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Savor the KISS

We all know KISS – Keep It Simple Sweetie. The admonition gets tossed around from time to time, especially when someone (self or other) gets mired in operational complexities or lost in multiple scenarios. So why is keeping it simple so important and effective?

KISS allows people to bring order to their own particular style of chaos.

Let’s face it: people are messed up – and I mean that in a nice way. That is, people bring their own messiness to your website, your program, your service, your doorstep. There’s no way to anticipate all the various recipes of messiness that get served to your organization by patrons, volunteers, et al. So, what do we do?

We keep it simple.

Not only does the simplicity of our process serve the patron’s need, it makes for happier staff and more willing volunteers. Sure, there will be plenty of exceptions, so let them be exceptions. Keep the normal simple.

This goes for organizational branding as well.

A recent article in Entrepreneur spotlights the importance of simplifying one’s personal and organizational branding. Consultant Steve Tobak advises us to “keep it simple” and cites Apple and Mercedes as examples. Both keep their names attached to their products: the Mercedes SL-500 or the Apple Watch that you saw on Apple TV and purchased using Apple Pay.

How are you bringing complexity and confusion to processes or communications?

Ask someone who doesn’t know your organization to look over your website, marketing, and services. Simplifying the first steps, the introductory brochures, the homepage, the elevator speech and other gateways to your brand and services will not only make life easier, it will make everyone happier.



A refill with Donna Odom

This month we revisit our discussion with Donna Odom as she recalled the path and passion leading to her present post as Executive Director of SHARE – Society for History And Racial Equity (formerly known as Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society). SHARE is emerging with an expanded scope, now including racial equity and the name change to more accurately reflect their new mission.

Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)

There were many shifts that led me to where I am today, but the primary shift was leaving Chicago and relocating to Kalamazoo. In Chicago I began my career as a French and English teacher. From there I transitioned to positions in career services and cooperative education. My last position before leaving Chicago was teaching college English Composition and Research Writing.

After coming to Kalamazoo, I began part-time at Kalamazoo Valley Museum and remained there for 12 years in the Education and Programs area, where I coordinated science and history programs. That was where my interest in regional African American history was sparked. In 2003 I founded the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society, along with Dr. and Mrs. Romeo Phillips, Harold Bulger, and Horace Bulger. I served as president of the Society through 2010. After retiring from the Museum, I later transitioned to serving as Executive Director of the Society.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I love the openness and friendliness of the people in the community and their spirit of service.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

I like to maintain focus, to complete what I start, and to stay true to my word.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

I can’t identify any one mentor. I learn from everyone with whom I interact and let their best qualities serve as a guide to my own behavior. 

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

My biggest learning moment was realizing that I do my best work when I’m following my passion.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

Because I’m primarily a volunteer at what I do and I don’t have set hours, my days are always different, which is the thing I like most. However, almost all of them involve at least one meeting.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

When we are planning a specific project or program, I find myself getting my best ideas in the wee hours of the morning.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I serve on several boards of history-based organizations.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector

Make sure you are making the decision to enter the field because what you are going to do enables you to follow your passion or your life purpose, not because you think it will make you rich.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Believe it or not, I spend some spare time on my work which allows me to do the things I enjoy most - expressing myself through speaking and writing, planning and organizing, researching history, interacting with others. The only other thing I do as much is read. I also enjoy classical music, theater, dancing, and interior decorating.

Just ONEthing - Oct 2015

Earlier this month, Paul Knudstrup (Midwest Consulting Group) launched this year’s Supervision & Management Series. The series not only provides critical information to new supervisors, it also gives experienced supervisors an opportunity to revisit information, assess needs, and sharpen skills.

In Session Two, Communicating for Results, Paul touched on conflict resolution and presented a five-step process for addressing conflicts of emotion or perception. They include:

1. Acknowledge the Conflict: Naming the conflict and acknowledging that it exists must occur before both parties seek to resolve it. Often, each party is waiting for the other to deal with it (most often, subordinate waiting on the boss). The fact is, one party must make the first overture, so why not you. 

2. Clarify the Conflict: All of us want to appear as rational, thoughtful people, so we’re good at rationalizing our behaviors. As we ask clarifying questions (e.g., “Good point – say more about that”) it’s often helpful to list information on a white board. This helps objectify the situation, letting everyone take ownership of the full situation. In this step, it’s crucial to listen well and reflect the other person’s emotions back to them to get all information out on the table.

3. Identify Alternatives: Having reduced the tension, we now can enter into problem solving with the other person. Listen to other person without making judgments or rushing to closure. Set out your statements briefly and fairly, but don’t hold back any information. If each of us saw the situation from the other’s perspective, there likely wouldn’t have been a conflict. From this base, we can generate ideas, suggestions, and options for moving forward.

