Carmel Molloy and Kelly Beaumont explain how sustained and structured collaboration between leaders of nonprofit organisations makes it possible to draw on each other’s unique strengths to deliver practical, innovative solutions that drive social change.
There’s no doubt that CEOs of nonprofit organisations often struggle to find the resources they need to deliver the greatest social impact. Both money and talent are thin on the ground and time is usually too short.
CEOs of small organisations are often immersed in day-to-day operations, with little time to step back and look objectively at the opportunities and challenges they face. Leaders of large organisations find themselves pulled in many different directions by staff, tasked with achieving an ever-expanding list of objectives.
To be an effective leader, it is essential to take time to step away, develop your professional strengths, and share with and learn from others who have so much to offer.
While many people believe they can achieve greater results by working to improve weaknesses, research continually shows that a strengths-focus is better. In fact, a global study by the Corporate Leadership Council of almost 20,000 people across multiple organisations and industries found that when people were encouraged to focus on their strengths, their performance increased by an extraordinary 36%. When they focused on weaknesses, performance dropped by 27%.
According to Australia’s Langley Group, giving “people a language to talk about each others’ strengths and how they can contribute them specifically toward team goals” is one of the most powerful things you can do to increase collaboration. Of course defining and determining strengths can be a challenge. The best way to facilitate this is by using proven Emotional Intelligence tools, such as R2.
Within your organisation, a tool such as R2 will quickly identify unearthed strengths in people that can be maximised right now. Expand your horizons to a collaborative model among nonprofit leaders and you’ll have an even bigger pool of strengths from which to draw and learn.
Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that by recognising and drawing on your strengths and those of the people and organisations that surround you, you can deliver a collective outcome that could never be achieved alone.
The independent non-government health service provider, Royal Far West (RFW), is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of country kids unable to access specialised health and learning services due to geographical isolation. Realising it can never be the be-all-and-end-all for remote and rural health, this 90-year-old charity partners with organisations to complement existing services, fill service gaps and enhance the capacity and capability of the rural workforce. Those organisations include government health services, Aboriginal medical services, schools and other non-government organisations, including Ronald McDonald House Charities.
In 2015, RFW, along with its partners, delivered the Healthy Kids Bus Stop program, which comprises school readiness health and learning screening, as well as referral pathways for young children in country communities. Over the year, RFW and its partners visited a staggering 25 rural and remote communities, in the process, supporting over 850 vulnerable young people to secure specialist services previously inaccessible due to geography.
Trusting and sharing
Of course effective collaboration in any environment requires a high degree of trust between participants. This can be a challenge among organisations working in a competitive space. A structured collaborative model, which facilitates a regular two-way exchange of information within a non-judgmental, supportive and confidential environment, will break down barriers and build trust over time. Additionally, an accountable process that encourages members of the collaborative network to report on their progress and seek feedback will further deepen trust.
Trust was fundamental to the Children’s Charity Leadership Forum (CCLF) established in 2005 by Malcolm Coutts (at the time CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities) who brought together CEOs from the Starlight Foundation, Redkite, CanTeen, Make-A-Wish Australia, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Camp Quality, Variety and the Humour Foundation. Despite what could be perceived to be conflicts of interest between these not-for-profits, these leaders chose to work together, to share knowledge and provide honest feedback based on their real-life experiences working in the sector.
Over time, deep trust was established. Program managers and HR personnel from each organisation began to collaborate, and by sharing research and resources, found creative and practical solutions to improve the lives of families living with childhood cancer. For example, rather than reinventing the wheel or contracting external suppliers, Redkite and Camp Quality chose to pool their resources, with Redkite committing their social workers to offer free psychosocial support groups for parents within safe and comfortable Camp Quality Camps.
When working within a collaborative network, it is essential for leaders to emphasise a ‘return on relationships’ above all else. Ego and personal interests must be put aside, expertise and experiences openly shared and support proffered to collectively expand your reach into new territories.
Beyond sharing resources, sustained and effective collaboration helps leaders develop the confidence and motivation necessary to challenge the status quo, take risks and push boundaries to achieve success.
In October 2012, World Animal Protection Australia (WAM), or World Society for the Protection of Animals as it was known then, declared the need to build policy surrounding care for farmed, native and domestic animals caught up in emergency situations. They knew they couldn’t do it alone.
So they collaborated with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australian Animal Welfare Strategy to co-host a workshop entitled, Building Resilience: Animals and Communities Coping in Emergencies. The workshop drew together over 50 stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds including emergency managers; humanitarian organisations; Australian local, state and federal government departments; New Zealand government departments; veterinarians; researchers and animal organisations.
As a result of this groundbreaking workshop, the National Advisory Committee for Animals in Emergencies was established as an interim committee with the aim to produce practical guidelines for animals in emergencies. By working together they were inspired to influence national policy in a manner that would protect pets, livestock and animals in the wild, and in turn improve social outcomes for all of humanity.
Learning to lead
Strong leadership is vital to the success of nonprofits – as highlighted by the Good Foundation study, Foundations Of A WellRun NFP, which found that 92% of not-for-profit employees and funders surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that being well-run has a significant correlation to delivering more impact.
Yet many nonprofit leaders grow into their roles with little formalised training and fail to take time-out to pursue ongoing professional development. As a result, leadership potential is not realised and the organisation is unable to maximise social impact.
The recent Learning for Purpose program, led by the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia Business School demonstrates the direct benefits of investing in leadership development. The study found that professional development activities addressing not-for-profit governance, strategic leadership and impact evaluation, had systematic positive effects on those trained. Eighty three per cent attested that training encouraged discussion of new practice or policy; 69% applied their new knowledge and skills once a week or more; and a cost-benefit analysis suggested that every dollar spent on capacity-building generated, on average, a positive return of about $6.
Going back to university or completing online business courses are two ways to achieve the personal and professional growth you need to maximise your leadership potential. Collaborating with other leaders of nonprofit organisations, in a structured environment that provides both formal learning and peer-to-peer learning from those who work in similar professional environments, can be even more rewarding.
Carmel Molloy and Kelly Beaumont co-founded Australia’s Non Profit Alliance, a leadership hub building leadership capability within Australia’s nonprofit sector. Carmel has held CEO and executive director level roles representing the likes of Australia for UNHCR, Camp Quality and Kids Help Line. Kelly is a strategic management specialist and leadership coach, with 20 years in nonprofit sector leadership.
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