December 13, 2023

New Year, New Approach: 9 Game-Changing Tactics for Nonprofit CEOs in the New Year

As you gear up for a new year, it’s time to recognize your hard work, accomplishments, and smarts.

Take a bow. You deserve it!

If you’re like most nonprofit executives I work with, even as you celebrate, you plan how to step up your game in the months ahead.

Here’s a leadership secret to ponder now: executive self-care is essential for leadership success.

I’m holding my hand up here to invite you to slow down to let that sink in.

Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe, self-care is more than just nice. It’s fundamental. Moreover, it’s not only about meditating, exercising, and downtime (although these count). In its best form, self-care benefits you and the nonprofit you serve.

To build your success into 2024, here’s a collection of actions that support professional growth and enhance nonprofit agility. They aren’t just should-dos; they’re best leadership practices with value.

Let’s dive into the tactics:

1. Schedule Next Year’s Vacation and Plan to Step Away During Them Fully.

Why? A Harvard Business Review article by  Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan highlights the importance of taking more vacations. They result “in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.” But quality is essential. “…poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate the benefits of time away.”

Why do it now? To give your team lead time and make sure everything gets handled. Also, to ensure you take your well-planned vacation.

2. Calendar Your Professional Development, At Least One Unit Per Quarter

Professional development for nonprofit leaders enhances skills, connects leaders to best practices, and builds peer support networks.

Can you schedule the conferences you’ll attend for learning and building peer support?

Please take a look at coaching for best practices and skill enhancement.

How does coaching pay off? Amy’s national affiliate provided executives with stress management-focused retreats, which left her more stressed. During coaching, we worked on what Amy needed: approaches and tactics to solve some of the time-suck workload issues. The results? She doubled her outcomes, enhanced her work-life balance long-term, and squeezed her budget to renew the coaching because of the ongoing value it provides her.

Are you curious about another option for professional development besides conferences and coaching?

How about crafting your own quarterly professional development days? (For example, sign up for Karen’s 2024 Conversations here on January 25, March 28, May 23, and September 26. These 50-minute sessions are free and for nonprofit executives only. To make it a full day, schedule videos and podcasts on your must-watch list before and after the conversations.)

3.   Select a Watchword or Phrase for the New Year.

“Rather than set a New Year’s resolution, I like to choose a word of the year. This year, my word is “shine.” I believe every person has a light inside them. And when we find ways to turn those lights on, we can lift each other up and shine together.”- Melinda Gates

Watchwords such as shine, listen, and focus remind us that success results from not doing everything but going deep where it counts. By using a watchword for a year, you’ll entrench it deep in your mind and set the stage to change your game.

In 2024, my word will be “value.” How about you?

4. Know Your Number and Use It to Decide on How to Invest Your Time

Calculate your hourly rate (include everything it costs your nonprofit to have you serve.) Hint: when calculating your hours, consider that Harvard Business Review found that CEOs work an average of 9.7 hours daily.

Knowing the actual cost of your services per hour is knowing your number.

Using your number is the second part of this tactic. How does that work?

Before you take on a task, you quickly calculate how long the work will take and multiply the time estimate by your actual cost. Considering the price, you decide if the results are worth the investment.

Estimating actual costs flips questions about working coming over your desk from “I’ve got to do this” to “Should we invest here?” And “Is it worth my time, or should I delegate or dump the initiative?”

Effective leadership (and better self-care) maximizes results. Using this tactic regularly generates higher ROI and makes you more valuable.

5. and 6. Build Your Professional Support Systems

It is essential to recognize that burnout is not a personal failure but a byproduct of a dysfunctional work environment and a web of relationships that are not supportive. –Aurora

More support for you means greater support for people working together and building on their strengths. The following two tactics build—wait for it—relationships!

Board Support

Individually, thank your board members. Don’t ask for anything. Simply express your gratitude for specific they’ve:

  • Done, such as giving wise counsel
  • Didn’t do  such as talk for long or
  • For things you enjoy about them, you are grateful for their consistent service.

A voicemail works as long as each call is sincere and personal.

Team Support

Thank your direct staff individually. Tell them why you’re proud of them—share the individual work behaviors that you admire. Encourage your staff who manage others to invest in the same practice so appreciation cascades downward.

If your well is dry, here are some examples of gratitude expressions to inspire you for both tasks. Note: Use the list for inspiration only.

Expressing appreciation is good for you, too. It adds perspective. And like wearing a seatbelt, expressing thanks for work well done sets you up to survive down the road.

For example, any capital improvement (even those you need) bugs a board member. You thank him for his attention to the bottom line. Later, before a board meeting with a capital item, you explain why the repair is necessary and gain his support.

When we start paying attention to the services we receive, stop and really see the person who is doing it and take the time to say thank you, our entire day will change.” – Psychologist Brenda Shoshanna

7. Identify 3 Ways to Reduce Your Labor

Reducing your labor provides you with resources to use elsewhere, for example, more thinking and planning.

Why is this needed? Because nonprofit leaders need to think as much as or more than other leaders. William Novelli, former CEO of AARP, puts it well. “It’s harder to succeed in the nonprofit world. For starters, nonprofits’ goals are both more complex and more intangible.”

Here are two starting places to reduce labor:

  • Habitual tasks that don’t need to be done. For example, I reduced my New Year workload by reducing the number of LinkedIn newsletters by 50 percent.
  • Delegating tasks even if you can do the task more efficiently.

For recommendations about what NOT to eliminate, read: What’s the Most Valuable Work Nonprofit Execs Do?

8. Name 3 Places You’re Stuck. Pick 1.

The top cause of burnout is doing the same things, not seeing results, and losing hope.

What perennial issues seem stuck to your desk? This game changer is picking one challenge to solve by developing multiple options to pilot to fix it. Plus, you schedule time for it and commit to getting to the root of the challenge, not only its symptoms.

What about the other two challenges? Let them simmer until you’ve made progress on the first. (BTW: If you pick fundraising planning, staff challenges, board, or strategy, I’d love the chance to talk about options to work together.)

9. Get Real About The Holidays

Most of us fantasize about what we’ll get done over the holidays. We create a list of expectations and wake up on January 2 with too undone.

Sadly, instead of fired-up we begin the  New Year disappointed with ourselves.

When one of my children was in the International Baccalaureate program, the class joke was, “That you could have 1) good grades, 2) sleep, or 3.) a social life. Pick two.”

This game-changing tactic is to pick two from this list of three holiday expectations: 1) downtime, 2) family and friends, or 3) getting caught up.

Wrapping It Up

The holiday season and New Year are the perfect time for nonprofit CEOs and executive directors to elevate their game. Whether you’re a seasoned exec or a rising leader, these tactics will enhance your game and protect you from burnout in the new year ahead.

Their magic? They’re self-care based on sound best practice leadership.

Which tactics are you using? Could you let me know which ones you’ll add?

What’s Next?

  • Work with me. I partner with nonprofits execs to craft tailored solutions to their board, staff, and revenue short-fall challenges –solutions designed to leave the current challenges in the dust. Take a moment to schedule your free session.
  • Need a board boost? Discover your prescription to nurture your board to health with BoardRx.
  • Get a trusted advisor to solve the staff or board challenges stuck in your backpack.
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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