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Welcome again to our ongoing series on the Four Keys to Nonprofit Leadership namely, Vision, Constituencies, Individuals and Implementation. This in our third in a series of monthly posts, each focusing on one of the key elements.  Today we continue with Constituencies.

Of the four keys, Constituencies is perhaps the most complex and potentially perplexing.  All missions and causes are accomplished through others.  In the case of nonprofits it’s groups of others.  Boards, chapters, departments, volunteers, fundraising participants, donors—and that’s just for starters.  Each of these Constituencies has further breakouts: national Boards v. local Boards, West Coast chapters v. East Coast chapters, fundraising departments v. program departments, walkers v. runners, million dollar donors v. $10 donors, etc.  One thing all these Constituencies have in common is that they tend to be very passionate.

The role of the leader is to align Constituencies to the Vision while being cognizant of the reality that 100% alignment on any given day on any given topic can be near impossible.  The trick, make that the art, is to know when you have aligned enough Constituencies to move decisively.  Communication is key.  Political judgment and wisdom are a must.

One need not look far in our industry to see where this has been done well and where it has been done poorly.  The Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy from four years ago is the perfect example.  Ignore for a minute, the politics of the controversy.  Instead focus on the Constituencies.  One nonprofit misjudged their constituencies completely while the other knew exactly how to ignite theirs. One clearly had a better grasp of the feelings of their local boards v. their national, their small donors and their large donors, you can pretty much run down the list of key Constituencies and get the same result.

Before making a big decision, it is imperative to think through your key Constituencies gauging potential reaction audience by audience.  Determine what channels their passion and see how that can align with your vision. Not sure of a Constituency?  Make a couple of phone calls (few in the nonprofit space are shy about sharing their opinions!).

The other tricky thing about Constituencies is that they are fluid by nature. Some more important one day, others the next. Prioritizing Constituencies on key decisions is critical.  Who does a new direction affect more than others?  Are there ‘must haves’ for a particular decision in your Constituency matrix?  Who needs to be brought in to hear it from you directly?  It is paramount to determine what Constituencies are most important in what situations.  This is where judgment and wisdom really matter.

No matter what your leadership role in nonprofits, we all have Constituencies.  Take a moment.  Write yours down.  Your internal groups. Your external groups.  Keep the list next to you.  The next time you need to make a big decision, go through your matrix.  Tailor your message.  Work your Constituencies.  And see what a difference it will make.

Next month’s topic, Individuals.  Speak with you then…

More on Mark Roithmayr

Mark currently serves as Chief Relationship Officer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In his role, he provides strategic direction and overall leadership running the Field including the management and fiscal performance of the 56 Chapters as well as the development of key volunteer relationships on behalf of the society locally, regionally and nationally. Prior to the current position, served as Chief Development officer overseeing the Society’s donor development activities including major gifts, foundation giving, planned giving, corporate giving and outright/restricted gifts. Oversee all donor development activities at the national and chapter levels for LLS–the $300 million leader in blood cancer research.

Before LLS, Mark worked as first full time President of Autism Speaks–the largest autism science and advocacy organization in the world today. Merged three organizations into AS in 20 months. Raised over $60 million annually. Invested over $170 million into autism research. Passed national and state bills increasing funds for autism science while reducing out of pocket expenses for families. Helped make “autism” a household word through award winning Ad Council Campaign and the United Nation’s declaration of World Autism Awareness in perpetuity on April 2nd.

Prior to AS, Mark worked 20 years at the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation in a series of progressive jobs. Turned around ailing flagship chapter doubling revenue. Oversaw all national fundraising leading the Foundation to record years in it’s signature March for Babies event. Earlier in career served as the Foundation’s head of communications. Prior to March of Dimes worked as Director of Public Relations at the New York Lung Association.