Monday, March 19, 2012

The Servant Leader

For about the last six months I haven't been keeping up this blog.  I think it was time for a break.  During that time, I have received some really great articles from law firms, nonprofit professionals and consultants.  It's time to come around again and share the amazing writings of others.  But first, an idea that has been rumbling around in my head.  The idea of "Servant Leaders."  I hope you enjoy!  Bunnie

As someone who has been “doing” nonprofit work for over twenty years, I frequently find myself aghast at what goes on in the nonprofit world.  Too often, the nonprofit world becomes the dumping ground for people who can’t make it in business or other professions.  It is a “fall-back position” as it were.

Or, as bad, for board members, it is a resume builder.

The nonprofit world is either a calling or it is not.  And I would challenge those who make it their place maker or their name maker to get out.
Many years ago a woman, who later become my dearest friend, came to me in tears.  She had been a lawyer at a large federal government agency and became the executive director of a nonprofit.  She was having difficulty adjusting to the nonprofit environment, dealing with the myriad of personalities that were her board.  I said to her “Have you ever done church?  Because if you’ve done church you will know that the people you are dealing with are emotionally invested in that organization and that is why they act that way.  Just like “church people.”  It could be church or any other religious or fraternal organization, but it is instructive that people who give their money or their time to nonprofit causes do so for a reason, they are emotionally invested in the work of the nonprofit.

Needless to say, she went on to be very successful in her job, she became a servant leader.

A friend of mine today sits on the board of a theatre company in Colorado.  They are pursuing a bold initiative of securing large sums of money to buy a building that will not only house theatre productions but all sorts of community events.  This is a very intelligent man with a deep business background who probably doesn’t have the time to give, but gives it anyway because something has sparked his passion for the project.  So he spends inordinate amounts of his time meeting and planning and visioning.  He is a servant leader.  He looks at his community and sees a need and is willing to sacrifice a part of his life in order to accomplish something grand.

Then I see nonprofit executives who seemingly don’t give a hoot for their membership.  These “executives” basically float along without commitment all the while collecting a pay check and doing a snow job on the very people who count on them.  They prey on the nonprofit world because they know the business world wouldn’t tolerate them for five seconds.  Or I see board members who show up for meetings (most of the time) and nod and smile, eat the cookies and drink the coffee and go home without regard or care for the organization. 
Recently, I heard of an organization that ran up huge liabilities and after a few years it finally came to the attention of the board.  I wanted to ask “Where were they when those first few financial statements came out?”

The nonprofit world requires servant leaders.  It requires people who have a love for what they do.  It very often requires personal sacrifice and it requires passion every moment of every day.

While I firmly believe nonprofit entities should be run like a business with an eye to the bottom line and good business practices, by and large, nonprofit entities are not making widgets, we are solving problems, meeting needs and securing quality of life for now and the future.

According to a Johns Hopkins report “Global Assembly on Measuring Civil Society and Volunteering," nonprofits and the civil society contribute more than 7% of the United States gross domestic product. 
“According to the report, the civil society sector — comprising private, not-for-profit hospitals, schools, social service agencies, symphonies, environmental groups and many other organizations — accounts on average for 5 percent of the GDP in the countries covered, and exceeds 7 percent in some countries, such as Canada and the United States. By comparison, the utilities industry — including gas, water, and electricity — in these same countries accounts on average for only 2.3 percent of GDP, the construction industry for 5.1 percent, and the financial intermediation industry embracing banks, insurance companies, and financial services firms, for 5.6 percent.”

That report was done in 2007, my guess is with the faltering economy the nonprofit share of the GDP has grown.

One might say that nonprofits are the backbone of our economy, our quality of life and our civil discourse.

Therefore, they need to be treated with respect.

I would ask anyone involved in any way with a nonprofit and within eye-shot of this post to look deep into their souls and ask “why?”  Are you there to be a servant leader or are you looking to get something for yourself out of it?  If your answer is the latter, please be honest and walk away.

Servant leaders give of themselves.  They engage in their cause and find passions they never knew existed.  They don’t ask “what’s in it for me?”  They ask “what can I do to make it better?”

Very often, servant leaders don’t get paid what they are really worth, but servant leaders reap the rewards in accomplishment.  And frankly for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.