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One Two Cha Cha Cha

One Two Cha Cha Cha

Lean In. Lean Out. Step Up. Lean Back. Lead On. Lean Forward. Lead Up.

It’s the Leadership Dance. Check out any digital library or local book store and you will find thousands of articles, blogs, books and manifestos on leadership. Not so long ago, I realized that in the search for the holy grail of leadership, the nonprofit sector is often overlooked.

I first became aware that the leadership rule book was different in the nonprofit world about seven years ago when I attended a community leadership conference in Colorado. I was attending the event with business leaders from around the country and one of the keynote speakers was inspiring the group to seize new opportunities and lead organizations beyond the status quo. I was completely engaged and whispered to one of my table mates how fired up I was with the presentation. He smiled and whispered back, “Yes, too bad you don’t get a chance to do any of this in your job.” The rest of the table heard him and nodded in agreement.

This was a turning point in my leadership journey. I met the speaker, and hired him as a leadership and organizational development coach for the local nonprofit I was leading at the time. The organization experienced amazing results from the investment, and I have been on a bandwagon of encouraging other nonprofit leaders to take similar steps ever since.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, when we partner with nonprofit organizations with our funding, we examine the health of the leadership culture in their agencies, and then support the development of leadership with coaching in addition to the funding grants. We want to develop strong nonprofit leadership in Southwest Florida. After all, if we are serious about solving the issues we are facing in our region, shouldn’t some of best leaders be at the helm?

It is at this chapter in the leadership rule book that people begin to react. Investing in leadership development in the nonprofit world falls squarely into the overhead department. In the private sector we call it “investment in human capital,” and in the nonprofit world we call it “overhead.” Overhead is considered anything that costs money and could disrupt our GuideStar rating or percentage of administrative costs.

Please don’t get me wrong. There are all kinds of instances that the nonprofit world uses the leadership word, such as when nonprofits send their CEOs and executive directors to local training programs, but most of those center around topics that include fundraising, grant writing and reducing overhead costs. They are fantastic programs led by wise instructors, but in many cases ideas generated there can’t make it past board approved budgets.

In the 501c3 realm, you may notice that we sometimes attach the word “leadership” to giving levels. If you are a “leadership donor,” it generally means you have given at a specific level that identifies you as a super giver. You are an example to others to step up and support the organization in the same way.

Recently at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we began to ask these leadership givers if they would like to be involved in walking alongside us, as well as some of the organizations that they support, as the strategy and solutions are being discussed and developed. Most all leadership donors that we asked have said yes.

Trending now, both nationally and locally, are philanthropists becoming more involved in helping solve our social issues or causes, not just through their financial assets. A great example of this locally is Scott Fischer of Scott Fischer Enterprises. He was just awarded Gulf Coast Business Observer’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Throughout his feature article, Scott’s commitment to solving local issues is just as evident as his dedication to his business. Scott is part of a new breed of philanthropist who is willing to rewrite the nonprofit leadership rule book. At the Community Foundation, we are seeing and encouraging our donors to look for a return on their investment and to play a supporting role in the process.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation is launching a new leadership series for nonprofits, Lead Forward. We may not have coined an original title in the leadership dance, but our hope is it will start a new conversation around the rule books for nonprofits. It is designed to create a greater synergy between the new philanthropists like Scott Fischer and the organizations and issues donors like him want to partner with and support. Our hope is that both nonprofit executives and their mainly private sector board members will take the series together and start dancing a new dance. Three four cha cha cha.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $75 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at www.floridacommunity.com.

Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More