Chickens and eggs

Lately the Nonprofiteer has been bending the ear of everybody she meets with praise for a community arts nonprofit (The Old Town School of Folk Music by name) based on her experience as one of its students. She was waxing rhapsodic about the School’s amazing energy, a heady combination of welcome and clarity about mission–the guy who runs the coffee shop improvised a song, “Decaf Woman,” while brewing an entire pot just for her–when one of her auditors observed, “Well, that kind of thing comes from the top, doesn’t it?”

Intriguing question: does it come from the top, from leadership that never loses sight of mission and knows how to make sure that no one else does either? Or does it come from the bottom, from a comprehensive culture for which which everyone at the agency feels responsible and to which everyone proudly conforms?

Whichever way the ethos flowed originally, you’ll know an agency has a pervasive culture when a junior person tells the Executive Director, “That’s not the way we do it around here.” At which point you’ll realize: be careful what you wish for.

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One Response to “Chickens and eggs”

  1. socialcitizen Says:

    Interesting quandary. I have contemplated this same thing many of times, when thinking about leadership in the nonprofit sector and why next generation leaders are leaving it.

    I feel like a lot of how an organization works has to come from the top. If an organization doesn’t have a good leader things will falter from below.

    I previously worked for an organization where all of the staff members had fantastic, optimistic attitudes about their work. They loved it and wanted to make their organization better, but horrible leadership lead everyone to hate their jobs. So, I left. I think this is what is happening in a lot of nonprofits. EDs are having trouble finding the balance between doing their cause work, managing the workplace & leading their staff.

    I applaud those that find the balance, and wish they could give some hints.

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