June 19, 2018

Guest Post: Which End of the Telescope Do You Use?

Telescopeby Gail Bower

Twenty-first-century business life moves at a faster pace than ever before. Staying on top of information that guides your business decisions is harder than ever.

In some ways, you practically have to be clairvoyant to stay ahead.

And at the same time, you have to manage the day-to-day activities and results of your organizations.

So which end of the telescope are you using? The one that allows you to look farther into the future? Or the one that zooms in on the microscopic?

Your board depends on your leadership to envision a clear future ahead. If you are only looking at the microscopic— what’s on your immediate agenda—the world is whizzing by without you.

Habits and Goals of Entrepreneurial Nonprofit Leaders

Today’s entrepreneurial nonprofit leader, the subject of an upcoming event with the same name, is operating way above the day-to-day. In fact, along with their telescopes aimed out far, they’re supplementing with drone camera imagery, filling in the details of the landscape to make bold—and sometimes uncomfortable decisions—for the organization.

During just the last three months, I’ve spoken with nonprofit CEOs with plans to:

  • Convene partners representing all points of a system to tackle hunger, both costly and unconscionable in the U.S.
  • Smash racial barriers that impede an organization’s constituents of color from fully participating in the workplace.
  • Re-orient the organization’s systems and funding to take a customer-centric approach—even though this change will likely wreak havoc on its government relationships—to drive real results.
  • Explore all revenue possibilities to boldly expand earned and unrestricted dollars.
  • Keep the telescope focused ahead, but look microscopically at the very specific trauma experienced by an organization’s clientele and design programs and services for a dramatic impact.

These leaders are clear about their visions; focused on the total system, not just the tips of their icebergs; and ready to generate the resources, participation, and change.

Ingredients of Entrepreneurial Nonprofit Leadership

Vision and future orientation are but two aspects of entrepreneurial nonprofit leadership.

My two colleagues, Karen Eber Davis and Kathy Kingston, see similar patterns in their work with nonprofit leaders.

“You also can use your telescope,” Karen says,  “to see what others are doing regarding revenue growth. ‘Where,’ entrepreneurial nonprofit leaders ask, ‘are others making income leaps?’”

“They look at their neighbors,” she continues, “and they scan the distance. When they discover break-through growth, they ask, ‘How can we benefit from what others have discovered—not by copying, but boosting these actions up to their next level.’

To generate income, of course, you need to develop your community.

“Strong entrepreneurial nonprofit leaders,” says Kathy, “have a laser focus on continually inspiring and retaining supporters. To build a community of generous supporters leaders must inspire a culture of philanthropy for the organization by obsessing on two key strategies.

“First understand what specifically impassions each donor about your great cause. Second, keep your supporters engaged by designing innovative strategies to communicate the impact of their donors’ gifts year-round.”

The telescope, metaphorically, is an invaluable tool for entrepreneurial leaders. Use it to see opportunities before others; to create a dramatic vision and strategy; support that vision with a community of impassioned donors and clients, and generate the resources you need to sustain and expand.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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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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