Navigating Non-Profit Leadership without Emotional Bias

Many people involved in the non-profit sector have generous hearts and strive to make a positive impact on the world, which is truly commendable. Despite this, it is important to distinguish when generosity crosses the line, where decisions are more influenced by emotions than rational considerations.

Some examples are as follows:

  • What if a donor or member offers to sell your organization a piece of property at a favorable price?
  • What if a member regularly asks you to post various GoFundMe campaigns on the organization’s media outlets?
  • What if a donor offers $1 million to open a soup kitchen, but the mission is to save the manatees?

How do you rationally navigate this? Here are some tips:

Strategic Alignment: Evaluate whether the request aligns with your organization’s strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan in place, it may be worth developing one soon. A strategic plan provides a long-term outlook and serves as a guide to determine whether an idea fits within that framework. For instance, if a member or donor offers to sell a building to your non-profit at a favorable price, consider how this opportunity aligns with your organization’s long-term goals. While the prospect of helping the member/donor and acquiring an asset may be tempting, it is essential to assess the potential impact on other goals outlined in your strategic plan. If your plan indicates an expansion of assets, this opportunity could be a step toward advancing that objective.

Policy Adherence: Refer to your organization’s policy manual to inform your decision-making process. For instance, suppose members consistently approach you to promote unrelated GoFundMe campaigns for individuals who are not part of your organization or support your organization’s purpose. While these campaigns may involve worthy causes arising from tragic circumstances, it is essential to examine your communications policy. This policy should outline the purpose of your communications and specify the types of messages permissible on your website, social media platforms, email blasts, newsletters, and text messages. The policy provides guardrails on communications that support your members and your organization’s purpose.

Ethical Considerations: Evaluate the ethical implications of the decision at hand. Take a moment to reflect on whether the proposed course of action aligns with your organization’s standards and values. Additionally, evaluate whether the question is engaged in any conflicts of interest.

Member/Donor Perspective: The decision should be considered from the perspective of your members or donors. Imagine yourself standing before them at the next annual meeting, disclosing all the decisions made by your board (I don’t advocate doing that, ever, but just imagine doing so). Ask yourself if you would be comfortable discussing and justifying those decisions. Based on this perspective, you can gauge how your members and donors may react.

Mission Alignment: Assess how the decision relates to your organization’s mission. If your non-profit’s mission focuses on saving manatees in the Gulf of Mexico, opening a soup kitchen would not be appropriate. While soup kitchens are undoubtedly valuable endeavors, they do not align with the mission of saving manatees. Engaging in unrelated activities can result in the misuse of member dues, misallocation of donated funds, dilute the impact of your organization’s efforts, and in the worst case scenario, jeopardize your 501c(#) status.

You can strike a balance between compassion and rationality by incorporating these considerations into your decision-making process, ensuring that your non-profit remains focused on achieving its long-term goals and making a meaningful difference in the world.

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