As a nonprofit manager, juggling tight budgets, increasing demands and often conflicting priorities, sometimes you may be faced with a situation in which your options are stuck between not good and awful. By this time in your career, you have no doubt discovered that the bigger, but easier, questions of good versus bad have already been handled.

As a leader, you are tasked with the often unfun job of having to decide between options that are either horrible or terrible.

Some scenarios

# 1

Your organization is producing a national conference and the targets set for attendance and sponsorship are way below what will be needed for the event to not only make a profit, but even simply break even.

  • Do you cancel the event, cancel the invited speakers and disappoint those who have saved and planned for the trip?

  • Or do you go ahead with it anyway, knowing that is likely that you will lose money, rather than make it but still provide the opportunity for your members and community?


Your best teacher and coach tells you he needs more money or he is leaving to go to a competitor.

  • Do you pay him what he wants and cancel other programs to cover the cost?

  • Or do you let him go, losing him as a popular member of your team, but keeping your budget intact, but then have to take the time and energy to replace him?


The central program around which your organization was founded has become seriously underperforming financially, losing money weekly, while other peripheral programs are holding their own.

  • Do you cancel the underperforming but mission-central program, leaving a hole in your mission delivery?

  • Or do you re-arrange resources to keep the program open and hope the income from the other programs will be able to support for a while longer?

What would you do, how can you solve these problems, what steps can help you find that third option?*

Some suggestions

#1who can listen to you, can you find a good sounding board? Is there someone on your board, an advisor or senior volunteer that you can talk it out with? It is crucial to discuss all the aspects of the problem. Hearing the words out loud, describing all the moving parts of the problem can sometimes reveal options you hadn’t considered, and at the very least help to clearly define the choices before you.

#2: discuss all the options you might have, even the most terrible or the worst ones. Don?t invest time in wishing things could be different, list all possible avenues that you might consider to address the problem.

#3:  consider the issue through the framework of your mission. What is your purpose and goal? What can be changed, what needs to be changed? Is there a course of action that seems to be more aligned with the changes you need to make? Can you deliver your mission a different way?

#4: what is best for the overall and long term health of your organization? Some times some short term pain is the price required for the long term gain.The huge problem now might be a small problem in your rear view mirror.

While taking these steps won’t necessarily bring the 7th cavalry over the hill to save the day, they can help you sort out what is urgent, what is important and what other possibilities may exist that weren’t as obvious at first.

This Is Why You Get the Big Bucks

Leadership is tough, and it is for sure that someone may not like the choice you ultimately make;  in the long run, taking on the tough stuff can only make you and your organization stronger. True leadership is seeing the problems, possible solutions and having the courage to make the best choice for your organizations, beneficiaries and partners. 

Need that extra set of ears? Call us and let us assist you find the best possible path between tough choices.  310 828 6979

*What Happened: 

  1. The conference went ahead, and the organization lost money, but added cancellation clauses in all contracts going forward.

  2. The coach was given a larger role in determining the program and developing more community engagement which offered him the chance to have a stronger voice in the organization and to increase its revenues.

  3. The underperforming program was combined with another very similar, existing program  with a partner organization, allowing the participants to maintain their services and reducing the cost overall.

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