3 Things Every Nonprofit Leader Should Know

Last month, we had the opportunity to spend an intensive weeklong training at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC) as part of the second cohort of the Wells Fargo Academy for Nonprofit Leadership. During the training, we covered more than 15 topics, including effective leadership strategies, competing organizational values, and the science of persuasion. We also conducted two live simulations to sharpen our change management and fundraising skills. The rich discussions and experiences throughout the week offered affirmation of some of our current leadership strategies, and also led to several discoveries that will help us become more effective nonprofit leaders.

We’d like to share three insights from our week at the Academy for Nonprofit Leadership. Hopefully, these insights can inspire other nonprofit leaders to attend the Academy for Nonprofit Leadership.

1. The Best Ideas Won’t Just Come to YouThey Have to Be Found 

If you’ve ever spent some time coming up with a big idea—whether it’s for your work, your organization or yourself—you know that those ideas often don’t come from you, but rather from things around you. During our training, the BCCCC team expanded on this by focusing our attention on the book, “The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make them Happen.”

As we explored the book, we came to realize that sometimes our experience, expertise or perspective actually limits our ability to generate new or innovative ideas. Ultimately, to find the best possible idea, you have to actively seek it out, rather than waiting for it to come to you. Whether that’s talking to multiple people in our network, looking within and outside of our field, or reusing or repurposing another idea, we should always be searching for ideas in any way or place possible. At the same time, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss others’ ideas, as that can shut down the creative process prematurely and risk overlooking a potentially great idea. Instead, we should take in as many ideas as possible, and then determine which merit further pursuit.

2. Consider the Galbraith Star Model for Organizational Success

Regardless of how good your idea is, it won’t have an impact without developing a strong organizational structure to deliver that idea. The Star Model, developed by Jay Galbraith, a world-renowned expert on organizational strategy and design, is a tool that aligns core organizational elements—strategy, structure, process, rewards and people—in ways that are appropriate for the specific circumstances of an organization:

3. Communicating About Your Work Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

When someone asks us about where we work or what we do, some of us provide a long-winded response that comes off as scripted or unorganized. In doing so, we put ourselves at risk of losing our audience before we get to our main point, or leaving ourselves vulnerable to attacks against our own credibility and that of our organizations. Fortunately, as the BCCCC team showed us, there’s a tool that can allow us to drive a singular point home to our audience in a way that is both succinct and credible: the Sheehan Message Triangle.

Developed by Michael Sheehan—a political consultant and communications expert—to help politicians sounds less scripted while still being able to drive their central point(s) home, the Sheehan Message Triangle helps the user to focus their messaging on a singular point, while also giving them the opportunity to reinforce that point through three related messages, placed at each of the triangle’s three ends. In doing so, the Message Triangle allows leaders to be both succinct and focused on their central point at all times.

Although one week with the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship isn’t nearly enough time to understand or implement all of the strategies and best practices that effective leadership calls for, we’re grateful for the support that Wells Fargo provided our cohort in its Academy for Nonprofit Leadership. We hope that many more nonprofit leaders will be able to participate in the training and take their organizations to the next level in the years to come.

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