Monday, September 26, 2011

Why some Executive Directors in nonprofits are abusive to staff

In a "leadership" discussion last week with a grantmaker, we got around to poor morale in several of the nonprofits we've observed.  She pointed me to this piece positing that authority without status turns people into abusive tyrants.   She suggested that Executive Directors who lack status with fellow Executive Directors deal with their own feelings of smallness by taking it out on their staff.  Having authority but little perceived status can be a toxic combination.

Cheating is becoming the norm in school

Am not exactly sure how to think about this.  It's easy to point at kids today and say they lack basic virtue,  but considering the frequent scandals among the adults  in our school system, should we be surprised?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is a merger in your future?

With the volatile funding picture, what is the revenue model that will sustain your organization? In the coming age of reduced resources for nonprofits, can you thrive as an independent organization? Is your board even having this discussion? Smart organizations think ahead before crisis strikes

Friday, September 23, 2011

You want to know why Nonprofit Collaborations usually fall apart?

Reactive Devaluation in negotiation is a human reaction to offers from the other side of the table "Well, if they're offering A,B,C, then A,B,C must not be worth much. This type of strategic behavior can be overcome by the use of neutral third party facilitators. Adapted from Closing the Deal , by Michael Wheeler. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Good Bosses Believe

I have a lot of respect for Bob Sutton's perspective on what makes good leaders and managers. Just reread this piece on 12 Things Good Bosses Believe in the Harvard Business Review. Key statement "I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tips for a Vibrant Board of Directors

From our friends at Rotary International come tips for having a vibrant club. Many of these are extremely applicable towards maintaining a vibrant Board Of Directors, for example
- Developing long range goals that address group effectiveness
- Ensuring Continuity in leadership from year to year
- Providing regular fellowship opportunities
- Offering regular, consistent training

Read the whole thing

How To Think About Recruting Board Members

High performing Board members just don’t happen.  Truly transformative leaders just don’t fall from the sky.  Great Board members are identified, recruited and oriented.  In this piece, let’s discuss a basic question, “Who are you choosing to put on your Board?”

Sadly, haphazard Board recruitment is the rule rather than the exception.  Selection is not totally random, but Boards tend not to think about who would be a good Director until an opening appears, with the result that slots are filled by the best candidate willing and available at that time.

Part of the failure to recruit solid members starts by failure to identify what type of person belongs on the Board.  Many Boards do have a recruitment matrix to think through what type of technical skills (accounting, law, facility, etc).  Much of this thinking is then mirrored in the basic job description.

However, we often fail to target soft skills.  While everyone brings different strengths to the table, Great Board Members have at least one, if not several, of the following qualities.  When thinking about building a Great Board, consider who you choose.

Choose Strategic Thinkers
Great Board members identify new opportunities or unsolved problems, and can ignite the discussion about these issues.  They understand What Matters, both externally and internally.  They bring clarity to complex issues by presenting the issue so other Board members can grasp the issue and contribute to the solution.  Strategic thinkers have a mental model that connects today’s action with tomorrows outcome, the organization’s role within it, and an understanding of the competencies it requires.

Equally critical is that Strategic Thinkers do not wait for permission raise such issues.  They take initiative to organize people and time to start the discussion and drive the agenda.
Early last decade a small nonprofit afterschool program in Pittsburgh positioned itself to secure numerous grants and contracts to provide tutoring services.  They got ahead of the curve because several Board members, well versed in education policy, understood the opportunities of the federal No Child Left Behind. Within three years, the organization had tripled in size.

Choose Ambassadors
Ambassadors aren’t born, they’re groomed.  It is not enough to recruit well connected people and hope they’ll carry the message to their Rotary Club, Business Association or even their golfing buddies.  Nonprofits must help their Board members articulate the mission, the issues and the trends that affect the work. Being a good ambassador externally reverberates internally.

Junior Achievement of Western PA provides Board members with monthly policy updates and talking points printed on business card formats.   This gives Board members simple things to share in their routine discussions during the month.

Choose Networkers
We have left the age of the Knowledge Worker and entered the age of the Networker.  It is not enough for Board members to know a lot about their mission, outcomes or field. Great Board members know enough about their own organization and the external environment to recognize opportunities. They then open doors or make critical introductions. 

As Malcolm Gladwell noted in The Tipping Point, networkers are the go-to people, the must-haves at meetings. The effects are viral. The more they connect the nonprofit to the external environment, the greater money, time and talent will flow into the nonprofit.

Choose Coaches
Great Board members know that pursuing the mission means accepting responsibility for results at all levels.  This means helping the entire organization achieve results even when it is not a direct responsibility.  This may involve showing up at a special event that's not required, or pitching in with ideas and information on another committee’s project.   It also entails helping to build the skills of fellow Board members. This type of Board leadership is essential in a flat, decentralized organization.

Understanding the fiscal position of a nonprofit can be a challenge for Board members not in the financial industry.  Therefore,  the Board of one nonprofit food bank in Utah recruits fiscal talent not on professional knowledge alone, but also on the ability to teach financial literacy to lay members of the Board.  It's in the job description for Chair of the Finance Committee.

Choose Commitment
Commitment is about quality, not quantity. A passion for the mission is essential in order to be a Great Board member.  The nonprofit becomes a major priority in their life, and it shows by the investment of time, energy, ideas.  You can’t fake commitment.   

Many Boards incorporate the strategy of engaging people first as volunteers in events or on adhoc committees.  If in time they display passion for the mission and  enthusiasm for the organization they then are added to the pool of potential new Board members.

Great Boards are crafted.  It takes effort and attention to detail.  Recruitment is an ongoing process as potential new leaders are identified, nurtured and oriented.  But the investment of time and energy is critical to building an effective and sustainable nonprofit.

The qualities outlined here serve as signs of whether a person can be entrusted with major decisions and will contribute to advancing the mission. They show that the leader will take care of others and the organization

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Find yourself a new business model

In many eyes they might not rank in importance with food banks, health clinics and other nonprofits, but symphony orchestras (many free standing nonprofits, others are quasi private/public partnerships) have been hemorrhaging money for decades as audiences get older. Some have been eating into their endowments every year in the past decade which leads managers looking to find a new business model. Top of that list would be restructuring the salaries of players, which has led to a series of strikes This story does have relevance as many smaller nonprofits have to find a new business model in order to survive the coming shake-out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Self Dealing" and Nonprofit Boards....a bigger problem than we care to admit

Nonprofits are governed by the Non-Distribution Constraint .....meaning that board members cannot materially benefit from the operations of the organization. So do your conflict of interest policies explicitly state that Board Members cannot do business in any shape or form with the organization? Board Members can't be your landlord, they can't be your consultant they can't be your supplier. 

I know some will say that there are legal exemptions....and there are. However, you're taking a gigantic risk. First, it's the appearance of impropriety , which is often worse than the act itself. Your reputation with the public matters. A small slip can cause lasting damage.

Another reason is that it waves a red flag in the face of the IRS. With over 500 new agents involved in the nonprofit division they have a lot more resources to get into your business. Once you are on their radar you'll spend lots of time, energy and money dealing with them. Why give them a reason.

Finally, don't do it because it's just not right. Your Board members should be serving in order to help advance your mission. Business dealing change the nature of the relationship between the Board member and the organization. It also puts one on a slippery slope that can lead to more fraudulent activities.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If you haven't heard Ken Robinson, listen to this piece on revamping education

Yes, the challenges we face are large. Many take comfort that America has always responded to large problems with waves of creative people who chart new and unexpected paths to revitalization.

However, others note we're trying to solve 21st century problems with a workforce that is educated in a 20th century fashion. Our K-12 system is set up to crush innovative and creative thinking....which bodes ill for our future economy. Sir Ken Robinson has a fascinating 20 minute talk looking at the American education system and prompting ideas for change.

Fix your website now

I've had many requests for creating/upgrading websites. But just having a space on the web isn't enough. People have to quickly find what they're looking for on your site. This piece on Findability and Exploration explores some of those issues 

Key paragraph:
We need ambient findability. We need smart ways of guiding people towards the content they’d like to see — with categorization and search playing complementary goals. And we need smart ways to keep readers on our site, especially if they’re just following a link from Google or Facebook, by prickling their sense of exploration

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The idea of 'Career' is transforming

We talk a lot about Nonprofit Transformation  but also acknowledge it's our careers that have to transform too. 

Almost every employee today has to consider him- or herself to be, at least partially, an entrepreneur. You should be looking frequently over your shoulder for competitive threats and opportunities. You should continually be updating your portfolio of skills and assets.

Great piece by former editor of Fortune details how organizations are increasingly looking at their people in a short term fashion.

Key Quote: "For about five years now, particularly after dinners that featured wine, human-resources executives have been telling me, "We've come to realize we don't really want most employees for the whole of their careers. We want their particular set of skills when we need them — but then things change so fast, we don't need that particular skill set any more."

Wal-Mart is in the education game

Hmmm.... this could be huge Whenever Wal-Mart enters a product line, they increase efficiencies and exert downward pressure on price. Since we're suffering from tuition price inflation that saddles kids with unspeakable debt, Wal-Mart's entry into this market could be a turning point.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Building a Loyal Base For Your Nonprofit by Creating Great Customer Service

For decades the nonprofit sector has talked about stakeholders to describe the various groups of people with an interest in your work. They are people who ‘hold’ a ‘stake’ in what you do.  The dry, academic language of ‘engaging stakeholders’ drove away many from understanding the real win that comes with creating loyalty. A satisfied customer is necessary, but not sufficient, to be a loyal customer who will come back repeatedly, refer their friends and family to you, and be faithful.

This is critical in two areas, funders and clients.  About 50% of charitable behavior – giving money and volunteering – is driven not by a person’s passion, but by the passion of friends or family members.  They don’t give to you because they care deeply about you...they give to you because a friend cares deeply about you.

The other part of the equation is your clients.  My focus group research reveals that even low-income residents, who desperately need your service, will not come to your door they know someone who had a positive experience with you.

The rise in social networks has also awakened your donors and clients.  Donors want engagement and clients want personalization. People are tired of being serviced like a commodity by a faceless computer robot.  This means success depends upon intimacy between your organization and your customers.

There are other factors driving this change.  While there are many, kicking up customer service represents a big opportunity to nonprofits.  Building loyalty means a priority on keeping the friends you already have, rather than focusing always on getting new ones. From my own research, here is a collection of top tips on how to build and maintain real customer loyalty:

§         Communicate more personally more often. Get to know your clients and donors - actually call them by name, or even remember their likes and dislikes.  Definitely have systems in place to keep them updated on your work:  newsletters, social media, traditional media.  And remember, your low-income clients are more likely to have a cell phone than a computer with internet connection at home.  Texting represents an overlooked avenue.

§         Educate your customers on your business. Today you have the tools, like blogging, videos, and new web technologies, to explain and make your customers appreciate what you do, and how you do it better than anyone else. They haven’t lost interest in cutting costs, so help them understand how you are a leader in this regard.

§         Enthusiastic customers are created by enthusiastic employees. Staff engagement matters…a lot.  Enthusiasm radiates outward.  This means good communication and training for your staff.

§         Don’t take existing customers for granted.   Nonprofits focus a lot of energy on gaining new clients, donors, contracts….sometimes to the detriment of the existing ones. Spend as much time thinking of special ways to reward existing customers as you do rewarding that first-time new customer.

§         Be dependable. If you tell a customer something is going to happen then work hard to make it happen.  If something does go wrong, be proactive in letting customers know and compensate them for the inconvenience. Be flexible in solving your customer’s problem.

Statistics also show that building loyalty and retaining current customers is 3 to 10 times cheaper than acquiring new customers. Successful nonprofits know that 80 percent of their business actually comes from a stable 20 percent of their customer base. You will grow faster by nurturing this solid base of loyal customers, who then do the best job of selling to new customers, at no cost to you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

You can't get away with crappy customer service anymore

Why Succession Planning is Job #1 for the Board

Leadership transition takes most nonprofits by surprise. It shouldn't. Except in cases of sudden death, Boards should have a reasonable idea when the current Executive Director will move on...or a growing sense that it time to move the Director along. 

But even advanced awareness, the process is difficult. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, has a great take on why succession planning is job #1 for any Board.

I was on a Board once where we agreed is was time to move the Executive Director out. The failure is that we first got the Director to resign and then began to work on a successor. The result? A bad pick who was out the door in 9 months followed by an Executive Director who lasted 18 months.

It was then that a fellow board member took leadership and guided the rest of us thru a process of selecting a solid, competent CEO. But just as importantly, he also had us put into place a succession planning process for identifying and developing latent talent within the organization. We combined several program manager positions to create a COO position who is being groomed to one day take over the operation.

A good lesson, albeit an expensive one. We believe we lost 5 years of growth because of the original error of not having a plan in place.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Time is are you spending yours?

Time is money....if you don't manage time well then you're wasting money. For all the nonprofits who claim 'We need more money', my first question is "How are you using your time? 

You probably have seen a list like this before , but it bears repeating. Simple little shifts in behavior can lead to great leaps in efficiency. It is so easy to fall into the traps of not prioritizing, multitasking, not using a calendar and letting technology dictate our activities....and each one is a giant time/energy/talent sucker that leaves you and your organization weaker.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Unintended Consequences: the relative impact of the Stimulus

Steven Horowitz at Coordination Problem points to a commenter on Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution about why it didn't create or save all the jobs we thought it could.  Good insight.

Observations for kids going back to school

Walter Russell Mead has a thought-provoking take:

1.  The real world does not work like school.
2.  Most of your elders know very little about the world into which you are headed.
3.  You are going to have to work much, much harder than you probably expect.
4. Choosing the right courses is more important than choosing the right college.
5.  Get a traditional liberal education; it is the only thing that will do you any good.
6.  Character counts; so do good habits.
7.  Relax.     

Mexican Crockpot Chicken

Via Lyndsi & David I had to spice it up a notch from their recipe

New Models Of Investing in Nonprofits

Trying to envision the future?  Here's one emerging model.  Leve founded by college friends who wanted more than involvement...they wanted created their own effort in order to raise money to invest in well run nonprofits.