Non-profit, For-profit Leaders Have Much in Common
Non-profit, For-profit Leaders Have Much in Commonback

What’s the difference between improving sales and drawing in more donors?

Not much, as it turns out. Both involve marketing, staff development, and having “A” players on board. The need to attract and retain good employees is common to both the for-profit and non-profit sectors as are the conundrums of mergers; how to do more with less; and how to fire or hire.

“It is increasingly important that non-profit leaders have the professional training and skills of [for-profit] CEOs in order to stay competitive and meaningful in pursuit of their mission,” says Anne Pasternak, president and Artistic Director of CREATIVETIME, an organization that commissions and presents public art in New York City.

Pasternak is a member of a Vistage peer support group that includes both non-profit and for-profit leaders. Her group, under the guidance of Norma Rosenberg, CEO coach and Chair at Vistage, meets once a month to discuss, dissect, question, and re-assess the problems and opportunities of its members, all of whom are CEOs.

Businesses large and small as well as non-profits are represented in the group, which meets for a full day once a month.

A lot of time to devote to discussing problems, you might think, but you’d be missing the point. “Instead of working in their businesses, they work on their businesses,” Rosenberg says. And all, whether leading a non-profit or for-profit, benefit. “Just being in that reflective, creative space for the day gives them ideas that translate into millions of dollars for their organizations,” she says.

The CEOs work together, in a confidential group that allows them to air problems and opportunities without worrying about what their boards or staff might think of their comments, assessments or proposed solutions. Indeed, sometimes the board or the staff are the problem so having a safe haven for discussion is important to the problem-solving process.

The CEOs who participate in such groups frequently grow their organizations 2 to 5 times faster than their competitors, according to reports from participants.

It makes sense to me: Peer advisors are invaluable! They understand your situation without having your emotional investment. They can see what you can’t: opportunities, options and stumbling blocks.

And I’m not surprised that for-profit and non-profit leaders can help each other. Managing people, supplies, schedules, and money requires the same kind of skills no matter what your goal.

Pasternak has noticed other benefits: The non-profit leaders learn how to work with and use tools that their board members – mostly from the for-profit world – are familiar with. On the other hand, non-profit leaders are mission-centered so they help keep for-profit leaders focused on their mission when making decisions.

Consider these problems: Are any of them limited to the for-profit or non-profit sector?

  • Allocating limited funds
  • Adapting quickly to changing environments
  • Getting the most bang for your marketing buck
  • Improving morale in a down-sized organization
  • Firing a key but under-performing staff member
  • Getting buy-in from a leader (or staff) resisting change
  • Dealing with fraud
  • Improving quality of service/product

It’s clear to me that both corporate and non-profit leaders benefit from working together as colleagues, not just as cause-marking partners or in donor-grantee relationships.

Has support from “the other” sector helped your organization? What would you like to learn from peers in the for-profit sector? How have you used peer advisory groups? Would you like to try one?