Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why Quality Matters

Of course if you ask any group of people if they want high quality in the goods and services, they respond “Duh!”. However when you explain that the highest quality will cost them more, they begin to weigh price vs. quality. In controlled experiments, subjects generally view a higher priced the item as higher value and expect that it will be of higher quality. The lower priced the item, the lower the expectation of quality. Sometimes, we trade price and quality in a very conscious way in order to save money. So what does quality really mean to you?

But keep in mind that when evaluating goods or services, there are more aspects to quality than just price alone. This is a major consideration in nonprofit human service organizations, where most of the ‘customers’ make no direct cash investment at all in the service/good.   Most of our customers invest significant time, energy and emotion in order to access services.  Don’t overlook this….respect it.
Survey after survey of low-income consumers who use public services indicate that they gauge quality via multiple attributes. Outstanding nonprofits do several things right.

First, they consistently improve the actual service/good they provide. They do this by having valid metrics to measure valid outcomes. Then management uses these outcomes to focus staff on the strategic question of how to improve on the numbers.
They provide superior customer service, which means streamlined paperwork/information requests, minimal bureaucracy, and quick decisions on all matters. Human service organizations that are difficult to deal with are not quality. These organizations cost their customers time and frustrate efforts of our most vulnerable populations to change the conditions of their lives.

One cannot discuss quality without eventually addressing Lean Operations. Nonprofits that make internal process improvements create value in the form of decreased costs or increased outcomes. These will be the organizations that Funders Want To Fund and the Public Will Want To Use. Advancements in technology for equipment, materials and software offer opportunities for human service organizations to impress consumers, funders and taxpayers.
So there are many aspects of quality. Nonprofits who are proactive in the above areas will be able to keep their customer base happy even if they are not the lowest priced supplier in the pack. What are you willing to pay for?  What are your end-users willing to give up in order to use your services.  And most important, what are your funders willing to buy off of you?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Are We Paying The Executive Director Enough?

Short story.  Back in the 90s I was advising a nonprofit when in the midst of this year long engagement, the Executive Director suddenly announced her retirement.  As the agency prepared to advertise the vacancy, one Board member approached me to ask "Could you do a salary survey to see if we're offering enough?"

Well, I did. And discovered that they were paying the previous ED too much....way too much.  What happened is that over 27 years with the nonprofit (23 as Executive Director) she received small increases in lean years and larger ones during fat times.  Little by little, it lead to where she was earning $93,000/yr at the time of retirement....when the market rate for a nonprofit of this size in their specialty was $65,000-$71,000.  The excess also had a carryover effect by lifting the salaries of the Assistant Director, Program Managers and Department heads far above appropriate scale.  All told, the inflated salaries cost the agency in the range of $55,000/yr.

Many nonprofits worry about paying their EDs enough, and with good reason.   A sharp Executive is likely to be identified as an up-and-comer in the community and recruited away from you by a more attractive package. Paying too little is just as bad as paying too much.  The compensation structure of your organization requires thought from your Board.  Some steps to deal with the issue.

  1. Set a policy at the board level about your goals in compensation and benefits.  A policy is a strong message to your employees about how you value them and your long term organizational goals in this area.
  2. Seek advice from peer organizations and state and national trade organizations. Don't reinvent the wheel.
  3. Have a strong HR talent on your Board.  They'll keep you abreast of salary and benefit trends.
  4. Seek flexible benefits to the extent allowable. Simply put, allocate 'x' dollars per employee, and then allow employees to choose how that money is spent. The more control employees have over their own benefits the happier they are--or at least they will be less discontented.
  5. Show what the organization pays per employee for benefits and how it has risen. Educate the Board and Staff.. If you take the step above and make benefits flexible, make sure you help people avoid making the choices that don't benefit them.
  6.  Make sure everyone gets the same higher benefits for senior managers.  Equity does affect organization morale.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Say It Simple Please....

One of my pet peeves is documents written for clients in bureaucratic language that even I have to read two or three times to comprehend (sometimes never comprehending at all).  This is usually accompanied by complaints from the case manager that the client didn't do what was laid out in "The Plan."   Infrequently do they ask, "Am I making the instructions clear for the reader?"

There are now a number of good Readability Utilities online. I use this one.  Just simply cut and paste your will tell you what grade level the reader must have in order to understand what you've written.   It will also flag difficult sentances and $10 words so you can see how to craft a better document.

This is not asking you to 'dumb down' your writing, but to recraft your words to make it easier for the reader to understand what you're trying to say. In the mid-80s I sat in a media symposium where New York Times editor Turner Catledge was explaining his decision to reduce the paper's comprehension level from 12 grade to 9th grade. His point was that even highly educated people absorb more information when writing is basic.

So go to and paste in something you've recently written.  Then post in comments to tell us what you learned.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Some Tips For Building Energy On Your Nonprofit Board

As I've noticed repeatedly, Great Boards just don't happen....they're built with a little loving care and a lot of hard work. If we don't get the leadership question right, then the organization is at best mediocre.
Gail Perry has posted over on Guidestar a good set of tips for keeping your Board engaged. She notes that we all want enthusiastic, action-oriented board members who pay attention and get things done. But high-performing boards don't just happen. It takes time, clear focus, and careful strategies to get them there. Here are 10 tips for creating a board that can deliver.
  1. Reawaken their passion.
    Board members often forget why they care—and even why they are serving. You'll get the most out of your board members if you can fan the flames of their passion for the cause. Asking them, "Why do you care?" creates amazingly powerful conversations that can open their hearts and evoke new energy.
  2. Give them a great experience on the board.
    Look at it from the board members' perspective. They want something out of their own experience. They don't want a passive role. They want to have meaningful work and to see real results. And they want to have a good time doing it.
  3. Have interesting, upbeat meetings dealing with big-picture issues.
    If all your board members are doing is attending boring meetings, then you are going to have a bored board. And a bored board is not going to be an action-oriented board. Don't give your high-level people low-level work. Don't waste their time.
  4. Give them social time to meet other board members.
    Board members want to meet the other members. You can't create a sense of "team" without giving them time to get to know each other. Social time creates community and collegiality—and trust. Encouraging friendships among board members helps mold them into a team.
  5. Focus board members on action items to accomplish, not on attending meetings.
    Do you want your board attending meetings or do you want them making things happen for you and your cause? Don't get me wrong—meetings can be important—but board members need to understand that their job includes more. They need to be in action as well.
  6. Be clear about what you need them to do and when to do it.
    Board members tell me that they want clear direction from the staff. They want to know what to do and when to do it. If you can give them clear action items, then they can make it happen. Don't make them guess—give them a list and follow up cheerfully and often.
  7. Focus them on friendmaking for the cause.
    Board members may be afraid of fundraising and "asking," but they are not nervous about making friends for the cause. Set them up to host tours, socials, coffees to learn about your cause. Show them how to spread the word about your great work in the world.
  8. Encourage a positive attitude.
    Negativity will not change the world—it will drive people away. It's through positive, exciting vision that you can keep the flames of energy burning—and keep your group motivated. Great energy attracts people—and funding—to your cause.
  9. Help them understand specifically what you are raising money for.
    Show your board members that you need $xx dollars to help xx kids after school (or xx students, or xx ballerinas—whatever your cause). You'll be amazed at their action when they have a clear target that will help a specific number of people.
  10. Appreciate every effort they make.
    How often do you thank your board members? Please don't forget that they are just volunteers, trying to squeeze your cause into their already busy lives. Personal appreciation goes so very far—and helps keep them motivated and happy.