As the famous Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” This is a line I find myself frequently relaying during strategic planning work with nonprofits.
To effectuate change, boards and management have to be able to take off their rose colored glasses and admit to themselves the truths that they often don’t want to say out loud.
- Our mission has drifted or is no longer relevant.
- We are too dependent on a few donors or sources of financial support.
- Our numbers are artificial.
- We are losing market share and can’t seem to regain momentum.
- We love our product, but it is out of synch with the market.
- Our customer service isn’t what it should be.
- We are not attracting strong leadership nor developing our leaders.
- Our brand is irreparably damaged.
- We don’t have the right professionals in place.
- We don’t have the time or resources for incremental changes.
- The board has forgotten that the chief executive works for and reports to the board.
Not being able to, or maybe more appropriately stated, not wanting to see the truth gets in the way of organizations being able to make the necessary changes and to overcome the challenges they face and to innovate.
Board meetings in general, and specifically strategic planning processes, are not the time for rubber-stamping, puffing, job protecting, sugar-coating or self-congratulations. If organizations aren’t able to have honest conversations and identify and face their challenges head on, they are wasting valuable time that could be spent addressing the real issues that stand in the way of operating in a healthy, efficient, effective and sustainable way.
On the contrary, if the board room encourages and is open to honest and self-critical assessments, the organization will be stronger for it and able to make tough decisions and embrace the changes necessary to survive in a competitive environment. The keys are to reward the truth and not to shoot the messengers.
If you want to have a resilient, sustainable, growth-orientated organization, there needs to be a sanctuary of truth in the boardroom. Don’t be afraid to insist that board members and staff take off their rose colored glasses.
Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.” Nanette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.