Elevate 2022: A Reflection on Nonprofit Leadership, Mission Achieving Technology and Philanthropy Trends

Posted in: Blog
By: Marthe Rana

There were so many informative sessions at the Nonprofit Leadership Alliances’ Elevate 2022 annual conference for social impact leaders. We were proud to sponsor this event as we know that resilient leadership is vital to helping nonprofits manage change and drive impact for the communities their organizations serve. We’re pretty excited about these sessions! Here are some highlights from some of our favorites: 

Nonprofit Leadership Diversification in the Human Services Sector

There is a crisis in the human services sector when it comes to workforce development and nonprofits have to compete with other industries on compensation. Yet there is an opportunity to reflect and rebuild. The opportunity lies in leadership diversity. Victor Valentine, the Executive Director of the National Human Services Assembly, provided an overview of the current landscape and offered solutions that the nonprofit sector can use to address the lack of diverse leaders throughout.

While job recovery is progressing, 1.6 million nonprofit jobs were lost from March-May 2020. 70% of lost jobs were recovered by December of 2021 but the most devastating stat that Valentine presented: 50,000 nonprofit organizations have closed and are not expected to reopen.

Not only has the job market changed but the way we work has. Working from home has become a societal norm. Pre-pandemic 1 in 67 jobs were remote and today, 1 in 7 jobs are remote. You need to be ready to provide a different type of workplace culture to attract the next generation of leaders.

In terms of the implications for leadership, estimates suggest that up to 75% of United States nonprofit leaders are planning to leave their positions in the next 5-10 years. With all these challenges, an opportunity has arisen to reshape the nonprofit leadership landscape. Some stats on the current landscape quoted during the keynote:

  • 79% of board chairs and executive directors are non-Latinx white
  • 16% of nonprofits that primarily focus on serving people of color have all-white boards
  • 38% of organizations that do not primarily focus on people of color have all-white boards

So how does one go about systematically changing nonprofit leadership diversity? In a recent convening of the National Human Services Assembly, leaders tasked with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training cited the following common challenges: 

  • Lack of dedicated resources (time, money, staff) allocated to the DEI work
  • Identifying internal and external expertise to guide conversations and planning
  • Varying levels of understanding about issues about systematic racism, white supremacy, and institutional bias
  • The absence of key metrics to determine what success looks like and how to hold organizations accountable

Valentine posed this question, “if you don’t have metrics, how are you holding yourself accountable?” Whether you’re looking for new leadership or frontline staff, it’s important to understand what the milestones are and how to backward map to where you want to be. 

Nonprofits and specifically human services are a people-focused space. People have different backgrounds, histories, cultures, and upbringings and it’s time to embrace leadership diversity is a strength. The talent exists, you have to look at the situation differently. How?

By bringing new voices to the table, you enable better decision-making when there are more voices, perspectives, and ideas. Start shedding that patriarchal mindset of “we’re going to do good for those people” and start co-creating with the communities and people that you want to help. That means bringing in their expertise and experiences. Diversity also helps you to align with funders because it becomes clear that your internal practices align with your desired external impact. 

What else can be done to support nonprofit leadership diversity? 

  • Develop support for first-time executives or those from diverse backgrounds such as mentoring, coaching, and ensuring resources are in place to support the organization’s infrastructure. That includes financial stability, adequate staffing, operations systems, and efficiencies.
  • Establish more talent development and eco-systems, communities of practice, pipelines of peer networks with a strong focus on leadership. This will help you to develop and keep talent. Upward mobility is an important retention strategy. 
  • Ensure there is full transparency regarding the work, challenges associated with the role, and embrace the necessary changes for culture change.
  • Take a look at the places and spaces where you are posting jobs. Keep professional organizations that cater to diverse populations such as CenterLink and the National Urban League of Young Professionals in mind. 
  • Recruit candidates from historically black colleges and universities and encourage employee referrals. 

If you are ready for the type of change you want to see, you need to invest in the right technology to track your milestones and embrace virtual technology. “Gone are the days of the corner office with the mahogany desk. Virtual work, where we are all in our living rooms, has made the table round,” said Valentine as he wrapped up his keynote session. 

Systems that enable change are at the core of what we do here at Exponent Partners. We build solutions, including Exponent Case Management, so that human services organizations can run the full gamut of programs and services for their client work while supporting their entire organization, including HR. If you’re interested in learning how we can help you drive radically better change for your constituents and support your entire organization, contact us or register for a free demo here. 

2022 Trends In Philanthropy & The Impact On Your Shop

Michelle Vyrn, the Director of Institutional Giving at Bat Conservation International held an insightful talk on the future of philanthropy. She presented four clear trends and explained their implications for your nonprofit organization.

Trend 1: From donor-centered thinking to community-centered thinking 

The old paradigm behind philanthropy focused on answering to a board or trustees, however, the school of thought is shifting to rely on decision-makers that are closest to the problems that nonprofits are trying to solve. Nonprofit organizations need to ensure that diverse communities are engaged to identify solutions while applying a strong racial justice frame of analysis to decision-making. 

