How to exchange the urgency of today for the importance of tomorrow

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We ask a lot of leaders, especially in the nonprofit sector where hours can be long, compensation lacking, and challenges great.

You gotta be savvy, kind, whip-smart, courageous, vulnerable, and the list goes on. Sure, you can go to grad school and become “an expert” in strategy, finance, marketing, etc. But the real magic in leadership comes from being human. Keep it real.

I’m hearing from leaders across the nonprofit sector that it’s tough out there right now. With internal dynamics at play and myriad external forces swirling, both exerting pressure on organizations, where should leaders focus their attention?

The road ahead.
That’s where.

I know—easier said than done.

But when the tyranny of the urgent is relentless, our only recourse is to set our sights ahead.

Not blindly, mind you. But with intention and commitment.

In a recent McKinsey webinar on achieving win-win spin-offs, the experts were talking about the importance of “being fit for purpose.” I was struck by how well the nonprofit sector and many of its leaders understand this. They are clear on the “why” behind the mission, so that “what” they and their team do guides them in “how” they do their work.

At times like these, it’s easy to forget the strategic advantage of having a clear purpose. But make no mistake: it is an advantage.

Below are 5 simple strategies to help leaders maintain their focus on the “why” and forge ahead:
  1. Set a growth agenda grounded in the impact you want to make. If all you’re focused on is getting through today, that’s precisely what you’ll do. And that’s all you’ll do. Seize the moment to step into the CVO (Chief Visionary Officer) role.
  2. Be willing to flip your burger —ask good (and hard) questions. What does the future look like if it goes well? What does it look like if it goes poorly. Lean in, listen, learn and adapt.
  3. Alignment is like magic. Use it. Leaders often underestimate its value and importance.
  4. Focus on the narrative and communicate useful information often. Ensure your people understand where you/we/they are going – especially your team and your partners, donors, and clients. Help people understand your value proposition. Name it and claim it.
  5. Tighten the ship. Prioritize a healthy operating model and culture; and pay attention to your people: staff, volunteers, and board.

Leading at this moment requires that you bring your humanity to the table—that’s the hardest step. Leaders who show up with their full selves (rather than just their “best” selves) use reliable methodologies—like the strategies outlined above to move forward, even when it’s bumpy and murky.

I’ve included some of my favorite resources to help you along your journey on the road ahead:

I’ll see you on the road ahead, friends!


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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