HOW TO BUILD A CULTURE OF TRUST IN A FEDERATED NONPROFIT
We’ve worked with many federated nonprofits and charities throughout the years (you know, the ones that have national, provincial and/or local offices, each operating as separate legal entities but most commonly under one brand mission). Our expertise in this niche has caused us to recognize 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. There’s a need for collaboration in the sector and we’ve taken the lead on bringing together senior leaders from some of our country’s top federated nonprofits and charities to share knowledge, unwind, network and exchange insights to enhance the growth of the social profit sector and its ability to solve our generation’s most urgent challenges. Thus, the Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange was born.
Our last exclusive Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange was held earlier this month. The topic was something we all need more of within our organization… trust. Cultivating a culture of trust isn’t easy 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 can you build a culture of trust in your federated nonprofit?
Communicate, clearly, consistently, and often.
Everyone on the panel underscored that communication is the cornerstone to building and maintaining trust. The sentiment among federated nonprofits can oftentimes be that the national office isn’t there to help with local, on-the-ground work within the community. This can breed distrust and have negative effects if it’s not nipped in the bud. Combat it through active, sustained, and honest communication to reinforce the value of the national office. The lack of internal communications resources can be challenging. People tend to fill in the gaps if no information is presented, 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.
You’ll need a data-led strategy rather than opinions and anecdotes. Federations often have tight budgets, therefore limiting their 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.
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 share information and resources creating a powerful presence across geographical boundaries. They can have a stronger collective impact through collaboration.
Are you a senior leader within a federated nonprofit?
Contact us to be added to our Federation Leaders’ Knowledge Exchange community.