Your boss may be the CEO, director or board president. It doesn’t matter, the strategy is the same. There will be times when you need to get support for your philanthropy plan or for a new marketing channel or permission to hire another employee or get buy-in for how to get the board engaged in fundraising. Managing up can be tricky but with the right approach, you can get the support you want, so you can get what you need.
There are a few things, regardless of your culture or mission or budget size or staff composition at your nonprofit, that are essential to do if you want to successfully manage up.
Let’s take a closer look:
1. Know where they feel vulnerable.
If your boss is uncomfortable with public speaking, don’t put them on the spot in front of others. Maybe they lack confidence when it comes to marketing skills, so don’t ask them tough questions on the subject – they can’t be your sounding board. Instead, do one of two things: stay completely away from that topic or look for opportunities to build them up or educate them in a diplomatic way. If you need them to approve your philanthropic plan, but they are very inexperienced with individual giving, be sure to show how you’ll educate staff and volunteers so everyone is well-equipped (including them); and don’t assign them a major role the first year.
If you aren’t sure where they may be vulnerable, take the time to observe or think back and look for historical clues.
Bottom line – don’t make them look bad or feel uncomfortable unnecessarily.
2. Conversely, know what motivates them and tap into it.
Are they super focused on the bottom line? Does everything connect back to the mission for them? Do they get energized by developing others? You may be motivated by something completely different, so be careful you don’t project your stuff! If they’re focused on the bottom line and you need to hire another employee, you best go in with spread sheets showing how this addition will benefit the bottom line in the short and long term.
Bottom line – when you tap into what they care about most, your odds of getting what you need increase considerably.
3. Know their preferred communication style.
This may seem super obvious but have you really thought about it? I’ve had board chairs who wanted to meet in person every week. Another who wanted to talk by phone every 2-3 weeks and another who only wanted email updates. You need to respect their preference and only disrupt the routine when it really matters. It can be very annoying to feel like someone is on a different wavelength. If you aren’t sure what they prefer, ask them!
Bottom line – if you ignore their communication preference, your odds of success decrease right out of the gate.
4. Line up a champion to support you.
This person should be someone you trust so you can expect their support and also bounce ideas off them. They could be someone who your boss respects and they might even play a role in the interaction. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to manage the power dynamic, so having someone else in your corner who will genuinely have your best interest at heart can bring the encouragement you need.
Bottom line – You don’t have to do this alone so why not get a partner on board?
Of course, all of this assumes you have a worthwhile endeavor you’re pursuing – not some cavalier, disingenuous or sketchy deal.
Do you have a tricky situation at your nonprofit that involves your boss and you’re not sure what approach is best? Schedule a free call with me here and let’s figure it out!