When Collaboration And Leadership Are More Important In Non-Profits Versus For-Profits

Ventures or new organizational initiatives, whether in the profit or non-profit sector, face tough mortality rates early on. Luck clearly plays a role in the success of new initiatives, but I find that many times it has to do with a combination of tackling too many items, lacking organizational skills or resources, and not working out important issues of collaboration and leadership.

Non-profits bear a bigger brunt in my opinion:

  • People tend to be naturally (and rightfully) more altruistic in non-profit endeavors –  This creates a large appetite, but it must be tapered with some discipline and a devil’s advocate mentality to say that "we should first bite off a smaller goal".
  • Non-profits may have greater tendencies to lack optimum organizational structures – As I mentioned in a prior post outlining how MBAs can apply skills in a non-profit environment, many non-profits I’ve seen have more diverse demographics than corporations. This is great, but it may also mean that a non-profit is getting contributed (pro-bono) support where one can’t control the quality or goals of the resource as one would with an employee of a commercial entity. Non-profits may also lack resources in the way of $$ or specialized help on-staff.
  • Non-profits may lack collaboration mechanisms more widely used in the high-tech space – Some of the team members may be working virtually from the organization (e.g., if contributed pro-bono work). Given that virtual teams have "amplified collaboration needs" (term coined here by Arienna Foley), it is worthwhile to figure out how to get the people to actively collaborate and get quick wins. Some bootstrap tools that may help in the greater effort of getting the team to work together include things like free conference calling (www.freeconferencecall.com), instant organizational intranet (note whitepaper PDF file)  and communication platform (e.g., using free configuration of 21Publish group publishing service), and Skype (free voice over IP, e.g., for international team members).

In any case, I hope that these items and pointers above may help give some ideas to those working for non-profits. This post was motivated by a portion of a broader discussion I had with Dr. Saraiya regarding  the South Asian Health Research Institute (SAHRI). Dr. Saraiya asked me to write down some of my thoughts in starting a new endeavor.

Steve Shu

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4 Replies to “When Collaboration And Leadership Are More Important In Non-Profits Versus For-Profits”

  1. Steve,
    I am glad that you have called for MBAs to take part in Non-Profits. From my current experience as I establish SAHRI, a few thoughts cross my mind very frequently.
    Like many others, I don’t have any experience or training in how to estblish or run a successful business. So, I started with an idea. It was a good idea (at least the goals were good).
    But the complicated part is that the way we want to accomplish is by doing academic work. Doing research. So, it is similar to an university model (universities being non profit organizations). Except that here I am starting from the scratch and it is all voluntary organization. So, even those dedicated to work/help out, need to do this work in their free time etc.
    Then there is the question of how do you take into account the global nature of the membership into creating an efficient organizational structure?
    What we are trying to do is: within the group of key personnel discussing what our vision is, and then plugging away at making it happen. Mostly off the cuff and from the seat of the pants (something we want to avoid).
    The hard part is that at the end of the day it is “I hope this works.” There has to be a better way to do approach this without the luck factor.
    Being able to bounce off ideas off of someone with management experiece and/or training would certainly help us. I like the idea of “taking a small bite” and devil’s advocate.

  2. On target with applying MBA values to non-profit community. I work in the Christian para-church community, a sub-group of the non-profit sector, and I am trying to apply such valuable insight.

  3. Jason,
    Thanks for the comment. Sounds like you have some interesting stuff to work on. I am not sure if you are incorporating blogging into your para-church environment, but you may be interested in the following article http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0%2C1703%2CA%253D160053%2526M%253D150036%2C00.html (covers blogging and the church)
    If you are interested in blogging in your para-church environment, you may also be interested in checking out http://www.21publish.com as a potential platform. There is a free service that includes 100 members in a community. Disclosure: I also serve as COO of 21Publish. You can also find some other 21Publish communities listed along the righthand side of my blog for 21Publish at http://www.21publish.com/sshu .
    Hope this information is helpful to you!

  4. Virtual teams in non-profit organizations

    Virtual collaboration is even harder in not-for-profits” In an article entitled “When Collaboration And Leadership Are More Important In Non-Profits Versus For-Profits” Steve Shu suggests three of the main failure areas in the ability of non-profit…

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