Impact One Year Later: A Conversation between Authors and Editor about Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose
Sarah Stanton, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Rowman and Littlefield for Religion, asked us to reflect on the impact of our book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose on its one-year anniversary. We invite you into this conversation by leaving your comments on our respective blogsites (Hayim –facebook.com/rabbihayimherring and www.hayimherring.com and Terri – https://terrielton.com), and by purchasing copies for you and your leadership at a generous discount of 40% (available only on Rowman and Littlefield’s website when you click on the book link.
Sarah: How has the book been received over the past year?
Terri and Hayim: As co-authors, we naturally want to say, “the reception has been fantastic,” and we think that’s accurate. We had hoped that clergy, professional and volunteer leaders of congregations and nonprofits would purchase the book and invite us to present our insights. But what we didn’t expect is volunteer leaders whose day jobs are running a business wanting to purchase copies of the book for their businesses. We realized through them that some aspects of our book, which is about 21st century leadership, had broader application. We’ve also heard clergy from both of our respective faith traditions say the blend of theory, story about churches, synagogues and nonprofits, and practical tools and resources enabled them to turn concepts into actionable steps for their organizations. Thankfully, our presentation schedules have been quite full, and we’re gratified that we can support clergy, professional and volunteer leaders who are facing some unprecedented challenges around transparency, engagement with the broader world and innovation–all while trying to deepen involvement of existing constituents.
Sarah: What is the question you wish more people would ask about the book?
Hayim and Terri: One of our key findings was that both established and startup organizational leaders lacked any kind of formal process for planning beyond a year at a time. They all engaged in planning, ranging from what we might call “adhocracy” – planning when needed – to strategic planning on a regular cycle. However, we would like to hear much more interest from them in using existing tools that that they can adapt for congregations and nonprofits to distinguish “the trendy” from trends that they can anticipate and shape to further the impact of their work. Even agility isn’t enough because that still implies a mindset of reactivity albeit at a quicker rate. Learning to anticipate trends is not a luxury but a necessity because of the velocity of relentless change that we’re experiencing.
Sarah: What is the question you’re most frequently ask about the book?
Terri and Hayim: Not surprisingly, questions about membership and dues or finances frequently arise in discussions. However, we try to reframe that question to one of openness and engagement, that is, how open is your congregation or nonprofit to the world, and how does your mission engage people’s hearts and souls with a diverse but like-minded group of individuals? We don’t dismiss the real financial concerns that congregations have, but if that’s their first question, they have already indicated that they are thinking as an Organization 2.0, from the top down, about institutional survival, instead of what we describe as Organization 3.0, which is structured as a mission-focused platform where people can pursue and express purpose and communal meaning.
Sarah: What part of the book have readers reacted to most strongly?
Terri and Hayim: Innovation and entrepreneurship resonate with leaders right away. We believe that is because today’s organizations know they need to grow these capacities and the four pathways to innovation that we identified helps leaders find their way through innovation and entrepreneurship in tangible ways. The concept that surprised us the most was engagement. Often invited to help organizations think differently about “growing membership,” our work reframes questions about membership into questions of engagement and we think innovation and engagement work together. Engaging the talents and gifts of individuals within congregations and nonprofits is a great strategy for innovation, as it creates shared ownership and produces better results. Using the resources and worksheets in the book, leaders can practice some of the ideas during presentations and bring them home to use with their staff, board, or constituents.
Sarah: Have any questions surprised you over the past year?
Hayim and Terri: Just last week, when presenting a to group of ministers, a participant asked if there was an innovation and entrepreneurship self-assessment tool for congregational and nonprofit leaders. The two academics who invited us to teach were also present, and are very knowledgeable about innovation. But none of us were able to immediately think of a tool that was specifically targeted toward those issues. Certainly, there are some excellent tools that assess personality types and attributes that relate to innovation and entrepreneurship, and corporations and international consulting companies have developed their own instruments, but we invite those reading this blog to let us know if they’re aware of one that would fit a nonprofit or congregational context.
Sarah: Is there something you had to leave out of the book you wish you’d been able to include?
Terri and Hayim: What we couldn’t include in the book were the stories of individual members and constituents of participating nonprofit and congregations. Our groundbreaking research methodology invited members and participants of organizations in our study to directly contribute their insights. A central theme of the book was about engagement, and we realized that we had to engage directly with members and constituents of organizations participating in our research. And we credit the nonprofit leaders for enabling us to find ways to do so. However, we promised confidentiality, so we can only generally say that the work of the congregations and nonprofits in our study is filling those who are involved in their communities with deep purpose.
Sarah: How has the book’s message informed your own work?
Terri: I am different today because of this work. Learning from and with the congregations and nonprofits we studied has convicted me to boldly lean into this new paradigm in my own leadership. One year later the path forward is not clear, but the rewards along the way have been rich. In the past year I have named and reflected on the assumptions I bring into leadership and opened myself to other possibilities. Teaching future congregational and nonprofits leaders I am introducing new ideas and experimenting with new teaching methods and assignments, and these efforts are making a difference in the church. Most importantly, I am widening my circle of learning partners. As Hayim states below, working on this project he and I developed an unlikely friendship. Today we have expanded our relationship by introducing each other to colleagues and friends, all during a time when society was becoming more wary of “the other.” I am convinced that a core capacity of future leadership is the ability to leave one’s comfort zone and create spaces for genuinely encountering strangers. While that work was not the central message of this book, it is trajectory of it. If leaders of congregations and nonprofits live out these principles, that is where they will find themselves. And for that, I am grateful.
Hayim: Before we started researching and writing, Dr. Terri Elton was a complete stranger to me. But we went from potential co-authors, to colleagues and now to family friends. Why? Call it serendipity or providence, but my original co-author realized that he was unable to work on the book, so I decided to look across the Mississippi, to scholars at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, instead of reaching out to familiar colleagues. Our book was published immediately before the 2016 presidential election, when we were already feeling the toxic effects of political messages that warned us of the dangers of trusting “the other” (and I heard these messages from the extremes in both parties). By refusing to believe those messages, our reciprocity of trust in an “other” not only helped to better inform the congregational and nonprofit world about leadership, but transformed me personally. And, thanks to the encouragement of some great professionals at Rowman and Littlefield, I’m well into researching and writing a book on an issue that will be relevant to congregations and nonprofits, but transcends those sectors and reach into our broader communities. That’s part of my ongoing transformational journey that began with Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose.