President's Perspective Blog

Mike’s Monday Message: LEADership Advice

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AFP LEAD Logo Over St Louis Arch

Over the past seven years, I’ve had the privilege of attending many AFP events, from my first, the AFP Toronto Congress in Toronto, Canada only a few weeks after I joined AFP, to soon, my last AFP LEAD in St. Louis in October. As we open registration and begin preparations for this annual leadership conference, I’m struck by just how much this event has grown and evolved during that time. What started back in 2010 as the Leadership Academy, a small event primarily designed for chapter leaders, has grown into our sector’s premier leadership-focused event, with two and a half days of education. (Click here to view the full lineup of this year’s sessions). 

All of these updates to LEAD, as well as our new Leadership Institute, were born out of conversations that we had with our AFP community — conversations about the growing leadership gap, the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, and the need to train the next cohort of nonprofit leaders. 

With my own self-determined departure on the horizon, I wanted to use this Mike’s Monday Message to share a few pieces of advice from my own career and recommend some of the AFP LEAD education sessions that will help you put those ideas into practice. 

Be Purposeful in the Creation of Company/Organizational Culture
“Company culture” used to be a buzzword associated with the laid-back vibes of the Silicon Valley tech startups, but especially in the post-pandemic era, company culture is now about so much more, and it is something that retention-conscious organizations are being intentional about. AFP has several employees with longevity that puts my 7 years to shame, and while I can’t take credit for all of that, making AFP a place where people want to work is something that I’ve prioritized. This happens in some obvious ways, such as offering fair compensation and opportunities for growth, but company culture is a factor in employee retention that goes far beyond pay and opportunities. Yes, we have a social committee that plans happy hours and puts up birthday decorations — and that certainly contributes. But company culture also comes down to things like having the flexibility to shape your schedule to attend a child’s field trip or be there for a loved one’s medical needs or having the security to come to your supervisor with a problem and anticipate being received with grace and support. This is extremely important to me as a leader but more importantly as a fellow human being who also faces those challenges — in fact, it happened this morning for me while attending the CIOF conference in London. I firmly believe this is part of the reason why AFP Global hasn’t had any staff turnover in the past two years.

I encourage all leaders to consider the culture of your nonprofit and how you can help create one that prioritizes employee wellbeing, alongside mission impact.  

AFP LEAD sessions I recommend: 

  • How to Hire Top Talent (and Retain Them!)
  • Leading Through Change: Cultivating Compassionate Cultures with Intentional Employee Engagement
  • Creating a Culture for Compassionate and Ethical Storytelling by Reducing Team Bias and Establishing Norms

Collaborate with Others to Showcase Diverse Viewpoints
If you go all the way back to page 60 of these Mike’s Monday Messages (yikes!) you can read the very first entry in the President’s Perspective Blog — a message from then AFP Global Board Chair, Ann Hale, CFRE, introducing me as AFP’s new president & CEO. Since then, these messages have been not just a place for me to communicate my thoughts and opinions, but truly a platform to showcase the wide variety of voices that make up our organization. We started doing “Mike’s Monday Message Takeovers” because there were some stories that needed telling, but they were not mine to tell. Today, the takeovers seem to be so frequent they’re taking the blog away from me — but that’s perfectly fine. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of puns, dad jokes, and a few nuggets of wisdom to share before I leave, but it is reassuring to know that even without “Mike”, these messages have the capacity to be a platform for the diverse viewpoints of our community. 

You won’t be able to do everything yourself, but embracing the network that is your teammates, members, volunteers, donors, and other supporters, is an essential part of being an effective leader. For example, the change that we have been able to bring about could not have occurred without the support and guidance of our current AFP Global Board Chair, Birgit Smith Burton.

AFP LEAD sessions I recommend: 

  • Using Strengths-Based Leadership to Increase the Productivity of a Multigenerational / Multiracial Team
  • Why Your Board is Not Diverse and How to Recruit in Equitable Ways
  • Coaching, Mentoring & Workplace Sponsorship through a DEI Lens

Don’t Get Complacent 
In the announcement of my departure, I said that I didn’t believe a CEO should stay longer than approximately 7 years, at the risk of getting complacent or stale. As you can see, I’ve been true to my word, but only because the last 7 years have been so dynamic. I recently had an in-depth conversation about this very topic with a well-known figure in our sector – let’s call this person “Daryl”. Daryl agreed with this mindset saying that there are too many CEOs who get satisfied and bored in their roles to the detriment of their organizations. I remember moving into a role (not at AFP!!!) where the search committee told me that my predecessor had “fallen asleep at the wheel” – and it was apparent. Don’t let “fallen asleep at the wheel” be your legacy.

Yes, a few of those 7 years were defined for everyone by words like “pivot” and “the new normal”, but the changes that AFP has made have gone beyond pandemic-era adjustments. We’ve made a concerted effort to listen to our community and respond in kind. It is your feedback that has informed our decisions and set us up for future success. When I leave AFP, it will be with the peace of mind that there are systems, people, and priorities in place that will continue all of our great work, and bring fresh perspectives to what comes next.

Whether you’re contemplating a job change, or in it for the long haul, it is vital for leaders to embrace change and growth to keep their mission and their personal careers moving forward. 

AFP LEAD sessions I recommend: 

  • Fast Failure: Building an Entrepreneurial Mindset for Success and Growth
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go? A values and Purpose-Driven Approach to Career Changes
  • Thinking Bigger, Bolder & Braver

There’s only so much leadership advice I can share, but rest assured you can learn a lot more from the expert line-up of speakers joining us at AFP LEAD. Make sure you register before Friday, July 12 to take advantage of the Early Bird Rate. I hope to see as many of you as possible there, as I close this chapter of my leadership journey, and you take the next step in your own. 

As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns. You can reach me via email at Mike.Geiger@afpglobal.org or on X at @AFPMikeGeiger

Mike Geiger Signature

 

Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA

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