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Dealing With Career And Management Conflicts In Nonprofit Organizations

December 18th, 2009
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  • A social justice advocacy organization is stung by accusations from some of its staff that the leadership doesn’t “walk the walk” when it comes to racial and sex bias. Complaints also include that the organization’s mission has become too diffuse.  Anger and resentment build.
  • A public interest research organization discovers that shared staff commitment to consumer protection doesn’t preclude staff relationship conflicts or complaints about management practices. “We all believe in what we’re doing,” the Director tells me, “so we shouldn’t be having these kinds of problems.”
  • A social service organization is faced with apparent emotional disturbance of a senior staff member. Increasing amounts of management time are spent trying to deal with the person’s declining performance, absenteeism, and behavior toward coworkers. The Executive Director is unsure how to deal with the problem, and asks me “How do we balance compassion with the needs of our agency, in situations like these?”

Sound familiar? I have observed many nonprofit organizations trying to carry out their public interest or social service missions effectively – but within a workplace and cultural environment that gives rise to problems like these.  Such problems reflect an increasingly common, interwoven mixture of personal and organizational conflicts.  Many are similar to those I find in for-profit companies.  But the unique circumstances of nonprofit groups makes knowing what helps – and what doesn’t – critical to maintaining their internal and external success.

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