Thanks to books like Decolonizing Wealth and the community-centered fundraising movement, both donors and fundraisers are asking more questions like:

  • Where is the wealth coming from?
  • Who is directing the decisions on where that money is distributed? 
  • What groups are receiving that money? 
  • Who is left out? 

Vyrn identified that the best way for nonprofits to shift with this new thinking is to involve the community in decision-making and consider them partners. It’s a shift from “creating with” instead of “creating for” while also diversifying donors. Lastly, your need to ensure that you have measurements that track meaningful community impact. 

Philanthropy will continue to be data-driven in 2022. You need to ask yourself more than just how many people were served and ruminate on the metrics you need to truly understand the impact your efforts are having. If you’re in need of guidance, Exponent Partners has helped over 700+ nonprofits unlock the true impact value behind their data. 

Trend 2: Moving from symptoms to systems focused

Think of being symptoms-focused as a day-to-day need such as feeding someone a meal. Being systems-focused rather revolves around systematic change wherein the process of ending hunger, one would try to eliminate the barriers to lack of food in the first place. 

So what does that mean for you and your nonprofit?

  • Make sure you’re clearly talking about how your proposal fits into a larger systemic issue.
  • Get ready to articulate both short and long-term impacts.
  • Be prepared to have a 5-10 year funding plan. 

Funders are starting to measure the impact of their grants in a more holistic way. Vyrn highlighted that you need to be ready to explain the reasoning behind what you are proposing and why it is needed. Think about how you are setting things up in your casework preparation materials. Be ready to leverage large investments with a long-term funding plan. Be equipped to answer questions like, “if I fund this program fully for the next 5 years, what does that impact look like?” 

Trend 3: Shifting from individual action to collective action

In the old paradigm, grantmakers would fund their favorite issues, what they saw as their foundation’s mission, selectively. But now, grantmakers are increasingly thinking about collaboration and working actively with those driving change.

What does this mean for your organization? 

  • You must build trust with the community that you’re working in and consider them as partners in the work. 
  • Trust takes time and your organization must account for it even if that comes in the form of a billing code. Relationships take time to foster. 
  • Keep an eye on different types of support clusters like giving circles, funder networks, and mutual aid groups. 

Trend 4: From limited capital to leveraged investment

It used to be that and sometimes still is that an investment can be too small for the scale of the problems and funders often do not use their full influence to unleash additional sources of capital.  However, funders are starting to get realistic about the scale of the issues facing us today and understand the dire need for risk capital. 

What’s the impact for you? 

  • You need to get real about your successes and challenges and be ready to back it up with data. 
  • Be ready to ask your donors to make connections on your behalf, to other donors and organizations. 

It’s been said that “old ways do not open new doors”. Trends like these pave the way for new possibilities in the future but it is nothing without the data to back it up. Exponent Partners can help you unlock the value of your data to report to funders, understand community impact, and secure donors with the metrics that matter the most. Contact us to learn more. 

How Technology Can Help Nonprofits Achieve Their Mission

Molly Matthews, the CEO of Pushpay, dialed into a few key topics of how technology can ease the burden of data management and alleviate time for your staff so they can dedicate themselves to your mission. 

Why is that important? According to a research group, Candid,  1 in 3 nonprofits are in danger of closing their doors due to the pressures of the last two years. Is this due to the pandemic or is it because nonprofits had to make a quick pivot from in-person delivery to a fully digital delivery methodology? Matthews proposes that it is the latter; that the root issue is that nonprofits had to move forward faster than prepared to. Not all organizations have survived because they did not invest in the technology needed, nor the vision or strategy behind digital engagement. 

Here is why technology and data matter:

88% of nonprofits say measuring the effectiveness of their efforts is critical, yet only 46% say they have the tools in place to measure their effectiveness. That’s a gap, especially when you consider that 78% of nonprofits with advanced analytics capabilities report higher effectiveness in performing their mission. 

When you want to reach people, you need to meet them where they are. Your digital presence is now your front door. It does not matter how many people you welcome into your organization unless you are watching out for people going out the side door. The question really is, how are you both attracting and interacting with those who choose to be interested in your organization or cause?  Do you have the tools in place to track, nurture, and grow your impact? You need to ask yourself, “do we leverage the data that helps us to understand the different types of people or segments within our community to better serve their needs?” 

  • Tools and technology also enable your best resource, which is your highly engaged staff and volunteers to be in the community expanding the mission. Even if that community has shifted to digital. Organizations that are implementing a multi-channel approach are able to reach more people to create more impact. 
  • Technology is also vital for donor retention. To make sure you get the most out of every donor engagement, you need the data to provide as to how those funds are helping your organization accomplish its mission. People want to know, “how is my money furthering your mission and impact?”
  • There are so many opportunities for technology and tooling to take the burden off your staff members when it comes to follow-up and actionable items. When you invest well and make wise decisions about technology in your organizations,  you are in turn furthering your mission. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Have you established goals that are measurable? 
  • Are you investing in technology to help you further your mission in the future? 
  • Are you creating space in your calendar to be futuristic?
  • What sacrifices are you willing now to make to prioritize those investments for the future?

When it comes to technology that will help you further your mission, Exponent Partners has you covered. We are committed to helping nonprofits unlock the value of data to drive greater social impact and set organizations up for a sustainable future. Contact us to learn more.