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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Systems and Values and Thoughts (oh my!)

A post inspired by the blizzard out my window!

I am intrigued by how challenged everyone is (it seems!) to get along, come together, make it work. When did the challenge become how challenging it is to be/work together and not the collective overcoming or resolution to the issue--the challenge--at hand? When did families begin to look like "casts" of a reality TV show and when did work groups begin to resemble an elementary school playground complete with authority figures, upper and lower classmates, structure, bullies, cliques, purpose, games, inside and outside voices, stalling tactics? How many people will know "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast" and not "E pluribus unum"? What happened that we marginalize those with whom we disagree rather than bring them closer, try to understand and seek some common ground, and move forward together in service of something greater? How is it that the more connected we are the more disconnected we are? How is it that the more tools we have, the less we accomplish? How is it that the more we have to fill ourselves and our partnerships and our organizations, the more empty we actually are (or appear)? What happened to polite disagreement, not loving one another but liking one another, agreeing to disagree? When did the customer become wrong? When did the intent of donors get "correctly interpreted" by creative internal bookkeeping? How did we become okay with working so much harder as the bar got so much lower? When did staff learn the way to success was to break the will of a volunteer and when did the volunteer learn that the way to success was to demean staff as people too un-something to do the noble work of volunteerism? When did it become so terrible to look at history to inform decision making today? And what is it about looking forward that is so scary to people who hold history so deeply? What are the barriers to saying "I'm sorry" (or "I screwed up" or "let's try this again...") and what could be if we said it more? Organization, relationship, or personal crisis doesn't usually just happen; it is typically an accumulation of neglect, mismanagement, denial, poor adaptation to change and yet we act so blindsided when it is in front of us. What's up with that? When did our love for (and right to) individual autonomy become disconnected from personal responsibility and accountability? When did having our efforts or success or skills measured get conflated with our personal worth and self esteem? We learn that driving a vehicle is a privilege and not a right; what is intended by this differentiation and what is your interpretation of this differentiation? I wish the salaries (and our collective priorities) would change and good school teachers (and police officers and fire fighters and soldiers and nurses...) would earn more than bad professional athletes; what does it take to radically shift the values of this culture?

Believe me, this is not a post of spiraling negativity just 12 days into the new year! In fact, there is a lot about this post that is positive, provocative, and intriguing. And what do you notice in your world?

I am really intrigued. Really!

Time to go shovel snow!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shame in the New Year

I remember reading once how "to do" lists should be renamed "shame" lists. All we really do is commit what we think we will do to paper, don't do any of it (often because the list is so long and overwhelming), and then we go do some shaming activity to make ourselves feel better for failing to accomplish anything on the list! Sound familiar?

At no time is this cycle more prevalent than at the New Year! Big ideas occupy our to-do lists and we even have a special name for them--New Year Resolutions. Most people who have "resolved" to eat better and be more active are devouring chocolate and potato chips on the couch in front of the Rose Bowl game on New Years Day. Really!

So what's wrong here? My contention is that we often resolve to do, not be! And not doing is easy and suffering the shame for not doing is short lived. Not being is a different story, one that leaves us reflective, often challenged, and usually motivated to work harder to achieve the goal. Let me give you an example:

The New Year resolutions, to-do lists may look like this (they often do!):

For an individual

1. Eat healthy.
2. Exercise more.
3. Watch less television.
4. Stop cussing.
5. Stop using the cell phone while driving.

For an organization

1. Raise more money.
2. Provide specialized training for our staff.
3. Grow the readership of out blog.
4. Expand our service program to a new population.
5. Raise more money.

What do you notice about the list? What do you notice about yourself when you read the list? Where does the impact of the list hit you? Where's the inspiration in the list for you? How inspired are you to take it on?

These lists, in order to mean something to us and for us to hold them closely enough to be of value, must be bigger, inspiring, a stretch but attainable, and functional. Your list must be anchored in where you are at the moment, where you want to go, what you will do to get there, and include a real accountability. Say what?

So try this:

For an individual

1. I am 30 pounds overweight, feeling sluggish, and my blood cholesterol is in the unhealthy ranges. I will have a body that is healthy and will sustain me for my own peace of mind, for the sake of my family, and so I can enjoy the activities I love to do, and even discover a few new ones (like kite surfing!). I will join a daily Boot Camp program at my local gym and use the instructor as a motivator to not miss class. I will eliminate all commercially processed foods and sugars from my diet. I will not buy them and I will work with my family and friends to find healthy food alternatives. I will take a healthy eating class in January. I will drink three liters of water a day. I can measure this water intake by keeping liter bottles filled each morning and consuming them each day; I'll do what I can see. I will monitor my blood cholesterol with my physician regularly. I will make a quarterly appointment for labs and a consultation and make adjustments according to the data.

For an organization

1. My organization is underfunded to meet the needs of our constituency. We also do not have adequately trained staff and board members to do the fundraising. My goal is to have our organization be financially sustainable long term and our monthly budget running in the black. I want to double our fundraising personnel capacity. I am going to personally solicit six donors for $10,000 gifts each by February 15. I am going to write the grant for the community foundation and submit it by the January 25 deadline. I am going to retain a consultant to work with each board member personally to develop fundraising comfort and skill by January 15 and the training sessions will be complete by March 1. I will review our budget and see where I can trim expenses by 7% before the April board meeting.

Now these are resolutions! And I know there is some version of these kinds of resolutions in each of us. Really! We are not usually willing to do what we say we will do if we are not inspired or held accountable to do it. Inspiration leads to action! "Stop smoking" becomes "I feel my body is really unhealthy from my cigarette smoking, it's expensive, and finding locations to smoke is really challenging. My family worries about my longevity which makes me sad although I don't show it. I will stop smoking this year by tapering down usage and by using cessation products under the care of my physician. On day one, I will gather my family to talk with them about how I will need their active support and encouragement; we will design a plan together. I will eliminate all cigarettes by June 1 and only use cessation products. By 2012 I will be completely smoke free."

It takes courage to create change in our lives, to disrupt patterns, to change culture, to address addictions. And to do so requires some thought, some planning, some support, and a lot of accountability. Rarely do we just stop doing something or change the way we think about something. There is more to human behavior. We aren't so simple.

So grab you list of 2011 New Year resolutions. Go on, get your list! (Okay, so get a piece of paper and write them down). And re-work them, one by one, from the list you know you won't do into a plan that inspires you to achieve your goals.

Peace in the new year!