Non-Profit Leadership: The “Doing Things Once, and Doing Them Well” Principle

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I have great empathy for non-profit leaders in newly developing organizations as they strive to make progress, develop projects and move their organization forward in their mission. In my early days of Lakeside I found myself working through some very intense financial struggles as I attempted to bring us to a more professional posture in our community.

Our resources were very limited at the time and I worked diligently to find varied levels of support through donations, foundations, in-kind giving and a lot of other creative ideas. I remember having to provide a better environment for our students to learn and our staff to function. There was pressure to upgrade our appearance for the parents and schools interested in our programs and who might want to send their students to us. Then there was always the struggle to pay our salaries while trying to move the organization forward.

Some would say, “those were the good old days!” However, I remember my father joking how he was lucky to live through the good old days! I often felt that way. When going through those kinds of moments it is easy for non-profit leaders to use the “let’s just” philosophy, meaning that they tend to do the minimums, cut corners and do enough to just get by! 

With limited resources and so much to get accomplished it can feel like the right thing to do is the cheapest and most expedient option which often lacks in quality whether it be in facilities, grounds, technology, program development or public relations. Yes, there are limitations that must be imposed financially but I have found with a little bit of innovation and a good team we can create exceptional quality in how we build our organizations. That kind of philosophy becomes contagious in an organization and the insistence on quality becomes a mantra for staff and the Board of Directors.

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I found that the more I insisted on a new level of quality the more our environment changed which was reflected to our clients. They noticed our drive for improvement and our ability to rise above other schools that dealt with at-risk students. We methodically expanded and improved our facilities, our program depth, our quality of staff and our public relations. We began to expand, change, grow and attained a new level of professionalism that impacted our reputation throughout the community. It was the insistence on this level of quality that brought Lakeside to where it is today.

Recently many of our school districts received grant funding for mental health services. We were overwhelmed when their first call was to Lakeside for us to work with their students. Because of that we urgently needed to onboard over 50 new staff in one year. I attribute this to a history of doing things once and doing them well in whatever sphere we were operating.

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I would love to be able to claim that the idea of pursuing quality is naturally ongoing. However, what I have found is that I am still working on setting quality at multiple levels. Some staff still accept the “let’s just” philosophy for a variety of reasons. Like any core values, I continue to insist that we do not cut corners; that we spend the necessary funds to achieve our goals, that we have appropriate tools for staff, that we do not settle and that we continue to rise to our greatest capacity in every way possible.

It seems very simple but a long-enduring and continuous insistence on quality is a value that has significant dividends for any non-profit. Just because we do not have the resources of a corporation or other larger entity, we still can work to achieve our goals with the highest quality possible. Our staff, our clients, our vendors and our communities recognize that unique commitment and the results are expansion, growth and confidence. Non-profit leaders should insist on a “let’s do it once and do it well” philosophy of organizational growth and development!

Gerry Vassar


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