Red Flags to Watch For

When I write about nonprofit board governance I usually spend my time addressing current nonprofit leaders – either staff or volunteers. This article is for current leadership, and also for those who are thinking about joining the board of a nonprofit organization. 

I love connecting people to organizations that they care about. But serving on a board has to be about more than a passion for the cause. It’s a commitment that should be taken as seriously as a job. In order to make a good decision for yourself, you need to ask a lot of questions. What follows are questions and topics to dig into, so that you can make a great decision about how you donate your valuable time. 

When people get caught up in an organization that is a mess, they tend to become disenchanted with the whole nonprofit sector. And that’s just not fair. There are so many great agencies, working hard everyday, to make our communities and our world a better place. To make sure you don’t end up disillusioned by this sector, here are some red flags to look for when choosing where to serve:

  • “Nonprofit” is not the business plan
  • Agency lacks focus on the mission
  • People are undervalued
  • Fundraising comes first
  • Lack of board ownership
  • Organizations that don’t know who they are or what they need

Let’s dig into each of these issues and what to look for/ask about.

Nonprofit Business = Business

Despite the confusion caused by the title “nonprofit”, all nonprofit organizations are actual legit businesses. They have to make at least as much money as they spend each year. The term “nonprofit” is a tax designation from the IRS. It’s not a philosophy for how to run a business. 

In fact, many of these organizations generate a surplus. The difference comes in what they do with that money. A nonprofit organization is required to reinvest the surplus back into the organization. This could be in the form of equipment, supplies, salaries, training, facilities, investments, etc. With a for profit business, any surplus goes into someone’s pocket. 

Board members are responsible for the fiscal health of the organization. Before joining any board, ask a lot of questions about the agency’s finances. Even if their financial situation isn’t stellar, does the board have a plan to fix it? Is that the kind of problem-solving work you like to do? Avoid any board that has financial problems that they are refusing to address. 

Benefit the Community

Nonprofit organizations exist to make our world a better place. For profit organizations exist to make money for someone – the owner(s), shareholders, investors, etc. 

Governance volunteers are charged with making decisions that are in the best interest of the constituents served and the agency. This is why board members are volunteers. When money comes into the picture, there’s personal interest that may influence their decision making. Does the agency have a conflict of interest policy? 

Another thing to look for in this area includes ego driven leaders. Agencies with either staff or volunteer leaders who make themselves the center of the work can be extremely toxic. These leaders struggle to keep the focus on the cause. They make decisions based on how they will look/benefit, rather than what is best for the organization and its mission. 

Organization Values Its People

Reputable agencies believe in the importance of fair compensation for their employees. Just because someone works for a cause-driven business, it does not mean that they don’t need a livable wage. Caring about constituents at the expense of employees is a contradiction that should be examined. 

Young organizations sometimes hire or contract part-time staff to manage operations as they grow. This is fine, as long as they are not expecting full-time work on a part-time salary. Additionally, this should be a short-term solution, while the board figures out how to get to the level of staff leadership they need to be successful. 

Strategy Drives Fundraising

So far, I have never encountered a nonprofit that didn’t need money. It’s the nature of the game. Making our world a better place takes money. However, boards that focus on fundraising first are missing the point. Fundraising efforts need to be tied to strategies that have been developed to fulfill the mission. Without connecting those dots, it’s going to be extremely difficult to raise funds. 


It is the job of the board to uphold the integrity of the organization. If something doesn’t seem right the board MUST speak up. By asking questions about accountability, generative discussions, and where the power of the organization lies, you’ll get a good idea about the board’s leadership. 

Red flags to listen for include any board that lets the staff totally run the show, unaddressed financial issues, lack of vision held by the board, and board meetings where the volunteers just come for a “sit & get”. 

Websites like Charity Navigator and GuideStar can help you with your research. These sites rate nonprofits based on their IRS compliance and verify good standing. They provide access to Form 990 data, giving you the ability to evaluate an agency’s financial health. These resources can help you decide if an organization is a good fit for you or not. 

Culture, Values, Structure, and Needs

Making a good decision about the kind of agency you want to volunteer with involves knowing yourself. What kind of culture do you want to be part of? What are your values and how do they align with those of the organization? Do you want to be part of building a young organization or will you be more comfortable with all the policies and procedures in place? Do the skills-based-needs of the agency align with your talents? 

Other things to consider include your tolerance for risk, what you want to get out of the experience, your time availability compared to the needs, and how you think you can make a difference. Just like every person is different, every organization is also different. Take the time to make sure you find one that aligns with your wants, needs, values and interests. 

None of this is meant to scare you away from governance work. It’s meant to give you the knowledge to ask good questions, get involved with reputable organizations, and have the impact that you want to have on your community! 

If you are on a board where you see some of these red flags, it doesn’t mean that you should quit and run away. However, you might want to start asking questions and using your influence to help move the agency in a positive direction. 

Every nonprofit is different and has unique needs and challenges. Email me at, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss ways to advance your Board of Directors and the work of your agency. 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders. 


Should You Start a Nonprofit?

You see a problem. It could be for a specific group of people, for a community, or for the world. Or maybe a personal challenge leads you to want to help others in your situation. You have an idea for a unique and creative way to make the world a better place. And you think you might want to start a nonprofit. What’s next? 

A Forbes article states that 50% of nonprofit organizations will fail within their first year. A lot of energy and emotion goes into launching an organization. Before you make the decision to travel down this path there is a lot to consider. 

Who else is addressing this problem?

An unfortunate commonality with nonprofits is that there is a lot of duplication. Many agencies serving the same cause in a similar way creates confusion for clients/constituents, donors, partners and the community. It leads to unnecessary competition between organizations that could probably do more good by working together. 

As you are considering starting a nonprofit, you first need to get crystal clear on what problem you are working to solve. Then look around and see who else is working to fix that problem. Check out their methods for addressing the problem. Is your idea similar to some other agencies out there? If so, you may be better off trying to partner with those agencies and work together. However, if after researching you find that you have a unique and creative way to address the problem, you may want to move forward. 

What is your commitment level? 

Starting a new business is a LOT of work. When you start a nonprofit organization, you have the additional challenges of extra government paperwork, developing and leading a Board of Directors, and fundraising. Not only that, oftentimes the founder ends up contributing a significant amount of personal time and financial resources in order to get the agency up and operating. Before launching a nonprofit, critically evaluate how much time and money you are motivated to put into it. 

