Ep. 1 – Keys to Translating Passion into Impact: Leadership, Strategy and Systems

PodcastCoverArtBy Tom Adams, Director of Succession and Sustainability

Leaders who care deeply about a cause are obsessive about increasing results. If you are a Board or staff leader of a nonprofit or social enterprise, odds are your passion for the cause has you always looking for ways to increase mission impact.

Unfortunately, this passion to Do More is too often unfocused or more tragically misdirected. Leaders, for example, from successful for-profit companies join a nonprofit board and quickly determine that adapting their version of business practices to the nonprofit will increase impact. Other times a new board chair focuses too quickly and exclusively on what the executive team is not doing well without appreciating what is working and why for the organization.

Jim Collins, noted researcher and writer on high-performing for-profit and social sector organizations, observes that the challenge for nonprofit leaders and organizations is not to become “more business-like” rather to focus on becoming more disciplined. A collaborative of nonprofit executives and leaders formed the Performance Imperative and built together a definition of high performance for nonprofits: “High performance is the ability to deliver – over a prolonged period of time – meaningful, measureable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the organization is in existence to serve.”

What then is the discipline Collins encourages? How do leaders best use the available talent, time and resources to advance impact and become more high performing? There is no magic. Rather it is the ongoing intentional decisions on how to best advance the dynamic interaction between organizational leadership, strategy and systems.

That is the focus of Raffa’s first Lead. Learn. Thrive podcast. Hosted by Tom Adams, the discussion with Raffa’s Tom Raffa, Julie Jones and Rachael Gibson offers key insights into how leaders do (and don’t) combine leadership, strategy and systems to turn their passion into impact. Listen now:

Tom Raffa2      Julie Jones      rachael-gibson

Podcast guests: Tom Raffa, Julie Jones, Rachael Gibson

Too often organizations and their advisors approach organizational life piece meal. That makes sense in some ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed. However that works best when informed by a disciplined look at where the organization is in terms of the intersection of leadership, strategy and systems. Having leaders who are tired and locked in the past spend time on a new strategic plan is not going to advance impact. Trying to solve a chronic cash flow problem with little or no useful financial data is a waste of resources. Seeking to raise more money when either the ability to execute on the plan or the plan itself is irrelevant will have limited results.

If you are a passionate leader who wants to Do More, step back and ask yourself and your team to take a fresh look at how the interaction of leadership, strategy and systems is working for you. With a more clear focus and an answer to why this focus now, and a commitment to consistent disciplined actions based on this look, the odds for increasing performance and impact go up significantly.


The Lead. Learn. Thrive podcast series grew out of our Raffa Learning Community effort and features interviews with interesting nonprofit and private sector leaders and those who help them Do More. If you would like to suggest a topic or a guest for an upcoming episode, please email jimena@raffa.com​ and include “podcast” in the email subject line.

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