4. Agree on Actions: In this step, we work out a mutually agreeable solution. Commonly there’s an amount of give and take but not always. If, at this point, both have reached a common understanding of the problem, then it’s easier to move to a common commitment to the best solution – regardless of whose idea it is. The key is that all parties agree. To paraphrase Stephen Covey, “If it’s not win-win, I don’t want to play.”

5. Summarize Next Steps: Once you have a solution, the final step is pretty simple. Set forth the steps necessary and an accountability system (who will do what by when). Document these steps and their timeline, and then be sure to check in to ensure that all is on course. Hold each other accountable, while allowing some grace as needed. Resolving the conflict and improving the relationship are the goals, so keep the focus there.

You’ll find more great information in Paul’s book, The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers. Now in its second edition and available at the Kalamazoo Public Library or at Amazon.

Welcoming Michigan: Lessons Learned

Last Wednesday I attended the Welcoming Michigan Statewide Convening in Warren, MI. The day-long event took place during National Welcoming Week, a celebration to recognize and encourage meaningful connections between US and foreign-born community members. It seemed to be a perfect touchstone to continue the discussions we’ve had about inclusion this past summer at ONEplace.

 WelcomingMI_Lolita Photo credit: Anne Canavati/Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

I was present for the afternoon sessions, which provided an in-depth look at the processes and specific steps an organization can take to implement inclusive programs. Much of the information was completely new to me, and in some instances, surprising. Below I have highlighted some of what I thought I knew about a particular topic, and what I learned.


The Power of Arts & Culture to Unite Communities

What I thought…

Holding multicultural events that reflect the different populations in a multiethnic community is the best strategy to get the largest number of residents to attend.

...And what I learned

In the experience of the Celebrating Southwest Concert Series, the event marketed as “multicultural” garnered the lowest attendance, versus previous concerts that highlighted music from specific ethnic groups. As one audience member pointed out, perhaps the residents did not “see” themselves in the term “multicultural.”


All About Local ID Programs

What I thought…

Municipalities will not support the creation of an official local identification card because institutions (i.e. schools, police) may fear fraudulent use, or may not want undocumented immigrants to have an ID card.

...And what I learned

Washtenaw County has had great success with their local ID card. The card is considered a government-issued ID, and most institutions have gladly accepted it in place of a State ID or a driver’s license, which many populations cannot easily access.


Ensuring Language Access

What I thought…

Using a translation phone service might be the best solution if a translator is not available in person.

…And what I learned

According to Ruth Stenfors of the Elder Refugee Program in Grand Rapids, if you’re working with a community that speaks a rare or uncommon language, many translation services may not have an interpreter that can help. Or the interpreter may speak what non-speakers consider to be the same language, but the dialects are so vastly different that the client and interpreter can barely understand each other.


Obviously there are many challenges associated with implementing inclusive programs and services, but the successes are that much more impactful. There is no question in my mind that making inclusion a priority is worthwhile. What better way to welcome new immigrants than to ensure they have equal access to everything a community might offer?

Staying on track

I can hear him now. At this time of year, my friend will, “Here we go again. Doing what we always do in September.”

For many of us, our work moves in cycles. We just finished what we do in summer, and now it’s fall. After the holidays, we’ll do our winter stuff, and then there’s April and May…sheesh! As we cycle in and out of seasons, we have the opportunity to improve our systems and individual performance.

This is why ONEplace offers Management Track workshop series. These series address skills and processes fundamental to nonprofit management. They also provide opportunities to develop, hone, and refine our individual skills while offering teams opportunities to learn skills together (which improves application and retention).

Recognizing that scheduling is often the barrier to attending professional development events, we’re scheduling more in advance than ever before. Here’s our Management Track schedule for this fall.

    Supervision & Management Series – five sessions beginning Sep 14 (more)

    Fundraising Series – three sessions beginning Oct 29 (more)

    Operations Series – three sessions beginning Nov 2 (more)

Good leaders continually learn new things as well as refine and deepen that which is already known. They travel a track that doesn’t go in circles; rather, it spirals to ever-deeper understanding.



Inspire yourself - inspire others

Do you remember the last great talk you heard? What was the key message? What are you doing differently because of it? When was the last time the inspiring speaker was you?

After all the listening, discussing, researching, mulling, testing, debating, and refining, we eventually set forth an innovative insight, a compelling vision, or a strategic direction that must be shared. That’s why leaders speak.

To champion a cause or idea, to cast a vision, or to inspire action, leaders speak. They speak in staff meetings and board meetings, in small conversations and informal settings, to volunteer auxiliaries and service clubs. Leaders are often called upon to speak. But, here’s the rub: 

If you’re not inspired by your message, you will not inspire others.

How do you know if you’re inspired? First, you’re absorbed in your topic. “When you’re passionate about your topic – obsessively so – the energy and enthusiasm you display will rub off on your listeners,” (Talk Like TED).

You also know your topic – inside and out. You’ve worked through the complexities and arrived at the simplicity beyond the complexity. You can state your core message clearly and succinctly (e.g., it fits in a Tweet) while understanding its depth and nuance. You know your stuff, so you easily tailor your message to a variety of audiences using stories and examples relevant to their specific situations.

Finally, you’re continually learning and refining – never tiring of the message. If you’re inspired by your message, then every time you speak on the topic or engage a discussion, you’re stoked by what you’ve learned and you strengthen your resolve.

Leaders speak. Great leaders speak well, and they motivate themselves and others into action.

Of course, as in most areas of leadership, it takes work – continual improvement. As Darwin Smith, former CEO of Kimberly-Clark said, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”

Coffee with Bob Jorth

This month we sat down for coffee with Bob Jorth, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I’ve had a zig-zaggy career path with 30-40 jobs. So, in broad strokes, I received my bachelor’s degree in general studies from a small Iowa college and took a job in the aerospace industry doing quality assurance among other things. I eventually took a job with NWL – that brought me to Kalamazoo. While working there, I got a master’s degree in public administration and learned database programming. I later took a job with Secant and was working there when the Kalamazoo Promise job opened up. I believe that my background in databases, process improvement, plus my volunteer work with ISAAC and community organizing made me a good fit for the position, and I got it. So, while it’s been a winding and even somewhat tortured, route, it’s all come together to lead me here today.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I arrived in Kalamazoo almost 30 years ago (January 1986). Having grown up in a small town (population 175), I love the small town feel of Kalamazoo – friendly, people know each other. I also like some of the big city attributes it has as well. I love that it’s a diverse community, and the location can’t be beat – so close to Lake Michigan, Detroit, and Chicago.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

I have two things I rely upon. First is the ability to listen. The older I get, the more I see the ability to listen well as an extremely powerful tool in relationship building, in understanding systems and processes, and in getting to the core of people’s needs. The second is to treat every person as a unique individual. We have about 1,400 Promise students in college, so I work with a lot of students and parents. I want to respect each one and attend to their unique situation. These are constant reminders for me. Third (I just thought of a third) is to understand what is really at the core of the organization that you’re working for. At the Kalamazoo Promise, the core mission is student success. If I stay focused on the core mission, it helps with decision making and with keeping all efforts on track. 

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

I’ve had a bunch of mentors. Marianne Houston was one. She taught me the power and importance of deep listening. Many were college professors. The overall theme that I take from them is to have the self-confidence to do the job as I see it. It’s having confidence in myself that, if my understanding is clear and focused on the mission, then I can trust my instincts and move forward. Another take away from them is that no job is a small job. Each job deserves my very best effort.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

One big learning moment was the first time I was fired. It taught me that I’m replaceable. I know that this is true of every one in every job – it’s true of me today in my current job. Eventually, someone else will do this job. What this understanding does for me is to help me be less self-righteous and to not take myself too seriously.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

On an average day I talk with several students and parents as well as attend to other calls and emails. I’ll have a couple of meetings. Then, there’s always some project to squeeze in between the regularly scheduled work.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

My greatest challenge is the sheer number of students in our program – over 5,000 who are eligible for the Kalamazoo Promise. Again, my desire is to treat and respect each one as a unique individual, so I’m kept up by the need to keep up with workload. Another great challenge is how we, as a community, can address the disparity of success among minority students and to get more kids through high school and using the Kalamazoo Promise. Currently, I’m challenged in putting together our 10-year report.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

Trends within the Promise field? It’s a pretty unique organization. That being said, I interact with people at colleges and universities to keep up on how to best facilitate student success. That’s our core. Yet, the Kalamazoo Promise is unique. What’s clear is that it’s a scholarship. Yet, the overall success depends upon the community’s citizens and organizations to help our students prepare for college…prepare to be successful. It’s something we can only do together. My hope is that the community is a bit sleepless about this, too.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Success in the nonprofit field is very similar to success in any field. Identify your passion and then be open to opportunities that will allow you to pursue that passion. It’s more about awareness than anything – self-awareness and opportunity awareness. I often tell students, “Don’t worry about your first job. Just get out there and see what doors open along the way. If you want to serve people, then start serving them and see where that takes you.”

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I love the outdoors – the beach, mountains, ocean. I like being in “reasonably remote” areas (access is important). I enjoy riding my bike and writing poetry. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Mapping Your Future, the Millennial Way

For all the fuss about how millennials primarily concern ourselves with dating apps and selfie sticks, we devote a lot of time to thinking about the future. To be frank, based on conversations I've had with friends, we are worrying. And here is the chief concern regarding our professional lives: though we've been encouraged for years to pick a career path, the truth is this: the paths don't exist.

And that might sound hyperbolic (hyperbole is definitely a millennial thing!), but many of us don't have access to the typical stops along a career path. Specifically, post-secondary education is expensive (note: I love the Kalamazoo Promise!) and competition is stiff for top positions. These are some of the well-known barriers, never mind if you're living in poverty, or have chronic health problems. For all these reasons and more, many of us take jobs that aren't exactly what we want to do--or even in the right field--out of convenience or fear of unemployment.

 "forest-pathway-trail" by zionfiction is licensed under CC by 2.0

 So, how does one find a route to the perfect position? Especially if you don't know what that is? That's still something I'm trying to figure out. But here are my thoughts so far.

1. Mentorship. Youth advocate Marian Wright Edelman famously said "you can't be what you can't see." So, find experienced professionals in a field of your interest -- through affinity groups or alumni networks--and form a relationship. They can provide insight into jobs that require your skillset, and connect you to more veteran professionals.

2. Re-Define Success...For Now. Regardless of what the job market and graduate school price tags look like in ten years, preparing for the job you want should be a continuous process. If that means adjusting your expectations to a lower salary, or accepting less paid time off than you expected, those are reasonable adjustments to make.

3. Gratitude. We're surrounded by images that tout success, because that's a well-worn angle for social and news media. Rather than feeding career anxiety with what you don't have, take time to list your professional achievements. It alleviates that tunnel vision that makes you only aware of what's ahead.

There isn't a week that goes by that I don't read something or speak to someone who makes me re-think how to approach my future. I'm taking that as a good sign. My rationale: being flexible in thought will ideally translate to nimble acrobatics that land me in a fulfilling career.

Sink deep roots

Let’s get personal for a moment. Each of us has career aspirations. We want to do well, be successful, enjoy our work and feel good about our accomplishments. Many of us wish to make a lasting contribution and earn the respect of our colleagues. So, to those ends, I have one question for you:

How long is your long-term?

I recently finished a book that addressed one’s development in terms of five-year, even ten-year chunks. Imagine what you could accomplish if you approached your career and self-development in terms of ten-year chunks?

This goes beyond the job. Even if you’re approaching retirement, there are things you wish to do, contributions you wish to make, in your 60’s and 70’s. Of course, if you’re younger, it may be a stimulating exercise to imagine your life and career ten, fifteen or twenty years from now.

Why so long? It takes time to sink deep roots.

Whatever motivates you, gets you up in the morning, and pulls you through your day – plant yourself there. Learn about it and let tendrils of inquiry and understanding extend into the rich soil, in all directions, at all angles. Find others who share your interest and challenge each other’s assumptions.

Before long, you’ll find that what started as an isolated inquiry has turned into a complex network of interconnections. As you examine it, you’ll see how to craft it, deepen it, and make it your own.

This community needs what you have to offer. 

It only takes a few years…and it’s exhilarating!



Peer Learning Groups for Leader Development

Everyone needs to be a leader…just not in every situation.

Each of us takes the lead at some time. We take the lead in our own lives. Many of us take the lead in our household. At work, we take the lead in the role we’re given to play.

At ONEplace, we define leadership as

  • taking responsibility and ownership of your role(s), which includes 
  • developing the skills, knowledge, connections and awareness needed to fulfill your role(s) 
  • listening and learning from others and
  • teaching and sharing with others

Our Peer Learning Program provides a disciplined, intensive approach to leader development for managers, supervisors, and directors. It’s also perfect for executive leaders of small organizations.

The Peer Learning Group design helps you become more attuned to your strengths and challenges, engage your own insights and wisdom, build a network of supportive connections, and develop coaching skills. It requires commitment, and it delivers much more.

How it works

Peer Learning Groups meet for eight monthly sessions from September through April. The facilitator guides and participates in each session. 

The basic 90’ session agenda includes a brief introduction to the day’s topic, time to explore the topic on your own, focused discussion in pairs, and a full group discussion and resource-sharing. Learning occurs as each participant pursues their own path to effective performance and job satisfaction. Together, we create a welcoming and open space to work on our own leadership issues within the supportive context of colleagues who are doing the same thing.

Within the discussions, we listen carefully and engage our curiosity, imagination, and inspiration through asking open, honest questions. The questions create space for a substantial conversation that doesn’t judge or try to fix but allows each person to find what they need within a confidential environment.

Groups start in September and space is limited. For more information, attend one of our information sessions on Thursday, August 13 or Tuesday, August 18, or contact the ONEplace Director at