Supervision, Trust & Culture Strategies for a Healthy Nonprofit

by | Jan 5, 2022

Nonprofit leaders often struggle to create an open, trusting culture that supports their staff in executing their mission.

If you’re looking for proven ways to engage your team and improve the mindset of your nonprofit team, this episode is for you.

This week on A Modern Nonprofit, author and nonprofit consultant Rita Sever joins us to talk about the top three challenges nonprofit leaders face, and how to tackle them head on.

After working in nonprofits her entire career, Rita experienced firsthand the struggles of growing a viable nonprofit with a positive, inclusive culture. In her books, Leadership for Justice: Supervision, HR and Culture, and Supervision Matters: 100 Bite-Sized Ideas to Transform You and Your Team, she details the importance of supervision and how three important factors can shift an entire workplace culture.

Rita works with nonprofits all over the country to help them be more successful- as individuals, teams, or entire organizations.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The unique challenges of leading in a nonprofit environment ( (3:54)
  • Why a “kitchen in the living room” is typical weakness for nonprofit teams (4:58)
  • The 2 key qualities that are essential to successful leadership (12:00)
  • What too many nonprofit leaders do to lose the trust of their staff (18:00)

For more nonprofit accounting resources check out https://www.thecharitycfo.com

For more information on how to work with Rita Sever, visit her website https://supervisionmatters.com/, or connect with her on social media.

Rita’s books are available for purchase at Amazon.com:

Leadership for Justice: Supervision, HR and Culture
Supervision Matters: 100 Bite-Sized Ideas to Transform You and Your Team

🎥 Click the video below to watch the episode on YouTube.

🎧 Click here to listen to the Podcast on  AnchorFM or Apple Podcasts

👇 Or scroll below the video to read the full transcript of our conversation

 

 


A Modern Nonprofit Podcast

Supervision, Trust & Culture Strategies for a Healthy Nonprofit

1/5/2022

Tosha Anderson:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of A Modern Nonprofit podcast. My name’s Tosha Anderson. I’m your host, I’m the founder and CEO of The Charity CFO. And what that means is basically I work with all things nonprofit, right? I work with lots of nonprofits all over the country, and I really especially like having conversations that aren’t necessarily related to accounting. And I spend enough time in the numbers, crunchy numbers. And I really like to have meaningful conversations with nonprofit leaders, um, on all different topics. And today I’ve invited, an author, Rita. Rita is joining us to talk a little bit more about leading for justice supervision, HR, and culture. This is a book Rita that you’ve recently written, and I’m curious to know Rita well, first of all, thanks for joining us on this episode. I’m really excited, always to talk about culture building and, and supervision and training and development, and really making an organization a place that people want to be at. Um, but before we dive into the conversation, if you could tell us a little bit more about your story and what prompted you to, you know, work in this space and talk about these things and do this research. So tell us Rita, what, what brought you here? How’d you end up here?

Rita Sever:

<laugh> all right. Well, thank you, Tosha. I’m excited to be here and talk with you today. Um, I started working in nonprofits, worked in nonprofits, my whole career. And when I look back, I think I chose nonprofits because I grew up the youngest of six children. And so I’ve had a deep experience of not feeling seen and heard, and I wanted to focus on seeing and hearing and supporting people. And so nonprofits made sense in terms of my specific area of focus when I was working at my first nonprofit, which happened to be an aids agency, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, one day the ed came in and the way of nonprofits and said, I got a grant. We’re gonna double our staff who wants to do personnel mm-hmm <affirmative>. And, you know, that’s how nonprofits work when they’re small grassroots. And I said, oh, I, I will.

Rita Sever:

That sounds fun. So then I had to figure out what that meant and what to do about it. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, so I went into HR along the way. I got my masters in organizational psychology. I’ve worked in several different nonprofits, and then I started consulting about 15 years ago. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, I worked with primarily social justice organizations, and I wrote this book because, um, I kept hearing some of the same concerns, issue, struggles coming up in the organizations I work with. And I wanted to really give people a guide to support their internal work, to walk the talk of fighting oppression. So that’s what this is about.

Tosha Anderson:

Okay. And for those of you that missed it and we put it, we’ll put it in the show notes. Um, Rita, your book is called leading for justice supervision, HR, and culture. So we’ll put those in the show notes for anybody interested in, let’s dive a little bit more into kind of strengthening leadership nonprofits and social justice issues for the benefit of everyone, right? Their clients, their employees, um, the colleagues, all those sorts of things. So reading nonprofits, um, social justice is included, uh, have unique challenges when it comes to leadership. And what, so more specifically though, what have you seen? That’s unique to nonprofits, specifc social justice issues, which we’ve seen more and more organizations focus on that specific mission. Um, recently, what, what do you see trends there?

