Category Archives: Risk Management

Think Tomorrow, Act Today

David Coffaro

For most nonprofit organizations, the first half of 2020 was heavily tilted toward understanding – understanding Covid-19 and its impacts to daily life and business, causes and solutions to racial problems, and, how to find certainty in uncertain circumstances. Today, as year-end comes into focus, many questions that dominated the first half of the year remain unanswered. How do leaders focus activities to keep the organization moving forward while lacking clarity from indicators often used as guideposts?

Making Strategy Matter

Making strategy matter happens when leaders intentionally choose activities in alignment with their nonprofit’s vision. Vision – the future state picture of what an organization seeks to create in the world – informs leaders’ activity choices, and, serves as a conduit between the nonprofit and its board, staff and clients. Strategies are the bundling of chosen activities, and not to be confused with goals or objectives.

London Business School strategy professor, Freek Vermeulen, wrote in the Harvard Business Review[i] “One major reason for the lack of action is that “new strategies” are often not strategies at all. A real strategy involves a clear set of choices that define what the firm is going to do and what it’s not going to do. Many strategies fail to get implemented, despite the ample efforts of hard-working people, because they do not represent a set of clear choices.

Given events in the first half of the year, there is a risk that strategies and their underlying activities no longer move the nonprofit toward its vision. Leaders can make strategy matter by taking three steps right now:

  • Think Tomorrow – Assure your organization’s future state vision still fits. If the way your organization needs to show-up in the world has changed, it’s time to refresh or redefine the vision.
  • Act Today – Even absent perfect line-of-sight into the future, a clear organizational vision enables leaders to review and refine specific activities supporting their strategies. Those strategies that no longer fit the vision, or, require reconstitution of underlying activities must be redesigned now. 
  • Commit to Activity Reviews – Connecting tomorrow’s vision with today’s actions requires frequent assessment of results and deconstructing outcomes into their root-cause activities. Cause-based performance analysis requires understanding composition of activities that created results, then, assessing performance effectiveness of chosen activities. By understanding if the right activities were engaged in, and effectiveness of strategy execution, leaders can quickly adjust to change outcomes.  

Strategy matters when the right combination of activities are selected to fulfill an organization’s vision, clearly defined, designed, communicated and deployed through all employees. Navigating the remaining month of 2020 and into the new year requires leaders to revisit their business activities to assure strategies still fit the rapidly evolving nonprofit operating environment.   


[i] Harvard Business Review, Many Strategies Fail Because They’re Not Actually Strategies, by Freek Vermeulen

November 08, 2017 – https://hbr.org/2017/11/many-strategies-fail-because-theyre-not-actually-strategies#:~:text=Many%20strategy%20execution%20processes%20fail%20because%20the,not%20have%20something%20worth%20executing.&text=One%20major%20reason%20for%20the,it’s%20not%20going%20to%20do.


Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, organization transformation and innovation. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is “Leading from Where You Are” (January 2020). For more information, visit www.davecoffaro.com

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Leading by Cause in the Nonprofit Arena

David Coffaro

Lessons throughout history inform us that cause precedes effect; actions create results. Plato explained the principle of causality saying every­thing that becomes or changes must do so owing to some cause; for nothing can come to be without a cause (Timaeus 28a). In Codex Atlanticus, Leonardo DaVinci wrote No effect is in Nature without cause; you understand the cause and you do not need any experience. And as every school child learns for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction per Sir Issac Newton’s third law.

With depth of affirmation around cause preceding effect, why do business leaders focus so heavily on analyzing their numbers, or, focus on the effect instead of the cause? A recent conversation with a community bank CEO focused on his vision for the company. He opened the dialog saying he and his leadership team had put a lot of thought into where they want to take their bank, and the vision they committed to was to deliver top decile ROE, ROA and topline revenue growth. A quintessential example of focusing on effect, not cause.

In their CFO Magazine piece, How An Obsession with Metrics Is Killing Your Company (https://www.cfo.com/analytics/2016/04/obsession-metrics-killing-company/), authors Alexander Van Caeneghem and Jean-Marie Bequevort, write “the quest for financial performance and the pressure to measure can corrode organizational cultures, narrow the focus of leadership, reduce intrinsic motivation, and support unethical behavior. With a similar theme, Michael Harris and Bill Taylor’s Harvard Business Review article, Don’t Let Metrics Undermine Your Business (https://hbr.org/2019/09/dont-let-metrics-undermine-your-business) said “A company can easily lose sight of its strategy and instead focus strictly on the metrics that are meant to represent it.” 

