I have been asking colleagues over the past few months what they think is troubling nonprofits most these days. From their astute and diverse answers, and from my own experiences, I have chosen four key problems that interfere with nonprofit organizations finding their groove:
- people on the board and/or the staff are in conflict or disengaged
- purpose is confusing or lacking
- possibilities are suppressed or ignored
- processes are ineffective or non-existent for people to implement the possibilities chosen to achieve the purpose.
If these 4 Ps are disrupting your nonprofit, negativity abounds and a great groove is impossible.
To get unstuck from the negativity, I invite you to shift your attention from the problem to the aspiration. Your goal is to help your nonprofit flourish, to be the best you can be in its service, then find ways of improving on that. You do not ignore the problems, but rather reframe them as barriers to achieving the aspiration. Miles Davis urged his musicians to play their best, then play above that. "That," he said, "is when a great groove happens." He and his musicians made lots of mistakes and faced lots of barriers, but they were driven by the passion to play great jazz, not by the need to solve those problems. That perspective creates a whole different vibe.
'Groove' is a term commonly used in jazz. It refers to an expression of intent and commitment that is emotionally communicative and soulful, a set of interactions that move people along together in beneficial and enjoyable ways.Audiences get caught up in the 'groove' and show their appreciation often throughout the performance. Nonprofits (and any other type of organization, actually) can find that kind of flow when their people create space for the consideration of a broad range of possibilities for achieving a clear purpose and design processes to make the chosen possibilities a reality.
I think the best model for this kind of organizational flourishing is a jazz group. And I believe that you are all jazz musicians. The most common form of jazz or improvisation in human experience is ordinary conversation, those interchanges of sound and substance that happen when you talk with each other. That is how nonprofits are formed, one conversation after another. If you manage the sound and substance of your voice in those conversations the way jazz musicians manage the sound and substance of their instruments in a performance, you will create a far more successful and satisfying nonprofit.
For a nonprofit board and/or staff to flourish like a jazz group that is in the groove, here are the positive imperatives for transforming the 4 Ps:
- people have to be engaged in a harmonious flow,
- purpose has to be clear and commonly owned,
- possibilities have to be welcomed and explored
- processes have to be in place that enhance the ability of the people to implement the possibilities chosen to achieve the purpose.
This flow of flourishing should be the aspiration of every person who is responsible for the work of a nonprofit.
Each and every one of you, and all of you together, can create a safe and healthy space for this quality of community to develop by the quality of the conversations you convene.