Monday, February 20, 2012

Students Leading the Way

One of the greatest challenges for young people must be to step fully into managing their own lives and taking responsibility for the things that directly affect them. It was for me. It is for my son. And I recall as a high school student government leader (many years ago!), my friends and I did exactly that. We lobbied school administrators, collaborated with school district trustees, and even took our issues (and grievances) to the State Board of Education. We learned it is one thing to have adults manage our lives for us and quite another to try to manage them ourselves...for ourselves.

Personal and collective empowerment.

And today, the world is very different than when I was a student. For many reasons. Especially because of the Internet.

I have written before about the cyber-bullying experience we had to manage that consumed our son and our family several years ago (as a seventh grader, he was the victim of a nasty and threatening on-line bullying cycle perpetrated by some classmates). Now that he has been accepted to college for the Fall term, this middle school nightmare seems so long ago! I am reminded of the impact of that experience, however, on a daily basis. I see the perpetrators of the bullying of my son in our small community. I work with the limitations of the restrictions placed on Internet accessibility resulting from the bullying incident and those that followed for other kids. I am saddened by the threat to innocence and easygoing social development because of the seductive vastness and anonymity of the virtual world.

Just late last week I received a letter from Mrs. Svensson, a school teacher in Colorado, whose 7th grade technology students found my website and resource links about cyber-bullying. She acknowledged that the students found my site of value and asked if I would help them continue to get the word out about the problem of on-line safety and cyber-bullying by posting the resource links they researched for their assignment. I am happy to do so!

Thanks, kids, for taking responsibility for your own lives and for trying to make the lives of your classmates who are bullied, harassed, ridiculed, teased, threatened, victimized, taunted, annoyed a little bit happier, easier to navigate by providing valuable resources from which to seek help, and helping to make your school environment and the lives of your classmates safer and happier.

Here are the valuable links provided by these courageous young people:

Bella Lyn
offers the website (although at the time of this posting, the website appears to be having some technological challenges; I'll update when possible):

offers this resource: On-line Security Guide for Parents and Kids

Ben M. offers the site:

Derrik offers resources from this guide:

Angela P. offers the site:

Sara offers more great resources to take from this research guide hosted by the US Marines:

And Mrs. Svensson provides some valuable tips in her e-mail signature:

Parents-Quick Cyber-Safety Tips

1. Make sure your child does not spend all of his/her time on the computer. People, not computers, should be their best friends and companions.

2. Teach them never to meet an online friend offline unless you are with them.

3. Teach them what information they can share with others online and what they can't (like telephone numbers, address, their full name and school)

The problem of cyber-bullying is not going away anytime soon, sadly. In fact, it may be getting worse. It is certainly more tragic with the increase in teen suicides resulting from cyber-bullying and other forms of bullying and harassment. Bullying today is meaner, more threatening, and creates a deeper despair and marginalization for these young people. While parents and educators can do extraordinary things to mitigate the problem, young people can also lead the effort for themselves.

Your lives depend on it!

P.S. There are more useful links on the sidebar of this blog and on this link to my website. Please call me if I can support you with your cyber-bullying challenges.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's What You Do!

Lead. Manage. Facilitate. Strategize. Listen. Solicit. Measure. Work. Participate. Share. Talk. Challenge. Direct. Shape. Govern. Grow. Learn. Process. Evaluate. Mentor. Coach. Counsel. Recruit. Plan. Schedule. Write. Send. Create. Implement. Terminate. Cultivate. Thank. Visit. Draft. Clean. Nurture. Record. Update. Balance. Protect. Secure. Nurture. Legislate. Promote. Advocate. Lobby. Educate. Train. Vote. Select. Greet. Secure. Think. Consider. Apologize. Commit. Hire. Pay. Laugh. Celebrate. Brainstorm. Present. Complete.

Think about what you want to do and the outcome you wish to achieve and choose your verb wisely. Be in a state of mindfulness. Try it.

And, of course, how you do it is important!

What are you aware of when you are doing something? What do you notice when what you are doing is inconsistent with why you are doing it or with what you are trying to achieve? How do you redirect yourself (or others) when you notice this lack of alignment? What dynamic exists when what you do and what you need are not aligned?

Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, January 2, 2012

What Lingers In the Space

It's been a rough autumn. And winter. I got pneumonia and have been really sick for some time now. What an interruption to my life. Lucky for me, I was able to identify the moment of infection...and even "Patient Zero." One shared retreat followed by four people out with the plague. Nasty!

Ever since this retreat I have been thinking about germs. The things we cannot see or hear or smell or feel. The things that exist and that we take for granted. Until it is too late. I am intrigued by the germs that lingered in the retreat space as we planned, built team, conversed, played. The pneumonia germs were ever-present, looking to infect unsuspecting people, even at a time of great collegiality and productivity.

And I got to thinking... pneumonia germs are a lot like the toxins that exist in the work place, the toxins that linger waiting to infect the productivity and cohesion of the team. They are so familiar to each of us. Some people and behaviors that when unleashed, infect the space and ruin everything. For everybody.

Excuses. Ego. Laziness. Arrogance. Clashes between generations or departments or across functional areas. People who show up late. Unproductive meetings. Undermining behaviors. Poor quality of work. Rudeness. Lack of civility. Collusion and coercion. Lack of creativity, kindness, support, resources, time, ideas. Crying. Rage. Ignoring the issues/problems. Revenge and retribution. Slacking. Internet and social distractions. Lengthy personal breaks. Blame. Defensiveness. Quitting. Scapegoating. Withdrawal. Terse e-mail exchanges. Door slamming. Tattling. It goes on and on.

We have been sanitizing the home and office for a month now. Disinfecting wipes and anti-bacterial dispensers and laundry and handkerchiefs and isolation when needed. So far, so good. No one else is sick! Pneumonia be gone!

But how do we do that in the workplace? What does the sanitizing and disinfecting the work space look like? How do we eliminate the toxins? Manage the toxins? Heal from the toxins? How do we acknowledge that toxins may exist and then behave accordingly? What germs are you carrying into the workplace, knowing that if you spent the day in bed, you could eliminate them? And when you notice the toxins, what do you do? What is possible for you and the team if you spoke up? Where does the courage come from? Talk about having to be conscious and aware!

Good health to you in the new year!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Great Read!

A terrific article, shared from that is well worth a read followed by a hearty a conversation with your board and staff.


Nonprofit Leadership Needed

October 17, 2011

by Todd Cohen

Nonprofits need to lead, and quickly.

At home and abroad, we face serious threats from multiple, cascading crises, including shattered economies and financial systems; toxic and gridlocked politics; poverty, disease and illiteracy; global terrorism; natural and ecological disasters; and, in the U.S., a culture infected with greed, blame and intolerance.

Missing in action in taking on those problems is leadership, a role that nonprofits can and must play.

Yet with the social and global needs they exist to address escalating rapidly, nonprofits themselves are stressed and increasingly broken by crises of their own over who will lead them, the role their organizations should play, and the business models they will need to survive and thrive.

The challenges facing nonprofits are huge, and meeting them will require leadership that is exceptional.

Nonprofits need leaders who can help rebuild their organizations; set a vision for what they aspire to accomplish; and identify and develop partners and supporters they will need to effectively take on community problems.

But nonprofits as organizations also need to be leaders.

In a speech last month at the annual conference of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, James Joseph, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and a former president of the Council on Foundations, urged nonprofits to help fill the void in the U.S. in moral leadership.

To do that, nonprofits need to shape a “post-crisis narrative” about the role they will play, get over their “fear of public life” by getting involved in policy work and public debate, and recognize that their assets consist of more than simply financial capital, said Joseph, a professor emeritus of the practice of public policy at Duke University.

The nonprofit sector is the “custodian of values and resources,” and the “conscience of our democracy,” he said, and should serve as an “independent moral voice” and develop messages to “build the national will” in addressing the urgent problems we face.

To be effective leaders for social and global change, however, nonprofits first need to get their own shops in order.

Also last month, at the first session of the second annual course offered by the Leadership Gift School, an initiative in Charlotte, N.C., to build the philanthropic culture of local nonprofits and the community, fundraising consultant Karla Williams told teams of staff executives and fundraisers from a dozen local nonprofits that leadership and philanthropy are “philosophically intertwined,” rooted in an innate desire to fix a problem or improve a cause.

So truly advancing a nonprofit’s mission requires a business model that integrates strategies for building the capacity of the organization and for serving the community.

That requires leaders who can build relationships and communicate, both within their own organizations and in their communities.

Leaders, whether individuals who lead organizations, or organizations that exercise moral leadership, can lead effectively if they can and will listen, share, include, think ahead, and take risks that make sense.

Leaders in the nonprofit sector must help develop and share the story of the community needs their organizations address.

They must develop partners and supporters who care about community and can work together to identify critical assets and resources, and put them to productive, innovative and collaborative use.