Rita Sever:

Right. Um, I think some of the unique challenges, uh, come in the way of the expectations of staff who choose to work in nonprofits. Mm. First of all, we have sort of an, an unspoken agreement that, okay, we’ll take a little less money, sometimes a lot less money, but we expect part of things. We expect to have a voice in decisions that are made, we expect to be supported and, um, be able to bring our whole selves to work. Uh, so I think that’s one area of unique challenges. It isn’t only at nonprofits, but it’s stronger in nonprofits. I also think there the scarcity mindset that many nonprofits have bring its own challenges, not only in terms of fiscal resources is, but also in terms of overwhelming overwork and, um, resources and just the practices we bring of feeling like there’s never enough mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Rita Sever:

And the two other, I would like to mention one, I call why is there a kitchen in the living room syndrome? This is what happens when a small nonprofit does what they did in my story and say, who wants to do this? And then, you know, a few years later that person leaves and you look at their job description and you say, why is our case manager dealing with tech issue? Mm-hmm <affirmative> and it made sense at the time, but sometimes that’s just replicated. And so you have to be aware of that. And the last issue I’ll mention is that I have an HR background. I think the idea of supporting people through a true human resource function is really critical. And many nonprofits don’t have the resources for that. Don’t, mm-hmm, <affirmative> be a need for it. And that leaves employees again, without feeling like they have a safe place for support. Mm-hmm <affirmative>,

Tosha Anderson:

I can absolutely agree with so many of those different things that I like that. Why do we have a kitchen in the living room? <laugh> I’ve had so many conversations recently about that. And, and I think that that’s true for so many of the administrative functions of nonprofit businesses. And I, of course I will echo that. Certainly you’ve seen it on the HR side. I’ve seen that from an HR perspective or an, an accounting perspective, right? Um, well, we just had somebody that was good with technology, so they could figure out how to use our QuickBooks system. And then before they know it, they’re, you know, doing accounting work and I will have people can best touch. I actually have no idea what I’m doing. I just, I think I know how to use the system, but I have no idea if the info is right.

Tosha Anderson:

So this is certainly an area that is pretty widespread amongst I think all of the administrative functions and beyond, um, within nonprofits. So I love that I’ll start using that wide kitchen in the living room. Right. Um, and another thing is, you know, there’s no, it’s no secret that everyone, especially the leaders of organizations are just so busy, uh, and you would expect them to be good supervisors and develop their team and mentors and sources of support. In addition to all of the other things that they have to do, how do you see supervision as a function of leadership? You know, how should they be operating and what should we be expecting of people?

Rita Sever:

Well, that is really the hard I, of my work. My business is called supervision matters because I think it is critical. Um, and part of the problem is exactly how you frame the question, because that happens in nonprofits, you have a whole job, and then you’re told, oh, and you’re gonna super three people as if that’s just a little extra two minutes a week. <laugh>

Tosha Anderson:

Yeah.

Rita Sever:

In reality supervision is where the values either live or don’t live because the supervisor has the most direct impact on people’s daily experience of what it is to work in that organization. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, mm-hmm <affirmative>. So in terms of justice work equity work, the supervisor is the one who determines who’s hired, who’s promoted, who is, um, rewarded or mentored the raises. So there’s a direct impact on equity issues, but there’s also what behavior is supported. What is challenged, how are people taught to not taught, but encouraged to treat each other? What does teamwork look like? And that all goes back to the supervisor. And so I see it really as an investment, you will prevent problems. If you invest time in supervision upfront, you won’t see the savings you’re making, but you will save time, money in trouble.

Tosha Anderson:

Well, and you mentioned something too, that I think, uh, me as a leader of like myself as a leader of an organization, one of the kind of epiphanies that I’ve had is that this idea of typically people that become supervisors were the doers at one point, right. They might have worked as a staff or, you know, a case worker or something like that. They’re really, really good job. And then they transition into supervision. And oftentimes I think basically in every instance, um, you have expectations, especially in the world of nonprofit, not only do you just have general, you know, per, you know, developing of your team members and, and being good mentors, but sometimes you also have like licensing, you know, um, credentialing and, and requirements. So we’re not just talking about supervision in the way of, let me give you your annual appraisal. Uh, it’s more really clinical supervision as well.