Logic tells us we can manage cause, but only measure effect. Yet we often overlook the real story – the aggregation of activities that created the results reflected in our numbers. Leading by Cause is an approach that says – use results to understand activities, effectiveness, and efficiency in context of the organization’s vision and strategy.  When results do not meet expectation, the root cause is embedded in one (or more) of these elements – choices of activities performed, performance effectiveness, and performance efficiency. Shifting to cause-based analysis of results positions leaders to laser-target interventions – coaching, guiding, managing or taking direct action – to change the trajectory of outcomes. There are three paradoxes to navigate in making the shift to Leading by Cause:  

  • Effect vs. Cause Conversations – Cause-based performance analysis requires understanding composition of activities that created results.  A common effect-based conversation among managers when results that don’t meet expectations starts out with “fund raising is 5% below target, so let’s do everything we can to drive it up to make plan”. A cause-based conversation gets at the root – “What were the development activities over the past quarter that created these results? Which donors did we focus on? How did we engage those donors? What was their reaction to what we have to offer? What is getting in the way of our new fundraising development activities?”  
  • Appearance of Improvement vs. Improvement – In the effects domain, managers often look for steps to improve the appearance of their P&L results, yet no real, underlying change takes place. For example, delaying travel or deferring other expenses in the last weeks of a quarter to create the appearance of lower operating costs, thus a better bottom line. Results look better, but the root cause creating undesirable results has not been sleuthed-out.  
  • Math vs. Behavior – Operating results presented in an organization’s P&L reflect an aggregation of activities. It’s easy to analyze operating results in a sterile manner, quantifying month-over-month changes and variance to plan; of course, numbers don’t lie! But, every numeric result – fund development, events, marketing, or operational activities – reflects human behavior. Cause-based analysis of results seeks to understand the behavioral factors contributing to outcomes reflected in the P&L – “What changed in our development activities last quarter vs. the same period last year? What effect is our largest peer nonprofit’s new development strategy having on their results? How effective is the collaboration between departments?”  

Leading by Cause requires deconstruction of results into elements. Understanding the numbers is important; knowing what caused the numbers is empowering.

*Based on an article originally published by the author in Lead Change (www.leadchangegroup.com)


Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, organization transformation and innovation. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is “Leading from Where You Are” (January 2020). For more information, visit www.davecoffaro.com

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Strategic Resilience

David Coffaro

President Franklin Roosevelt is credited with saying a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. As optimistic as this tough times don’t last, but tough people do sentiment is, it doesn’t diminish the fact that many a sailor experiences acute queasiness when circumnavigating billowing whitecaps. Notwithstanding occasional nausea, what is it that contributes to interpreting rough waters as invitation to experience new levels of success? Strategic Resilience.

Strategic Resilience is the practice of thinking forward while leading through present turbulence – adapting to difficult operating circumstances while looking beyond current conditions to keep focused on the horizon. Context for Strategic Resilience is dynamic fluidity in the operating environment.

Leading through Multivariate Normal

Getting back to normal gave way to getting to the new normal a decade ago during the Great Recession. What’s clear today is that each organization is traversing a series of temporary normals – brief chapters in their company’s story, accelerated as conditions change. Holding this dynamic perspective helps leaders synchronize their organizations with the reality of fluidity. Practicing strategic resilience requires accepting asymmetrical change as the norm. With this mindset, team members look to the organization’s vision and values instead of specific practices, products, operating goals or legacy accomplishments as touchstones.

According to a recent Gallup study, resilience is a make-or-break trait for organizations during tough times like the Covid pandemic. Gallup found “Thriving and resilient cultures endure through good times and bad. These cultures prove their endurance during tough times by experiencing minimized disruption of key outcomes, such as productivity, customer service and profit. Resilient cultures survive. Even during good economic times, new threats to organizations are constant — and constantly changing. Thriving, resilient cultures see accelerated performance compared with their peers” [i] .

