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Top Seven Signs It’s Time to Call a Facilitator

At a basic level, an organization is a collection of people working together to create action. Humans tend to complicate things, especially when they’re in groups (newsflash: it’s not limited to junior high). Even in a strong, sustainable organization you find anxieties, triggers, power dynamics, and interests in everyday life. Imagine what happens when you layer on top of these interpersonal dynamics a major organization-wide transition, turning point, or big opportunity. It’s easy for things to become unclear and messy.

The opposite of to complicate is “to make easier,” which happens to be the definition of the word “facilitate”. A facilitator is a neutral leader who can carve out space for collaboration in the middle of chaos.

Think of a facilitator as a nonprofit doctor specializing in organizational change.

Nonprofits seek this specialist for different reasons at different times in their life cycles. Here are the voices of two Ostara clients reflecting on what led them to engage a professional facilitator:

“We were considering launching a new nonprofit in the Seattle marketplace.  Since this new organization would serve a diversity of stakeholders, it was important that we hire a facilitator to help us find consensus from our advisory board about how to move this ‘big idea’ forward.”


“We wanted to start at a foundational level and explore our strategic direction with professionals who had an unbiased view of the organization. We were looking for someone who could lead discussions and help us refine the bottom-line outcomes to establish action lists.”


If facilitation is the prescription, how do you know if your organization needs this antidote, like Washington Filmworks and Future Business Leaders of America did? In the style of David Letterman’s lists, here are the:

Top Seven Signs your Organization Needs a Facilitator

You want to do something new, like expand or change your mission or vision.

You are considering a merger or major partnership with other organizations.

There is significant organizational stress or strife and you can’t name the sources. You want to understand the obstacles so you can build a path forward.

Your leadership has changed or is about to change (Executive Director, staff leadership team, or Board). Double underline here if your leader is also a founder of the organization.

You want to lead and listen to organizational stakeholders to inform the organization’s direction.

You are at a crossroads and don’t know where to go. This intersection could include facing a tough reality like declining funding, increasing need, or structural deficiencies. 

It’s time for a new strategic plan, and not only because the last one is outdated. Your organization is ready to set a new course because you see unaddressed community need or opportunities and you think your organization is the solution.    

As a doctor would say, if you are experiencing any of these signs, consider the help of a trained facilitator. Like a health challenge, you risk something going from bad to worse or losing an opportunity if you skip the care your organization needs. Muscling through it on your own or inserting an inside facilitator (like a Board or staff member who may have organizational biases) often doesn’t get the organization to where it needs to be at a critical juncture.

I’ll leave you with a dose of hope. Here are testimonies about what facilitators made possible for the two organizations I mentioned above. Facilitation is good medicine for organizations:

“Having a facilitator made all the difference in the world. I often say that it is some of the best money I spent in my 2018 budget.  On a grand scale, our facilitator helped bring our vision into focus and, ultimately, our new nonprofit to life.  She did it one small, strategic, careful step at a time.”


“I don’t think we could have made such significant progress with real priorities and action plans without our facilitators.”


Whether you work with a volunteer or professional, a facilitator gives you – and every person in the room – the opportunity to participate fully in crucial conversations. An effective facilitator brings a trusted pair of “outside” eyes to any situation. Their only agenda is to create the space your organization needs to have a vital discussion.


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