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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Right-Braining in the Nonprofit World
Dr. Jeffrey W. Steed

April, 2014

It is common knowledge that using the left side of the brain depends heavily upon quantitative and linear thinking.  It is often centered on what makes sense on “paper” from a numbers or metrics standpoint.  Using the right side of the brain often centers on what may not be so obvious or logical at the time.  It centers on the use of creative and imaginative thinking.


For nonprofit leaders that tend to lean towards the strict use of the left side of the brain, there are some questions that can help force right-side brain activity to help balance a leader's effectiveness upon the life of a nonprofit organization.  Some examples of such questions are as follows:


-      “What are we not doing as an organization that we need to consider?” – This question centers around the vision and mission of the organization.  To fully explore the possibilities of this question, leadership must temporarily block out potential hindrances in order to consider all responses.  As an example, forget about the finances initially as shocking as that may sound (especially from the point of view of a finance-major).  First, simply brainstorm on the responses with an open mind to the question and then follow up later on the feasibility of each response.


-      “What do we need to consider that does not make sense on the front-end?” – To stretch right-braining further, what if leadership was to consider some of the responses from the previous question that do not seem to work out financially on paper, at least initially.  For most of us that leans toward left-brain logical thinking, we usually become very uncomfortable at this point.  However, sincerely asking, pondering and further researching some possibilities in this realm may help us glean from some critical options to help propel the organization to the next level of effectiveness.


-      “What other nonprofit organizations do we need to consider collaborations with to help exponentially impact our cause?” – Left-braining often prevents us from considering such a question because such rationale causes us to look at other nonprofit organizations as competitors that can lead to our “bottom line” being impacted.  Right-braining seriously considers the question in an unselfish manner if we truly believe in impacting the underlying cause of the nonprofit organization that we serve.  Collaborative relationships among nonprofit organizations have to be structured well to prevent problematic issues.  However, win-win collaborations should increase the impact of all nonprofit organizations involved.


These questions and others can help nonprofit leadership chart the future course of a nonprofit organization in a balanced manner to maximize its effectiveness.  Through such a journey, our underlying causes can be further impacted!


Jeffrey W. Steed is the Senior Director of Gift Planning at The University of Texas at Arlington.  Previously, he was the Vice President of the Arkansas Baptist Foundation for over ten years.  He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas in Arlington.  Steed also has a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  He has authored several books and articles.  To contact the writer, please email him at


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