5 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Develop a Culture of Growth With Ben Zobrist and John Harrison
May 21, 2024
How you can build a team where curiosity is rewarded

It's not every day that you get to interview someone who has reached the highest level of their profession, so when World Series MVP Ben Zobrist joined us on the Nonprofit Renaissance Podcast, we knew it was going to be a great episode. We didn't just gain insights into baseball, we witnessed the power of personal drive and the potential for change. After a remarkable career in the Major Leagues, Ben didn't retire his passion; he redirected it. He founded Champion Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering athletes, parents, and coaches to excel on and off the field. Through this organization, Ben shares the hard-earned principles he learned from his professional baseball career, inspiring young athletes, sports organizations, and other nonprofits to develop a culture of learning and growth. 

These strategies aren't just theoretical; they're practical approaches inspired by the game-changing experiences shared by Ben Zobrist and John Harrison. Each path offers a unique approach to help you navigate changes, innovate effectively, and sustain your impact.

1. Establish a Learning Culture

Continuous practice and skill refinement are crucial to maintaining peak performance in professional baseball. Similarly, a nonprofit should foster an environment where ongoing learning is encouraged and ingrained in the daily life of the organization. Work on implementing regular training sessions that focus on specific job skills in broader areas like leadership, strategic thinking, and project management. These sessions should resemble a baseball team's regular practice, where every potential play and tactic is honed over time. 

Encourage team members to actively share insights and key learnings from their projects during regular meetings, like athletes reviewing game footage to identify strengths and weaknesses. This practice reinforces a culture of improvement, enhances collective knowledge, and fosters a strong sense of community. Additionally, creating a resource library with access to books, articles, and online courses allows team members the autonomy to pursue knowledge independently before bringing it to the team.

2. Tailor Personal Development Plans

Just as personalized baseball coaching allows players to focus on their unique areas of development, a nonprofit setting should prioritize the individual growth of each team member. This is where personal development plans come in. These plans can be tailored to each individual's specific goals and the organization's long-term objectives, providing a roadmap for broad-ranging professional growth. With clear, measurable targets and regular check-ins to ensure progress and adapt plans as necessary, team members can feel inspired about their continuous development and contribution to the organization's success.

Personal development plans can be strengthened through intentional mentorship programs. Pairing newer staff with experienced team members helps replicate the mentorship in sports teams where seasoned veterans guide rookies. This helps transfer valuable organizational knowledge and strengthens team bonds and interdepartmental relationships, like a cohesive sports team that excels together.

3. Incorporate Feedback and Reflective Practices

Just like a baseball coach provides immediate feedback after a play or practice session, leaders within a nonprofit must also deliver timely and constructive assessments. These inputs should not only be reserved for annual reviews. It should be a regular part of the workflow, encouraging growth and adaptation on an ongoing basis. Training leaders in providing feedback effectively ensures that it is received not as criticism but as valuable insight that can lead to professional growth and development.

In addition to formal feedback, encourage a culture of reflective practice where team members consider their own performances and learn from each experience. Build in regular sessions to debrief following significant projects, just like a team huddle after a game, where successes and areas for improvement are openly discussed. This practice promotes a learning environment and helps team members prepare better for future projects.

4. Encourage Innovation

Innovation in nonprofits can give a team a competitive advantage. Incorporating new technologies like AI can transform operations by enhancing decision-making and optimizing resource allocation by analyzing data patterns, like predicting donor behaviors or evaluating program impacts. To implement AI, nonprofits should start by identifying areas where data analysis could significantly enhance operations, then explore AI tools tailored to nonprofit needs, potentially partnering with agencies or consultants who specialize in the field.

This commitment to innovation fosters a culture that adapts to modern advances and leads to innovative problem-solving. Celebrating both the successes and the learning experiences from failed initiatives encourages your team to take, leading to greater opportunities to advance your mission and make an impact. This approach improves operational capabilities and strengthens the organization's appeal to donors and stakeholders by demonstrating a proactive stance on leveraging technology for social good.

5. Learn From Other Sectors

Cross-training in different sports can give athletes a competitive edge by improving their overall athleticism. Likewise, nonprofits stand to gain significant insights by stepping outside their immediate sector to learn from business, academia, or other for-profit industries. Encourage staff to attend multi-sector conferences or engage in networking events that can bring fresh perspectives and innovative strategies back to your organization.

Consider inviting guest speakers from different industries to share their experiences and best practices. Just as a baseball team might learn from the physical training techniques of basketball or soccer players, your nonprofit can adopt and adapt strategies from other fields to better meet challenges and seize opportunities in its unique context. This broader perspective can lead to innovative solutions that enhance the organization's effectiveness.

Integrating these baseball-inspired strategies into your nonprofit management practices can enhance team performance, encourage personal and professional growth, and foster a winning culture that thrives on continuous improvement and teamwork. 

For more, check out the complete interview with Ben Zobrist and John Harrison on The Nonprofit Renaissance. And to work with a team of continuous learners, contact Vers today!

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