Nonprofit Leadership: Nonprofit cultures are toxic, and this is why

“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time.
If you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together.”
Lilla Watson, Aboriginal artist and activist

I was having lunch with a colleague recently and she spoke of the two nonprofits that almost broke her. They caused her so much stress that it was affecting her family life and her health. Her last employer wouldn't let her attend board meetings! She was development director!

At a meeting with another colleague, she told me she quit an organization that she worked a full time job and also covered part of another job, and never felt recognized for her work or valued by leadership. She left to start her own company.

There’s an organization that says they are about creating strong families, yet I know four people who have quit because the demands of the job was so much that they had no time for their own families.

What is up with this? How can we teach people who have been left behind to feel included when our organizations purposely exclude? How can we show those we serve that they have worth yet devalue the input of our own? How can we show gratitude for our donors yet not show gratitude for the hard work of others?

Why are so many nonprofits not healthy and how can we create organizations that are models of the world we seek to create? Ones that value their people, foster trust, model abundance and create connections.

We cannot lead people to liberation while creating prisons of our own making….organizations that don’t value their assets, operate out of fear and scarcity, and don’t understand or are not able to communicate their worth.

We need to be willing to eat our own cooking…live in alignment of our beliefs. When you operate in alignment, then you can create the influence, income and impact you seek. If you are out of alignment, you will work in constant struggle.

Our need to sacrifice ourselves for others is buried deep in our puritanical roots. This hard-wired need to make it hard for us in order to make it easier for others is not sustainable. As an industry, we wind up losing our best and brightest because they want to work in alignment. They want who they are and how they live to be as close as possible. Because we are reluctant to invest in ourselves, we wind up losing talent. Replacing staff is so much more expensive then paying staff a decent wage. Yet it goes beyond money. It is about living the values we want to create, inside and outside our organizations. It is about valuing the gifts of board, staff, volunteers and clients so we can truly value the gifts from our donors.

The first step to change: awareness. Second step: a commitment to change. Third step: develop BELIEF STATEMENTS. These are the five to seven statements that are the hard stop of what you believe, what drives you and how you will act. Belief statements are the most important tool in developing alignment, and can guide an organization to have an energy-rich and supportive environment that models the change they seek in the world.

If you are a board member or executive director who wants to create alignment in their nonprofit to get more influence, income and impact, come to this workshop. We will talk about what’s wrong, what we want right and the steps to take you there.

Maryanne Dersch