Tosha Anderson:

And I think that we really underestimate how much time when you’re split between still doing a lot. That’s predominantly all of your work most of your time. And then, like you said, adding on the supervision and then just wondering why the isn’t better, because it’s just simply not the priority. And so what would the world look like if we shifted supervisors to predominantly supervising and truly mentoring and developing the team less doing? And I know that sounds great in theory, and some of you all listening or thinking, well, you know, that would be amazing Tosha, but we just can’t get there yet. Can’t afford it, or, or what have you. But, um, you know, I’ve had make some of the own, my own decisions, and I know I’m not running a nonprofit, but I have to make really difficult decisions on investing more. And investing might mean more in training and mentorship for my supervisors to more effectively do that.

Tosha Anderson:

It might mean investing more money into my salary budget to accommodate that segregation of responsibilities. But that’s definitely something that I’ve seen when I get out of the doing how much better I’m able to supervise. So I, I see that happening all the time in the nonprofit world, there’s rarely situations where you have supervisors that, that just really just focus on, on mentoring and developing the team. It’s just, it’s just kind a luxury that we’re not used to having, but at least how can we switch that ratio? Right. Exactly. I see this, not just, excuse me, go ahead, Rita.

Rita Sever:

Sure. Yeah. I’ve ever seen somebody who is purely a supervisor, but I think if we can make the, the issue of supervisor to staff more manageable, sometimes I see people who are supervising 10 to 15 people, there’s no way effectively supervise my role is it takes an hour a week to be a good supervisor that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re meeting with people an or a week, but prepping, thinking about what they need, looking at resources, connecting people that time needs to be prioritized as an organization. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so I agree with you.

Tosha Anderson:

Absolutely. So, you know, certainly that is something that will hopefully evolve to. But, um,

Rita Sever:

Initially though, what would you see as the key quality of leadership? What’s the most important? Well, in terms of leadership, which spans supervision in all kinds of, of beyond supervision? I think the key factor of many is self-awareness because if leaders don’t know how they show up and the impact they have on people, they’re not gonna be able to be good leaders. And especially again, in terms of justice and equity, if you grow grew up in the United States, we all absorbed some level of white supremacy. I don’t mean Lux plan, kind of white supremacy get that. We have been trained to think of the dominant mindset that favors mm-hmm <affirmative> white, straight male non-immigrant bodies mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so being aware of our own identity, our own baggage, our own lens of how we looked at the world is critical to being able to support people for success.

Tosha Anderson:

Mm-hmm <affirmative> I love that self awareness that, you know, and I haven’t really heard that, but that makes complete sense. I mean, just how people see you or feel like they can interact with you or approach you, um, how you handle yourselves in meetings and it’s, yeah. I could see that eyes you’re on you when you’re a leader or a supervisor and so sense. And, you know, I’ve had conversations with people all the time, um, that my biggest work during the day is showing up and embodying a role model that people would look up to and feel like they’re happy to work for and all of these sorts of things. And I, and I I’ve explained this to people close to me that at, I actually have my actual work I have to do, I have to actually send this email. I actually have to have this conversation.

Tosha Anderson:

I have to do these things, but then there’s a whole other layer of that. Self-awareness embodying that leadership role, um, exchanging with employees like being pleasant, even if you’re stressed, you know, all of that awareness, you must carry and it’s, it’s kind of a secondary role, but it’s always there. And so by the end of the day, <laugh> you find yourselves really depleted from those two roles. But I, I really think it’s important, um, to have that level of self-awareness and really own that as a key function of what you, you do, even though it seems really subtle and most people may not recognize it. You recognize it. And so I think it makes my impact. Absolutely. Yeah.

Rita Sever:

And I think so what, oh, go ahead. At the end of the day, being able to think back end of the day, the end of the week, taking a few minutes to go how’d I do, how did I interact with people? Is there anybody I need to loop back to and clean up something? So that’s part of the self awareness too.

Tosha Anderson:

Mm. I like that. Um, what else do you think leaders should be paying more attention to?

Rita Sever:

So I think that other big thing is paying attention to culture. Culture is this amorphous entity in an organization. And yet it has such an impact on people mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so a leader needs to be able to sort of take the pulse of the room. How are people doing? H ow are we walking their top? That’s where culture really, again, aligns with the organization’s values or don’t. And part of what happens in culture is there’s hidden rules that we don’t name them, but people who are in know the hidden rules and people who don’t are judged by them. So to explain this, one of, one of the most common hidden rules might be, um, you know, a leader who probably doesn’t have much self-awareness and says, so at a staff meeting, what do you think? Do you think this is gonna work? And, you know, there’s a new employee who’s enthusiastic and has a good idea and offers a real suggestion.

