Author: Peter Persuitti
Nonprofits are witnessing remarkable challenges embedded in the societies they serve — cultural, financial, new technologies and sustainability challenges — and all complicated with this prolonged pandemic.
Rather than look at these challenges from a half-empty perspective, we see a remarkable opportunity to convert these challenges in to thresholds of change. What do we mean?
We know that 'change is a constant,' and such a phrase in its own right creates pressure and tension. As people (and as organizations) we seek routine and comfort, peace and tranquility. We develop blind spots or a stuck mindset, or more relevant today — misinformation and misguided advice — that can distract our organizations in to a decline and/or reduced impact and value.
This pandemic has been a frightening wake-up call to how connected we are — despite our differences. Jim Collins' memorable phrase almost ten years ago was so prescient "we may be moving to a world of networks well-led, as opposed to organizations well-managed" (Great by Choice). Perhaps we need to change that to "have moved." We even acknowledge that this pandemic can have an important silver-lining. Engaging in managing risk and embracing more personal accountability for positive change are empowering mindsets.
Time also has been a gift in our world of risk management, as we have learned so much about:
- What safe environments for children really mean (and how we can empower everyone to be the ears and eyes of safety).
- What diversity, equity and inclusion is really all about, and why there are systemic issues with solutions.
As leaders, we need to move beyond surface repairs to entirely new ways to deliver services.
In our world of insurance, time has presented a tremendous surge of claims (aka losses — property, liability, auto, crime), some going back many years (the tail of exposure) when our knowledge of risk and mitigation was in a very different place. We see carriers exiting certain exposures that threaten the possibilities of securing or affording insurance in the future (human services, foster care and adoption, residential settings). Our organizations and communities cannot afford to be without at least some levels of catastrophic protection.
We have an opportunity to embrace these challenges as thresholds of change through three different overriding principles:
- Recognize the vital nature of relationships
- Think holistically
- Risk is powerful
We need to recognize the importance of collaboration and problem solving together — boards, committees, teams, departments, communities, regions, associations. Young and old, educated and street-wise, faith-based and secular. We are truly so interconnected, but perhaps duplicative in our approaches as well.
Specialization has it merits and value, but we also need to think outside the box and not limit ourselves to our department, organization or industry. Coalitions can be empowering and impactful, especially complementary partnerships. Find common ground and move forward to impact change. We need to intertwine our organizational (board, staff, volunteers, donors) thinking and acting into interdisciplinary paths of discernment and deliberation.
We have remarkable advances in data analytics and science to help us assess risk. Risk is no longer something we should necessarily avoid — we can analyze and move forward to enhanced stability and strength based on good data. In fact, risk is the ultimate underpinning of all change. We have to rethink our business planning and continuity assumptions, and that is risk management. We have to re-imagine our paradigms of service and delivery, and this is risk planning. We must embrace it, along with change, as value-enhancing aspects of our future. Risk identification and management need to be cornerstone topics of every board meeting. Together, we can all build the necessary capacity, align ourselves with specialized professional partners, and see risk as the oil for the change engines we need to become, for our missions and our societies.