What is your non-profit predicament?

predicament1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “My Predicament Is Not My Problem,” John makes a distinction between things that are “problems” and things that are “predicaments“. In short, he talks about how predicaments are a special kind of problem that require different leadership skill sets and approaches.

Here is how John sums it up:

And, while predicaments are (of course) problems, they aren’t problems that can be solved in any ordinary problem solving way. And therein lies the problem. For when leaders treat predicaments like problems — analyzing the components, fast-acting on this part or slow-tweaking that part, they make their predicaments worse.”

predicament2I find this distinction really fascinating, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I read this post. So, I’ve been focused on identifying some non-profit related “predicaments” and here is what I’ve come up with . . .

  • Over the last decade, donors’ needs have shifted. Investing in an organization’s mission isn’t enough anymore. They want to see results . . . outcomes . . . data. But wait! That stuff is boring and they want it all wrapped up in an engaging narrative that is spun by someone who is a good storyteller. Too much data or too much storytelling, and the whole experiment in philanthropy seems to fall short. 
  • The Great Recession started in 2007 with a stock market crash occurring in 2008. Before the crash, many non-profit agencies’ fundraising plans appeared to work well enough to get them what they needed to function. After the crash — what some people are calling ‘The New Normal’ — those same fundraising plans for some agencies don’t seem to work as well, but abandoning the plan and starting from scratch doesn’t appear practical or reasonable. 
  • In the middle part of the 20th Century, non-profit boards were composed of local business leaders who were CEOs and owners of local businesses. Fast forward to the end of the 20th Century and the early 2000’s, and big box stores have replaced locally owned businesses. CEOs and business owners are located in major cities and in some cases halfway around the world. Many non-profit boards are full of middle managers, and many people are left asking “Who will be the next generation of big time local philanthropists?

In John’s post, he talks about needing a special kind of skill set to solve “predicaments“. Specifically, he points to interpretative thinking skills, patience, and sustained attentiveness.

Heading into this Labor Day weekend, I’m asking you to scroll down to the comment box below and consider doing two things:

  1. Share your opinion on whether or not the three things I’ve identified above are “problems” or “predicaments” or neither. You are also welcome to talk about other “predicaments” you see in the non-profit sector or at home in your agency.
  2. Do you or others in your agency possess the special skill sets that are identified as being necessary to handle “predicaments“? Are there other skills you think are necessary? If you, your employees and your board don’t possess these skills, how are you planning to acquire them?

Enjoy the long weekend and please take a moment to contemplate and respond to these questions. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

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