volunteer activity such as a 3-month window or 5-10 hours per week.

Get Known and Published. Consider writing an article or providing a workshop that will reach nonprofit groups in your community.  The National Council of Nonprofits provides a statewide directory of nonprofit umbrella groups (seehttp://www.councilofnonprofits.org/salocator). Some of these associations have specific programs through which you can offer a workshop and others may publish an article you’ve written on a topic of relevance to nonprofits. It’s not too difficult to self-publish on the web so get out there and let your light be seen shining. 

Leverage Your Current Skills to Cultivate New Skills. Perhaps you’ve worked in program administration or social services but you’d really like to learn some fundraising skills (very marketable in nonprofit setting). Since you don’t expect to get a paid fundraising position but your administrative or social work skills are transferable, offer to volunteer in a position through which you can grow some new and marketable skills. Websites like Volunteer Match (seehttp://www.volunteermatch.org/) list volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations by location and interest area.

Move Towards Not Away From. Often times when we leave a position (voluntarily or through a lay-off or termination) we look back and say, I don’t want this or that in my next job. Bring to your consciousness what didn’t work for you in your last job and use this as an opportunity for personal learning. Your future employer should hear enthusiasm, clarity and excitement from you about your next career move. They should not hear regret, dissatisfaction, or an attitude of “running away from” a previous work situation.

So, here is absolute permission to relax, learn new things, discover your real-time passions, connect with friends and make new acquaintances. Who thought a job search could be so rewarding?

A Few of My Favorite Things

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Creative Commons License photo credit: eMuse Tess Heder

One of my favorite things to do is to advise people seeking careers in the nonprofit sector.   Another one of my favorite things to do is to practice yoga (albeit begrudgingly, but the results are great!).   So, you can imagine how delighted I was to see the article by Emma Brown in the Washington Post entitled “Activists Aim to Make Yoga an Exercise in Accessibility”. I personally consider it a privilege that my lifestyle affords me the time, income, and mental space to practice yoga.  But, people like  Monea Hendrick, an African American doctoral candidate at Howard University who started practicing yoga to relieve stress during college, are making a difference in bringing Yoga to  some who are less privileged.  She says she “wanted to bring yoga to at-risk teens, especially minorities. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, upscale, Northwest D.C. thing — it can actually meet people exactly where they are.”   Congratulations to Monea and the others who are bringing yoga to the classroom and the streets.   As it happens, I too am engaging in a project to bring movement meditation to women in an Alternative to Incarceration program in East Harlem, New York City.   I’ll keep you posted as that project emerges!