It’s definitely worth noting that not all nonprofits require significant personal investment. Those with narrow scope and size can be launched with less backing and involvement. Which brings us to the next question you will want to consider. 

What is your long game? 

Nonprofits are often started as a result of a loss or trauma. For example when a child is lost, family and friends come together to channel their grief and desire to “do something” to honor their loved one. This is a great reason to start a nonprofit organization. It provides an instrument for managing grief, directing energy and routing funds. It can raise awareness and give people an opportunity to feel a connection to the child. Often these projects have a shorter lifespan. They serve their purpose and at some point are put to rest. And that’s okay. 

In other cases, the loss leads to something much bigger. Susan G. Komen is a great example. Susan’s sister Nancy started the organization in memory of Susan, with the purpose of ending breast cancer. Nancy had a long-game vision in the promise she made to her sister. 40-years later the organization is still working to eliminate breast cancer through research, education, screening, and treatment.

So, what’s your long game? Is your idea something you want to expand, and have live on long after you are gone? Do you want to keep it small and local? Your long-game can change as your organization evolves. Formulating a clear vision for where you want to take the agency can help you think through the previous question of your commitment level. 

Who will want to support your cause? 

Lastly, think about who will want to come alongside you and help you advance the work of your agency. Any successful nonprofit requires community engagement. Volunteers are needed to govern the organization as the Board of Directors. Donors or funders are almost always needed to provide operational resources. And community volunteers are generally needed to deliver programming or services, and to help with fundraising. 

When starting a nonprofit, one of the first things I always recommend is that the founder(s) get out in the community and talk to people about the problem and their solution. From there they find out who is excited about the work. Those are your potential donors and volunteers. If no one is interested in the project, it might not be a very good idea to go the nonprofit route. 

This article might sound like I’m trying to talk you out of starting a nonprofit organization. That’s not entirely true. What I really want to do is make sure that you make a good decision for you, for the people you want to serve, and for the nonprofit sector. This is another good article to read as you’re considering if the nonprofit model is right for you and your cause. 

Thinking about making the world a better place with your great idea? I would love to visit and talk through your options. Email me at, let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.

What is a Nonprofit Anyway?

In my thirty-years of experience leading nonprofit organizations, I have heard a lot of interesting questions. In my early years of nonprofit work, I had similar questions. A recent conversation with a friend made me realize that these questions might be more common than I had realized. So I thought I would share the answers to these three common questions:

What makes a nonprofit a nonprofit?

Who owns a nonprofit?

What’s the point of a Board?

What makes a nonprofit a nonprofit?

On the surface, the word “nonprofit” seems to tell you exactly what it is. However, the name is a bit misleading. Nonprofit organizations can, and often do, produce a profit through their operations. And that is perfectly fine. 

The difference between a nonprofit and a for-profit is that when a for-profit organization makes money, someone or multiple people make a profit. When a nonprofit organization produces a surplus, those funds go back into the organization. The reinvestment can be in the form of equipment, staff training, investments, and more.

Nonprofit organizations exist for purposes other than generating revenue. Their purpose is to address a critical social need and contribute to the greater good of the community, region, world, etc. To be clear, a nonprofit is a business. As such, they must function like one. Nonprofits must pay their bills, follow employment laws, and manage their finances; just like a for-profit. 

Since nonprofits exist to make the world a better place, the IRS rewards them with a tax exempt status. That is the deal that is made when a nonprofit is formed. The organization works to improve the world and the IRS gives them tax relief.

Who owns a nonprofit? 

This is probably the most confusing part of nonprofits for people to grasp. The short answer is that no one owns a nonprofit. Not the founder, not the Executive Director, and no one on the Board. 

That being said, it’s okay to think of the community, or the constituents served by the organization, as the “owners”. These are the people the organization benefits. Not through profit, rather with programs, services, and products. 

An organization that works to reduce poverty serves the whole community. The community can be considered the “owners” of that agency. A nonprofit that provides hygiene products to girls in third world countries, serves a smaller subset of the community, their constituents are the girls they support. Those girls could be considered the “owners”. 

A for-profit business is led by the owner(s). That is who makes decisions about how the business is run. However, an organization cannot possibly be led by an entire community. Same goes for girls on the other side of the world, it’s not feasible for them to provide organizational oversight. So that’s where the Board comes in!

What’s the point of a Board?

Since an entire community or constituency cannot lead an organization, a Board of Directors exists to represent the community/constituency. The Board is a select group of volunteers – always volunteers. Their role is to lead and make decisions in the best interest of the constituents. 

The Board of Directors is responsible for setting the mission, vision and strategic direction. Simply put, these are the promises the agency makes to their constituents. It’s the Board’s role to ensure that the organization has the human and financial resources needed to fulfill the promises made. Additionally, the Board ensures the organization meets all of their fiscal and legal requirements. 

Founders and Executive Directors can sometimes question the need for Board members. They often minimize the importance or the value of a Board. Sometimes engaging volunteers in the leadership of the organization can seem like just one more thing on a long list of expectations. I’m here to tell you, not only is a Board required, it may be the most important component of a nonprofit organization. 

A Board of Directors engages regular people in the community and activates them to make their world a better place. And really, that’s the point. In addition to engaging Board volunteers, best practices drive the Board to engage even more people with their cause through storytelling, fundraising, events, committees, volunteerism, and sponsorships. A crucial and valuable role of nonprofits is to activate community members in the work of making their community great.

Are you looking to get engaged in your community? I know a LOT of nonprofit organizations and could help you get connected and involved with a cause you are passionate about. Want to explore how to create an effective and impactful Board of Directors? I would love to help! Email me at to learn more. Let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses. 

What is the Right Culture for YOU?

Culture is a word that is thrown around a lot. Many people use it to describe work environments, businesses and organizations. Most people probably have a vague idea of what it means, but not necessarily a concrete idea about how you impact culture. 

In the past I have written articles on culture, which you can find here and here. Both of these are good, if I do say so myself. Today’s article is on the same topic, but I want to shift the focus just a little. Today we will look into how to create the right culture for your business. 

Not all cultures are created equally. They are not one size fits all. When people talk about a company having a good culture or a bad culture, what are they really saying? Simplified, if a culture matches your values and beliefs, you probably describe it as a “good culture.” Conversely, if they don’t align, you likely consider it a “bad culture”. The tricky thing is, everyone’s beliefs and values are different. 

This begs the question – how do you create a culture to fit everyone. And the answer is – you don’t. You create a culture that is right for your company. Then the culture attracts the kind of people who have values and beliefs that align with you and your business. Before we jump into creating a culture that is right for your business, let’s touch on what happens when you don’t work at your culture. 

