Nonprofit leaders face the same challenges as leaders in any other sector. Having hard conversations is one of them. And behind every hard conversation is a hard decision.

Sometimes a team member isn’t performing the way they should. A vendor delivers services or goods that fall short. Or maybe they’re not delivering in time or at all. A funding gap makes it necessary to cut back on costs so you have to terminate contracts with staff or vendors even if they’re doing perfectly. All of these are hard decisions to make. And when you’ve made them, you’ll need to have that hard conversation. (Indeed, behind every hard conversation is a hard decision).

So what makes hard decisions so hard for most of us, in and outside of nonprofits?

First and foremost – most of us want to be liked by people we are close to. So we don’t want to say or do something that will upset people that we work with. (This is our heart talking).

Second, we feel, sort of intuitively, that we need to articulate and explain our hard decisions carefully and clearly to make them (a bit) more acceptable. (And this is our ratio trying to make things better).

And this is true, of course.

If you’re going to give someone negative feedback – you have to have your facts straight.

If you’re going to terminate a contract, you have to make sure you do it humanely but also legally compliant.

So yes, a hard decision may be hard to reach – but your work doesn’t end there.

In fact, it starts from that moment on, when you need to find a way to communicate your decision.



And especially the idea of legal compliance sometimes freezes people.

What if we make a mistake there and aren’t compliant?

The easy and short answer is, in that case you’ll get other opportunities to practise having hard conversations…

And, at least here in the Netherlands, it usually also means that it’ll cost more to terminate a contract if you haven’t crossed all your t’s properly, legally.

So basically, it’s better to be compliant. But if you’re not, it’s not the end of the world.

So fear of compliance is no reason to not take decisions or to not act on them.

What you CAN do is be prepared.

So I recommend you to make sure you’re prepared at any moment to discuss any malperformance of vendors or staff.

This starts by having your paperwork in order: your contracts, your requirements, your progress reports, your communications about delays, malfunctions of goods delivered, etc.

The positive side of investing in boring paperwork is that it’ll also be much easier to delegate certain tasks to others or to hand them over to your replacement in case of leave. (A backdoor to get out of the hard conversation after all!).

How I can help

Check out my free Ten Esssential Strategic Documents Your Nonprofit Needs to Have:

In August 2023, I will host a few sessions talking about so-called soft skills nonprofit leaders need. Like how to have hard conversation, keep your team motivated, get through a crisis and take care of yourself. If you’re interested in joining, make sure you’re subscribed to my weekly Monday Motivations. That way you’ll be the first to know when they happen and how you can join!

If you are looking for a complete step by step system to set up and implement compliant and caring personnel policies and contracting for your nonprofit in line with best practices in the sector – without a law degree – join my Course Practical Labour Law & HR for nonprofits here:

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community

You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.

You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.

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