Practicing Strategic Resilience

Here are five practices to raise your Strategic Resilience acumen as a leader:

  • Acknowledge current reality – When times are uncertain, the operating environment is rapidly changing, and status quo is anything but status quo, call it what it is – fluid, dynamic and uncomfortable. Finding the right balance between acknowledgement and wallowing can be a challenge. Still, leaders own the tone and are accountable for moving the organization through describing the condition into action; positioning the condition is simply context.   
  • Re-connect with the vision and values – The world outside your organization changes quickly. You adjust operating activities accordingly. But your business vision is focused on the horizon and remains more constant. Vision is the future state picture an organization strives to create and results from what do we do (mission), why do we do it (purpose), and how we fulfill our mission (strategy). Values are core beliefs which define what the organization stands for. Values stand even more static than vision. In the words of Good to Great author Jim Collins, every institution has to wrestle with a vexing question: What should change and what should never change? Timeless core values should never change; operating practices and cultural norms should never stop changing. Reconnecting with your organization’s vision and values provides comfort in a storm and true north through all conditions.
  • Communicate touchpoints for stability, including a focus on the future – Leaders are called to look beyond current conditions. That doesn’t mean having a crystal ball. It does mean sustaining dialog around the question – what’s next for our organization? With vision and values as points of stability, articulating the view toward the horizon draws attention forward, beyond current uncertainty. Engaging team members in the long game contributes to an organization’s strategic resilience.
  • Define what success looks like today, in this moment; adjust as the future unfolds – Goals are generally established on a quarterly or annual basis. When operating conditions change rapidly, goals must be redefined in context of current, dynamic reality. Team members perform at their best when they know what success looks like, and when expectations are aligned with dynamics of the environment. Per Gallup,“During tough times, employees need managers who reset priorities, involve them in reestablishing their goals and constantly clarify their role relative to their coworkers”.
  • Swim with the current – A rip current is a powerful, narrow, fast-moving channel of water that starts near the shore, with a strong pull toward breaking waves. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, if you experience rip currents when swimming at the beach, the best way to avoid drowning is to stay calm, avoid fighting the water’s movement and swim parallel to the shore. Fighting the current exhausts the swimmer, jeopardizing the likelihood of a safe return to shore. Said another way, fighting the current is not a path to success. For leaders, this translates to understanding rip current-like changes in the business environment’s flow, quickly adapting to condition changes, and keeping sight of the vision and opportunities for accelerating progress (aka, returning to shore).

Strategic resilience as a practice enables leaders to renew esprit de corps, focus their organization’s activities and make strategy work.


[i] From Gallup Is Your Culture Resilient Enough to Survive Coronavirus? by Jim Harter, May 20, 2020

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/311270/culture-resilient-enough-survive-coronavirus.aspx?utm_source=workplace-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WorkplaceNewsletter_Jun_06092020&utm_content=5keyelements-cta-1&elqTrackId=78aa69c6485347c9bfd858a055ced845&elq=e642439ed5df44a298b8689b1a8b6884&elqaid=4245&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=901


Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, organization transformation and innovation. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is “Leading from Where You Are” (January 2020). For more information, visit www.davecoffaro.com

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

The Changing Role of Nonprofit Leadership

Dave Blankenhorn

Some time ago I wrote a blog about the skills a leader needs to adapt to our fast-changing world. Little did I realize about how fast and how dramatic it would be.

I talked about the need to be nimble and innovative, the need to create a larger vision for their organizations and the importance of uniting people behind a common mission. Beyond that I talked about navigating changing cultural, regulatory, technical and social needs. Was I ever right about the last ones.

Who would have thought we would be caught in a pandemic that has literally affected our all our lives, socially and economically? The skills you have been using now need to be redirected to help your organization survive and perform its mission in the most difficult times. New priorities need to be set. In addition to your normal activities you must develop new skills that will allow you to manage your group remotely, redesign properly distanced spaces for those who need to work together, provide the mandatory masks and gloves, sanitize various areas and organize the staff.

Your motivational skills will be tested in as never before with your staff, the Board and donors.  Figuring out new ways to raise funds will be a major challenge and might entail altering your primary mission.

How you cope with the new world will dictate how your organization will survive and prosper. None of us can predict the longevity of the crisis or what other problems might befall us as a result. I do know good leadership will carry you through.

