Continuing the Conversation
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Continuing the Conversation

Join me – and share your views!

Happy Holidays! The end of the year draws near and, certainly, 2016 has been momentous – last month in particular. No doubt you’ve been thinking through what the election outcome means for nonprofits like yours. I’ve been doing the same and offer my insights on moving forward into 2017.

The Certainty in Uncertain Times: Leadership Matters

Since November 9, I’ve fielded all manner of emails, editorials, articles and blogs reacting to the presidential election. In response, I found I needed to step back to get perspective on what matters most for organizations when a societal shift appears in motion and what happens next feels uncertain. My conclusion: the certainty in uncertain times is reflective leadership.
I’m not making a political statement; my leadership lens is focused only on nonprofits. My thinking stems from the leadership development initiative that I’m partnering on, and my enduring emphasis on what empowers and enables nonprofits to thrive. It has struck me that many what-to-do-now discussions are really about the tenets of good leadership that always apply. Here are three at the top of my what-leaders-do list:

  • Seeing the big picture: All leaders may not be visionaries, but they need a broad vision of where their organization fits in the world and how the world impacts their organization. I’ve read much about nonprofits reaching out more to their constituencies and gearing up to be more proactive. But isn’t that what leaders should always promote and organizations should do, regardless? Reminders of core to-do’s may be a silver lining of uncertainty.
  • Giving metrics their due: Funders from grant makers to donors want to see clear data that explains and verifies. In uncertain times those metrics may be even more valuable for demonstrating a nonprofit’s relevance and garnering support. That emphasis on accountability through reliable metrics comes from the top.
  • Being firm but flexible: As a dedicated gardener I can’t resist a plant analogy – think of how a firmly rooted plant will still turn to face the sun. Leadership requires solid beliefs and an agile approach to following them. As times change, an organization’s strategies – even primary focus – may too.  


Clara Miller and a Profile in Leadership

Clara Miller, president of the Heron Foundation, is a nonprofit leader that I look to for inspiration. Miller is a leadership role model who recognizes when a fundamental turn is needed and guides that transition. In 2013, the Heron Foundation’s mission of helping communities and people lift up from poverty moved to a more direct focus on jobs and opportunities. As Miller explained, when the people that Heron meant to help were losing ground, the organization had to make a shift. Given the voices heard in the election from those who have lost economic ground, Miller’s leadership feels all the more on target.


My conversation with Kathryn Conroy, former executive director of Hedge Funds Care (now Help for Children), for Inside Philanthropy. Conroy describes the evolution of a nonprofit that became a win for the hedge fund industry’s image and for efforts to address child abuse prevention in multiple cities. It’s also about a founder, Rob Davis, who in “seeing the big picture” recognized what he didn’t know and collaborated with Conroy to make his concept work.  


With more examples of star leaders and leadership among nonprofits, metrics that matter and – remembering the season – holiday cheer! 


You're Invited! Celebrate the launch of HV SLO and our local nonprofits in the spirit of the holidays! Join us!

With this edition, my Continuing the Conversation dashboard is retiring after a great run. Thanks to all who’ve been part of the discussions! In 2017, I’ll continue to share Suggested by SJR resources on a theme and will be sending my new blog posts via mailchimp. And I’m noodling other ways to reach out with useful information for nonprofits, so stay tuned for surprises too!

Susan J. Ragusa
As a nonprofit strategist, I deliver solutions that are creative and doable. I emphasize board leadership and development, fundraising, and coaching. I’m also a contributing columnist for Inside Philanthropy and a frequent panelist for NYN Media.

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Copyright © 2016 Susan J Ragusa, All rights reserved.

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