Forbes Nonprofit Council members come from a wide range of backgrounds, and with their wide range of experiences, they have a lot to share with fellow members of the community. To help share their experiences with an even greater audience, we’re profiling Forbes Nonprofit Council members here on the blog. This week: Eleanor Allen.
Eleanor Allen is the CEO of Water For People, a nonprofit that promotes reliable and safe water and sanitation services in nine developing countries. Water For People brings together communities, businesses and governments to create sustainable water and sanitation systems that are accessible to everyone. Eleanor was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic and a consulting engineer prior to joining Water For People. As a professional civil engineer, Eleanor has lived over half her professional life in Latin America and has worked all over the world.
How did your career as a nonprofit executive take off, and what do you attribute your success to most?
I made the career switch from for-profit to nonprofit 18 months ago. My background in the water/wastewater sector, as well as my experience leading multi-cultural teams and running global businesses, also led to my career as a nonprofit executive.
I would say that after a year, I finally felt like the pieces were coming together. Today, our senior leadership team is in place, and we’ve crafted a new strategic plan. Additionally, we’ve enhanced our basic business infrastructure — including policies and procedures, compensation and benefits, performance management, IT, code of conduct, balanced scorecard, financial reporting, internal communications, and board development, among other things. Now that most of the operations are in a steady state, I can focus more on external activities such as fundraising, collaboration for greater impact, and thought leadership. In 2016, we had our best financial year ever, and now I feel I can really take off. My goal is to be a visible and effective leader in the water and sanitation sector, and leverage our position and expertise to help solve the global water and sanitation crisis faster!
How do you keep yourself passionate and driven regardless of how busy you are day to day?
Staying passionate and driven is not difficult for me. My personal passions (water, sanitation and women’s empowerment) are also part of my job! It is good to have my passions as my north star, a reminder of why I do what I do when the daily to-do lists seem overwhelming. I try not to sweat the small stuff, remain calm to make good (and informed) decisions, and stay focused on our strategy to lead and inspire my team. I often move the “not urgent, not important” tasks off my to-do list to make sure the priorities are addressed first, and that we (the senior leadership team) make decisions in a timely manner and hold ourselves accountable for results. Also, it is important to celebrate successes! Thankfully, we have plenty of those.
What do you see as the future of nonprofits?
I think that the world will continue to have pressing problems and nonprofits are often the best suited to help solve these problems. As profits and populations continue to grow, in theory, nonprofits should continue to grow. This assumes that people and businesses will continue to be generous and altruistic. I hope that is true! Nonprofits will also continue to evolve, develop and become more sophisticated, promoting better quality work and greater impact.
What is your best nonprofit leadership or strategy tip for businesses?
Running a nonprofit isn’t much different than running a business. Success is still measured by results and impact — financial and otherwise. Therefore, business skills, tools and metrics are still needed in nonprofit management. What is different is that nonprofits have more stakeholders, funding is often a personal (subjective) instead of a qualitative or quantitative (objective) decision, and employees are much more mission driven. To me, this makes running a nonprofit more complex and challenging yet more rewarding. My bottom line strategy tip: Running a nonprofit efficiently and effectively is like running a business with a big heart. Totally possible and very impactful!