Leadership lessons for nonprofits

During the past decade, the media environment has been transformed by technologies that have reshaped the very definition of communication. PR professionals - like all professionals - are working hard to interpret these changes and adapt to a new world.

During the past decade, the media environment has been transformed by technologies that have reshaped the very definition of communication. PR professionals - like all professionals - are working hard to interpret these changes and adapt to a new world.

For profit-making companies, the proverbial "bottom line" provides an absolute yardstick against which to measure everything, regardless of the changes in the world at large. When it comes to nonprofit organizations, however, the picture is much more complex.

For nonprofits, financial results are important - the laws of economics still apply - but nonprofits are often driven by a blend of broad mission statements and bottom-line focus. Given expansive goals, such as "serving a community," how do nonprofits demonstrate leadership, especially membership organizations that serve a wide base of constituents?

A book recently published by the American Society of Association Executives, The 7 Measures of Success, examined more than 100 nonprofits. We are embracing many of the lessons learned through that review at PRSA.

First, we are strengthening our strategic focus. Like corporations and agencies, nonprofits are subject to immediate day-to-day demands. Leading nonprofits, however, remained fixed on strategic goals. PRSA operates on the basis of a multiyear strategic plan. We are currently in the midst of developing a new plan for the coming three years.

Just as the practice of PR is changing, so, too, is the world of nonprofits; the same technologies that PR pros are using to communicate are available to organizations like PRSA. We can best fulfill our mission - advancing the PR profession, advancing the PR professional, and advancing the society itself - by clearly charting a course to the future using the same tools used by corporations, such as a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis, and adhering to that course.

Second, we are staying focused on our membership - our customers. A membership-based organization can be many things to many people. PRSA, with a membership of more than 31,000 professionals and students, offers a wide range of benefits - but each of our programs, while fulfilling our overall mission to the PR community, is designed to benefit our customers.

Last year, we offered 70 educational teleseminars, 35 of which were new, each one designed to help our members advance themselves in an evolving world. Earlier this year, we established a "Technical Help Desk," a dedicated resource for members who contact us virtually - another way to better serve our customers.

Finally, we are leading by making fact-based decisions. We regularly ask our members for their views, seeking their input through broad surveys, such as our 2005 member survey, or in a more focused way, such as when we conduct an evaluation of the seminars and awards programs we offer.

In any organization - especially one like PRSA, which relies upon the service of so many dedicated volunteers - there must always be a firm place for inspiration, yet, at the same time, well-researched data provides an essential tool for confirming intuition.

Leadership in business requires a clear sense of purpose, a customer service-based culture, and a solid basis for decision making; leadership in the nonprofit world requires the same.

William Murray is PRSA president and COO.

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