Episode 36: How to build a resilient nonprofit

Resilience is one of those buzz words that gets thrown around a lot. We often hear that leaders need to be resilient and need to build resilient nonprofits, but what does that even mean? More specifically, what does organizational resilience look like for nonprofits?

The issue with the way we typically approach organizational resilience is that it’s mostly in hindsight. We can identify a resilient organization only after they have experienced a set back and we see how they responded. There hasn’t been a framework that leaders could use to intentionally cultivate organizational resilience.

This is what researchers Witmer and Mellinger set out to accomplish. Their article, Organizational resilience: Nonprofit organizations’ response to change discusses their findings from two case studies of nonprofit behavioral healthcare organizations. Through these case studies, Witmer and Mellinger found there were six characteristics present in both nonprofits that point to their resilience.

Here’s what you can expect to take away from this episode…

⦿ How to think about resilience as a dynamic process rather than a static quality

⦿ How systems theory can be used to better understand resilience

⦿ Six characteristics leaders can cultivate in their nonprofits to build organizational resilience


⦿ [4:20] So we need to shift from thinking about resilience as a static quality, to thinking about it as a dynamic process.
⦿ [6:03] The authors go on to say, “a serious loss of system resilience only happens when the system gets trapped at some point in the cycle.”
⦿ [8:11] How did they do that? How did these two nonprofits create systems that were able to withstand such disruption?
⦿ [9:27] The first characteristic is a strong commitment to the mission. Staff at all levels of these organizations identified with the missions of their nonprofits not only on a professional level but also personally.
⦿ [12:23] According to the interviews, staff felt supported by leadership and one participant described the leadership as relational rather than hierarchical.
⦿ [14:12] But I also think that from the perspective of creating a shared vision and a culture of collaboration, how can staff buy into a collective vision if they don’t have all the information or if they feel as if information from the top is withheld from them?   
⦿ [16:07] Don’t wait for disruption to occur before you start thinking about resilience.

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⦿ Article: Organizational resilience: Nonprofit organizations’ response to change
⦿ Join the Scholars Society for FREE today
⦿ Episode 35: How participant feedback helps nonprofits and communities
⦿ Episode 30: How flexible leadership can develop your team’s capacity

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