It Is What It Is

If you do not intentionally create a culture, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have one. Rather, one evolves – unchecked. In this case, the values that emerge often come from the squeakiest wheel or the biggest personality. And that’s not always good. In fact, this is often how toxic, misogynist, and racist cultures come about. 

Without the clarity of company values – which are actively discussed and referenced – one person can start a culture where telling off-color jokes is the norm. Or a culture where the default mode is to complain about everything. Or one where backstabbing and gossip take over. Almost certainly, none of these are the values you want your company to be known for. But if these traits are emerging, it’s a guarantee that people both inside and outside the business describe your culture negatively. 

How To Get the RIGHT Culture

There are a lot of well-known and broadly studied cultures out there: 

  • Zappos is known for being weird, happy, and fun
  • Southwest Airlines employees are silly and empowered
  • Twitter staff are hardworking, smart, and passionate 
  • Google attracts the best of the best with tons of perks and benefits

What all these companies have in common is that they have taken the time to figure out what they value and how they want to be perceived. Then they keep these values and their identity alive. 

What Do You Value? 

There are several ways to determine your values. Everything from multi-day, facilitated leadership retreats to sitting in a coffee shop with a notepad. It’s up to you to determine the right method for your business. 

I’ll share one activity that leaders often find helpful. Think of the employee in your company who represents the image you want people to have when they think of you. List out all of the characteristics that make that person a great employee. Write down everything you can think of. Then add anything else you wish that person possessed. As you review this list, you will start to formulate an idea about what you value. 

Empowered with this description, start to write words or phrases that you would like your company to be known for. Between 3 and 7 is a good list. Take time to connect a statement or story to each value. Your culture should be starting to emerge. Don’t feel like you need to do this all in one sitting. Record your ideas, then let them percolate for a while. Come back to them and see if they still resonate, or if you want to add to or change them. 

One Size Does Not Fit All

This was stated earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Zappos, Southwest, Twitter and Google all sound like fun, cool places to work. If fun and cool is important to your brand, great! Go in that direction. However, many brands need to be taken very seriously. For others safety might be the most important thing they are known for. And others need to have a reputation of efficiency. Those values might not be as sexy as “fun” and “cool,” but they are just right for certain brands. 

Never Stop Talking About Them

Once you have clear values that are just right for your business, they need to be ubiquitous. They should be used in recruiting and hiring. They should be present in decision making and staff meetings. Your values should be posted throughout your facility and included in many, if not all, communications. 

It’s the talking about them that makes them real. Unless you want your values to be a “flavor of the month” initiative, you need to bring them to life. As the leader, you will want to memorize your values, and have several stories and antidotes demonstrating them. Celebrate values in action. Reward the behaviors you want to see. Own your culture by knowing who you are as a company. Be true to your values. And tell everyone about them. This is what will shape your culture.

While this process is simple, it’s not easy. If you are interested in working on creating a culture you are proud of, email me at Let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.

Nonprofits Fail – Here’s Seven Reasons Why by Tracy Ebarb

Why Do Nonprofits Fail? Does it seem a bit crowded in here?

A few years ago, during his presidential campaign, Dr. Ben Carson made the statement that 90% of nonprofits fail within a few years. While Dr. Carson’s statement was largely hyperbole, it did call to attention the alarming rate of both nonprofit failure and ineffectiveness. The real data from National Center on Charitable Statistics reveals that approximately 30% of nonprofits fail to exist after 10 years, and according to Forbes, over half of all nonprofits that are chartered are destined to fail or stall within a few years due to leadership issues and the lack of a strategic plan, among other things.

There are currently over 1.5 million tax exempt non profits in the US.

In Texas alone, there are about 106,000 non profits, about 1 for every 4000 people.

In recent years the “overhead problem” has begun to be addressed. The irony is that we did this to ourselves in the first place. Instead of clearly communicating WHY an organization needed money to be invested in overhead, virtually all nonprofits educated donors that money spent on overhead was bad! We created that story by showcasing that operating on a shoe string budget was a badge of honor. However, when we do that we are actually perpetuating and encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ mentality where success is measured by how little we spend, not by the impact we have.

Time and time again, we see research that shows the organizations that invest in technology, talent, and professional development end up making greater gains. The old adage from the for-profit world, “You have to spend money to make money”, is widely accepted — but not so, in the nonprofit world. In The Rise and Fail of Charities in the 21st Century, Elsey points out that “Nonprofits should not be having a conversation with donors about how little they are spending. They should instead be speaking to them about how much impact they are having relative to their budget….It should not be a badge of honor to be proud of operating on a shoestring budget.”

Remember, when you stick with the “Tin Cup” mentality and fear asking for an investment —you’re missing an excellent opportunity to articulate to donors the reason you need them and their funding and how they are helping to increase impact.

Also, don’t forget – 501c3 is a tax status, not a business model.


  1. Empty Optimism – or Pie in the Sky Dreams (without the proper ingredients to bake a pie)

    I’ve seen some of the best, most needed (in my view), and earnest efforts falter and fail because the leaders simply did not accurately calculate the amount of support that would be available and the alliances and partnerships that they would need to support their humble beginnings. In other words – they lacked a sound business plan upon which to build a platform for success. The old saying ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail’ is so very, very true.

  2. Values Vacuum – or Poor Organizational Development

    Healthy organizations establish core values that guide the way leaders and staff do business, and how they deal with each other and with outside people and groups at every point of contact. It is far too common for autocratic and self-focused founders to establish one core value: “do as I say.” These nonprofit heads find it very difficult to transfer authority or to share the limelight and leadership with an empowered team. There is little internal trust, and insufficient values to guard against abuses of power, privilege, and people. It is also an environment in which many unethical and even illegal practices can flourish, and often do. These organizations frequently fail in the first generation, and almost never thrive when the leader with all of the chips finally cashes them in.

  3. Competitive Blinders – or ‘we’re unique, there’s no one like us in the market’

    Nonprofit leaders and ministry executives are frequently insular and blind to the external changes and “market” forces that will be their undoing. Often it’s because they are so focused on the needs and crises around them. Or they cannot imagine anyone or anything that would deter them from their righteous ends. And charities are often unfamiliar with, or even repelled by, the notion of “competitors,” so they don’t recognize true rivals or adjust to compete. There is no ability to adjust programs to match changing situations, culture, or competition and to compete for donations, volunteers, media coverage, or program space. This blindness also manifests itself in the lack of research done to determine if there are other Organizations doing the same thing, with basically the same goals. This along with a self-righteous notion that “we” can do it better, or the right way, when cooperation, even merging with another Org would be so much more efficient.

