All the Bosses. The Difficult Truth of Non-profit Turnover.

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I grew up in the military. This has meant a lasting (for a degenerate liberal) respect for our Armed Forces and no forgiveness in my heart for leaders who send our soldiers abroad for folly. I cut the grass and shoveled the show for years for a neighbor whose husband was serving in Iraq and have given up my seat on airplanes to Marines homebound from Over There.

I also learned, and can sincerely appreciate, the virtue of Chain of Command. With any decision there will be multiple points of view and various options, but in military culture the Boss makes the Call and everyone does their Job. It is a wonderfully efficient system for moving things along when everyone has clearly defined roles and well understood goals:

What is our Goal? The Leader defines it and rallies support. 

How will we accomplish that Goal? There are different ways to get there. The Leader sets a plan.

Was the Task completed? The Leader defines Success.

Next. What could be more satisfying for everyone concerned?

You might think otherwise but many of the best managed Arts Organizations function in this way, more or less as Benign Dictatorships, where there is an absolute decision maker who makes the final call on virtually everything. In the performing arts, this outcome comes naturally from the artistic process itself. When producing a play, opera or ballet, there are lots of creative and accomplished professionals on the team, all with ideas, pride and skill. The Director has the final, unarguable say on any decision. Why? Because someone has to decide. Should the chair be Red or Blue? Should the scene be cut? Should this fellow or that be cast as the Lead?

Someone has to decide. The Director makes the Call and the Company moves forward without (many) questions or (much) complaint. I might have preferred the green house to the grey house but someone decided and that’s that. Show me a play produced and directed by Committee and I will go find something else to do with my Saturday evening.

This philosophy extends to ably managed arts organizations on the administrative side as well. Decisions are made, expectations are clear, and the board and staff understand their roles in under the Benign Dictatorship of a strong leader. Assuming the leader is reasonable, patient, listens to input and generally not (too) tyrannical this system is difficult to beat.

The Benign Dictatorship is a great environment in which to raise money because the funding priorities are well understood and the volunteers are clear in their roles. After all, they were recruited specifically to fill a role and address a need, correct? If not, why are they on the Board?

In my work I am asked constantly why Development staff and non-profit professionals tend to move around constantly from organization to organization. Until the issue is addressed and solved we cannot quite call Fundraising a true Profession. True Professionals make commitments to relationships and results. They make a Promise.

So I’ve given this a lot of thought of late. Why the constant turnover? It is not the hours or the difficult expectations. No. It is All the Bosses. My friend Stef at Radiancy Coaching says this better than I ever could that non-profit employment is too often like a form of schizophrenia, with competing priorities, “helpful” volunteers, demanding board members, and leaders who manage by consensus, aversion to risk and fear of change.

The average Development Director at a larger non-profit, for example, has at least two bosses and sometimes more (CEO, COO, Development Chair, etc.) and lives in mortal fear of offending any board members whose ideas or concerns aren’t immediately acted upon.

And two bosses is just the Beginning. Add Consultants, the spouse of the CEO, the Key Donor whose gift we cannot live without, the Foundation President whose support is wavering, etc. etc. etc. Think I am making it up that the wife of the CEO can’t ruin your day and doesn’t have demands and expectations? Ask a fundraiser whose been out there a few years. The stories will not inspire.

This is no way to live. And then we lose many good people so often in our business and wonder why. And it is simply about leadership. The well run non-profit, with a strong Leader and capable Deputies, fosters stability, focus, long-term thinking, and, ultimately, loyalty.

It is the thing most missing in our work.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
This entry was posted in Board Development, Fundraising, Leadership and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to All the Bosses. The Difficult Truth of Non-profit Turnover.

  1. Pingback: Get Off the Internet and Raise More Money. | artful fund raiser

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