Sadly, many nonprofits lack true leaders and themselves fail to lead, stuck in the mindset that they and their causes are victims.

Instead, nonprofits need to look for ways to grow and partner, and to find the community assets they can use and share to make a difference.

At the Leadership Gift School, Williams cited Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller and author of Leadership is an Art.

The first job of a leader, he said, is to “define reality,”

The second is to be a “servant.”

To successfully navigate today’s crises, nonprofits must step up and lead by telling the story of the urgent social and global problems we face, and serving their communities by shaping the vision, and developing the partnerships and resources, needed to fix those problems.

Todd Cohen is editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Letter to People Who Volunteer

Dear Volunteer,

Our organization thrives because of your hard work and commitment to our shared vision. You give your talents and expertise freely which enables us to thrive, provide valuable services, and save money (you also are core to our staying in legal compliance as a non-profit, but that sounds pretty cold...but thanks!). We couldn't do what we do without you. Really!

Working with volunteers can be challenging for professional staff. We have experience and training too and sometimes our efforts and passion get overshadowed by yours (you give it away for free while we get paid!). But I know we are truly in partnership with one another. In fact, I have to remind myself, non-profit organizations were not created to be the professionally run institutions that they have become; they were always intended to be entirely volunteer led. But I am glad you are here!

Sometimes it's hard to remember that volunteers are not extensions of staff or unpaid staff. To think this way actually devalues your generous gift of time. You are purely, thoughtfully, kindly a volunteer. Period. I need to remember you are, for example, a volunteer who is a doctor or a volunteer who is a fundraiser or a volunteer who is a community leader. You are a volunteer who brings your personal and professional expertise and resources to help us advance our common goal. You round out what we are as a professional staff. Cool.

The demands placed upon volunteers are great. I recognize this fact clearly. And I know that you volunteer in addition to maintaining your paying job, raising a family, commuting, being a student, and other life functions. I cannot expect that you are here 40 hours a week like me. If you were to do so, you should be paid. My job is to leverage those hours we do spend together in service to our organization. I have to take some responsibility for how well you are able to serve our organization. If it's not working too well, chances are staff has something to do to make sure it gets better. We need you.

I count on you to serve and to guide me. I count on you to teach me something, to share your resources, and to be of generous spirit. I count on you to be willing to do what is needed to be done. I count on you to show up on time and do what you say you are going to do. I count on you to be a member of the organization and a donor too. I count on you to be an ambassador of our good work in the community. I count on you to come to me when we have a problem so we can work it out, for the sake of our organization and its reputation in the community. I count on you to let me have a professional say and not try to overpower my expertise because I am staff and you are a volunteer. I count on you to do yourself what you think others should be doing (for example, I need you to be a donor if you think they should be a donor). I count on you to be willing to be counted on.

And counting on one another is a mutual thing. You can count on me to bring my best professional expertise to the organization and to serving you. It's what you pay me for. I will work with you and understand your role. Clearly. I will honor this timeless tradition of volunteerism and work with you, support you, and hold you I know you will for me. I will respect you and all of your expertise and gifts. You are not free labor to me; you are a valuable resource! I will be of good cheer and appreciation for your service and I will seek to clarify and make appropriate adjustments when things need to be adjusted. I will know and appreciate the distinction between leadership volunteers and front-line/program volunteers and be clear when I am asking you to do something. I will not ask you do anything I would not do myself, unless it is an specialized skill you bring, of course. I will appreciate you and you will know it.

Just like you volunteer at this organization and maintain a life and profession outside of this volunteer service, I, too, will volunteer in an organization somewhere. You can be a role model for me. You can also be a mentor for me. I will be a donor and a volunteer and a resource and a leader. Somewhere. We can have a passion for the organization/cause we have in common and I can have a passion for something else too. I need to walk my talk. To be an effective manager of volunteers, I probably need to be one too! I will. My best training for volunteer management did not come from a classroom or a training seminar; it came from volunteering myself! You're welcome!

More than anything, Volunteer, you were on my mind this morning. I was feeling a heap of appreciation for your service and expertise. You do make me a bit crazy at times (sometimes you are a bit demanding!), but I have come to realize how much you mean to our organization and what we mean to you. Passion looks, well...passionate at times. Your service to our organization is incredible and I am glad to know you.

You are my hero!

The Staff of Your Non-Profit Organization

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's (not) the Economy, Stupid!

There is a common theme of blame and dis-empowerment in our culture today--"It's the economy"--that we use to let ourselves off the hook for failing to deliver on our goals. Blame the economy! I get that the economy is tough...really tough for many...and yet, there is a tendency to overstate the importance of the economy weighing us down so we do not have to address the truth of what might really be weighing us down. The external factors of life are rarely what bring us down; how we respond to them is the issue.

Hard truth? The economy is not necessarily the reason why your non-profit is struggling to meet its fundraising goals. The economy is not necessarily the reason why you have yet to find a job. The economy is not necessarily the reason your organization is losing customers or members or market share. When we fixate on the economy we are assuring ourselves that for another period of time--days, weeks, months, and even years--we will not be taking responsibility for the condition of our organizations, budgets, lives, relationships, job searches, market share.

The economy is bad. What's worse is ignoring our individual and collective power and responsibility to do anything about our situations while in this economy.

Think about it: Not meeting your fundraising goals can be about having a poor or a poorly articulated case for giving. Maybe your fundraising staff and volunteers are poor fundraisers. Maybe you don't understand your donors and what motivates their giving to you. Perhaps you don't understand what your philanthropic competition is doing to set itself apart from you. What if your strategy is just bad? What if your services are uninspired, tired, or not needed any longer? Perhaps you are not asking the right people in the right way and for the right amount of money or the right kind of support. What have you done to address staffing, training, infrastructure, data? Maybe you're talkers and not doers (many fundraisers love to talk about what donors should be doing with their money!).

Think about it: Maybe your work experience is deficient for the jobs that interest you. Maybe you aren't networking actively enough. Maybe you spend too much time looking for work from your computer and not enough time engaging and enrolling people face-to-face in your job search. Maybe your skills are out of date. Maybe your interview skills are weak and offer up a poor reflection of who you really are and the value you can bring the organization. Maybe you are unprepared. Perhaps your deficiencies (we all have them) are leading and your successes (we all have them) are trailing behind in your search. Maybe your resume is poorly written and badly designed. It could be the suit, the hairstyle, the perfume/after shave, the scuffed shoes, the accessories. Perhaps you are surrounded with too many people commiserating with you (telling you the economy is really the reason why you are not landing a job) and not telling you useful truths (for example, you appear desperate and there are typos in your cover letter) for fear of upsetting you.

Think about it: Maybe your organization is poorly managed or your services are badly presented to your public. Maybe your organization's failure to strategically plan in the past has come to haunt your present. Maybe your competition is just better than you delivering the same services. Perhaps your customer/member/donor services have become stale, insincere, underwhelming. Perhaps your public sees an investment to an organization other than yours is a better investment. Maybe you have gone adrift of your mission and your core business principles have failed. What if you are resistant to acting upon complaints, criticism, feedback that you pretend to seek? Maybe your lapsed members are just not that into you any longer.

When we tend to repeat the external reasons why our success eludes us (it's the economy!), it is generally a good indication that we are unaware or unwilling to look at our own contribution. Yes, the economy is bad...often our own contributions are worse!

Think about it! And then do something!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Play to Win!

Board of Directors, JCC of the North Shore, February 9, 2011

About one year ago, it was reported in my community that the 100 year old Jewish Community Center was going out of business. Membership--the life-blood of the organization--was plummeting, philanthropy was down, the economy was killing the organization, the facility was in growing disrepair and lacked modernity, and a new YMCA in the town was competing fiercely. The organization's programs, leadership, and mission were completely out of alignment. No one was talking about it openly, but there is also a Jewish communal "cannibalism" taking place where organizations are directly (or indirectly) seeking to damage one another to advance their own agendas. All in all, this was a pretty typical scenario for JCC's in many communities across the country (and frankly, quite common in other religious and other service areas). Open on Monday, out of business by Shabbat!

I have been very critical of the JCC and its management. I have written about it on this blog several times before. This JCC has been an incredibly good example of how not to do things on many levels. It would be easy to be a sideline critic--this JCC has had many of those--but I became increasingly more frustrated because I had been trying to volunteer my professional fundraising skills and coaching service to help the JCC for a couple years and had been rebuffed. Really! Mine was one of hundreds of stories just like it. Architects and managers of a failure run for cover, triggered by the enormity of their problems and overwhelmed by the options to reverse the failure. In this case, closure is easy!

