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Leadership for Impact

By August 7, 2017

By: Aimee Cubbage, Salesforce Practice Lead, ACF Solutions, An Attain Company

How can nonprofits have the greatest impact on society in the 21st century? That was a question posed at Expedition Impact, a event recently convened in Washington DC that brought together leaders from 100 prominent nonprofit organizations. As the Salesforce Practice Lead at ACF Solutions, An Attain Company, I was pleased to attend as an event sponsor and to have the opportunity to join those thought leaders on their journey.

The question of impact is a significant one, and perhaps the question that should guide every nonprofit: How can we use the resources entrusted to us to most effectively achieve our mission and to attain optimal impact?

Presenters at the event offered a variety of perspectives on the topic:

  • Jacob Harold, CEO of Guidestar, which collects data on the nonprofit industry, focused on the importance of transparency and accountability when it comes to maintaining the public’s trust that an impact is being achieved, as well as ensuring that organizations create truly meaningful metrics around impact versus perpetuating the status quo.
  • Jeanne Ross, of MIT Sloan School of Management, talked about the importance of the right enterprise architecture to both support a nonprofit’s strategy and to contribute to its impact.
  • Author Geoffrey Moore focused on the role that innovation and disruption play in an organization’s ability to stay relevant and create impact, and how to achieve the right balance across those efforts to realize not only the desired, but also the necessary results for sustaining long-term success.

Expedition Impact in DC

In our work as a Salesforce consulting partner, we typically partner with nonprofits seeking to advance their mission through technology enablement while concurrently transforming their ability to deliver impact and engage constituents in ways that ensure their relevance in the landscape. Our clients are implementing Salesforce to either increase the efficiency with which they deliver impact (i.e., do more with less), increase the effectiveness of their impact (i.e., drive more results), and/or measure their impact (i.e. achieve better transparency, reporting, and data analysis).

While Salesforce is indeed a tool that can enable organizations to do such things, I’ve observed that some organizations successfully become CRM-centric, while others struggle to do so. I often question why such variance exists among what would seem to be similar organizations with similar goals and objectives. What makes the most difference in a nonprofit’s ability to embrace CRM in support of their organization’s impact?

As I reflected during Expedition Impact, I came to truly believe that there are two key drivers that enable a nonprofit to transform into a CRM-centric organization. The first is strong executive leadership and buy-in, and the second is organizational readiness.

In my experience, there are three key leadership traits and organizational readiness factors that result in successful CRM adoption for impact:

    1. Vision: There are many reasons why an organization might adopt technology like Salesforce, and they often arise from competing priorities. A successful leader is one who can articulate a vision for CRM that transcends individual interests, keeping everyone focused on the bigger picture of mission and impact.

    2. Inclusion: Because a CRM ideally spans across the organization, it has the potential to affect the lives of a broad swath of staff and constituents alike. The best leaders ensure that as many voices as possible are represented in the process of transitioning to CRM. And, when trade-offs invariably have to be made and prioritization means everyone isn’t going to get everything they want, the leader is able to bring the focus back to the vision (see #1) and maintain buy-in.

    3. Transparency: CRM is typically about change, and change can be very difficult. The most successful projects are led by people who can own that this is an initiative about change and bring as many people as possible along with them. One factor that greatly contributes to this ability is transparency. The best leaders are upfront and honest not only about the vision, but also about the risks, challenges, and opportunities that will go hand-in-hand with the effort. As the process unfolds, they are willing to share both good and bad news and adjust as needed to position the organization for success.

Expedition Impact was a great opportunity for those of us in the nonprofit sector to remember why we do what we do. I was truly inspired by a room full of leaders who are enthusiastically carrying their visions forward into their organizations to help continually increase their impact. As organizations turn to CRM as an enablement tool to achieve this impact, having leaders that embody the traits above can ensure that we collectively elevate engagements from being solely about technology to being about accelerating and truly driving impact, ultimately effecting change beyond our organizations into the world.

Expedition Impact DC

Check out the free Expedition Impact e-book on conquering Nonprofit Program Management challenges.

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