  4. Iced Innovation – or the notion that ‘our website is good enough for now’…

    Nonprofits must Embrace Technology
    Mobile access, mobile devices and the experience on the internet has changed user expectations and has also provided nonprofits with a more level playing field.
    Take a look at the businesses that have grown quickly over the past years, innovative companies which are “disruptive” or at least are very different from doing “business as usual.” Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Zappos. Or nonprofit organizations which leverage technology to deliver on mission, like and
    Today’s donors are also today’s online shoppers. So your “competition” isn’t the other charity with a similar mission–it’s Zappos. Today (and tomorrow’s) donors are accustomed to finding and buying what they want, when they want it.
    Ask yourself this question: Is your organization set up to allow donors to find and give you what they want to give, when they want to give it? Now pick up your smartphone and see how easily and quickly (or not) you can find your site and make a donation– because they will not go to a desktop to make a donation or share their affinity for your cause, when the ability to do so is right at their fingertips. It’s what they’re used to.
    The good news is that this technology also makes the playing field for causes, more level. Just a handful of years ago, DRTV might have been the most effective way to reach a mass audience—but, due to expense, was only available to organizations with the largest budgets. Today’s technology allows any sized organization the ability to communicate, educate, and engage on a greater scale than
    ever before—at little cost.
    The emergence of the Internet and subsequent online innovations that have changed the world in many ways has made strikingly obvious a business truth that is actually timeless. If you do not innovate, you will disappear. If there is no adjustment of creative content, communications, or methods for new times and trends you will miss opportunities, and be judged as antiquated (and perhaps irrelevant). Creative presentation and original thinking buy you another look, enable you to capture attention in a crowded field, and present new ways for people to engage with your mission.

  5. Mission Creep or ‘yeah, we should do that too!’

    When a corporation goes beyond its initial product line and area of service, it’s called brand extension. In nonprofits, we call it mission creep, and because charities are in the business of changing the world, their leaders often cannot seem to stop themselves from seeing every need as a call. The result is too many directions, no mission clarity, diffused expertise, and donor confusion.

  6. Misplacing Priority #1 – or forgetting who the ‘real boss’ is

    At the end of the day, for nonprofit organizations – Money is more important than Mission. Nonprofits exist to serve and to meet needs on a global scale, and we care deeply for the causes we embrace, often to the detriment of our funders. A successful nonprofit knows that their #1 Customer is their donors, period. Without the donors, there would be no impact, no people served, no mouths fed, no backs clothed. Those we serve are important, but if we really want to have an impact, we must take care of our donors first, we must make sure that our programs are designed to give our donors an opportunity to fulfill the goals they have for their philanthropy, and then constantly communicate to them the impact their dollars are having. And when it comes to taking care of donors, relationships, personal relationships are KING! No fancy CRM or automated gift response mechanism will ever trump a personal relationship.

  7. The Data Conundrum – or the fear of information

    Although many organizations have begun measuring every possible statistic related to fundraising efforts, few have enough data to guide planning, analyze management systems, or redirect underperforming programs or communications. This may be because of the pressure to reduce overhead, or because the entrepreneurial spirit of charity leaders causes them to fly by the seat of their pants, to trust their own (often flawed) instincts. Also factor in the age-old truism – “there’s paralysis in analysis” – there’s a real and present danger for Organizations who dive too deeply into the studying the data on their donors at the expense of personal relationships.

Common mistakes of failing nonprofits fit into the categories below:

  • Not Having a Qualified Leader
    A leader of a nonprofit needs the following traits: A head for business, Desire to do good, Sincerity, Confidence, Goal Setting, Organization Skills
  • No Website Or Poorly Designed Website
    Make a user-friendly website, avoid bulky language, make sure the contact information is accessible & accurate. Have strong compelling content. A rule of thumb is make sure nothing is further than “two clicks deep”. Display your mission in a clear area. Have a clear button to donate on every page.
  • Poor Planning and Record Keeping
    No plan of action. A nonprofit is much like a business. There has to be a clear plan to get funding to stay afloat.
  • Poor Accounting and Money Management
    Building a solid capital structure is a key, Keep Strict Money Records, File all Documents & Forms Correctly and on time, Set Aside Seed Money, Spend wisely Evaluate Wants Versus Needs
  • Marketing Only to Large Donors and Not Thinking Smaller Donors are Just As Important
    Small donors are just as important as large donors. Don’t expect donors to maintain or increase the size of their contribution each time they give. Thank every donor in every circumstance they donate no matter how much they give
  • Nonprofit Doesn’t Mean Tax Exempt
    Know your tax laws and file your taxes.

Ultimately, the real reason nonprofits fail is because they shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

7 Reasons Why Nonprofits Fail was written by Tracy Ebarb, Veteran Fundraiser and the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives’ International Director. Tracy’s journey in the nonprofit world began in the early 80’s through his service on Church Staff as Youth Minister, Associate Pastor, Church Administrator, Director of Development and Stewardship and Senior Pastor. Tracy joined the renowned consulting firm of Cargill & Associates in 1998, designing and conducting over 60 Capital Stewardship Campaigns raising over $50 million dollars. As an independent Consultant, Tracy has traveled extensively overseas raising funds and working to develop humanitarian projects in the African nations of Sierra Leone, Malawi and Zambia, and the Central American nations of Nicaragua, Haiti and Honduras. As well as consulting and developing Capital Fundraising Campaigns in over 75 churches and nonprofits across the US. Until recently, Tracy has guided the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame as the Director of Business Development. He has recently accepted the position of Senior Counselor at Development Systems International.

Our Similarities Outweigh Our Differences

Our similarities outweigh our differences. This is true in every aspect of life and relationships. Today’s article is going to focus on the similarities between nonprofit organizations and small businesses. The way I see it, there are many more similarities between these two business types, than there are differences. Before I get into the similarities (and a few differences), let’s dig into what we’re talking about here. 

People often become disillusioned by large, “corporate” nonprofits. They see the leaders making big salaries, and make assumptions about the philanthropy or integrity of the agency. Let me be clear – that level of nonprofit organization is not what this article is focused on. Additionally, this article is not about the Amazons or WalMarts of the world. 

