Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It’s Still the Economy

By Virgil Carter

Have you noticed that the economy hasn’t been transformed into a positive, high-energy environment?  While we may not be in the depths of 2009, there is little to encourage optimism.  Non-profit organizations, dependent on dues revenues and non-dues income, continue to be under pressure.  The pressure may be from diverse sources:

  •          Reduction in membership and membership dues
  •          Shrinking base of non-dues income sources
  •          Less available time for volunteer service to the non-profit
  •      Pressure to cut staff and other operating expenses

Many associations, facing these pressures, continue to do what they have always done, drawing on reserve funds to offset the negative economy.  Other associations have seen the slow economy as a leadership opportunity; an opportunity to review and adjust their operations and value-added approach to business.

Opportunity for the Visionary

The challenging impacts of the prolonged economic slowdown actually offer an opportunity for the visionary.  This may be the very best time to re-assess legacy programs, products and services, identifying and prioritizing which ones most effectively support the organizational mission and provide essential capital for operations and reinvestments. 

Virtually all non-profit organizations have a host of long-term, legacy programs, products and services that hang on from year to year.  Experienced association staff know that major organizational change almost never takes place when times are good and members/money is rolling in.  For change to take place, it’s often the case that the pain of doing nothing has to outweigh the pain of change!.  Thus, when membership and revenues are decreasing, often becomes the ideal time to focus everyone’s attention and energy on important changes needed to meet a changed economy.

Change Leadership

Why do many organizations continue to do what they have always done, even during challenging economic times and even enduring negative annual financial performance?  Why is change leadership so difficult?  Harvard Business School professor John Kotter writes that the essential first step in organizatonal change is “to establish a sense of urgency” which is shared throughout the organization!  Even during emergencies, there is a normal human desire to hang onto the familiar and predictable.  Unfortunately, little in our changing world remains familiar and predictable for long.

Thus, our continued economic challenges are an opportunity for change leadership, where it may be most needed and beneficial.  Experienced and visionary volunteer and staff leaders will work together to critically review their organization’s performance,  communicate a sense of urgency about needed changes and put in motion the new vision and implementation steps which may be needed.

This “challenging” economy offers important opportunities for new organizational directions.  Let’s get cracking!

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