(The Right) Questions Empower. Here’s Why.

Nonprofit executives can do more through asking questions.Examine two different approaches a nonprofit executive director might use when speaking with an employee about a new challenge.

Approach #1:

“We’re facing an unexpected budget crunch. Our ability to recruit volunteers for the next few months will be significantly lowered. I’m going to need you to work harder and more creatively to make up the difference.”

Approach #2:

“We’re facing an unexpected budget crunch. Can you help lead and set a great example for the rest of the team?”

The second approach is much stronger.

The Power of Asking (The Right Questions) As A Leader

The first approach tells the staff member what to do. The second approach identifies the  predicament and invites the staff member as part of the solution.

The nonprofit executive who employs the second approach gives the employee an opportunity to become invested in the challenge and the steps that will be needed to fix it. The executive’s question treats the employee as an equal. Asking questions subtly sets an expectation for behavior better than a statement that tells people what you want them them to value.

If the executive summons the employee and tells them how badly the organization is in trouble for the next few months, and how everyone will have to work longer, harder, and faster – the executive just paints a scenario where doom is the inevitable conclusion. This message not only demotivates staff but also implies that the team isn’t strong or trusted enough to solve the issue.

If the executive can calmly meet with an employee and ask, “Can you set a great example for the team and help lead?” the conversation empowers and motivates while communicating important messages. We can overcome this. I respect your ideas and ability to solve this problem. We’re going to do this together. I view you a good communicator who is capable of helping manage this situation.

These are empowering messages embedded with one question.


If you like this post, browse Fairmount’s monthly collection of ideas for people who want to achieve greater impact, see better fundraising results, and stay connected to the region’s impact creators. Subscribe here – it’s free.

Drexel & The Free Library Collaborate

This month we’re examining collaborations within the nonprofit sector. With a growing emphasis for organizations to work together, highlighting examples that show tangible results or significant promise stemming from strategic alliances is useful.

A new collaboration between Drexel University and the Free Library of Philadelphia will feature an iPad vending machine in Mantua — home of the Promise Zone. Launching in May, the program will provide 12 iPads for loan to anyone with a Drexel ID or a Free Library card.The initiative offers a prime example of how strategic partnerships can achieve (or in this case intend to achieve) significant impact.

One of the reasons this partnership has a high likelihood of success is because Drexel is already well-established in the area. Drexel has established trust within the multiple populations in West Philadelphia due to its previous successful engagements. This is key because some organizations focus entirely on the nonprofits they’re working with while failing to gain input from the community who’s supposed to benefit from their efforts. Drexel and the Free Library consulted with a population within Mantua who traditionally has less digital access than more economically robust areas.

While Drexel in particular has an extensive understanding of the area and its residents, the Free Library adds value by having a great sense of the need to expand digital access. More importantly they have a solid infrastructure and knowledge base to understand how communities of people read and access the Web. The partnership between Drexel and the Free Library shows that organizations with a mutual interest in solving a problem can offer the potential for positive results by combining unique skills, advantages, and resources.


If you like this post, browse Fairmount’s monthly collection of ideas for people who want more impact, better fundraising and to stay connected to the region’s impact creators. Subscribe here – it’s free.