Focus on Leadership: Lending an ear

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Anne Gingerich, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO), recently embarked on a listening tour that took her all across the Commonwealth. Along the trail she did a little soul searching, “If we can’t articulate the value of PANO, how do we expect other people to join us?” Gingerich asked her board when she was hired as Executive Director in December 2013.

Anne Gingerich and Britton MillerAided by board members and local community leaders who organized focus groups of both members and not-yet-members, Gingerich was searching to launch PANO in a direction informed by the needs and counsel of communities across the state. “We needed to get it right,” she said, “and one of the ways to do that was to find out what the needs are on the ground so PANO can know how best to walk alongside the nonprofit community.”   

With her board, who all traveled with her at one point or another, Gingerich found a treasure trove of knowledge and experience. Gingerich analyzed this raw feedback for common themes, and created a Listening Tour Report. This report formed the basis for the organization’s strategic planning conversations which resulted in six priority areas for PANO’s programming and operations.

  • Collaboration: As a top priority, Gingerich and PANO learned that people at all levels yearned for more effective collaboration to foster efficiency and ingenuity, and importantly, to achieve results in communities. She learned that Pennsylvania is a locally-driven state, and instead of seeing that as a challenge “I’m beginning to see that as a strength, and not something we have to fight against,” she said.
  • Advocacy: The second priority revolved around advocacy—nonprofits in Pennsylvania see PANO as a leader and bearer of the sector’s collective voice.
  • Convening: Third, there is hunger for PANO to act as a convener to bring people and organizations together around common issues.
  • Communication: Develop compelling communications to help elevate and unite the sector.
  • Learning: Continue to provide educational support and capacity building to cultivate more staff who are well-trained and ready for the workforce.
  • Support: To do all this, PANO needs to be financially healthy.

Other outcomes of the listening tour were an infographic and a blog that recounts stories, statistics, and photos from the road. During her listening tour, Gingerich met with 340+ people, traveled 3,017 miles over 57 hours on the road, and met with 19 focus groups (and consumed 42 cups of coffee).

But as Gingerich notes, the listening doesn’t stop when she turns the car engine off, “What I’m planning to do next is to send out the report and say again, ‘Did we get it right?’” And then once she and the staff at PANO have developed programs, “I want to continue the conversation once we hammer out the strategies.  We will send out our ideas and say. ‘Okay, here’s where we’re going to go. Are you still with us? ’”

Getting out on the road and listening to feedback from those working on the ground is not a new undertaking in our network, but it remains an effective and productive one. Leaders from around our network have taken to the road, whether those just joining the staff of a State Association for the first time, or veterans who feel the need to reconnect with their networks.  

When asked what her biggest takeaway was, Gingerich said this: “The word that comes to mind is ‘warmth.’ There are good people everywhere who want to do good things.” And in the end, a State Association’s work is about making it easier for those people doing good things to advance their nonprofits’ missions: “We wanted to know, ‘what you love about your community,’ ‘what 100 percent success would look like,’ ‘what it would take to get there,’ and ‘how can PANO walk along side you in your work?’”

You can find an executive summary, full report, and breakdown by region at PANO's blog Listening to PA.

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