Organizational Transformation of an International Membership-based Nonprofit
For over 50 years, the founder of the client organization built a vibrant literary association with the help of a close friend and industry influencers. Organically, the organization grew until it reached 20,000+ members and boasted chapters worldwide. Despite the growth, the organization maintained its legacy leadership and ad hoc operations, with decision-making power closely held by a few individuals. When a crisis around transparency and equity triggered the founder’s early retirement, her daughter-in-law was next in line for the Executive Director (ED) role. While the new ED was highly qualified for the role, the promotion was complicated by external critique, split loyalties within the board and advisory council, and interpersonal dynamics between the ED and her mother-in-law.
The new Executive Director and her leadership team recognized that transformation was needed for the organization to remain sustainable and evolve in a way that supported future growth. In July 2022, Conscient Strategies began working with the team to reevaluate the organization and to develop a new vision, mission, values, and goals, and map a path forward that would maintain the organization’s legacy while transforming to meet the needs of its modern, global membership.
“Working with all of you has been one of the high points of my career. Your insights into how we can reinvent [the organization] have been nothing short of brilliant. You ‘see’ us in a way that has helped reshape our thinking and produced some great work we can share with the members.”
What We Did
With a combination of organizational assessment, advisory support, coaching, conflict mediation, and strategic support, we were able to help the ED stabilize the organization, and set it on a new course.
To begin, we employed the Conscient Strategies Organizational Assessment to evaluate past experience, current context and future opportunities. This tool considers the impact that mission, programmatic practices, structure, organizational culture, leadership and team dynamics, and decision making considerations may have on an organization’s success. To complete the assessment, we considered the following:
The assessment revealed the following:
- Ambiguity and variations in role interpretations within the volunteer leadership and HQ staff
- Lagging transparency in communications and support for financial management
- Volunteers looking to ease the burden of heavy workloads
- Dominant US-based language in communication and website
- Interpersonal issues getting in the way of effective communication and collaboration
- DEI-related training needs for regional leaders to address the problems as they come up
- Clarity around legal matters, including finances & data requirements (esp. for non-US)
Conscient Strategies then partnered with the ED and her team to address gaps related to organizational structure , effective use of the volunteer network, revision to the membership model, a shift to global orientation when considering communication, legal and finance requirements, and improvements to the governance and operating model.
At the start of the start of the transformation, the CS team led the executive leadership through exercises to shape the new vision, mission, values, and goals. Throughout the engagement, we provided leadership development and advisory services tailored for the ED to support the evolution of the relationship between the Board of Directors and the advisory council.
As the team gained confidence in the new direction, we served as thought partners to the ED to address opportunities identified in the assessment. We supported the and onboarding of new board members, including for the first time, a finance chair; we offered guided support to the Board to revise bylaws, empowering the Board as primary decision drivers. This resulted in a board that was fully qualified and committed to supporting the new direction.
Next we laid out a set of recommendations that would provide financial and structural stability. These included diversifying revenue streams, modifying the structure to support needs across the organization, clarifying roles and responsibilities for staff and volunteer leadership, and cascading communications so leaders can better support the changes involved in the organizational transformation
As a result of this engagement, the ED was confident in her leadership, role, and relationship with the board. Our engagement brought the organization compliance and working in concert with its renewed vision and bold goals. The executive team is better equipped to make informed decisions based on data and a deeper understanding of the organization.
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