A “people lens” is your answer to budget relief

Volunteerism has returned to its former prominence in the nonprofit sector, except the dynamics have changed, according to the coauthors of The Abundant Not-for-Profit.

Colleen Kelly and Lynda Gerty say our traditional assessment of volunteers’ capacity to add value no longer applies. They’ve coined the term “knowledge philanthropists” to define a new breed of volunteers. These are people who bring a vast set of skills and with those skills come higher expectations of the nonprofit.

What has also changed is the abundant nonprofit’s approach to talent management. If properly recruited, trained and managed under the abundance philosophy, skilled volunteers demonstrate an incredible return on investment. Nonprofits have much more to gain by looking at all positions within their operations as potential volunteer placements (what they call a “people lens”) versus always turning to budget machinations to fulfill the mission.

What does the abundant nonprofit approach look like? Abundant nonprofits:

dispel common myths about volunteers’ potential to contribute meaningfully.

begin with the CEO and board to embrace the abundance philosophy.

focus on human capital to deliver their missions.

transform the way they do business by applying a “people lens” to their leadership.

train salaried employees to lead and communicate with knowledge philanthropists in varying roles such as planners, advisors and facilitators.

enlist and support knowledge philanthropists with training, policies, expectations and key performance indicators.

lead salaried and volunteer talent alongside one another as one collective team.

Characteristics of leaders and organizations pursuing the abundance model

Organizations benefiting from this abundance leadership method are characterized by sound management practices, adaptive capacity and effective communications. Equally important, their leaders are confident people who exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit and are good delegators. We asked the authors Kelly and Gerty to describe organizations that may be poised for adopting this approach:

CausePlanet: In addition to the characteristics of CEOs and board members described in the book, what traits do organizations that are ready to successfully embrace this model all share (e.g., level of maturity, financial stability, size, tradition of innovation)?

Kelly and Gerty: As you’ve stated, the characteristics of the CEO remain a critical element. Those characteristics significantly affect the vision and culture of the organization and largely determine whether or not transformation can happen. An orientation toward abundance, learning, excellence and innovation is tremendously important. Beyond that, there are very few hard and fast rules. We’ve sometimes seen executive transitions catalyze the adoption of this model, as new CEOs are often interested in new approaches and motivated to do things differently. In some ways, small organizations that are going through a growth phase have an advantage, as they are often nimble and able to make change happen relatively quickly. It also can be easier in organizations with a certain cachet, as many talented individuals want to be associated with those organizations. However, we’ve seen many exceptions to those trends and look forward to seeing abundant not-for-profits spring up in all sub-sectors, stages and sizes.

The abundance rationale

The authors emphasize that instead of nonprofits looking through a budgetary lens, which highlights the need to raise more money, they need to look through a people lens, which encourages them to evaluate their talent needs in order to complete their missions. After a history of professionalizing the nonprofit sector, in which paid employees performed strategic tasks and volunteers completed repetitive tasks with their hands, a new day is dawning. The altruistic volunteer, who gave without expecting any return, is waning. Volunteers now expect meaningful experiences that use their skills.

Nonprofits, succumbing to budgetary concerns, have traditionally hired fewer people or people who are less qualified without considering other options. Many salaried nonprofit employees are overworked and underpaid as a result. The authors encourage nonprofits to discard this paradigm and move toward a completely new culture, one that listens to what volunteers want and what organizations need and matches them for a win-win situation. The authors dub this new type of volunteer a knowledge philanthropist because s/he brings knowledge in addition to hands.

The people lens method

An organization with a people lens first tries to develop a strong, well-functioning organization to draw talent. In order to create this strength, an organization needs to begin with the why (vision and mission), move to the what (three to five goals) and then focus on the how (define the time and skills already given by salaried employees and the talents needed and integrate volunteers across all functions in an organizational chart). Subsequently, an abundant nonprofit can create a culture that equalizes salaried and volunteer employees, a plan that includes knowledge philanthropists, a governance model that sees talent as a strategic imperative, processes to hire and develop knowledge philanthropists who will work under salaried managers, and leadership that supports this system.

The authors define a people lens culture in the following manner:

In a people lens culture, it is difficult to discern who is paid with money and who is paid with meaning. This fully integrated talent team challenges the traditional notion that some roles are for salaried employees and other roles are for volunteers. In a people lens culture, salaried employees no longer determine which roles are ‘okay’ for volunteers. Volunteer roles are fully integrated into each level, function and activity of the organization.

Join us next week when we’ll talk about why this management approach is a win-win as well as introduce a case study that dramatically impacted a health services organization.

See also:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The Six Secrets of Change

Image credits: dramafever.com, hwproductions.com, commons-wikimedia.org, philanthropy.com

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