97% of nonprofit organizations have annual budgets of $5M or less. Furthermore, 92% work with an operating budget of less than $1M, and 88% get by with less than $500,000. Similarly, of the over 30 million small businesses in the US, only 9% of them make over $1M in revenue. Small businesses with 20 or fewer employees make up 89% of all business in America. These are local organizations and businesses working hard to meet local community needs. And these are the focus of this article. 


Obviously there are some differences, otherwise there would be no reason for different classifications. The only difference that always exists in every situation, is the IRS tax status. What makes a business a nonprofit is the fact that they obtain a tax exempt status. Businesses are awarded a tax exemption in exchange for the work they do to address critical social issues in their community. 

Another key difference is related. Part of their tax exempt status requires a nonprofit to reinvest their profits back into the organization. This can be in the form of staff salaries, professional development, equipment, technology, investments, and more. They can make a profit, but it does not go to benefit an owner. While I’m filing this under differences, the difference is really in the IRS requirement. I say that because, in reality, there are many small businesses that do the same thing. They are not required to, but they invest their profit right back into their business. 

The third difference has to do with ownership. A nonprofit organization is essentially owned by the community, with a volunteer Board of Directors responsible for its leadership and operation. In newer nonprofits, the founder often behaves like an owner. This person usually holds the vision for the business, gets others excited about it, and develops the board, programming, funding, and more. And this brings us to the similarities portion of this analysis.


There are differences in the leadership; nonprofits are led by a volunteer board, sometimes with a paid Executive Director running operations. Small businesses are generally led by an owner, partners, or a family. In either case, those business leaders have a LOT in common. 

Small businesses and nonprofits both struggle with never having enough time, money, resources or people to do everything they would like to do. This means that their leaders need to be hardworking, scrappy, creative, and dedicated. They tend to be driven by a passion greater than a paycheck. Whether it’s the mission, a desire to create something great, a commitment to serving their community, or a dedication to meeting the needs of their customers; these leaders are intrinsically motivated. 

In order to be successful, both sets of leaders need to have a strong connection to their community. By having their finger on the pulse of the community’s needs, they are able to identify issues and gaps in service. In knowing what is important in the community these business leaders can find their niche and remain relevant. Additionally, this connects the business leaders to the people in their community who will need their products and services. People do business with those who they know, like, and trust. 

This brings us to mission. Nonprofit organizations have a mission that drives their work in meeting a critical social need. While for profit, small businesses may not be driven by a mission, that does not mean that they don’t work hard to meet the needs of their community. People need groceries and gas and insurance. They need someone to help them buy and sell their house, and they like to go out to dinner. While these things (and more) do not necessarily qualify as mission work, they are definitely community necessities. 

The last two similarities (which initially seem to be differences) are fundraising and board management. A small business does not have to do traditional fundraising; however, they often seek investors and raise start-up capital or funds to develop new services and products. Likewise, a small business with investors reports to them as an Executive Director reports to their board. This involves educating them, building strong relationships, and managing communication. 

I spent 30 years working in the nonprofit industry and the last 18 months as a small business owner. In networking, developing, and growing with other small business owners it’s been so interesting to see the similarities between these two worlds. I’ve discovered, not only that the two industries have a lot in common, but we have so much to learn from each other!

I love helping business leaders to grow and develop professionally. If you’re looking for leadership, team or board development, mail me at to connect for a free 30-minute discovery call.

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits. 

Nonprofit November ~ Week 2

Week 2 of my Nonprofit November project is here! Each weekday in November I am interviewing a different nonprofit agency in our community. I am sharing what I learn with you, in hopes that you learn a little something, and maybe even get inspired to connect with a cause or agency that sparks your passion.

Thanks so much for reading! Please share with others who you think may be interested. Let’s spread the word about the impact these amazing agencies are providing to our community.

Stranded Motorist Fund

When we think of helping those in need we often think of housing assistance, meals or food pantries, or even clothing closets. A safe, reliable automobile is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. But in an area where public transportation is lacking, it can be a huge barrier to accessing work, school, community, and more. 

During the course of 2020, Dan Adam, owner of Adam & Son, saw this need skyrocket. That led to the creation of A&S Stranded Motorist Fund. Through partnerships, internal funding, and customer donations, Adam & Son is helping to make sure there are fewer stranded motorists on the side of the road. By assisting with repair costs and necessary maintenance they are helping low income individuals and families to keep their vehicles up and running.

Scott Gill, the Brand Manager for Adam & Son, shared that their biggest challenge right now is that their need outweighs their current capacity. There are just not enough funds to help everyone who needs it. They are constantly looking for additional funding sources. If you are interested in making a donation or learning more, go to:

In addition to financial contributions, occasionally the Stranded Motorist Fund has had the opportunity to receive a car donation. They have been able to spruce it up and donate back out to someone with that need. Scott would be interested in visiting with anyone who would like to know more about the incredible impact they are having on our community. Connect with him here


Kids on Bikes

As a cyclist, I was super excited to learn more about this organization! Having a bit of an understanding of their Mountain Bike Camps and some of their partnerships, I thought I knew what the organization was about. I’ll tell you right now, I was wrong! 

Kids on Bikes was founded to address the childhood obesity crisis in our community. In El Paso County over 58% of kids get less than the recommended 60-minutes of physical activity per day. In fact, the 2015 Colorado Health Report Card indicated that kids average over 7 hours of screen time a day and only 7 minutes of active play outdoors. Childhood obesity has grown by 300% in the past thirty years as the number of kids walking or biking to school has plummeted from 50% to just 13%. 

Earn A Bike is the original, signature program for Kids on Bikes. Executive Director, Daniel Byrd shared their belief that all children deserve the opportunity to experience the joy, freedom and independence of riding and owning a bike. Additional programming that supports that vision includes their Mountain Bike Camps, Bicycling Education, the Pedal Station and community rides. 

With a goal of getting kids active on bikes for as long as possible, the biggest challenges they face are staff capacity and a shortage of bikes, equipment and parts. To donate, volunteer, or just learn more go to or reach out to Daniel directly.


Day Break ~ An Adult Day Program

I had the opportunity to tour this Adult Day Program, located in Woodland Park, a while back. I was so impressed with the amazing work they do and care that they provide, that I wanted to make sure I included them in this project. 

Founder and Executive Director, Paula Levy shared that Day Break serves to address two distinct, critical social needs. First, there are the clients aged 60 and older who cannot live independently. Through Day Break they connect with their community, access wellness and self-care services, attend outings, and maintain connections with their peers. 

