The Future is Holistic, Sustainable Leadership

Posted by on May 23, 2017

In a recently posted blog “Is Holistic Fundraising a Thing? Can it be? A New Mindset For Fundraising Professionals”, that was shared by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jennifer Harris talks about something that any lonely fundraiser knows; something that is misunderstood by so many organizations: the ‘place’ of fundraising.

But I think we can take it even further.

Harris explains how fundraising is the “connective tissue” of an organization – not something that stands alone, or worse, is hidden in some lonely tower until the gala begins or the budget is set.

Organizations, people and teams are holistic entities – they do not exist without the other. At the core, holistic approaches recognize that all parts are relevant and related. Harris notes that in a nonprofit, there must be individual recognition of the work (i.e. passion for the cause), organizational commitment to weaving fundraising into the framework and understanding of all parts of a nonprofit, and finally functional manifestations – teams must understand how their work is part of the larger whole.

I could not agree more.

Many (all?) fundraisers will also agree. If you’ve ever had a org budget presented and been told to ‘fill in the gap’, if fundraising’s role in your strategic plan is simply “raise more money”, if program staff have ever asked you why they don’t have more money for their programs, you know the pain of a fractured organization.

“…emergency funds or development staff may resolve an immediate need, but this too does not necessarily lend itself to long-term organizational health. In both instances, a holistic mindset and plan-of-action may prove more empowering, more strategic, and more sustainable. It may also lead to greater efficacy and impact in life and in work.”  –Jennifer Harris

But I know we can go even further. Harris mentions it, but the holistic care and nurturing of individuals is one of the most glaring deficiencies in our sector. Selflessness – to the point of true loss of self – is quite often the celebrated norm. While our people, their talents, passion, wisdom and experience, are our biggest assets, we often shy away from the types of support and care that can make the difference in how someone does their work, or even if they can continue to do that work at all. (Yep, I’m talking about the big B: “burnout”.)

So, how do we support our organizational leaders sustainably? For a start:

  1. Quit the Cult of Busy (and let your employees leave too) – I get it. We’ve all got a lot on our plate. But if you are wearing it as a badge of honor, or your default answer to “How are you?” is “Sooooo busy,” then you may have some priorities to consider. Isn’t there a passion project or good news – or even simply good weather – that you’d rather talk about? Your leadership in this will have huge implications on your team and their work/life balance. There’s plenty written about this topic and its importance. Here’s one I like from Johns Hopkins Health Review (2016): “The Cult of Busy”
  2. Call in the Coach – there is growing support in the nonprofit sector for something business leaders have used for years: coaches. The job of a leadership coach isn’t to tell you (or your direct reports) what to do, but to help support you in being the best leader you can be. It’s a great, cost-effective way to invest in your people. The Haas Jr Fund released a study on coaching effectiveness for nonprofits. Read it here.
  3. Get Quiet – breathe, meditate, chant, exhale at a stop light – however you can start learning to be still, do it. When we are constantly moving at a breakneck pace, we have no time to think, to listen, and to incorporate truth into our actions. Take a quiet pause and then return to the multitasking and ‘all the things’ – your heart will thank you.

What do you think? Can we holistically approach sustainable leadership, for our good and the good of the world?

What are you doing to sustain yourself or your organization more holistically?

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