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Entrepreneurial Thinking As A Key To Success: An Interview with Ken Thiessen

We talk with Ken Thiessen about being a coach to help nonprofits have an entrepreneurial mindset.

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    By Tiffany

    Tiffany studied Language and Economics, and now likes to write about business topics and conduct interviews with interesting people. She spends her free time looking after her plants and with her dog.

    With some experience being an entrepreneur and working at some nonprofit organizations, Ken Thiessen wanted to share his knowledge with nonprofits. He affirms that every organization should have an entrepreneurial thinking mindset, and that is exactly what Ken advises as a coach. Mailbutler talks to him today to discover how he achieves his goal!

    Hi Ken! Nice to meet you, we are glad to have the chance to interview you! You are an entrepreneur that decided to bring all of your years of experience to help organizations as a coach. Why did you want to share your knowledge with others?

    I saw a lot of nonprofit organizations that had good people working in them, but they didn’t really have the skills and expertise to scale their growth and their impact

    I saw that the expertise and experience I had could really help them do more good in the world which is what drives most nonprofit organizations.  

    And why did you decide to focus on nonprofit organizations?

    I had 30 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations. 20 of those years as a minister. My problem was that I was entrepreneurial, so when I could see that career coming to an end I began to think about starting my own coaching practice focused exclusively on working with nonprofit organizations.

    I connected with a coaching organization that worked mostly with businesses.  They had a really solid strategic planning framework and they were just launching their nonprofit version of the planning framework. As I looked at the organization and their planning framework, I knew that this was going to be a fit for me, so I joined it and became the first coach to work exclusively with nonprofit organizations.

    The thing that really impressed me about their planning framework was that it took the plan from an idea to implementation. Most nonprofit have no shortage of idea but they really struggle with the implementation part of things.

    As I started to connect with other coaches in the organization they encouraged me to write a book for nonprofits, incorporating the planning framework. As I thought about writing a book on strategic planning for nonprofits, I realized that I couldn’t write a standard strategic planning book. I would have to incorporate story into the book and I entitled my book The Entrepreneurial Nonprofit: The Key To Maximizing Sustainable Impact because the only way most nonprofits are going to survive is to become entrepreneurial. 

    I crafted a story of a nonprofit that came to that realization and then interspersed chapters of the story with the theory of our planning framework, how this nonprofit incorporated that theory into its organization and the impact it had on it.

    Sounds interesting!! And what are the typical reasons nonprofit organizations approach you for coaching?

    They recognize that status quo is no longer working and most of them have tried fixing it themselves and that hasn’t worked either.  Most of my business comes from referrals so organizations have heard about other organizations that I’ve worked with how I’ve helped them.  

    The other important factor is my extensive experience. I understand their world because I’ve lived it. Some of my competitors would know that world intellectually but they’ve never lived it like I have, so I can empathize with the leadership team of the organizations I work with.

    The other big factor is that we help them take their plan from idea to implementation which very few of my competitors do. Most nonprofit strategic planning is all about the grand idea of changing the world but most of those strategic plans have no impact on the day to day operations of the organization. 

    You are right, it is better to learn more about something from someone that has lived it! From your experience, how would you say an organization could scale its growth and impact?

    By getting really clear on what their priorities are, by developing clear metrics and accountabilities for each of those priorities and by making sure they have the right people on the team, the organization is able to scale up its growth and impact.

    A key part of it also involves getting really clear on the organization’s core values. Lots of organizations have what they would call “Core Values” but those values don’t really shape the culture of the organization. For us, if your core values don’t drive your day to operations and shape the culture of the organization, then they’re not really core values

    One of the things we say is that you’ll know they are core values when you’re prepared to fire a repeat offender. I had one client I worked with where the Executive director didn’t live any of the core values so the board of directors made the decision to terminate the Executive director. That got the attention of everybody in the organization because they knew their core values actually meant something. Their core values were more than catchy slogans in their marketing material.  This organization started to screen new hires to ensure that they were a fit with its core values.  It totally transformed the culture of the organization.

    Another key thing with the accountability is when we’re working on their priorities.  We get really clear and specific on what needs to be done, who’s responsible to make sure it gets done and what the timeline is for getting it done.

    As you say, it is really important to consider the core value of an organization!

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    On the other hand, I read that for you, the key is to think entrepreneurially. What do you mean by that? And what are the best practices to think entrepreneurially?

    To think entrepreneurially is to think outside of the box, to be willing to try things they’ve never and to start running the organization as a business which most of them resist.

    But if they can make the shift to run it as a business, they can actually do more good in the world.

    What do you mean by thinking outside of the box? And why is it so important?

    We live in a changing world. So the old ways no longer work and a lot of nonprofits are not sustainable long term and they have no plan to become sustainable. Covid-19 is only going to increase the challenges that nonprofits face related to sustainability and viability.  I’ve heard some really scary predictions of how many nonprofits will not survive post-Covid-19.

    It is a difficult situation for everyone, we need to adapt to it in the best way possible. 

    I saw that you have experience in different sectors. What would you say is the one you learned the most from? The one that now serves you to give examples when advising others.

    I learned some valuable lessons from my restaurant experience. I was naive and had no plan and was bankrupt in short order. My experience as a minister has been very helpful as well, a lot of nonprofits are faith-based and my theological training gives me credibility when I challenge them or some of their faulty assumptions.

    And how does an entrepreneurial coach like you use Mailbutler?

    I find Mailbutler to be an invaluable tool. It allows me to send out emails on a timer and track when an email has been opened and read. 

    Additionally, it works with multiple email platforms, which is also very handy.

    We are so glad that you enjoy Mailbutler! And that’s everything, thank you for this interview. It has been a pleasure, Ken!


    Did you read the last interview, where we had the chance to talk to Marilyn Trent? If not, keep reading this interesting article The Value Of A Solid Brand Strategy“.

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