Q&A with Nonprofit consultant Joan Garry

‘Being a nonprofit leader is a privilege and a joy,’ says Joan Garry, who will be the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits’ Nonprofit Leadership Summit on Sept. 19. (Courtesy photo)

Joan Garry, principal of Joan Garry Consulting, helps nonprofits across a wide variety of sectors deal with issues revolving around crisis management, executive coaching and building strong board and staff leadership teams.
Through her blog at joangarry.com and her podcast, “Nonprofits Are Messy,” she reaches board members and staff leaders of nonprofits around the world.

She will discuss her model of leadership and trends in the nonprofit sector as the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits’ annual Leadership Summit, to be held this year from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. For more information about the summit, visit nhnonprofits.org.

Q. What is the message you’ll be bringing to the nonprofit leaders of New Hampshire?

A. The primary message I’ll be communicating is talking about the gift of service, that being a nonprofit leader
is actually a privilege and a joy. Regardless of how chaotic or polarized our world is, nonprofit leaders are society’s superheroes who do this ridiculously hard work, with too few resources, and too little time, and a real sense of urgency that can make them feel really overwhelmed.

I also talk about the importance of nonprofit leaders building a really strong relationship with their boards of directors — to share the leadership and share the load so there’s a sense that it’s a group of leaders that are all in this together.

Q. One of the things you’re known for is reaching out to smaller nonprofits, ones with limited access to the kinds of resources that can really be helpful to them.

A. After starting my blog, I started getting all these questions from people. They just email me left and right like I was their next-door neighbor. “Can you help me with this problem?” and they would go on for like three or four paragraphs.

We created an online membership site for board and staff leaders of small nonprofits called The Nonprofit Leadership Lab. It’s at nonprofitleadershiplab.com.

We now have several thousand members who get both professional development content and this robust community of people from across every imaginable sector from across the United States and abroad. We have a number of experts in there that provide the expertise and this notion of being a champion and the advocate for their success. Our retention rate is really through the roof.

Q. How does a nonprofit go about recruiting really good board members?

A. One of the things I find is that smaller nonprofits, they’ll just say, “Do you know anybody that wants to be on our board? We’re a good organization, we do really good work,” as opposed to, “We’re a small organization, and we don’t have a director of communication” and, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if we could identify someone who had some public relations, background or was a publicist, who cared about this issue, and might join our board and provide some of that skill?” Then you’re actually casting in a much more specific kind of way.

Q. In the description of your company, you refer to helping nonprofits “untangle strategic knots.” Can you give an example of a strategic knot?

A. It’s a kind of a way of talking about change management in some ways. A strategic knot could be — I have a museum, and it’s largely funded by the founder. Because of that, we’re having difficulty raising, diversifying our revenue streams because people know that founder is the primary donor. How do you begin to think about the long-term sustainability of that museum?

I also untangle a lot of knots that come with leadership transitions. An organization is at its most vulnerable during a transition and getting that right — the exit of the current person, making a good choice, figuring out what the organization needs. I think of leadership transitions as highly strategic, actually.

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