The second issue they address is providing much needed respite for caregivers, giving them time to refresh, recharge, and regroup. By taking some of the pressure off caregivers, Day Break helps to postpone the transition to assisted living, prolonging health and life for the senior. 

Paula’s passion for serving our older community members is what drives the work of Day Break. Because of that, Day Break is so much more than “day care for seniors”. Staffed with CNAs and numerous volunteers, programming is designed to meet the needs of the aging clients and enrich their quality of life. Services are fee based and supplemented with grants and donations. 

The theme of the day seems to be – more need than capacity. Day Break is no different. As a state licensed care facility they are limited on the number of clients they can serve at a time. Paula and her board are currently working to find a larger space in order to expand their services. If you are interested in getting involved as a donor or volunteer go to: Additionally, Paula is always seeking opportunities to get out and speak to the community about their work. If you have a speaking opportunity email her directly to set something up.


Hope Advanced

Tim and Brownie Richardson work with the Broken, Busted and Disgusted. They connect with folks who are down on their luck and surround them with the resources, support and connections that will help them move down the path of their best life. 

When asked how they do this, Tim said that it’s different for everyone. Everyone’s situation is different, so there isn’t one solution that will help them all. Through intense listening and empathy, clients are able to come to terms with their past, then leave it behind. The goal is to get them focused on their next steps.

For some people this means helping them to access services such as housing, clothing or food. For others they need counseling to help them determine their path. Still others need to surround themselves with people who will support them in a positive way. Hope Advanced provides all of this, with the focus on finding forward movement. 

The vision is to add programming to provide job opportunities, as well as to expand to a nationwide agency serving people across the country. With many funding and volunteer opportunities, you can get connected by going to or reaching out directly to Tim and Brownie.


Becky Baker Foundation

In 2017, Becky Baker lost her battle with Breast Cancer. In her final week’s, Becky made the comment that she was disappointed that no one would remember her name. Since then, Becky’s husband Rick has been on a mission to ensure that no one could possibly forget her.

The Becky Baker Foundation provides access to mammograms and thermograms for low income women, eliminating the financial barriers that could cost them their lives. In the 3+ years since its inception, the Foundation has provided over 2,700 screenings, as well as prevention education programming.

The biggest challenge Rick sees is what he calls “Pink Washing”. Agencies, organizations, and products use this cause to make money, compromising the reputation and integrity of philanthropic efforts fighting breast cancer. Rick encourages people to do their research when considering a cause to support.

If you would like to learn more about the Becky Baker Foundation or get involved, please visit their website. I also encourage you to check out the fundraising efforts associated with #golf4prevention. Lastly, Rick wanted me to close with this plea:

“Please go get your screening!”


Want to learn more about how you can have a lasting impact on your community? Email me at to connect for a free 30-minute discovery call or check out this article on how to be a community superhero. In order to save the world, nonprofits need superheroes like you to help them have the kind of impact they exist to deliver. 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.

Nonprofit November ~ Week 1

Here it is! The first edition of my Nonprofit November project. Each weekday in November I am interviewing a different nonprofit agency in our community. I will be sharing what I learn with you. My hope is that you learn a little something, and maybe even get connected with a cause or agency that sparks your passion.

Thank you for reading! Please share with others who you think may be interested. Let’s spread the word about the amazing impact these agencies are providing to our community.


Alzheimer’s Association – Colorado Chapter

Did you know that Alzheimer’s is the SIXTH leading cause of death in our country? RoseMary Jaramillo is our region’s director for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She shared that the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to live in a world without Alzheimer’s and dementia. The main focus of this nation-wide agency is to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

Locally the focus of RoseMary’s work is to support caregivers and families of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s. With her one additional staff and very robust volunteer team, RoseMary serves our 13 county region with education and state level advocacy. 

Helping families to secure an accurate diagnosis is key to providing local support. It helps families to understand heredity issues, appropriate treatment options, and relevant research. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association helps loved ones to understand the disease better and learn how to communicate with, and support their family member.

RoseMary shared that their biggest challenge is getting access to those who can benefit from their educational programming. Connecting with doctors, law enforcement, the military community, first responders and others who have the opportunity to interact with those struggling with the disease. Her programming can educate them on what to look for and how to get the individual much needed support. 

If you have connections that could expand the Alzheimer’s Association education, please email RoseMary. She would also love to visit with you if you are interested in volunteering. As you can see here, there are many opportunities to get involved and have an impact.


Connect for Health Colorado

Connect for Health Colorado is the state’s official health insurance marketplace. This state appointed nonprofit provides choice and transparency for Coloradans, who can view all their health insurance plan options side-by-side. This is the only place where you can find savings to make health insurance more affordable.

I met with Maria Adams, who serves as the agency’s Community Partnership & Outreach Program Manager for our Southeast region. She shared several stories of people who were paying way too much for their health insurance, or did not have the right coverage for their specific needs. Connect for Health Colorado has been able to help so many people lower their monthly premium costs. With over 700 contracted brokers and assisters in the state they are well equipped to help the uninsured become insured.

I found it interesting that 35% of the people they serve are 55 or older. These are often folks who want to retire, but are continuing to work primarily for their insurance benefits. Connect for Health Colorado gives them options. 

Since I didn’t know that this agency existed, I learned a ton from Maria! The biggest challenge facing Connect for Health Colorado is a basic lack of knowledge and awareness about who they are and how they can help. For anyone interested in seeing if they can lower their monthly health insurance expenses, please go to or email Maria and she will help get you connected. 


Stable Strides

Before visiting the Stable Strides ranch in Elbert I had a fairly limited understanding of the kind of work they do. In addition to meeting some of their beautiful horses, I learned that Stable Strides is the largest therapeutic equestrian center in the area. They are also the only PATH Accredited center. 

Oftentimes when it comes to equestrian therapy, people (like me) think mostly of Adaptive or Therapeutic Riding. In addition to providing that service, Stable Strides also provides Mental Health Services and Hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is also known as POST which is an acronym for Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy. 

The agency has a brand new Executive Director, Jason Frazier. So I met with members of the Development team, Brittany Williams and Arrika Bales. They shared that in 2020 they delivered over 5,000 contact hours of service. 60% of that work was for mental health therapy with members of the military, active duty, and first responders. They serve clients ages 4 to 88 and help with dozens of different diagnoses. 

