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  • kendallguthrie

Under appreciate Capacity Development Issues

In working as an leadership coach in the last year, I have observed how the strong and adaptable organizations could pivot their strategies in this time of change and uncertainty while remaining true to their core mission. In contrast, organizations more driven primarily by implementing visions of funders more often got stuck. Sometimes they couldn’t spend money they had in the bank to their constituency’s pressing needs because funders had designated it for programs impossible to implement during the pandemic.

A few of the capacity building issue that are feeling important and perhaps a bit under appreciated to me include:

We have a trauma and burn out epidemic among executive directors. How could we increase emotional and financial resources for rejuvenation and healing? This growing burn out will diminish our social justice leader’s effectiveness and, if left unaddressed, we’ll have a wave of resignations. We need to proactively validate rejuvenation, self-care and trauma recovery practices. And help them build tools and habits to creative more sustainable work-life boundaries. In my work as a coach to Executive Directors, I consistently see that when leaders finally allow themselves regular time to rest and rejuvenate, they bring back more creativity, energy and greater capacity to focus on the tasks that matter most.

Many BIPOC leaders will be navigating their first top leadership job. What additional fuel could increase their success? It’s great that we’re seeing a record number of BIPOC leaders hired into leadership roles. But that is the beginning – not the end -- of the diversity, equity and inclusion work. A first-time E.D.’s first year is usually one of the hardest in their life.

One-third of nonprofits may need to consider closing or merging. How do we make these wind down decisions more effective? There will be tough decisions around which struggling NPOS are worth supporting through the difficult times and which should be allowed to close. Closures and mergers handled responsibly can constitute a success – not a failure. But making a merger successful is more difficult the leadership waits until the organizations is “in the intensive care unit.”

Nonprofit board members will need to work in new ways and make tough decisions. How could we support board members to skill up? Only a small fraction have board members with significant experience running a nonprofits. This may be even more true as boards work to diversify their membership. Yet Board members are ultimate responsible for some of the most consequential decisions, such as hiring and onboarding new leaders, as well as closures and mergers. We might provide training or coaching for pairs of new BIPOC E.D.s and their Board Chairs to build strong relationships and assess board capacity. We might also experiment with new governance models that support board members to do more than fundraising.

Advancing equity and navigating the uncertainty requirement will require different approaches to data and evaluation. How could we increase norms around data disaggregation and emergent learning? Disaggregation means not just looking at difference by gender or race or income – but all three. For example, I’ve seen program data that initially shows big improvements for students of color. But when broken out by both race and gender, they discovered that the gains only accrued to girls of color – not the boys. And in evaluation and performance measurement, Survey and administrative data only count what we already KNOW we want to look for. In these rapidly changing times, it will be especially important to employ evaluations methods that provide feedback quickly and capture unexpected outcomes and intended consequences.

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