For the leader or employee in a faith-based or non-profit organization that sees impending change coming – but can’t convince anyone else – here are a few thoughts. Especially for those in the middle of generational change. Right now in America there are a number of major religious organizations in the middle of changing leadership from the first generation leader to the second. For those of you who see that coming, take heart with the following:
Here’s the situation: You see the future coming like a freight train, but your bosses, fellow employees, and/or perhaps parents are viewing the world with the same lens that has worked for the last 30 years. This tension between first generation leaders and 2nd generation leaders is typical. You may recall the mythic story of the founder of IBM. He believed he founded a typewriter company, so when his son wanted to start building computers, his dad fought him and completely stopped the effort. “By God, we’re a typewriter company – that’s what has made us millions,” he would say.
By the time the old man passed on and the son was able to take over, they were a decade behind their competitors, and that’s why IBM took so long to catch up. I’ve seen it over and over. It’s frustrating, but remarkably common, and it’s happened in a number of major churches and ministries like yours.
I believe the key is making change in small ways, and trying to position the ministry behind the scenes to be ready for the future. Along that line, while it’s not comprehensive, here’s a few things to consider:
— Make sure the website is 2.0, so it can handle video, social networking, communicate clearly with the partners, etc… The web is the best place to start and the spot where change will be critical.
— Encourage your younger producers and crew members. They have the energy and passion to make new things happen. Plus, they’re in touch with contemporary culture.
— Watch popular TV, films, and websites. See where the culture is going, and focus your ministry on the questions people are asking out there.
— Start investing in people. Do your best to encourage your staff and bring in really talented people. Make your leadership team part of the creative process and bring them into creative and marketing meetings. Give them a sense of ownership in the future of the organization.
— As the first generation leaders take more and more time off, start influencing in small places. Make an impact with different aspects of the ministry – your prison outreach, missions, etc… Start in places where they won’t notice.
— Start making decisions about the next generation family – who has the passion and drive to carry the ball and who doesn’t. Focus on who does, and help them grow as much as you can.
— Be aware of political players. Generally, when change starts happening, there are people who will be terrified of change. Change means that they’ll have to prove themselves, justify their job, and make an investment in the future. Those who have grown lazy will resent it, and try to block your efforts for change. I would keep my eye on them, and be careful that they don’t keep the really talented people on the team from blocking progress.
— Start now to build up the people around you. Jesus could have focused on the big crowds, but he invested his life into 12 people – and that small group changed the world. Who are the 12 people around you that have the potential to help you make an impact?
Donors and Fundraising:
— Learn everything you can about donor development and fundraising. Learn what the next generation is interested in, and how reaching them differs from reaching their parents.
— Seek out relationships with major donors. There are people out there who could easily catch your vision for ministry, and could help play a serious role in making that happen.
— Don’t forget the impact of design. The old, cheesy-style letters that the last generation sent to donors aren’t always working so well anymore. This generation loves good design, so make sure all your communications are contemporary.
— Keep as many doors open as possible. Don’t take sides during the transition – it’s just not worth it. Develop relationships with all employees and staff.
— Eliminate strife. Strife and conflict can do more to destroy an organization than anything else. Get rid of it, and never let down your guard when it comes to potential conflict.
— When your moment comes to lead, don’t necessarily keep the entire first generation leadership team in place. Certainly, many will be talented, and their experience is critical. But also understand the importance of new thinking, and creating a team that works well with you.
— Understand the power of perception. One of the great weaknesses of first generation leaders is that many didn’t realize the power of public relations or the perception of the public. Cultivate trust and respect from the public, and it will make a dramatic difference in your success.