Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Nonprofit Leader

Happy 2023, friends in the nonprofit sector! If you’re anything like me…and pretty much everyone else on the planet…you’re working hard to step into the new year with intention. Whether you’ve resolved to lose a few pounds, or train for a marathon, or finally get your household budget together, please know that we’ve all got something we want to get handled in the new year.

Personal goals and resolutions are a great way to start a new year, and it is also true that the personal tends to cross over into the professional for many of us. So, I’m here to offer a gentle reminder that our professional intentions are just as important as those personal resolutions. 

How we as nonprofit leaders show up at the start of the year can really make or break the type of year our organizations have. I’m talking about how well we care for ourselves, our teams, and our boards. Remember, friends: we can’t fulfill our missions and serve our clients unless the house is in order! Here’s five quick tips to make sure you’re starting the new year with intention:

1. Find (and Protect) Your Balance – of course this is the first thing on every professional’s to-do list, right?! Prioritizing work-life balance is of utmost importance, especially for those who work in the nonprofit sector where there are never enough resources or hours in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done. Just remember, friends, you can’t take care of anyone else unless you are taking care of yourself. One thing I’ve learned in my long nonprofit career is that almost everything can wait until I have had a good night’s sleep. Another thing is that there is no organizational priority that should cost me my health. Period. 

So, start now: find some boundaries and set them. Say no when no is what needs to be said. Go home at a reasonable hour. Let a few of those emails and to-do lists wait until you’ve had some sleep (and exercise). Just do it. You’ll be better off for it, and so will your productivity. 

2. Ask for What You Need – leading a nonprofit organization is a calling. The people who answer this call are among the hardest working, kindest, and most generous people I’ve ever met. They are also the folks who will work themselves to the bone, taking responsibility for everything from managing organizational finances to running programs to scrubbing floors if that’s what needs to be done. But, the fact is that most nonprofit leaders do have resources that can be used – human resources, financial resources, technology resources – we just have to remember how to identify what we need and ask for it. Start the new year resisting the pull of the hero complex, friends! “Doing more with less”, while noble, is also the quickest way to burn out. Figure out where your time is best spent and where you need additional hands and/or expertise. Then, have a conversation with your board and ask for what you need. It sounds simple because, well, it is. 

3. Support Your Team – setting your nonprofit up for a successful year should always include investing in your team’s professional development. Speak to your team members about their professional goals and what you can do to support them in the immediate term. Listen to their words and do your part to give them what they are asking for. Do you have a team member with significant growth potential? Maybe they’re ready to take on a new responsibility for the organization. Do you have someone who want to learn a new skill that will help them do their job better? Send them to a conference or hook them up with a mentor who can help them grow. Nobody wants to be stagnant, friends…not you, and certainly not your team. Invest in their growth and you will definitely see results! 

4. Nurture Your Board – a new year is an excellent time to revitalize your relationships with your board members. After all, the board of directors is the most important group of volunteers any nonprofit organization has. So, it behooves the nonprofit leader to nurture these relationships to ensure that board members remain engaged and committed to the mission and their important work. 

Try offering an annual refresher course in board governance. Extend a board meeting by 30 minutes to allow a bit of camaraderie. Connect with each board member personally over coffee or lunch. Ask board members how they’re feeling about their service. Solicit their feedback and ideas. And, always thank them for all they do to support you and the organization. 

5. Create (and Follow) Your Plan – in a perfect world, every nonprofit has a robust strategic plan that they follow to a tee. In the real world, most nonprofits are lucky if they have a simple annual roadmap to help focus their work for the year. Whatever form your plan takes, just make sure you have something that will help keep you focused for the whole year. A good annual plan will include at least one organizational and programmatic goal. It will also include a financial goal to help drive fundraising efforts to help accomplish the organizational and programmatic goals. And no plan is complete without the ability to evaluate success, so be sure yours includes responsible parties and measurable outcomes. 

It’s going to be another fantastic year of nonprofit excellence, friends! Hope these tips are helpful, and please be sure to share your tips in the comments for starting the new year with intention!