The biggest challenge facing Stable Strides, and their new Executive, is that there is more need than they have the capacity to provide. Every program they run has a 20+ person waitlist. Equestrian Therapy is often a last resort for people seeking services. That makes their waitlist situation even more of a challenge for individuals looking for help. To get involved and help, go to their website at

Hilltop Ranch

Every parent of a child with special needs worries about what will happen to their child once they are gone. Rich and Becky Caldwell are no different. With limited residential options for special needs adults in Colorado, the Caldwells felt a calling to create a new solution for families with similar needs. 

That’s how the vision for Hilltop Ranch was formed. Designed to provide a permanent, forever home for adults with intellectual disabilities, where they can live their lives to the fullest. The first phase has begun with the purchase of a lodge in Palmer Lake. Eventually the project will include an entire campus with housing, support services, a dining hall, outdoor sports areas, greenhouses, and more! 

Current challenges include funding, building a board, and getting the word out that there is an option for adults with intellectual developmental disabilities. The biggest need they have right now is for staff who can serve as “house parents” or “caregivers”. Ideally they would like to find two couples who can alternate living on campus in shifts. If you are interested, or know someone who is, please reach out to Rich. To learn more or to get involved in other ways, check out their website:


Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce (SCWCC) Foundation

In full disclosure, I am a member of the SCWCC, and I did not really understand the difference between the Chamber and the Foundation. Thanks to Foundation President, Brandon Eldridge for visiting with me and helping me expand my understanding! The short answer to the difference is that they are two separate organizations that work very closely together. 

The Mission of the SCWCC Foundation is to support women by providing life-changing opportunities through leadership training and scholarships. The Foundation has a long history of providing scholarships for women in our community. Over the past couple of years they have been working to expand and deepen their impact by providing training and mentorship for what they call “nontraditional women” in our community. These are women who have unique challenges to completing a degree or establishing a career. The first round of programming is going to specifically target women who have been job displaced due to the pandemic. 

Brandon has a strong team of volunteers who have worked with him to shift and evolve the organization during the past two years. He’s very proud of the work they are doing to advance their impact on our community. The Foundation is in a very good place now; but like all organizations, they can use more funding and more amazing, engaged volunteers. To learn more or get involved, check out their website at: Something super easy you can do to help is to like and follow them on social media ~ Facebook and LinkedIn

Want to learn more about how you can have a lasting impact on your community? Email me at to connect them for a free 30-minute discovery call or check out this article on how to be a community superhero. In order to save the world, nonprofits need superheroes like you to help them have the kind of impact they exist to deliver. 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.

Strategic Plan vs Operating Plan

Planning is everything

Everyone thinks they need a Strategic Plan. And sometimes they do. But not always. Often what an organization really needs is an Operating Plan to effectively drive their work. This article will share when a Strategic Plan is appropriate, when an Operating Plan is a better option, and what a solid Operating Plan looks like. Let’s dig in. 

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its overriding direction for achieving its mission or purpose. A business uses this process to make decisions on how it will allocate its resources to pursue their strategies. 

The general outcome of a strategic planning process is a Strategic Plan. This can be anything from a one-page visual to a binder full of documents, information, and goals. The trap many businesses fall into is believing that the point of strategic planning is to get to the Strategic Plan. In reality, the most important part of the process is engaging stakeholders, volunteers, constituents and staff in the activity of examining the organization. 

Gathering information and input from multiple sources ensures a business or organization is staying relevant and on track for fulfilling its purpose. Through this process leaders learn what is important to the community, their customers, and those people closest to the products or services of the business. In order for a strategic planning session to be effective, leaders must be open to change and willing to let go of the past. Otherwise, there is no reason to go through the work of strategic planning. 

Another pitfall of strategic planning is to create a beautiful plan, then leave it sitting on a shelf or in a drawer. Again, if you are going to go to all the work of strategic planning and then you don’t use it to guide the work of your business, you have just wasted a bunch of time and energy. This can also serve to disengage your most loyal allies. 

When Not to do a Strategic Plan

While the strategic planning process can be a very valuable tool for guiding your work, there are several reasons NOT to do it. 

  1. First and foremost, if done right, the strategic planning process takes a significant amount of time, energy, and money. If you do not have the time, determination, or funds to do it right, you are better off not doing it halfway. 
  2. A business that falls under the guidance of a parent organization probably does not need to go through a strategic planning process. Usually the parent organization sets the strategy. In that case, your operation is responsible for figuring out how you will execute those strategies for your service area. 
  3. A business that already has effective and relevant strategies in place does not need to go through the process. There’s no right or wrong answer to how often you should go through the strategic planning process. A general rule of thumb is every 3 to 5 years. If you are actively using your strategic plan and reviewing, the need for a new planning process will organically reveal itself. 
  4. When a business uses Strategy Screens (you can read more about this concept here), they go through the process of examining their strategies every time they are faced with an opportunity or challenge. Similarly to number 3, by using this system you will know when it’s time to go through a strategic planning process. It won’t be dictated by the cycle of the calendar. 
  5. As stated above, if leadership is not ready for the potential to make significant changes, then its probably not a good time to embark on a strategic planning process. This can happen because of egos, protecting turf, and special interests. In these cases, it doesn’t matter how fantastic a plan is, it’s unlikely to result in any real change. 
  6. Other reasons for not engaging in strategic planning include a lack of understanding of the purpose, lack of flexibility, lack of ability to follow-up and a lack of engaged stakeholders. 

Due to the significant investment it takes to do effective strategic planning, you want to be sure it’s the right option at the right time. If you decide that a strategic planning process isn’t right for you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some sort of planning. That brings us to the value of Operating Plans.

Operating Plans

Strategic planning focuses on how things have changed for your business over the past few years, what’s changing now and what might change in the future. On the other hand, Operations Planning looks at the way you will conduct business over the next year. If you have a Strategic Plan in place, your Operating Plan should be directly tied to it. For businesses that do not have a Strategic Plan, it might be even more important to develop an Operating Plan. 

I recommend some level of Operations Planning every year. The best time to do this is leading up to your budgeting process. A budget is simply a plan for your year, broken down into numbers. In order to put together your numbers plan for the year, you need to know what you will be doing. 

Since most people cannot predict the future, the best we can do is make assumptions about what will happen over the coming year. Then we make plans around those assumptions. Based on your expertise in your industry, you may predict growth, stagnation, or the need to add a new product or service. Taking the time to think through what will happen over the next year, you are able to put together realistic plans. Sometimes it’s appropriate to map out multiple plans. If XXX happens we will plan for YYY. If XXX doesn’t happen, we will plan for ZZZ. 

