Management and Leadership in Nonprofits


Let Go

May 01, 2017

Let Go - NGP Blog 

Things change. People agree and disagree. Ideas happen and fail. And we have a choice. We can hang on to our successes and our failures, continuing to relive them (becoming a prisoner of our past behaviors like those who were in Alcatraz). Or we can let go.

I love the “Let Go” commercial. For those who haven't seen it, it's for an app that allows you to sell things. The idea in the ad is that people are very attached to something and they are in a situation where if they don't let go of that something, it's destined to make them fail.

As leaders, we are obligated to let go. Too often, though, we don't. For example, we get caught by a past perception or a successful way we did something. Being caught in the past colors our current actions, often causing us to not listen or see what is new. I'm not talking about using past experiences to help us make better decisions. I am talking about using the past as the key to our decision making. Experience is good. Relying on what has already happened to guide our future is not so good.

A short while ago a Federal Budget Summary came out severely slashing many of the programs our communities have come to rely on. I heard several reactions to this, and the most frequent was: "We've been through this before, and it all worked out. We'll be fine." This is an attitude clearly colored by the past. And I believe this attitude will lead to failure of our organizations.

We need to be leaders who encourage our organizations to let go of our past. Our mission has not changed. How we need to act to fulfill that mission is changing. I've been investing a lot of thinking time in what we need to do, and I believe there are three key behaviors we need to embrace:

  1. We need to actively and continuously engage our communities by demonstrating our impact on the lives of our community members. We need to ask for their ongoing verbal and financial support. Quietly serving no longer cuts it. We need to be appropriately loud and upfront. 
  2. We need to lower our costs to serve. We can no longer say that we cannot afford to implement the change we need to provide more services at a lower cost. And leveraging #1, we need to ask our communities to help fund these investments.
  3. We need to do better at embracing new ways to reach out to those needing our assistance and at gathering the impacts of the assistance we provided. No longer is, "We served 1,000 people last month," an effective measure. Measures need to also reflect impact. This requires us to gather, keep, and report on data showing that our assistance is resulting in community improvement. And again, go back to #1.

There is much culture and behavior change to be accomplished in our organizations to achieve the objectives listed above. I strongly believe our future requires us to let go of our past behaviors and embrace new ones. Those we serve are depending on us to be brave enough to “let go.”

Many of our trainers (including me) will be sharing the tools and techniques to accomplish the goals listed above at our Wipfli National Training Conference in Las Vegas in July. I hope to see many of you there, and more important, I look forward to the discussions and idea sharing that will help improve on these ideas and take your organization into the future. And of course, we stand ready to help you achieve the change you need.

Are you ready to “let go”? I hope so. Let's go!! 

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