Transforming the Non-Profit Mindset

By Erin Montgomery, Vice President of Human Resources at Gatepath

Gatepath is a Bay Area nonprofit that’s been providing direct care services to people of all ages with developmental disabilities for more than 98 years. From the classroom to the workplace, it’s our vision to create a world where people of all abilities are fully accepted, respected, and included. 

Nonprofits face the ongoing challenge of figuring out how best to adapt to ever-changing economic, technological, social, and political environments. As one way to survive in times of limited funding and excessive risk aversion, nonprofit leaders often adopt a scarcity mindset that leads to extreme cost reduction. They don’t invest in operations and new technology that will improve efficiency. They don’t pursue innovation. And they are held back by a fear of doing things differently. How can nonprofits thrive when leadership avoids risk and considers spending for the future as excessive?

At Gatepath, we shifted our leadership mindset by ensuring that everyone in the organization has a leadership mentality. We realized there would be long-term benefits to investing in the future and expanding wherever possible. We let go of the old limiting stories – and the attachment to the old ways of doing things – and transformed how we lead at every level. For my team, as a human services organization, we understand that our people are at the core of our mission, vision, and values. We also understand that achieving success and making our biggest impact is only possible because of the amazing people who share in our vision of creating a world where people of all abilities are accepted, respected and included.

We focused first on our core belief that everyone is a leader. Everyone has great ideas, and everyone can make things happen. We also made a strategic investment in three key areas: systems, financial management, and staff development. Focusing on these three areas would allow us to implement new processes and technologies for change management, engage in consistent and transparent communication across the organization, and, ultimately, help us to transform as a culture and as an organization.

In terms of leadership development, we offered transformational workshops and supported coaching through the “You as a Global Leader” program. Initially, this training engaged the executive team, managers, and supervisors in a series of conversations culminating in the discovery of personal and professional visions that tied back to our organizational vision. We then offered coaching sessions to integrate leadership principles into practice. Based on positive feedback, we moved forward with the investment and commitment to open this experience to all employees.

Over two years, the “You as a Global Leader” program expanded, resulting in stronger organizational alignment across departments, increased collaboration, and higher levels of accountability. Most importantly, we were able to improve services and programs – in other words, changing our leadership mindset resulted in meaningful community impact. We were no longer held back by what wasn’t working. Instead, we learned to embrace the spirit of appreciative inquiry and expand our vision for what’s possible.

Other benefits of changing our leadership mindset included finding the courage to challenge the familiar and redefine how we operate, moving forward with monetary investments in employee compensation and facilities, and ensuring that our staff feels valued and motivated to contribute. As a result, we reduced turnover and held it at 20%, compared to the reported highs of 50% for most other nonprofits in California. We also noticed that college interns and new talent are more excited to join our cause as a viable career path, one with increased internal promotion opportunities and future succession planning in place to support sustainability and a high quality of services.

At Gatepath, we’re very excited to see where our leadership mindset takes us next. As we continue to learn and adapt, knowing that our future is what we make it, we invite others to join us in being part of a future where emerging nonprofit leaders can make a tremendous impact for the greater good of the people we serve and our communities.

You as a Global Leader is a transformational leadership program founded and developed by Linda Alepin and Barbara Key. Gatepath is ever grateful for their partnership and support to develop a program that supports our nonprofit leadership and mission.




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