The next step in your Operating Plan is to develop the budget. With clear assumptions in place you can create the money story to support those plans. Whether you’re predicting growth, staying the same or changing products or services, you put your numbers in place in order to carry out the plans. This is an oversimplification of the budget process. If done right, that process involves a great deal of research, comparison, and give-and-take. That’s a topic for a whole separate article. 

Once you have your budget plan mapped out you can write your goals for the year. Done right, your operating goals for the year will keep you on track to meet your budget. And when tied to your Strategic Plan, they will keep you moving towards your mission or purpose. 

In addition to being tied to your Strategic Plan, annual assumptions, and budget, a well constructed Operating Plan will include the following:

  • Goals for the year – Spell out what you want to achieve over the next year. Define how your operations will be different at the end of the year. 
  • Action steps – Break down the goals into the steps it will take to get you there. Be specific and thorough. 
  • Accountabilities – Assign each step to one person who will be responsible for carrying it out. 
  • Due dates/Checkpoints – Set a due date for each of the action steps. A good practice is to set aside time at the end of each quarter to examine your goals, action steps and accountabilities. By checking in every 90-days you stay on-track and are able to refocus. 

As you develop your Operating Plans, you will want to run it by your stakeholders. This serves as a “reality check”. While you don’t want to turn this into a pseudo Strategic Planning process, you also don’t want to do your planning in a vacuum. Check the logic of your assumptions, goals and action plans. Not only will this ensure that your plans are solid, it will also garner confidence from your stakeholders, and make it easier to get budget approval. 

I really love the quote by Yogi Berra: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Whether you’re ready for a Strategic Plan, or an Operating Plan makes more sense for you, it’s best to know where you’re going.  

Need help with your Strategic Planning, Operational Planning or figuring out which is best for your business? Email me at to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to get started creating the best plans for your business! 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.

Avoid the Shiny Bunnies

Squirrels, shiny bunnies, kitten bombs, Facebook – whatever you want to call it, distractions are everywhere. There are the day-to-day distractions that get in the way of your tasks and responsibilities. Social media, a new show on Hulu, and mundane chores all distract you from the things you know you should be doing in order to effectively manage your life or meet your goals. 

While this type of distraction can be a serious issue for some of us, today’s article is going to focus on the larger version of this problem. Individuals getting distracted is one thing. Entire organizations that get distracted is a completely different problem. 

When an individual is distracted it leads to anything from messy houses to jeopardizing their job. However, it can be much more devastating when a business or organization becomes distracted. It can lead to profit loss, bankruptcy or even total failure of the business/organization. 

For a business or organization, this happens when the leadership loses focus on the mission, vision or purpose. Leaders become distracted in many ways. It could be a flattering offer that comes their way, pressure from partners or other community leaders, or a need to prove something. This article will look at:

  1. How to identify organizational distractions
  2. Strategies for keeping your business on track

Identifying Organizational Distractions

As a leader, you might not even realize when a shiny bunny is headed right for you. You’re going along, doing what you believe is best for your business. By being on the lookout for these distractions, you can save your organization money, time and heartache. 

  • Too Good to Be True: We all know that if something sounds too good to be true – it probably is. As leaders, whose focus is on growing revenue or impact, it can be tempting to chase after this squirrel. A new project, partnership, or endeavor might sound like a fast track to growth. 
  • You Need to Justify: If you find yourself justifying why something is a good idea, it is an indicator that you need to look more closely at your decision. Anytime it’s not completely obvious how a decision connects to your mission/vision/purpose, you might be pursuing a distraction.
  • Secrets or Hiding Things: Keeping secrets or telling different “stories” to different groups of people should be cause for reflection. This is an indicator that you are hiding something, or that you are moving in a direction that is not consistent with your core focus. 
  • Outside Pressure: Leaders from other businesses, agencies, or entities will always have an ulterior reason for wanting to partner with you. Even if they give you 100 reasons why they believe it would be a good move for your business, they still are pursuing the partnership for their own gain. 

To be clear, there are definitely times when new business opportunities make sense. This article is not meant to prevent growth and innovation. Rather, it’s meant to keep you from losing your focus on what is most important to your organization. Being aware of what these distractions look like is the first step. Next we’ll look at how to deal with and minimize distractions.

Maintaining Your Focus

  • Know Your Vision

The first step in maintaining your focus and minimizing distractions is to know your vision. This article goes into detail about the importance of having a crystal clear vision. Without it, you are much more susceptible to distractions. When your mission/vision/purpose are foggy, leaders grasp at straws. When we don’t know where we are going, we welcome (and sometimes even look for) distractions. 

  • Communication & Trust

In tandem with your vision comes building up your communication and trust. This involves sharing your mission/vision/purpose over and over, solidifying the importance and ensuring all staff, volunteers and stakeholders understand. In addition, creating open and honest communication systems builds up trust. 

  • Ask Questions

Building trust among your team members is key to this next step, which is to ask questions. Big decisions should not be made in a vacuum. Get input from those you trust, and who also trust you enough to be honest. Brutally honest if necessary. Ask tough questions about who has the most to gain, what is the downside, and how the opportunity might change the focus, culture, and direction of your business. 

  • Be Completely Honest

In order to make the best possible decisions for your company, you must be 100% honest with yourself about your motivation. Otherwise, ego can easily get in the way of taking action in the best interest of the organization. Making decisions that make you look good is obviously a goal, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. If your own self advancement is the primary factor behind a new endeavor, you need to be able to step back and objectively look at how it will impact the business. 

  • Strategy Screens

Creating strategy screens can be very effective in keeping your business on track. A strategy screen is a list of questions or criteria against which you can test potential new opportunities. By working with your board, stakeholders or leadership team to create a list of 5 to 8 criteria, you can proactively protect yourself from distractions. 

  • Operational Plans

Solid operational plans will keep you moving in the right direction. This includes annual goals, quarterly action steps, accountability, and regular measurements. By establishing goals designed to move you towards your mission or vision, breaking them down, assigning accountability and regularly measuring your progress, you stay on track. This structure can serve as an insurance policy protecting you from distractions. 

As leaders, you are constantly faced with opportunities and decisions to make. You absolutely do not want to be risk adverse or your business may become stagnant. However, at the same time, you want to focus your energy on opportunities that will help you meet your business goals. By being able to quickly identify organizational distractions you will be able keep the shiny bunnies at bay. 

Need help creating your vision, communication system, strategy screens or organizational plans? Email me at to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to find out how to lock out the squirrels! 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits, small businesses and leaders.