InTouch : Comment On Management that Profits a Not-for-profit

Moving from corporate organisation, where the goal is to maximise shareholder value, to not-for-profit where the goal is to spend all your money on other people, can be an Alice in Wonderland experience. Everything is turned on its head.
Managing World Vision is complex conundrum – delightful one, but conundrum nonetheless. Our objective, to work with children, families and their communities to overcome extreme poverty and injustice, means we must raise as much money as possible using the most professional, creative and streamlined business practices. Yet instead of paying the best people the highest salaries, we ask the best people to sacrifice lot; take significant pay cut, do the job for less, but make it better than ever.
My recent past role as deputy managing director of Warner Video UK entrenched in me many skills, attributes and virtues that translate directly to my current role as CEO of World Vision. It just happens that instead of delivering dividends to directors and shareholders, I now deliver to people living in poverty. They’re my shareholders, they are the ones I answer and am accountable to, on all issues of policy and practice. Our 70,000 Kiwi child sponsors are like customers purchasing product, but it’s the poor who we work for. They are why I get out of bed every day. If I do bad job, it is they who suffer the consequences.
A good leader has clear vision. But an inspiring and successful leader instils common vision in team, while remaining on the lookout for change. Change unsettles people, but successful leadership means taking team through transition and ensuring no one feels disenfranchised or powerless. Ensuring, instead, they feel inspired and want to take your vision and run with it even further.
A common theme in good leadership, whether it’s in business, community, church or even family, is personal courage and humility. Sometimes courage means letting people hold mirror up to you and pointing out all the things you get wrong. And humility means acknowledging you need adjustment! Facing the truth about yourself is hard in life; and it’s especially hard when you have more than 100 employees who’d like to point it out to you. Courage, humility and commitment to truth are non-negotiables.
The synergy between corporate and not-for-profit leadership diverges at the point where people get involved. At World Vision, the clinical meritocracy approach – often adopted by corporate organisations – is softened by the types of people who work here. Charities sometimes have reputation as “lovely but incompetent do-gooders”. But many of my World Vision staff are more professional and competent than some of my previous corporate colleagues! World Vision professionalism is derived from the level of personal attachment staff have to the work we do; when people really care, they really make difference.
The World Vision brand has an enormous amount of goodwill in New Zealand and the level of high-quality pro bono work we benefit from is astounding – we really couldn’t do without it. People want to work with us and be involved; there is such an encouraging level of enthusiasm, respect and commitment.
The strongest – yet the most difficult to define and qualify – divergence from corporate leadership is the enthusiasm that working for values-driven not-for-profit breeds. It’s infectious. I feel motivated daily; I am so proud of the team I have and never tire of the work. Why would you retire if your work was so meaningful and invigorating?

Lisa Cescon is the chief executive of World Vision New Zealand.

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