Industry Insights

How to build a culture of trust in a federated non-profit

Through our work with many federated non-profits and charities over the years, we identified the challenges and successes that occur when attempting to build trust in the federated model.

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Categories: Industry Insights

June 26, 2019

A “federated non-profit” organization has national, provincial and/or local offices, each operating as separate legal entities but under one brand mission. Through our work with many federated non-profits and charities over the years, we identified the challenges and successes that occur when attempting to build trust in the federated model.

As we carry out our mission to elevate the social profit sector, we’ve seen first-hand how creating shared spaces to foster knowledge exchange can fill gaps, pool resources and help overcome industry-wide challenges. A need for collaboration exists in the sector, so we decided to take the lead by bringing together senior leaders from some of our country’s top federated non-profits and charities to share knowledge and exchange insights to enhance the growth of the social profit sector. And the Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange was born.

The topic at one of last year’s exchange was “cultivating cultures of trust—”a challenging task in today’s skeptical world. The panel we curated had a wealth of insights to share on the topic. We heard from:

  • Matthew Chater, National President & CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada
  • Laura Graham-Prentice, Principal, brand.re/wire, former VP Communications/Marketing, YMCA Greater Toronto & Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario
  • Maya Roy, CEO, YWCA Canada
  • Laura Syron, Chief Development Officer, The Arthritis Society of Canada

How to build a culture of trust in a federated non-profit

Communicate, clearly, consistently, and often.

Everyone on the panel underscored that communication is the cornerstone to building and maintaining trust. The sentiment among federated non-profits can oftentimes be that the national office isn’t there to help with local on-the-ground initiatives. This can breed distrust and have negative effects. Active, sustained and honest communication to reinforce the value of the
national office will defuse the tendency people have to fill in the gaps themselves, often incorrectly. Engage in clear, consistent communication to overcome speculation and rumors with information sharing.

Matthew of Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada (BBBSC) shared that during a recent strategic planning process, BBBSC held monthly all-staff town hall meetings, and sent e-bulletins and routine e-blasts to the executive directors of local agencies. During this critical phase of evolving the legacy organization’s mission, vision and values, two-way ongoing communication was crucial. He also noted the need to follow-through after each communication.

Take a back seat and let the data drive.

Tight budgets often limit the ability to collect and analyze data. This can result in poor decision-making based in conjecture, opinion and the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, which kills innovation. One panelist shared how framing questions as curiosity can help. “I hear you, but what’s the data?” is a thoughtful demonstration of her active listening while reinforcing the importance of making data-driven decisions.

Data is always more valuable than opinions and anecdotes.

Reframe the opposition.

Maya of YWCA Canada reminded leaders to pay attention to their own internal dialogue and prioritize self-care during the change management process. She shared how she reframed the perceived opposition she was facing as the other party’s attempt to have their needs met. This repositioning helped her focus on the collective needs of all of the organization’s agencies instead of taking the opposition personally. Conversations should never be perceived as a win or lose in a federated model. Working together for the common good makes us all winners.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Laura Graham-Prentice noted that every organization is unique within its own governance model, power dynamics and legacies. As a result, consensus-building takes time and healthy debates can and will occur. Federations that share information and resources create a powerful presence across geographical boundaries, and this can lead to better collaboration and a stronger collective impact.

Are you a senior leader within a federated non-profit? Contact us to be added to our Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange community.

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Our work takes place on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Learn more