Non-Profits lead by example with resilience and agility

Through our work with Ronald McDonald House Charities NZ, we’ve observed an approach to change-leadership that nurtures the agility and resilience of their people in such a way that dispels the myths many of us have regarding how non-profits operate. 

And we think it’s worth sharing! Why? because there’s a perception in the business world that’s getting in the way of creating strategically relevant, mutually beneficial and meaningful partnerships with community / charity groups – the type of partnerships that generate business value AND social value hand-in-hand, without one costing the other.

FOR THE CORPORATE: Partnerships that drive innovation, inform customer experience teams and test and strengthen leadership capability. FOR THE CHARITY: Partnerships that provide access to the skills and knowledge that would truly make a difference, create opportunities to commercialise selected services and generate more (much needed) funds and partnerships that raise the profile of their work and message.

All of this begins with re-framing how we view the non-profit sector.  

Enjoy reading four examples of great change-leadership from RMHC as they PIVOTED (yes I said it!) in response in Covid-19 and lockdowns. Regardless of where you’re at with the above context – the below is interesting and impressive, how this non-profit adapted to keep serving and surviving.

Common myths regarding the non-profit and community sector:

  • Corporate or ‘for-profit’ organisations know better and are better when it comes to activities such as change management, leadership and driving agile working practices.
  • Non-profits or ‘for-impact’ organisations are not ‘business minded’ enough nor competitive enough, they’re a bit “soft” and employ people who only make heart-based decisions.
  • The relationship between for-profit and for-impact organisations are limited to the amount of giving, volunteering and mentoring that individual corporates can afford.

1)    Start with WHY. Putting purpose at the centre of business operations.

When the first lockdown was announced what is the first thing RMHC tackled? It was NOT deciding how to save money, nor was it diving into the logistical challenges of separating 120 families and related services across their programmes to meet lockdown and bubble requirements….The first thing RMHC’s Covid response team tackled was ensuring everyone in the response team was clear about their WHYs.

“We got really clear on our ‘WHYs’ so that we could make consistent decisions about WHAT to do.”  


What is most important to RMHC in ambiguous, complex and uncertain times?

“To keep our people safe – both physically and mentally, to keep our programmes open and to keep our business sustainable”. Going forward every decision was made in support of and in alignment with these clear directives -everyone was on the same page.


QUESTION FOR THE READER: How often do you and your teams solve problems by starting with getting clear on ‘what is our WHY’?
2) No CEO in the ‘war room’.  The select group of leaders that form the Covid Response Team does not include the CEO. Why?

“We decided to keep Wayne out of our detailed discussions. We wanted him to be free to look forward, think clearly and make decisions objectively” Michelle Cook, GM People & Culture RMHC NZ.

Keeping Wayne out of the detail freed his team to “do their jobs” – showing deep trust and also leading to fast and efficient action. It enabled Wayne up to keep future- focused, role model the resilience he was asking from his people and provide helpful bigger-picture perspective.

QUESTION FOR THE READER: Where do you /your leaders sit on the spectrum of ‘across everything’ V ‘across the necessary’? To what degree do you /your leaders trust the team and feel freed-up to think about bigger picture stuff?
3) A deep (company-wide) sense of commitment to the purpose and mission enables agility and resilience at all levels. 

Changing a core operating model (from one centred on personal and intimate care for families with sick children), to more of a hotel and room-service model during lockdown – required hundreds of detailed and complex adjustments. In an organisation where a sense of connection to the mission is the number one reason for working there**, it was not surprising that even the exec team got stuck in, helping to make things work. GM Operations Anne Kirkpatrick drove to several McDonald’s restaurants across Akld at all hours of the night to collect fast-food trays, to ensure a new food-delivery system inside the houses could work. 

No task is too small or too big when it comes to serving the mission.

**ThreeHands NZ culture review survey indicated 65% feel the best thing about working at RMHC was strong connection with the mission and ability to make an impact in the community.


QUESTION FOR THE READER: How willing are your people, from the most senior to the most junior, to go over and above in service of your company mission? (do all of your people know ‘the mission’?)
4) Communicate.Communicate.Communicate.There is no such thing as too much communication. 

Majority of RMHC’s workforce is made up of volunteers or part-time shift workers.

“keeping everyone connected and feeling a part of the team was key”. 

Pre-Covid there was one form of communication across the company – email. Tools and communications channels that were deemed essential for connecting during lockdowns are now simply “essential to our business and efforts to nurture our one-team culture”.

  • MS Teams was adopted and rolled out immediately

  • Facebook groups were set up for everyone to understand and feel connected to what was going inside the Houses.

  • CEO Wayne shared daily video updates (yes daily) and encouragement during the first lockdown – this has since a become a regular feature of how Wayne communicates to all staff.

  • Regular specific emails with targeted information around health and wellbeing, and working from home etc.

QUESTION FOR THE READER: Is there anything else you can be doing to help everyone feel connected and part of a team?

We have been working with RMHC for the past 8 months as they prioritise their own leadership capability and culture in order to sustain growth and their mission – keeping families together while they care for sick children. Big thanks to @Wayne, @Michelle and the Senior Lead Team at Ronald McDonald House for reminding us of the skills and purpose-driven business practices that are often underestimated in the non-profit sector.

Bex and Three Hands were an integral part of us starting to make that cultural shift through empowering our people leaders. Bex provided practical advice through one-on-one coaching, as well as enterprise-level thought leadership. It is a pleasure having her work with the team.”

Michelle Cook, GM People & Culture

Corporates: Are you looking to do something different with your community and charity partnerships? Why not consider collaborating with your community sector for mutual benefit -(don’t limit yourselves only to traditional employee-volunteer programmes). 

You can provide your employees with a relevant connection to community and to a sense of purpose. At the same time your community partners can receive practical support that truly makes a difference to them. For example

  • add meaningful, experiential components to your leadership development programmes by way of strategic charity projects
  • host a Social Insight workshop to better understand your vulnerable customers and inspire some innovation or
  • why not change it up a little when it comes to this year’s strategy-planning offsite or team-building session?