ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

What's in your grocery cart?

Mission, vision, values, strategic plans, purpose statements, case statements, and the list goes on. With so many ways to document our organization’s focus, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Sometimes a good metaphor helps.

The Celery Test (from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why) puts organizational focus within a grocery metaphor. We ask for advice from outside experts and each offers their own ideas of what we should buy: Oreos, Celery, Rice Milk, and M&Ms. We go to the grocery and buy all these items. In the checkout line, our variety of items indicates nothing of consequence to onlookers. Furthermore, we know that some items will be more helpful than others.

However, if we were clear that our purpose was healthy eating, then what would we buy…celery and rice milk. At the checkout, someone may notice our healthy choices and strike up a conversation based upon our shared concern (a new supporter?). We know that our money was spent on items that will be helpful. Further, once I wrote that our purpose was healthy eating, you already knew what I would be buying. In other words, clarity of purpose provides organization-wide criteria for good decision-making.

It seems that I cannot visit LinkedIn, Twitter or the bookshelves without finding more and more evidence that having and articulating a clear understanding of your purpose, your cause, and the better world you envision is the single most unifying factor for your entire stakeholder universe (staff, board, volunteers, donors, community). It speaks louder than any talking points, advertising or appeal letter. It’s at the heart of organizational integrity.

If your organization needs to recapture its purpose or simply check-in on it, ONEplace can help. Do not hesitate to call (269-553-7910) or email (ONEplace@kpl.gov) – that’s why we’re here.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Check out this detailed explanation of the Celery Test.

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A time to remember

With Memorial Day fast approaching, we’ll hear much about times past and the benefits enjoyed today because of yesterday’s sacrifices. At times like these I remember a favorite maxim from a former professor: you can tell a lot about a movement by how it defines its history.

Do you know your organization’s story?

In our communications workshops, we often explore the power of stories. Generally, our focus is on transformative stories from patrons, clients, or volunteers and how their lives were improved. We use these stories to make our case and raise our funds.

But what about your organization’s story? How have you captured that story? In what ways do you tell it to the public?

Over the next week or two, find your organization’s story and spend some time with it. How does it inform what you’re doing today? In what ways are you contributing to its legacy?

A well-told organizational story melds with the community’s story, showing how we each play a role in making our home something worth telling others about.

Happy Memorial Day,

Thom 

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Re-emerge...re-connect

With warmer weather I've been outside more - doing yard work, walking around our neighborhood. I've had several "good to see you again" conversations with neighbors as we emerge from our winter confines.

It feels good to reconnect with neighbors, and it's also very informative. I learn what's going on with them, and we share information impacting all of us - in our neighborhood, city, and region. It reminds me that no one of us has the complete picture. We all benefit from sharing what we know.

That's one of the main reasons we host Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection - Live. By connecting, sharing information, and nurturing networks, we get outside of our bubbles. Taking an hour every quarter to catch up and learn what's going on around the area can have great benefits.

This will be our fifth gathering. At each of the previous events connections have been made leading to collaborative events and projects as well as resource sharing in communications and fundraising.

Sometimes the best resource to help you resolve your problem is the nonprofit that's already dealt with that problem.

We gather this Wednesday, May 14, 4:30-6 pm at Central Library. Don't miss it!

Best,

Thom

P.S. A recent Nonprofit Quarterly featured several articles on the power of networks. Check out their lead article, A Network Way of Working. 

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Can we talk?

A couple of weeks ago I sent (i.e., postal mail) a card thanking Marcy for her program leadership. In subsequent email conversations with her, she thanked me for the thank you card – twice! – saying how much it meant to her. This, and other similar exchanges, makes me wonder:

With all the communications we churn out,are we really connecting with people?

Connecting is our goal. We can blah-blah-blah all we want, but if we’re not reaching people then our efforts are wasted…or, worse yet, alienating. With limited time and capacity, we must ensure that our communications are focused and effective.

May is Marketing & Communications Month at ONEplace. We have a handful of workshops and events to help you make valuable connections.

Spend some time this month evaluating your communications. Use the upcoming weeks to plan and experiment, so that, come fall, you’re ready to roll-out compelling and engaging communications.

Best,

Thom

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Sustain This

It’s a question on most grant applications and it also gets raised from time to time in the board room. It’s not a question we avoid, but it’s one of those loaded questions – the kind that elicits a tremendous amount of discussion, varied opinions, and multiple proposed solutions. The question is this:

What’s your sustainability plan?

We know we need it, but it’s difficult to get our collective mind around it. We often get caught up in trying to figure out the future. What will the world look like in five years or ten years? How can we plan for that? There are simply too many unknowns.

But, what about today…how do you know if you’re a “sustainable organization” right now? Sustainability is not a goal to reach or something to check off the To Do List. It’s a state of being. It’s a path that you choose.

So, what does a sustainable organization look like? Here are some indicators that I’ve gleaned from several articles:

  • A single, clean, up-to-date patron/donor database – the life blood of the organization. This includes up-to-date policies & protocols governing its use and procedures that ensure the data stay up-to-date.
  • Fund development activity fully funds expenses, satisfies reserve needs, and reasonably projects revenue needs and strategies for meeting those needs for the next three years.
  • Communications activities reach their target audience(s) with appropriate frequency so that audiences feel welcomed, involved, connected, and inspired.
  • Clear program policies and procedures as well as the supervision to ensure they are followed.
  • Regular measures, assessments, and evaluation of program and administrative effectiveness.
  • Succession planning for key roles in the organization (staff & board) – both short-term for sudden departures and long-term for planned departures.

I’m sure the list above is not comprehensive, but it’s a good start. What else would you add as a key indicator of sustainability?

Best,

Thom

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The Future is Now

Eight years ago, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article warning of a nonprofit leadership deficit “during the next 10 years” due in large part to a wave of Baby Boomer retirements. As we see nonprofit leaders retiring in our community, we recognize that their predicted future is upon us.

In anticipation of this situation, ONEplace developed the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA). In 2011, former ONEplace Director, Bobbe Luce, worked with Paul Knudstrup and others in the Consultant and Trainer’s Network to develop an intensive course offering a comprehensive overview of running a nonprofit organization. Supplemented with readings and a mentor relationship, ONLA provided a strong foundation for up-and-coming leaders.

The third ONLA class will come to completion in mid-May. Three participants from the previous two classes have already moved into executive director positions. While ONLA may not have played a pivotal role in their careers, it certainly played a preparatory one.

The ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy will be highlighted at the next Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection LIVE gathering on May 14. Information about next year’s Academy will also be available.

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Just ONEthing - May

Kerri Karvetski (Company K Media) presented a webinar on advanced social media strategies that ONEplace hosted in April. She made the point that nonprofits have experimented long enough with social media. It’s now time for social media to carry its weight in fundraising campaigns…but they can’t go it alone.

Multi-channel campaigns, especially those pairing email and social media, consistently provide increased impressions and highly reinforced messaging. They allow supporters to take action in the channel of their choice (which often changes over time). Multi-channel campaigns result in stronger relationships and better donor retention.

In fact, according to Blackbaud’s Idea Lab, first year donor retention rates double with a multi-channel campaign.

  • Offline only donors retain 29% of first year donors
  • Online only donors retain 23% of first year donors
  • Multi-channel donors retain 58% of first year donors

If you would like to see this webinar, you may do so at ONEplace. Simply call (553-7899);or email to set an appointment.

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Coffee with Donna Odom

This month we sit down with Donna Odom as she recalls the path and passion leading to her present post as Executive Director of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society.

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 geek (i.e., what hobby or outside interest do you really like)?

Believe it or not, I geek 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. 

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More with less

Recently I spent time outside Michigan with a room of nonprofit professionals. As we discussed tighter budgets and higher demands, a consensus grew around a perceived shared mandate. With a weary shake of the head, one person stated their common dilemma:

We must do more with less.

The statement was received both as an unavoidable reality as well as a virtual prison sentence. It meant doing more activities with fewer people and less money. "My board just won't have it any other way." "People are suffering and need our help." "It's impossible to say No."

The phrase "more with less" took me back to a 1970's Mennonite cookbook - the "More-with-Less Cookbook." I revisited the introduction which says, "the book demonstrates clearly how we may enjoy more while eating less. There is a way of wasting less, eating less, and spending less which gives us not less but more."

Here, more with less meant more quality with less stress.

I've seen this principle at work in many arenas. Organizations that focus on fewer programs and do  them well without over-stretching their staff or budgets serve more people over time...and serve them better. Those that won't say No and keep over-stretching themselves just fight the same battles year after year after year.

We can do more with less. We can add more quality to our services, more patrons to our rolls, and more funding to our mission. We can do this with less stress, less burnout, and less tension. One key is to focus on what we can do well, and say No to the rest. Like a great tree, build a solid core and then add a little ring every year.

More with less is a long-term recipe for success, not a short-term fix.

Best,

Thom

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I never thought...

We’ve seen the interview dozens of times. The person-in-charge stands, gazes into the void, and with a shake of the head says, “I never thought this would happen.”

It could happen.

Regardless of the venue or situation, we must face the facts as they present themselves, and one clear, undeniable fact is that circumstances beyond your control could derail your operation. It’s not about being a doomsayer or copping a negative attitude or even painting a worst-case scenario. It’s about recognizing risks and taking steps to protect your organization and the people who rely upon it.

ONEplace welcomes back Audrey Randall (Paradigm Risk Management) to lead us in two sessions aimed at avoiding being caught by what could happen. First, Business Continuity Planning (April 24) examines how to keep your operation running when risks become reality.

Next, Your Emergency Action Plan (May 8) looks at how we can prepare now to respond quickly when time if of the essence. Developing plans of action and getting your staff and volunteers prepared may save your organization thousands of dollars. It could even save lives.

Business continuity and emergency action planning are easy things to put off. They are also our biggest regrets when we are caught without them. Don’t put it off any longer. Register today.

Best,

Thom

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