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Friday, September 24, 2010

Great Nonprofit Organizations

Great Nonprofit Organizations 

As many of you know, I have worked with nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes over the past 40 years.  Some of these groups have multi-million dollar budgets, while others are quite small.  A number of these groups are in the animal welfare category, rescuing abused and neglected horses and donkeys as wells as lions and tigers.  Other groups raise funds to build or support world-class historic sites or museums.  Several of these organizations assist deployed American servicemen and women, as well as their families.  Still others, work to restore traditional American values, advocate for limited government, or actively pass along the Founders principles to the next generation of Americans.  It’s been a great pleasure and privilege to work with many, many fine groups and organizations.  I’ve learned much from them.
In addition to the clients served by my company, my wife, Kathi, and I have enjoyed our volunteer work with a number of nonprofit groups including Youth for Tomorrow New Life Foundation, Time of Grace Ministry, and Wisconsin Lutheran College.  It’s been very fulfilling to support such organizations and institutions.
Along the way, I’ve met some great leaders who have inspired me.  I’ve also met a few who have occasionally missed opportunities (as we all do).  These social entrepreneurs are critical to making our nation the land of caring and character that it is.  I like to think that they weave the fabric of our nation, making it richer, kinder, and gentler than it would otherwise be.
What makes a great nonprofit?  I believe that great nonprofits have the following characteristics.  This is not exhaustive, but I certainly believe these traits are essential to any great nonprofit organization.
1.     Vision.  Every great nonprofit organization is headed up by a visionary leader.  In their mind’s eye they envision great things being accomplished for the good of society.  These leaders are dreamers.  When we work for them, we see it as an opportunity to help them realize their dreams.
2.     Dedication.  Because these leaders see their dream as so important, they are singularly focused on achieving that dream.  They live modestly, and every one of them has sacrificed to turn their dreams into reality.  Their choice in life has been to serve, not to gain wealth or power or a life of ease, but rather to help do things that benefit all Americans.
3.     Focus.  They succeed because they are singularly focused on reaching their goals.  They are the kind of folks who won’t take no for an answer.  They simply find a way to get done what needs to be done.  They are not easily distracted from their mission.
4.     Team Player.  As contradictory as it may sound, the really great leaders are team players.  They don’t see themselves as having all the right ideas or brains.  They see other groups who are working toward the same or similar goals as fellow collaborators, not competitors.  To them, fulfilling the mission is far more important than their particular organization.  Accordingly, they foster and encourage others to work toward the goal and willingly collaborate with them.
5.     High Standards.  Great organizations led by great leaders have high standards.  They are completely honest in all transactions.  Their integrity is above reproach.  Because they take this route, they don’t burn bridges, they are trustworthy, and they earn a great reputation for integrity.
6.     Funding.  Organizational leaders know that in order to fulfill their goal and achieve their dreams, they must raise the funds to do so.  Great leaders take delight in talking with and meeting with donors and don’t hesitate to ask for their support.  They send out fund appeals that candidly and honestly state a strong case for supporting their cause.  They don’t view fund raising as a problem, but rather as an opportunity.
7.     Bias for Action.  While great leaders run a tight ship and are well organized, they have a bias for action.  Their organizations are flat and fast.  They push decision making to the lowest possible rung, and when an opportunity looms or a crisis occurs, they take immediate action.  It doesn’t make any difference what their size is, if the leadership has a bias for action, they can be counted on to get the job done fast when the need occurs.
8.     Accountability.  Strong and effective nonprofit leaders not only hold their employees accountable for bottom line success, they also hold themselves accountable by answering to boards of directors that include talented people that help them fulfill their mission. 
As I said, this is not an exhaustive list of the attributes of great nonprofit organizations, but I hope it gives you some idea of the type of folks and groups that are worthy of support.  Of course, I love working with such people because they inspire me with their sacrifice, dedication, and integrity.

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