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YMCA leader Dorri McWhorter thrives as a “possibilist”: Day 2 highlights from Stronger to Serve

Your true self is right there, buried under the layers of what the world has told you that you are or should be, said Dorri McWhorter. Finding yourself is actually returning to the self you were as a child, who saw possibilities and didn’t set limits.

McWhorter knows because she’s been there. In Wednesday afternoon’s ‘Leader to Leader’ session during the Wipfli Stronger to Serve nonprofit training conference, McWhorter, CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, shared this insight that has propelled her career and life.

A CPA and business consultant, she eventually moved from the for-profit world to the nonprofit world.

“There's a dichotomy that if you’re in the for-profit world, you’re doing bad things, but if you’re in a non-profit space, then you are almost by default doing good,” she said. “For me, this was a false narrative. People are people wherever they show up. These are all platforms and people working in them are doing what they can and should be doing to improve the world.”

McWhorter cited a quote by the late educator Max Lerner in discussing how she defines her career: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a possibilist.” She encouraged the nonprofit leaders in attendance to consider this message as they do their work every day.

“I’m a huge risk-taker,” she said. “I have plenty of unplanned learning opportunities, but I never make a mistake. It gives me confidence because there’s always something to learn.”

During the chat, Kathleen DuBois, Wipfli’s Nonprofit, Government and Education industry leader, said she could relate as she too is a learner who gravitated toward roles in her career that helped her to grow and support organizations’ missions. She asked McWhorter about her move from YWCA Metropolitan Chicago to her current role at the YMCA of Metro Chicago and the daunting nature of having to make big decisions to meet high expectations.

McWhorter said she took the time she needed to get to know the organization and, as she’s done throughout her career, got to know the team and build her plan with its strengths in mind.

“I knew it’s going to be next week, not tomorrow,” she said of taking on the challenge. “I’m going to stay true to what I know to be able to transform the organization.”

“Yes,” DuBois said. “We have to give ourselves grace to be able to learn and grow.”

Strategy-focused budgeting

When Wipfli trainer Katherine Eilers asked her session attendees how they began their annual budget process, she heard two main answers: looking at what funding was available and matching budget to funding; and looking at the previous year’s expenses to determine if they were necessary. But those are not the right answers if you are budgeting for strategy.

The right answer should always be looking at the end users and their needs, and matching budget strategically to those needs.

And how do you get to those needs? By knowing your community, by working with other nonprofits, educational and government entities (including healthcare) to do a needs assessment and matching those priorities to your mission, vision and values.

And, in any good budget built around strategy, there should be an internal priority that focuses on the health and future of the organization itself.

“Focus on 3 to 5 key priorities and do your strategic planning on how you’re going to reach those priorities,” she said. “Make sure at least one is internally focused.”

Are you ready for change?

In the ‘Assessing Readiness and Managing the Risks of Change’ workshop, participants got an eye-opening look at how changes are perceived, both individually and organizationally, and how to measure the lift it will take to get a change adopted.

Wipfli consultant Daniel Bashore said he often asks groups he visits with about change this question: “Who wants change?” and the answers are mixed, but mostly positive. “That’s fun stuff, right? Doing something new and different.”

Then he asks the tough question, “Who wants to change?” and the nods get fewer. Because work is involved. Because it gets personal, and because going through the steps to make change can be daunting for everyone involved.

But, with thought-provoking pre-analysis, such as sentiment surveys and historical lookbacks on prior change processes, change leaders can pre-empt issues and plan for a smooth adoption of change within their organizations.

“When we’re talking to employees, we really want to understand their perception of what it’s like to work here and what it’s like to go through change for them,” Wipfli senior manager Deron Kling said of the process he goes through when helping companies decide on implementing something new. “It’s nice to know what their readiness for change is.

“Different divisions and teams may see this differently, and so it’s important to find the personal impact of changes you are looking to implement.”

Build your resiliency

Pandemics. Cyber attacks. Extended IT outages. Natural disasters. Data theft and misuse. Even if your organization has a disaster recovery plan, it may make sense to have a separate one for each department.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. In the last two and a half years, we figured out how to keep moving forward,” said Wipfi senior manager Ryan Peasley at the ‘Business Continuity Planning’ session.

“Nonprofits are some of the most resilient organizations around because we are mission-focused not bottom-line focused. We’re all about helping people in need,” he said.

Creating career paths

Given the record-breaking labor shortage and retention challenges, organizations need to be mindful about developing career paths. In addition, performance review systems likely need to be reexamined, said Wipfli trainer Barbara Low.

“Gauge where employees are and how they feel about the organization. Make sure people aren’t bored,” she said, noting that The Gallup Organization found that $300 billion is lost due to employee disengagement.

Employees believe professional development is the No. 1 way to improve organization culture. And fully 94% would stay longer if their employer invested in career development. Low pointed out this applies to workers of all ages and experience levels. “Keep in mind that employees don’t necessarily leave organizations. They leave bad managers.”

She cautioned managers to think twice about bringing back people who left. “Were they bringing value the first time around? If you’re bringing back people who were previously excellent, but they come back because they missed the people in the organization, then that may be a great decision. Look at rehires without rose-colored glasses and consider why they left and why they want to return.”

Managing digital assets

When an employee leaves an organization or suddenly becomes incapacitated, have you had trouble accessing a digital asset that’s integral to your operations? Marc Courey, director of forensic and litigation services, said that it’s imperative that passwords to social media accounts and other relevant websites for the organization not reside with a single individual alone.

“Some of these assets are home grown and you may not have had a formal process in place when they were set up,” he said. “You may be locked out when they leave.”

Be sure to catalogue access to assets, including access to partner websites, and keep it updated. This access should never rely on one person’s credentials.

Another vulnerability is USB ports or CD drives on work computers that would enable employees to copy organization data. And be aware of employees who use unauthorized cloud storage that contains your organization’s information. Make sure you’re aware of the platforms being used and that they are monitored and in your control.

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