Are You Ready to Lead the Bold Change You Asked For?

Many paths lead nonprofit and school leaders to undertake big strategic and creative work. Sometimes it’s a capital campaign, other times it’s in response to enrollment trends, or just that it’s “time” to do a new strategic plan. But the most exciting opportunities are the ones where organization leaders see a refreshed brand, visionary strategic plan, or new communications campaign as tools to boldly supercharge their organization’s trajectory.

So as the work unfolds, why do so many nonprofits and schools get uncomfortable with a bold new way of showing up in the world? Why do they ask for approaches that will make all of their stakeholders happy? Why do they settle for incremental change when what they thought they wanted was a great leap forward?

It’s because they were caught off guard by the leadership work required to see transformational change through. That’s something Mission Minded can — and does — coach our clients on, but it’s not work that we can do for our clients.

Throughout our years of partnering with nonprofits, schools, foundations, colleges and universities, we’ve noted these hallmarks of leaders who succeed in revolutionary change within their organizations. They…

Get Fired Up

Over time, nonprofits can slip into complacency. Or sometimes they’re so used to resource scarcity they operate from a position of fear. But to spark the positive change our communities hunger for, the whole nonprofit sector needs to be in constant state of evolution, even revolution.

If you go through a strategy exercise just to tighten up what you were, or take the conventional approach, you’re sending the signal that your stakeholders and audiences can expect more of the same, and nothing groundbreaking.

Mission Minded’s core strategy services ask you to think very deeply about your organization’s vision, beliefs, and identity to meet the moment. Who do you want to be? Where are you headed? How can you make more impact? How do you communicate that to the audiences most important to your success?

To drive tremendous change, you have to be all in. Are you?

Own the Risk

It’s completely natural to feel a sense of fear if you’ve been handed the keys to steward an organization. Nonprofit and school leaders are constantly facing risk-reward scenarios. Mission Minded’s job is to spotlight the bigger reward and coach you how to share its potential with your stakeholders.

But it’s you who has to be willing to take the risk and step out. You are never going to please everyone when you make gutsy decisions that create change — be it a new logo, revamped organizational values, or a creative theme for your largest-ever capital campaign.

Own that. Give it voice. Admit that there’s a risk before someone else can undermine your efforts by being your critic. From the beginning, let your team and stakeholders know that you will take their opinions under advisement, but that you will be the one to make the final decision.

Prevent Surprises

While transformative work doesn’t usually happen in a committee, you must be very thoughtful about the emotional investment of key board members, employees, and other members of your community. We’ve watched backlash and rebellion torpedo countless game-changing ideas.

Get ahead of this. Prepare your community for change by sending signals long before you announce a new branding or strategic planning initiative. Find informal ways to seek input on an ongoing basis without ceding control.

Throughout our collaborations, Mission Minded coaches clients on bringing in the right voices at the right time so that when our work is finished, the results stick.

Lean on the Research

Don’t make your gutsy decisions only from your gut. Research helps leaders move from pure instinct to informed decision making.

At the beginning of every engagement, Mission Minded designs research agendas that make sure we are hearing what’s most important to your community. It’s a mistake to skip or dismiss this important step. When you reach critical forks in the road — this logo or that one, is this vision too far removed, will donors respond to this positioning — turn back to that research to remind you what you heard from your community.

Game-changing Leadership

Here’s an example of how transformative a bold strategy and creative can be:

A few years ago, Mission Minded worked with a nonprofit named the Adoption Exchange. They did a good job in the day-to-day focusing on the core of their mission — helping identify caregivers and support for young people in the foster care system. But they had reached a point of complacency. The executive director was ready to make a leap forward. She saw so much more potential for what the organization might accomplish.

Collaborating with Mission Minded, the nonprofit conducted brand research. We uncovered a key finding: Audiences reported that their very name was outdated and offensive. Young people felt like the word “exchange” turned them into commodities, and adoption is sometimes a false promise for those in the foster system. That research led us to develop creative ideas for a new name. We recommended Raise the Future. This name transforms the way that every audience looks to engage with the mission. It suggests the power of what we as a community can do together.

But at the time, the new name seemed like a huge risk. It was unusual. Other evocative elements of their rebrand, including their new visual identity and language, also signaled that audiences could expect something very different, not business as usual.

Flash forward. Their new name and identity have attracted vastly expanded support and partnerships. Raise the Future yielded premier candidates for their newly created CEO position. And NBA phenom Giannas Antetokounmpo chose Raise the Future as his 2022 Team Giannis All-Star Game beneficiary. This organization’s old brand wouldn’t have galvanized this type of excitement and support. But their gutsy new brand does. It took visionary leadership (and big courage) to move forward despite the discomfort of the risk-averse on the staff and board, and it paid off in big ways.

The First Step to an Extraordinary Future

When your organization is ready to make its next great leap forward, turn to Mission Minded to co-create your new brand, strategic plan, admissions or major-donor campaign. We’ll be your partners in developing the magnetic ideas that will unite your community, and the coaches you can turn to be the confident leader required to drive such extraordinary change.