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Home » The Top 5 Things That Businesses Can Learn From Non-Profits

The Top 5 Things That Businesses Can Learn From Non-Profits

Today at lunch I realized that April 15, 2016 marks the 3-year anniversary of my resignation from a Wall Street institutional fixed income sales desk to join the staff of an 18-month old church.  Throughout the course of those 3 years, the most common question that I’ve been asked is “Do you miss it?”  In a number of ways I do…the camaraderie on the desk, the relationships with clients, the thrill of the trade and visiting New York.

However, when asked, I will typically redirect that question and tell people that they should be asking me a different question.  The question that they should be asking is “What have you learned?”, which typically leads to a great discussion.

Therefore, in honor of this anniversary, I thought it would be fun to share the top 5 things I’ve learned working in a non-profit organization that the for profit community at large could learn from.  There are more than 5 but these are the big ones.

Here we go….

#1: If You Lose Your “Why” You Will Lose Your Way– My appreciation for Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book “Start With Why” is pretty well documented, but if you have not watched it, stop reading this, find it on YouTube, and return to this blog post later.  Yes, it’s that good.  Most non-profit organizations have a very clearly defined vision for why they exist which helps them remain focused, inspire staff members, and rally volunteers.  Most businesses, on the other hand, know clearly what they do, but very few know why they do it.  I would encourage all businesses to, if they have not already, spend some time developing their “Why”, “How” and “What.”

#2: It’s Not (All) About the Money– I love Bill Hybel’s definition of “vision,” which is that vision is a picture of the future that produces passion in people.  In other words, your “why” should elicit passion and excitement in your employees to the degree that compensation is only one of several factors that connect to job satisfaction.  If you want to attract and retain top talent, how you inspire them is just as important as how much you pay them.  Non-profit organizations are able to attract and retain very talented leaders and employees when money is not a factor.  For profit businesses can learn from this.

#3: The CEO’s Job is Chief Encouragement Officer– Once you know your “why” and have inspired employees to the degree that they’re ready to run through walls like the Kool-Aid man, a leader’s job is to fan the flames.  Celebrate their victories.  Be the president of their fan club.  Give them responsibilities, not tasks.  At the Global Leadership Summit in 2014 I heard Carly Fiorina say a quote that I remember very clearly to this day…”The highest calling of a leader is to unlock the potential in others.”

#4: Culture is King- Non-profit organizations have an inherent advantage over businesses in that their employees and volunteers are there because they believe in their vision/ purpose/ cause, not because they need a job.  Therefore, a natural chemistry tends to exist (mostly) among them that creates a great culture. Great culture can carry an organization through good days and bad days.  Beware of employees that are culture killers.  They’re not necessarily bad people, they’re probably just not inspired by your “why.”

#5: Leadership Development Needs to be a Value– I spent twice as much time on leadership development in 3 years at a well run non-profit than I did in the first 13 years of my career in finance.  Businesses don’t know what they’re missing out on.  There is an incredible amount of books and on-line content available that will not only foster leadership development in your organization, but also create common language, create culture, and deliver intrinsic value to your employees.  I HIGHLY encourage all businesses to make leadership development available and tap into the vast amount of available resources.

I hope these learnings resonate with you.  If you’d like to dive in further or have follow-up questions, please feel free to give me a shout.


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