I wasn't present, but I have heard several versions of the story of the board meeting the night the decision was being made to close the J. The rancor and upset, the accusations and the finger-pointing. My favorite: "It took 100 years to destroy the institution beloved by so many!" What a waste! And what emerged from that fatal night was a completely different scenario: Some courageous (some have said crazy) volunteers said they would reinvent the JCC for its next 100 years, raise the funds, make the tough operating decisions, hire, fire, risk, defy, and imagine. In no way, under the watch of this group of focused volunteers was the J going to close. There were people in the community, many who were part of the problem leading to the near-closure, who said "Show Me!" These volunteers stood before the powerful voices shouting for closure and and accepted the philanthropic challenge of a generation!

Challenge accepted, success in the works!

The story has not been fully written just it happened that a small community and a group of volunteers saved their JCC from closure. But many new chapters have been written. I can highlight a few things, though:
  • Skewer the sacred cows! The JCC model (and the YMCA and the United Way and the Jewish Federation and the list goes on) is broken and must be reinvented for a new generation. Having a Facebook page and sending clever Tweets on Twitter does make your organization current. Go deep. And then go even deeper to find a fresh way of delivering your mission. If you are afraid to take on the very core of who you have always been (like membership or payroll deduction), chances are you are in the presence of a sacred cow.
  • It's about philanthropy! Even a member who pays a fee for a service is a (potential) donor. Even a client who receives services at your organization can be a donor. Every single person you come into contact with can be a donor...if you ask. If you call the people in your non-profit world anything other than a donor, you will fail!
  • Generational shift is real. This is not about age as much as it is about the way in which we think. Never before has our world changed so fast (and continues to...daily) and we must respond. That which forces us to change will occur overnight! Our response rate to the forces of change will often take months. It is often too late! We must become far more adaptable, faster. The days of "non-profit" being an excuse to be slow, inefficient, unaccountable, un-measured, poor performing, unlicensed, un-credentialed, lacking resources, etc., etc., are over. Get in front of your own truth, experience, and narrative!
  • Change the language! Our JCC is not in the clear yet, but it isn't out of business. In fact, it appears that it will be in business for a few more years, years which will be spent growing in new ways and becoming sustainable. This JCC is back...and better only because of words like bold, new, fresh, accountability, measurement, benchmarking, donors, efficiency leading the conversation.
  • Unpack what is conflated. In the new world, risk doesn't have to be bad. Bold doesn't have to be scary. New ideas do not have to be youthful inexperience any more than history has to be an anchor into a failed past. The decisions this board has made are risky and smart! We are in control of how we package, view, and promote our actions and beliefs.
  • Don't Under-capitalize! It takes money to make money. Spend it. I think there is a non-profit version of dying with tons of money in the bank, having never been on a vacation, remodeled the house, or given to charity. A non-profit can afford expert professional staff, cleaning crews, upgraded computers and software, expert consultants. The list goes on. Businesses fail because they are under-capitalized. Non-profits are businesses! Capitalize! Again, the conflation piece--being cheap does not mean you are being efficient.
  • The Titanic Conundrum. Sometimes leadership (or lack of it) looks like deck chair rearranging on a sinking ship. New paint does not fix problems; it just freshens the place up until people look deeper. A spiffy web site does not elevate the quality of classes promoted. Adding member benefits does not convert these people to being philanthropists. Rewarding bad work does not make bad workers work better. It's not about the deck chairs; it's about the ship taking on water and the number of life boats!
  • No Drama Zone! Declare it. Get on board. Match the hard work; don't make more hard work. Drama is what you do in your home or office away from others. Problem solving, re-strategizing is what you do in a committee meeting or staff meeting or board room. Be aware of your impact.
  • Stay relevant. 'Nuff said!
The JCC board approved a sweeping reinvention plan last week. It is bold. It is not without risk. It is exciting. It is a bright hope for a brighter future. And it has reminded me of why I do this work. Our work in philanthropy is about changing people's lives and making our world and communities better. It can be a job, but it also has to be a mission in life...a purpose driven life. We can never be okay with charitable organizations going out of business; the impact on the people who rely upon them is too great. The hole left in the heart of a community is gaping.

Most non-profits are an un-renewed grant award or a struggling annual campaign away from closure. Before the real crisis hits you, what can be done today--with your leadership and your programs--to stay ahead of the crisis? The people who rely upon your existence are counting on you to know. Today!

P.S. I finally became actively involved. That moment happened about six months ago when I was invited to join the volunteers who were saving the J, as a member of the leadership task force and then as a member of the board of directors. Talk about putting my skills and my ideas and my expertise where my mouth is. Get off of the sidelines. Jump! Higher. Now. What an amazing volunteer experience I am having. I'll keep you posted on our progress.