34238868_mHere’s the potential situation in your nonprofit. You have tensions at the board level. As the CEO, you are blaming internal factions. Or, you have high turnover of staff. You blame a lack of loyalty and incompetence. Your fundraising revenue is stagnant or decreasing and you blame the fundraisers. No one seems to know who you are and you blame the marketing people.

See where I’m going with this?

Look in the mirror. It’s not them. It’s you. It all starts with you.

The Excuses

Last week I spoke to a nonprofit CEO who had a long list of everything that was wrong with his organization. I listened. As he continued, I realized that it was everyone’s fault but his. And so I had to say, “I’m sorry to hear that, but where do you fit in this whole picture? Help me understand what you’re doing about the situation?”


He then went on to say how he’s tried, but…and then we went back to how the nonprofit was failing because of everyone else.

Here’s the deal, the buck stops with the CEO. No matter what happens, no matter who does what, the ultimate responsibility is with the CEO. Let’s take things apart a little bit. If your board has factions on it, it’s stemming from some place. Perhaps it’s because you seem to be siding with one “side” over another and not looking for middle ground. Perhaps it’s because your nonprofit management failings are percolating to the top and board members do not want to deal with what they really should address – a failed leader.

Perhaps your marketing or fundraising efforts are failing. It’s always easy to say how it’s the staff that doesn’t know what they’re doing. But, what are you doing? Have you set a vision for the organization? Do you make calls on major donors? Do you support your team and allow them to come to you with new ideas, or do you simply dictate that so much needs to be raised and then nitpick everything they do? Do you ask for marketing results and not bother to communicate the consistent messaging that you have agreed with your marketing team?

Who’s Responsible?

When there’s chaos at an organization, there’s typically someone who is responsible. It’s the CEO. Good leadership sets the vision, engages the board and staff proactively and productively. And, good leadership does not complain about what everyone else is doing wrong without looking first in the mirror.

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory, which was developed by Laurence J. Peter. If you haven’t heard or thought about it and you’re the CEO of a nonprofit, business or social enterprise, you should know it. It states that the selection of a candidate to a position with more responsibility is based on past performance in their current role. It is not based on the candidate’s abilities to actually perform in the new role. So, “managers rise to the level of their incompetence”.

In other words, and to put it plainly, oftentimes managers who should never become CEO do. They don’t have the skill sets or abilities for the role of being the top executive. And then, when the problems arise, it becomes everyone else’s fault but the person who should be looking in the mirror.

The Solution

If you serve on a board or are the CEO of an organization, here’s how to deal with it head-on. It’s the same advice I gave to the CEO who complained about everyone else but himself as to the troubles his nonprofit was having at the present time. Get a coach.

Seriously, if you care about your organization, invest in an executive coach. Take the time to build your leadership skills if you’re the CEO. Or, hire someone for your CEO if you’re a member of the board. If you don’t want to signal out the CEO, then secure an executive coaching program for some of your executives, including your CEO. It’s money well spent and it’ll force the elephants in the room to be addressed.


Author of “The Rise and Fail of Charities In the 21st Century: How The Nonprofit World Is Changing And What You Can Do To Be Ready”.


© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.