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By Steve Zimmerman

Step into any gym in January and you’ll see long lines of people waiting to use the machines.  Ah yes, “2016 will finally be the year I lose those extra 10 pounds.”  We’ve all heard it and seen it.  Most likely, we’ve all said it.  By February, the gym will be back down to the faithful few.

Resolutions come and go and are part of the routine, as if changing the calendar from December to January will magically help steel our resolve.  Nonprofit resolutions are no different, but hope springs eternal.  Here are some trends and resolutions we’d be happy to see flourish in the new year.  Most of them aren’t new, but are ideas, concepts, and thoughts that have been percolating and been touted for years.  Maybe, just maybe, this is the year we will:

1. Shift from mission to impact:
Bridgespan’s article, “Zeroing in on Impact,” was originally published in Fall 2004.  A dozen years later, we’re seeing the message reach even the smallest of nonprofits.  Mission statements continue to be big, inspirational, and aspirational, but now we see more organizations defining the specific impact they aim to accomplish u sing an intended impact statement.  Serving as a beacon for strategy, intended impact statements can last for years and drive organizational learning.  When combined with impact measures, intended impact statements can also serve as bellwethers for how well nonprofits are accomplishing their missions.  Our sector will be stronger if this trend continues in 2016.

2. Lead with your heart, think with your mind:
Like the pendulum of a clock, nonprofit consultants argue back and forth over whether nonprofits need more data or more emotional stories to woo donors.  We need both.  It has been nice to see human stories make a comeback in the past several years.  They remind us that the transformation of lives and communities shouldn’t be boiled down solely to quantitative metrics.  Even as an accountant I know there is more to life than percentage gains.  Let’s not be afraid to lead with our heart in 2016.

3. Discuss values and community:
2015 finally saw advocacy come into the mainstream for nonprofits when BoardSource added it to their list of 10 essential duties of board members. Still today, we find the term scares too many board members.  Why?  At its simplest form, advocacy is about sharing a vision and describing the elements of a thriving community.  Change doesn’t happen from silence.  Rather, it happens when we share – share our values, share our passions, and engage in discussion with our neighbors and beyond.  With a presidential election looming in 2016, it is time we learn to talk in an open, candid, and non-threatening manner about what we believe in.  We may not always agree, but we need to discuss our values and press our point of view.  Nonprofit boards who volunteer countless hours also need to be a part of this – by voting in alignment with the mission of the organization they serve and leading conversations with their peers.  This form of advocacy creates a much needed dialogue and builds community.

3. Cultivate Leadership:
The release of our second book, The Sustainability Mindset, in 2014 furthered our conversation of what is necessary for nonprofit sustainability – strategic decision-making which integrates mission impact and financial viability.  There are so many components to this statement:

  • Analyzing the true costs of programs
  • Knowing the intended impact of the organization and how each program contributes,
  • Understanding who else in your community is offering a similar or complementary service to your constituents and seeing where you could partner or should compete.

Additionally, we’ve seen over the last several years the rise of strategic thinking over strategic planning and the need for strategic agility – not because they don’t exist, but because they don’t want an untenable position.  2015 also saw a new spotlight put on leadership development with reports from the Talent Philanthropy Project and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations highlighting the limited grantmaking in leadership development.  The best management theories remain theoretical unless leaders are there to implement 2016, we hope, will be the year we really start to focus on leadership development with a critical mass of funders and boards understanding the importance of this field and investing in the development of the next generation.  We also hope they’ll do so in a way that includes new approaches to leadership development and moves beyond the heroic leader, allowing us to build organizations of leaders that have shared responsibility for accomplishing their missions.

5. Be fearless, embrace failure:
Building better community is hard.  Often times people turn to consultants hoping they’ll have the “quick fix” or “easy answer” when the reality is that it takes hard work, patience, and resilience to build the type of community we want to live in.  We need to practice these components, continue to understand constituent needs, and strive to find better ways for meeting them and for solving the root challenges of the issues we address.  This will require a partnership amongst funders, businesses, political leaders, and nonprofits coming together to find new answers and take risks for solutions.  There is always fear of failing, but without the risk there can be no reward.

So, those are our hopes for 2016.  At Spectrum, we remain committed to working with nonprofit organizations to deliver on their missions because we strongly believe that when passionate, smart people come together and communicate, there is nothing they can’t accomplish.  We hope you’ll join us in this journey and that you’ll share your goals, aspirations, and learning along the way so that together we can build the type of community and world we all want to live in.

Now, back to the gym….


(Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash)