In Education and Learning, Funding, River and Water Organizations

Helping Nonprofits Operate as Successful Organizations

Is it just me, or does anyone else cringe when you have to introduce yourself and state your job title? I cringe, not because I regret my career choice (I love my job, in fact!), but because I don’t have one of those titles that is self-explanatory – sales manager, science director, wildlife biologist. If I were a betting person, I could bet my annual paycheck that when I say, “Hello, my name is Brenna Goggin and I am River Network’s Mid-Atlantic Leadership Development Manager,” I am going to get in return, “What is a leadership development manager?”

For months after accepting the position, I would go into great detail about fundraising and strategic planning, board development, and volunteer recruitment, all while watching the person I was speaking with nod, but not quite understand. Then one day during this monologue, a very kind gentleman interrupted me and said, “Oh, you help nonprofits operate as successful organizations.” Yes! How could I have not seen that earlier? Oftentimes, as employees and leaders within our organizations, we get lost in the day to day activities, working our way through the weeds and the trees, unable to see the forest, until someone on the outside takes the opportunity to point it out.

Brenna Goggin holding microphone, speaking at River Rally 2019

Brenna Goggin at River Rally 2019.

My own experience in the non-profit space started in 2006 with my graduate work. I decided to get a master’s degree in public affairs with a concentration in non-profit management and leadership. Through the coursework, and then my experience working for a statewide environmental non-profit, I saw firsthand the trials and tribulations faced by NGOs. Whether it was the lack of funding or staff, over-eager or uninterested board members, or a failure to plan, environmental organizations all face similar struggles.

For over 30 years, River Network has worked to provide guidance and support on organizational development needs through a diverse set of tools that address a variety of administrative and leadership topics:

  • Webinars on managing and retaining volunteers and conducting advocacy
  • Knowledge sharing at our annual conference, River Rally
  • Contractual services to help with strategic and organizational planning
  • One on one coaching for Executive Directors and emerging leaders (my personal favorite!)

And much more!

“I have benefited directly from River Network workshops and classes on the Clean Water Act, nonprofit leadership, capacity-building, campaign development, and donor development… [using] what I learned then in many applications since.”

Hilary Lambert, Executive Director Cayuga Lake Watershed Network

Not dissimilar to graduating from high school and having no idea how to balance your checkbook, the key competencies needed to lead and manage organizations are not taught in school; they come through experience (most often when we fail), a desire to learn, and the ability to plan. Through no fault of their own, leaders within organizations often find themselves pulled in a million directions, serving multiple roles from Executive Director to watchdog to janitor to tech support to payroll. Sound familiar?  You are not alone struggling to find the time to develop a strategic plan, update your Board’s job descriptions, or to outline their expectations for helping with recruitment. But failure to implement these practices and take the time to plan can leave your staff and Board feeling directionless, like a dog chasing its own tail. River Network can help – and as part of the leadership development team, it is my job to support organizations working in the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay watersheds, whether as a sounding board, teacher, or guide.

As foundations and other funders have shifted priorities from capacity building to more project-based work, many organizations have struggled with how to cover staff costs and implement necessary administrative infrastructure, like databases, e-mail systems, and donor communication tools. Through tailored consulting we are able to help these groups prioritize their needs and establish clear goals and strategies that inform efficient investment in only the necessary tools. The generosity of our funders, like the Park and Campbell Foundation, makes these services available to small organizations at a subsidized rate, ensuring access for all who need it.

Cayuga Lake with trees in foreground

Cayuga Lake. Photo by seabamirum via flickr.

We’ve worked in various capacities with Cayuga Lake Watershed Network and Executive Director Hilary Lambert since the 2000s, helping to build capacity and ensure they are well-equipped to solve the many issues facing their waters. Says Lambert, “Today, I and one half-time staff person, our Board, members, and volunteers have built Cayuga Lake Watershed Network into an effective watershed-wide organization working daily to protect our lake and region from threats and challenges – thanks in large part to my River Network education. [I’m] so grateful that my Board recently accepted my suggestions that we work with River Network staff for our strategic planning process during 2020. Would not want to do this with anyone else.”

Have questions about organizational development and think River Network can help? Reach out to me! And, join us for the virtual River Rally experience, launching May 18, to explore workshops on these topics and more, and interact with speakers and peers for in-depth knowledge sharing across the network of water protectors.

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