Since the 1970s, modern nonprofit organizations have become a regularity in the national landscape. In fact, in 2016 they numbered at over 1.5 million, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. In Michigan alone, over 40,000 such organizations were reported to exist in that same year by the Independent Sector nonprofit organization. And with such a vast variety of organizations working for all kinds of causes it can be difficult for leaders with differing levels of departmental experience to work together cohesively. Sean Kosofsky knows this struggle all too well, as he’s been involved in non-profits for more than 25 years. Though he’s not based in Michigan today, he was the former policy and political director of what is now the LGBTQ nonprofit Equality Michigan, and he seeks to share his expertise with nonprofit leaders everywhere.
“I’ve been the executive director for four separate nonprofits and I really believe executive directors are underserved,” Kosofsky said. “Essentially, I am building up my nonprofit consulting practice and I’m working to grow a list of people who are interested in the tools that I have to offer.”
That practice is called Mind The Gap Consulting and part of its aim is to help new and growing board members and executive directors find their footing in potentially daunting positions. As part of his method to give both young and long-lasting leaders a revamp in their management styles, Kosofsky has released a Toolkit so that “people have very fundamental tools for free.”
“It’s gearing up for a course that I’m offering in July called Executive Director Boot Camp,” Kosofsky said. “I’m a big believer that we need to train people to run nonprofits. There’s a lot of burnout. Lower level employees feel like there’s no future for them because, typically, nonprofits hire from outside for the executive director job. That costs a lot of money. There’s great tools there and an executive director contract and a board agreement that executive directors can use.”
Kosofsky said that one of the most common pitfalls that both executive directors and board members of nonprofits fall into is an unintentional lack of diversity.
“One of the things we need to do to diversify our organizations is to reach out to nontraditional places to get (applicants),” he said. “Some people may think this is ridiculous or time-consuming, but if you’re going to try to diversity your organization you need to post your job posting in places where people of color and women and minorities are going to see it.”
Kosofsky recommends reaching out to places like minority-owned businesses, chambers of commerce, trade associations or charities and keeping that list of those organizations on-hand for future use. He said that both his course and online Toolkit can help leaders get started doing that regularly.
“That’s one of the things that well-intentioned white leaders of nonprofits never end up diversifying,” he said.
The second biggest mistake, according to Kosofsky, is simply not providing adequate training to nonprofit board members.
“Most boards will tell you they have no idea what’s expected of them. They weren’t given a good orientation when they started, and they’re surprised to learn they’re supposed to raise money,” Kosofsky said. “But one of the biggest challenges in nonprofits is that we don’t position and prepare boards for success. They are the owners of the corporation — the executive director runs it but they own it legally. If the executive director were to own it, they would be doing everything in their power to make the company profitable. If the board owns it they kind of assign the profitability thing to the staff and they kind of back away and that’s just not how it works.”
Lastly, Kosofsky said his Toolkit and course will address not only how to treat executive directors well once they’re in their position, but when they leave the organization. He said that in his personal experience as an executive director there has been much variation on a board’s ability to ensure a smooth exit from the role. Though it might seem like a secondary focus, Kosofsky emphasized that it’s almost as important as the hiring process, “Because they’re going to be one of the biggest ambassadors out there saying good or bad things about the organization when they go.”
“I’ve certainly had some pleasant exits and some unpleasant exits, and I think the unpleasant exits happened because the board was unsophisticated or just felt someone else was going to handle the ED’s exit and no one did,” he said. “We waste a lot of money not making sure that nonprofits are supported. We need to get our EDs and our boards better-trained. That’s why I’m really passionate about this Toolkit and the ED boot camp course. I want to change a lot, and so that (even) when (employees) move onto other organizations they can make a real impact.”
More information about getting The MTG Consulting Toolkit is available online at http://mindthegapconsulting.org. That’s also where interested nonprofit members can sign up for Kosofsky’s boot camp course.