Author: Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Strategic Leadership: What it Means in Nonprofits Today

David Coffaro

Leaders are called to look beyond current conditions. That doesn’t mean we have a crystal ball or overlook today’s reality. It means we have to ask – what’s next for our organization? Not always easy, particularly in the midst of turmoil, yet essential. As evidence of the importance of looking beyond, consider findings from Gallup.

For more than 80 years, Gallup has studied people and organizations during times of crisis. They’ve observed perspectives dating back to the Great Depression through the Covid-19 event. Their research suggests that in times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can pull people – toward fear or self-actualization and engagement [i].

On the engagement front, when leaders present a clear path forward, people demonstrate great resilience. There’s a rallying effect as we pull together toward a common vision to move beyond crisis. That’s why mission and vision for the future are more important in organizations today than any time in recent memory. Per Gallup, one thing is clear. People look to leadership for a crisis management plan, and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to.

Strategic leadership means leading for today, tomorrow, and beyond. In today’s environmentas the next new normal is being defined, strategic leadership manifests through helping shape a new paradigm for your organization. Leading the long view takes place by engaging team members in creating co-ownership of the future state vision and strategy that will bring the vision to life. Vision is distilled into actionable priorities which become the day-to-day operating plan guiding all team members in performing their work.

Strategic leadership recognizes the next stages of new normal will be iterative. Some sectors of the economy will move faster or undergo greater structural reshaping than others over the next 18 – 24 months, resulting in a series of new normals; this impacts for profit and nonprofit organizations alike. Agility in adapting to a fragmented recovery matters. Even with clarity that things won’t be getting back to the normal we knew, strategic leadership today requires acknowledgement that the landscape will continue to change. Context for this perspective helps; the old normal was only a temporary point on a continuum of change; Covid-19 accelerated moving us to the next point.

Strategic leadership capitalizes on opportunities for Adaptive Disruption. Something happened that changed our world. Instead of waiting to see how things play out and what everyone else does, strategic leaders define how to move forward based on what we know today, by proactively adapting strategy.

Vision connects what an organization does to the external world. When the world changes, it is essential to revisit the future state vision to see if it still resonates. Ask – all things considered, will this vision still fit our business in the next new normal, or do we need to refine our future state picture? Needs of the customers you serve might have changed. Structure of the industry may be in flux. The key is determining if the vision needs refinement. Vision informs priorities which anchor the operating plan.When you start with the vision, you focus on cause, not the effect. We can manage cause; we only measure effect. Focusing on cause empowers strategic leadership today.

Warren Buffet said Its only when the tide goes out that you can see who’s swimming naked. The current low-tide environment calls for strategic leadership. The Covid-19 event helped us see new strengths and development needs within the organization, including observations of the overall business model. If this event has helped see previously unrecognized development needs of your team members and the organization overall, capture it for what it is – an opportunity to grow as your next new normal begins.

There is a lot we can’t control or influence. Let’s take what we can impact and start shaping a future that helps team members see how their work connects to the organization’s future state vison as you lead during the next new normal!


Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, organization transformation and innovation. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book is “Leading from Where You Are” (January 2020). For more information, visit www.davecoffaro.com

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/297497/covid-employees-need-leaders-right.aspx


[i] Gallup, What Employees Need From Leadership Right Now, 3/23/20, by Jim Harper

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

COVID-19 Adaptive Leadership Checklist

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

Challenges and responsibilities for non-profit leaders have increased exponentially with the pandemic.

This article encompasses the many challenges and is published by One-Justice, a legal resource business. I have given the website as a footnote below.[1]

I can’t list all of the challenges covered, but I want to provide a list of priorities that require attention as non-profit leaders start to open up.

• Employee health and safety – regulations covering workplace safety

• Legal – contact legal experts – jurisdictional designations (remote services, sick leave, legal ethics). I had an ED ask me today if a mental health leave was ‘sick eave’.

• Human Resources and Operations – workers’ comp policy, furloughs and lay-offs are handled properly, return to the office plans, appropriate equipment for remote workers.

• Financial relief – use Payroll Protection Plan, contact funders, request relief from conversion of funds to general operations, work with Board on any layoffs or furloughs.

• Remote working – establish remote policies, safeguard confidential information.

• Program design – any change to ongoing programs, check with clients on service needs, check security measures for teleconferencing.

