The nonprofit world is seeing a downturn in volunteerism, a squeeze on its revenue streams and rising competition. How can you be the one who sees what is ahead and makes important course changes to maintain your organization's relevance?

During a recent board training session, an executive director was asked about his role. His response led me to write this article. He said, "I need to be the 'up periscope' for my organization. That is my most critical role."

Here are five ways to be proactive rather than reactive and be the "up periscope" for your organization:

Pulse: Monitor the pulse of your industry or profession. Stay on top of trends, current issues and future issues that may impact your organization either negatively or positively. Bring these issues to your board of directors to either combat or capitalize on them.

Change: It is easy to stay within the "bubble" of an office and work with a team to move forward the initiatives set by the organization. It is harder to step outside of the bubble and help to impact changes to the direction of your organization given outside influences. Burst that bubble and make smart changes to compete and to combat issues and take advantage of opportunities timely by seeing beyond your organization.

Connect: Identify allied or complementary organizations and reach out to their executive directors. Make it a habit to speak monthly and to discuss upcoming issues with other "up periscope" executive directors. The more "eyes and ears" you have in and around your industry or profession, the better.

Monitor: Know what your competition is doing at all times. In the for-profit world, companies will conduct competitive intelligence regularly, and it's a main component of maintaining market position. If the competitor is a for-profit entity, then subscribe to their publications, review their website and attend their events. Knowing your competition is the first step in maintaining a strong presence as the leader in your profession or industry.

Plan: By being the "up periscope," you are collecting global data in the industry or profession. During either a planning session or refresh of your strategic plan, ensure that you provide a report stating key issues and opportunities based upon your research, conversations and observations. But don't wait until a strategic-planning session to communicate urgent issues or opportunities.

Being the "up periscope" for your organization is one of the most important roles that you will play as an executive director. Start taking the steps to maintain a global view for your organization today so that it will not only survive in the future but also thrive.