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Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Developing Leadership through Connection

This month, we peek inside SVP’s Invested EDs program – a nonprofit leadership cohort where guided peer learning and structured networking strengthen Boulder County’s nonprofit sector.

Whatever the specific focus of their organization, Invested EDs offers participants a confidential and safe environment to explore new ideas in leadership. The relationships developed create a lasting web of support for Boulder County’s nonprofit leaders – a peer group of others facing similar opportunities and challenges. Participants get a chance to develop their personal management approach while strengthening sector connections, and cultivating new advocates for their organizations.

Meeting in person monthly, the current cohort includes ten executives who explore a theme they’ve prioritized in advance. Under the guidance of Integrated Work Strategies facilitator and SVP Partner Kristin Imo, attendees learn from one another, share useful strategies, explore lessons learned, and brainstorm solutions using their collective wisdom.

The theme for August’s Invested EDs session was “The Happy and Balanced Nonprofit Executive,” a theme whose varied dimensions has often been explored in nonprofit blogs. For this summertime session, the group took advantage of Growing Garden’s agrarian setting. Meeting beneath a lush outdoor shade pavilion in the center of their central Boulder garden, the group gathered to explore the theme.

To help prime the discussion, attendees were asked to read a Harvard Business Review article by Annie McKee and Kandi Wiens, “Prevent Burnout by Making Compassion a Habit.” After sharing some opening thoughts, Invested EDs participant and outgoing Voices for Children CASA Executive Director Nia Wassink presented a case study of her organization’s effort to elevate self-care for all staff.

This effort included the incremental, collective reading of The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout by Aliza Sherman and Beth Kanter, followed by the intentional integration of specific strategies across VCF CASA’s culture and protocols.

Kristin facilitated a conversation exploring macro-trends around why intensity is perceived as a badge of honor in US business in general and so normalized in nonprofit culture more specifically. One leader noted, “It’s about being better at work-life juggling, instead of finding work/life balance.” The group explored the signs and indicators of when they felt out of whack, and the implications on staff of their being off-kilter. An interesting dimension discussed was underestimating how leaders model behavior, and the weight of their actions on others.

Attendees lingered in discussion around how best to guide this conversation with Boards, who often don’t have a sense of the lived day-to-day weight nonprofit staff can face, and for whom being under-resourced and squeezed is par for the course. By way of example, Nia shared how, “…self-care is a really important part of trauma work, and all intense human services work. It will never look like a typical 9-to-5pm job, and I think our Board never quite realized that.”

Following their exploration of self-care and strategies for managing burnout, the group enjoyed a walking tour of the gardens and some social time before disbanding. As they exited all were invited to bring a Mentor for a Moment topic to discuss next month, and spend time considering their questions for next month’s topic: skilled volunteer programs. As folks lingered, chatting and connecting, it was clear the time they’d invested in the program was worthwhile.

Learn more about Invested EDs, and SVP’s other nonprofit capacity strengthening programs, on our website at

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