• Culture – promote self-care and coping resources; ensure transparency with staff and employees.

Even though the challenges seem exhaustive it is comforting to know where help is available. This information was found on the BoardSource website, a valuable tool for getting answers.


[1] www.onejustice.orgLos Angeles phone number, (213) 784-3937: San Francisco phone number, (415) 834-3937.

Author: Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Leadership Qualities for the Crisis

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

How many of you are as sick as I am of hearing and seeing the words COVID-19.

I couldn’t even put it in this title. But it is affecting all of our lives – and each person differently. As quoted in an article I just read, “a paramedic will understand only that the hospital is overloaded, a hospital administrator will only know that the generator is not working.”[1]

I believe it is time to consider what leadership skills and qualities can best guide this situation. I will quote generously from an author, Gene Klann who has written a book on crisis management and is referenced in the article below.[2]

Klann cites 5 ways to lead and adapt to the crisis. I will briefly cover those:

  1. Seek credible information. I think this is difficult because there is so much information available. I believe it is important to check with staff and employees to see what information they are following. This is a good opportunity for leaders to calm, support and build a reassuring culture.
  2. Use appropriate communication channels. Of course transparency is of the utmost importance in a crisis. Klann has these points to stress: Information
    • reduces emotional distress caused by the unknown;
    • diminishes fear;
    • provides tactical guidance;
    • demonstrates to employees that their leaders are concerned, involved, knowledgeable, and on top of the situation.
  3. Explain what your organization is doing about the crisis. If you are in charge take charge, be proactive, take initiative. Do something even if it might be wrong. Paralysis and over analyzing may be riskier. 
  4. Be present, Visible, and Available. Let employees know how they can best reach you for status updates and any questions they may have. Flexible leadership ranks over organizational protocol and bureaucracy.                                                                                          

Dedicate organizational resources for future needs. Many organizations don’t take advantage of what they have learned after the crisis. This time is valuable to track lessons learned as a critical step to a Crisis Action Plan.                


[1][1] Gene Klann, 5 Ways to Lead and Adapt Through a Crisis, Center for Creative Leadership, March 24, 2020

[2] Gene Klann, Crisis Leadership, Using Military Lessons, Organizational Experiences, and the Power of Influence to Lessen the Impact of Chaos on the People You Lead.

Author: Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

A Case For Risk Management

Robin Noah
Robin Noah

A case for risk management: You may have read about a case where a federal jury recently awarded Taco Bell workers approximately $496,000 in a class action case that alleged meal and rest period violations. Taco Bell ended up in court because of problems with its policy on meal breaks and rest periods.  A clear case of failure to comply with labor law.

For example Meal Periods: Employers must allow employees to take meal periods at the proper time. More than 134,000 employees claimed that Bell failed to properly provide meal breaks before the fifth hour of work as required by California law.   This case demonstrates the challenges California employers face in the ever-persistent litigation over meal and rest periods.

The workers did win on their claim that Taco Bell failed to properly pay them when a meal break was skipped. If an employer fails to provide an employee a meal period, the employer must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation (Labor Code, sec. 226.7). This is often referred to as “premium pay.”

The Taco Bell workers claimed that the company paid them only 30 minutes of wages when a meal period was skipped, rather than the full hour of required premium pay. The jury agreed.

Of great interest is that Taco Bell faced litigation because its employee handbook policy did not meet California’s strict meal and rest break requirements. Evidence submitted at trial alleged that Taco Bell used a meal period “matrix,” which reflected a policy of providing the meal after five hours of work, instead of before.

Though there are many laws requiring employers to notify employees of certain workplace rights, there are actually no federal or state laws specifically requiring an employer to have an employee handbook. However, for a number of reasons, creating and maintaining an employee handbook is a good idea and a best practice.

Moreover, an employee handbook is a useful tool for providing employees with that information that, by law, must already be delivered in writing (e.g., equal employment opportunity (EEO) statements).

Rather than provide employees with a haphazard pile of mandatory written notices—and then attempt to document that those notices were received—it makes sense to collect them into an organized, easy-to-use handbook or similar document.

Consider managing the risk by making clear what appropriate activity is by enacting a company-wide program that will educate everyone on what is acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior.

Please see a Labor Law attorney for employee handbook issues.

Author:  Robin Noah, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org