Why Good Habit Formation Is Important for Nonprofits | Beth's Blog

Why Good Habit Formation Is Important for Nonprofits


Flickr Photo by Celestine Chua

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a new project that will launch next month.   It is a leadership professional development project for emerging leaders in nonprofits in collaboration with Third Plateau funded by the Packard Foundation.

This pilot project will test a leadership development training model for emerging leaders in environmental organizations that uses a combination of peer learning, coaching, and mentoring. The approach tests a hypothesis that emerging leaders need to have exciting, new assignments as well as the professional development and mentoring they need to succeed.

The curriculum covers important “me” and “we” skills to manage themselves and others.     One key leadership competency is the ability to change.   And how do we do that?   We form new “good” habits (and drop old “bad” habits).

Change is often easier said than done, but if we change our habits we change our personal and work lives and by extension our organizations. As someone who has worked as a technology trainer with nonprofits,  the ability to form a new habit of using what you learned after the training is critically important.   I’m always looking for ways to incorporate learning this skill into any training – and this project offers a deep dive to learn more about how to help nonprofit leaders work on it.

I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book on habit formation, “Better Than Before”  which is a delightful exploration of habit change. She talks about the pillars of habit change, tendencies that you can help you sustain positive change:

  • Monitoring: If you measure, track, and reflect on your behavior, you can more easily make a shift in your habit.
  • Schedule: Often the most difficult step of forming a habit is taking the first step.    Often the “I’ll do it tomorrow” thoughts get in our way.   But scheduling that first task can help us get past that block to change.
  • Accountability: If someone is watching, we are likely to follow through on our commitments.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to best incorporate good habit practice into the project design without being onerous on participants and helping them build good relationships with one another.

For the monitoring and scheduling, participants will be encouraged to keep journals in any format they like.   In the book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work,  did research that found that keeping a journal is one of the best strategies for improving your professional performance over time, especially if you are using the journal to monitor a habit.

While old fashioned pen and paper work great, there are also some terrific apps for journaling on your mobile phone.    I am particularly fond of “Day One” for the iPhone and Mac platform.

Accountability is a powerful force in habit formation.   If we believe that someone is watching, we behave differently.     One way to do this is to “go public” with your goals.    Perhaps you have seen this in your circle friends who might declare that they are starting a new fitness by sharing it as a public update on Facebook.

Another way to use accountability is to find an accountability partner,  a person who coaches another person in terms of helping the other person keep a commitment.   While individuals can be accountability partners, joining a group is also useful.  We see this in groups like Weight Watchers or AA.

The project design includes smaller group coaching pods which will be essentially be an accountability group where participants will declare and share what skills they will practice to form better habits.   But, we have also gone a step further and set up accountability partners or pairs of participants who will work informally together.

When you are working on trying to be better at your professional work by forming good habits, what works for you?   What have you tried?


4 Responses

  1. Lisa Cannon says:

    This is also relevant and helpful for managing change processes with non-profit boards. Thanks Beth!

  2. Beth says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your comment! Could you explain a little bit more about how you might apply to this a nonprofit board scenario?

  3. David Matine says:

    I work with a nonprofit and have found that in addition to the points made in this article it is also important for a nonprofit to have volunteers and workers who are passionate about their work. NAWCCB, for example, has a volunteer board of directors who work in the medical field and know what is expected of their nonprofit. They are on the board because they are passionate about the service that the nonprofit provides, and they do a great job. http://www.nawccb.org/about

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