Aspiring Ops Advice: Building a Culture of Operational Excellence in the Nonprofit Space
March 27, 2023
Aspiring Ops Advice: Building a Culture of Operational Excellence in the Nonprofit Space

As we reach the halfway point in Season Five of Aspiring Ops, we thought it would be a great time to reflect on some of the takeaways we’ve had through the first half of the season. 

One area in particular that has stood out this season is the impact of Strategy and Operations Leaders in the nonprofit space. 

At Elate, we have the opportunity to work with countless nonprofit leaders, and while there are certainly differences between the for-profit and nonprofit spaces, one thing that we’ve noticed is that some of the best Strategy and Operations Leaders pull their inspiration from both sectors. 

From Season Four of Aspiring Ops, we learned why the right balance of pace and intentionality can set any organization up for long-term success, as well as the role Strategy and Operations leaders play in helping people find this balance in their day-to-day work. Here are just some of our favorite clips from guests in the nonprofit sector. 

Finding the Balance of Pace and Intentionality

As the VP of Operations at Care Design New York, Josh Mawhirter is constantly faced with the challenge of finding the balance between moving quickly, while also making decisions that are right for their members. On episode four of Aspiring Ops, Josh speaks to the mission of Care Design New York, and how it pushes himself and his team members to do all they can to create the best experience possible for those they serve. 

However, as the VP of Operations, often he is the one tasked with striking the balance, and to do so, he pulls on his experience in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. 

As Josh shares, “For the things that I like in the for-profit model, it’s the reliance on fixing a problem as quickly as possible. Recognizing that if you run into a problem, you need to get it fixed because the dollar drives everything.” But more importantly, it’s blending the pace of making decisions with the intention behind making the right decision. “In the nonprofit sector, you don’t have as much pressure on that, but there is a lot more intention put into (decisions). You will spend a lot more time talking about a problem, trying to get the right people to the table, and really try to make a holistic, well-thought out process.”

It isn’t either or for Josh, but rather, how do we take the strengths of both to make the best process possible. 

Building Buy-in and Alignment Across Team Members 

From how an organization builds their strategic plan to the delivery of goals, Strategy and Operations Leaders play a critical role in helping employees understand how their work ties into the long-term direction of the organization. 

For Keith Ward, AVP of Operational Strategy, Change Management, and Organizational Impact for the National Wildlife Federation, this isn’t just a responsibility of Strategy and Operations Leaders, but more importantly a privilege.

“People do crave leadership,” says Keith. “They are willing to listen to leadership and the direction a company is looking to go, but people also crave clarity.” 

As we hear so often from other Strategy and Operations Leaders, providing clarity is a critical part of driving alignment and operational excellence. Keith goes on to share that team members don’t only need clarity in their work, they deserve to understand how their work contributes to the overall goals of the organization. 

This is such an important part of setting a long-term strategy that can be executed upon. If employees don’t feel connected or feel as though they are just being asked to punch a time card within a performance management tool, then you lose the value of rallying around a mission and purpose bigger than oneself.  

Unlocking Strategy for Nonprofit Organizations

For Keith and Josh, operational excellence comes, not only through their own work, but by the way that they bring team members together to unite around a common goal. As Strategy and Operations Leaders in the nonprofit space, it’s important to remember that setting a framework for success is just as important to delivering on the goals of the organization as setting the strategy itself. 

Elate is partnering alongside leading nonprofit organizations and Strategy and Operations Leaders to help them connect long-term vision with tactical execution. If you’re interested in learning more about how Elate is working with organizations to help them drive alignment, increase visibility, and ensure accountability, reach out to our team or request a demo today!