News & Insights

Either/or thinking drives me crazy, which helps explain my frequent dissents into madness (professionally speaking). Almost weekly, an exhausted executive director, overwhelmed development staffer, or out-of-breath board member gives me that “deer in the headlights” look when I suggest that the organization try walking and chewing gum simultaneously (metaphorically speaking).

“Which should it be?” they ask. “Direct mail or in-person solicitation? Annual fund or a campaign? Lots of small gifts (wide) or a focus on major donors (deep)? Congregations or individuals?”

“Both/and, as much as possible,” I reply.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that both (or all) strategies deserve equal time, resources, and promotion. But there’s wisdom still in the old warning about putting all eggs in one basket — and not just for the fundraising program. Across the whole of organizational life, it’s seldom one way or the other, regardless the issue. Consider, for example, a piece in Harvard Business Review about executive search, another list-topping topic for nonprofit boards. In lieu of the usual home-grown vs. import either/or conversation, the HBR article points to  “inside/outsiders.” The concept originated with Joseph Bower’s 2007 book, The CEO Within: Why Inside-Outsiders are the Key to Succession Planning.

Neither entirely fish nor fowl

The Harvard Business School prof describes these special souls as “people from the inside of the company who somehow have maintained enough detachment from the local traditions, ideology, and shibboleths that they have retained the objectivity of an outsider.” It’s Bower’s observation that “insiders do better, often much better, than outsiders when stepping up to the top job.”

But not always.

Crises sometimes call for startling interventions, and the cool objectivity that only a detached outsider can bring. But more often it is the inside-outsider who can really make a lasting difference. That is why succession planning remains a core task for existing CEOs, and a key element of their legacy. Chief executives should get to work early on developing potential successors – and they should look for inside-outsiders who can manage that vital balance between continuity and change.

So if you care about your organization’s well-being (and my sanity), eschew either/or thinking.  And regardless the goal  — more money, a new leader, a planning model, etc. etc. etc. — “beware of anyone who suggests that there’s always one preferred route to take.”


Cross-posted from Rebekah Burch Basinger's excellent blog, Generous Matters.

See Rebekah Burch Basinger's follow-up to this post here.

Image credit: Both photos by David Amsler

Top Topics

Roles & Responsibilities



Board Essentials

Upcoming Events

The In Trust Center hosts learning community spaces throughout the year. Check out our upcoming events below.

Strategic Partnerhips


In this on-demand webinar, Rick Staisloff, senior partner of rpk GROUP, will discuss essential aspects of strategic partnerships. He will explore current trends, identify partners, navigate the due diligence process, and addresses common challenges. In addition to technical components of partnerships, he will also examine the intangible – yet critical – elements of partnerships, such as building trust and managing relationships.

Closing the Trust Gap


The current and very troubling condition of trust is a clarion call to action. But despite the dismal data showing pervasive organizational distrust, every organization can assess their current level of trust, learn and adopt a proven trust building framework, and then develop a meaningful and long-lasting plan of action. This webinar details the knowledge and practical next steps to strengthen workplace culture as a result of closing the trust gap.

In Trust Center Resource Grants


An In Trust Center Resource Grant offers member schools a chance to explore innovation at their institutions through a matching grant opportunity of up to $15,000. Listen to this 30-minute information session, including Q&A, as we provide details on eligibility requirements, funding priorities, application process. Previous grantees are eligible to apply as long as they are not within our current funding cycle.

Can’t Find What You’re Looking For?

In Trust Center provides Resource Consulting to our members at no charge. Contact us today and let us guide you to the most helpful resources for your situation.

Contact Us