Rita Sever:

And everybody else is just quiet because they know the hidden role is that was a rhetorical question and the leader did not want information. So I, I wanna backtrack and say, I don’t think that’s a common one, but it’s an obvious one when you think about it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Other hidden rules are, how do we handle conflict that, you know, we say we want direct confrontation, but nobody ever does that. Or we wanna resolve it directly. And yet people talk around it. So thinking about, and looking at your hidden rules is a really critical function of leadership. And one of the ways you recognize them is when you hear somebody say, well, that’s just common sense, or they should have known better. That’s the sign that there’s a hidden rule at play.

Tosha Anderson:

Interesting. That

Rita Sever:

Think the other part of culture that is important is looking at who’s in the room, who’s making the decisions. Um, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, who’s invited to the table. Um, and do people feel like they belong? Can they bring their whole self to work and feel safe? Mm. So thanks for letting me found a little on that. <laugh> no,

Tosha Anderson:

I love that. That’s, that’s, that’s absolutely true. Um, so really kinda the last question I have and, you know, it’s really about when things don’t go well between the staff and the leadership, um, more specifically on trust, you know, once trust is broken or there’s a division, or, you know, you always hear people lead, their people don’t leave jobs, they lead their bosses. Um, and I think trust is an important part. So where, and how do you think leaders lose the trust with their staff?

Rita Sever:

Right. That’s an, a critical question. And I think there are many answers to that, but I think a couple that really matter are one, when a leader doesn’t have the self-awareness and they think they’re being acting with integrity or being trustworthy, and yet the staff doesn’t see it, <affirmative>, that’s a real disconnect and there starts to be, yeah, some distrust. Um, the other way is, um, um, sorry, I just had a little blip there. The other critical way, this shows up is when leadership do doesn’t listen to their staff either when they ask for input and then they don’t follow up on it, that happens a lot with staff surveys, somebody, an organization will try to do a staff input. Um, so a satisfaction survey, but then staff never hear what happened with it. What were the results? What are you gonna do about what you, and so that starts to erode trust a little bit.

Rita Sever:

Like why are you taking up my time and then not addressing what I’m telling you. the other way that happens is when staff bring concerns to leadership, um, being, you know, I’m feeling uncomfortable with this partner, you’re having me work with on a regular basis. well, it’s OK. They’ll, that’ll even out. Um, whatever it may be when staff bring concerns, if bipoc staff bring concerns that we, there are microaggressive aggressive actions happening or statements, and again, nothing happens then trust eroded, people start disengaging and there builds, frankly, there builds over time, a culture of complaining in cynicism. So paying attention to what your staff is telling you, making time to listen and problems with your is a real trust builder.

Tosha Anderson:

I love that. So Rita, all of these topics, I’m assuming are, you know, in your book, and of course people can go check that out, leading for justice, supervision, HR, and culture, but Rita other people or people that are listening, wanted to find out other information about your consulting work or training or your book, or what is the best way people can find you. If they wanted to hear more about, you know, all the work that you’ve done in this space.

Rita Sever:

Great. Thank you. Um, my website is supervision matters.com and if you go there, you can find links to all my social media. So,

Tosha Anderson:

Okay. So follow you on social media, but go to supervision matters.com and check out your book. Obviously we can find that on your website as well.

Rita Sever:

Yes, absolutely.

Tosha Anderson:

Excellent. Well, Rita, this has been an in a conversation and I think it’s really timely too, with just all of the struggles that nonprofits are having right now with retaining staff and hiring staff. And, and, and honestly the last 18 months has been really difficult for all of us. And so having to navigate through all of that. So I think supervision is just as important now, if not more important than it was, um, you know, even two years ago. And I know that many nonprofits are gonna benefit from this information and certainly, um, for anybody listening, if you want more information on how you can incorporate more of these principles, go check out Rita’s work@supervisionmatters.com. Rita. Thanks again for joining us. I appreciate it.

Rita Sever:

Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you.

223857.c23b41d2d17906fed1fe0b5be33e7440

Don't hire the wrong accountant for your nonprofit!

The #1 accounting mistake that nonprofits make is hiring the wrong people to help them.

Get this FREE guide to discover what you need to do to ensure you hire the right accountant, bookkeeper, or CFO the FIRST time.

Get the free guide!

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: