ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

Coffee with Bill Rose

This month we sit down with Bill Rose, President and CEO of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, as he talks about how he developed his approach to leadership.

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

I went to graduate school to work on my Ph.D. so I could follow an academic career path at a university. While completing my degree, I began to realize that I had a deep passion for conservation and environmental action. A friend of mine told me about a job opening as a plant ecologist with The Nature Conservancy that she thought I should apply for. She was right. I got the job and that started me down a path of working for nature and environmental private nonprofit organizations. While working as a plant ecologist, I began to discover a latent interest that I had in administrative and fundraising work. I started raising money so I could hire more people to do more work. When a job opening came up in The Nature Conservancy for a Regional Director position, I jumped at the chance. This gave me the opportunity to further my interest in the business and leadership side of nonprofit work. After a number of years in this position, an executive search firm contacted me about working for the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It looked like a perfect fit that would allow me to combine all the things that I had a passion for: nonprofit leadership in the area of environment/nature; opportunity to continuing applying my scientific training/education; and, be active in an educational organization.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I love Kalamazoo for many reasons. It is a progressive and philanthropic community that embraces change which leads to so many good things for all people in our community. The cultural and natural features of this community bring richness and depth that is not often found in a community of our size. The institutions of higher learner present us with the challenge to stay fresh in our ideas about how our community continues to stay relevant.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

  1. Follow your passion.
  2. Have fun.
  3. Be a leader, not just an administrator.
  4. Define what the culture of your organization should be and continuously work to build that culture.
  5. Strive to exceed the “customer’s” expectations.
  6. Work toward constant quality improvements in every area of your organization.
  7. Society is constantly changing so you need to change too or you begin to fall behind

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

Bob Tower (retired from Tower Pinkster), he taught me to be a good fundraiser and helped me begin to develop my network of contacts. I learned how important it is to be a good listener.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I attended the week long program on leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina in the mid-1980s where I learned many of the fundamentals of “leadership.” Another big aha moment came in the early 1990s when I attended Disney University’s program on high quality customer service where I learned the significance of establishing a positive culture in your organization.

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

I’m constantly juggling a thousand balls while remaining focused on a few key strategic items.

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

Not much. I am really comfortable knowing that the Nature Center is a successful organization that can always do more but satisfied that we are making a difference.

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

Being engaged with professional support organizations locally and nationally. This includes: Meeting with peers; Constant continuing education; Staying up with the news, and; Always looking for ways to network.

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

Follow your passion, have fun and strive for a balanced life.

What do you geek?

For me that has changed over time. Now that I have adult children and grandchildren, on opposite coasts, I love to engage with them in any way that I can. I love to play on the water at our cottage. 

ThomA

Your Voice Guides ONEplace Planning

ONEplace exists to help you do your job better. So, when you talk, we listen.

Last year, you said that you wanted more interactive workshops and fewer webinars. We cut the number of webinars in half and replaced them with 60-90’ workshops/discussions, often supplementing these with ONEpage or video pre-work.

You also said you liked small group roundtables but wanted the group to be bigger and more targeted. This past year we discontinued the open roundtables and replaced them with targeted, short-term small groups. Look for our next small group invitations coming soon.

Overall, you find ONEplace to be meeting your training needs, but you wanted more time for chatting and connecting with colleagues. In response, we started the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection (LinkedIn group) and our quarterly Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE networking event. Your participation makes these valuable tools to strengthen our nonprofit sector.

A few weeks ago, we sent our semi-annual Training Event Survey. “Thank You” to the 95 respondents who participated.

At ONEplace, we measure our impact with post-session evaluations and a bank of semi-annual surveys. In the recent Training Events survey, we measure success on these questions:

  • Do you plan to return? If you find value, you’ll return for more.
  • Do you recommend ONEplace to others? If you find value, you’ll recommend ONEplace to others.
  • Do you see a benefit to your job, your organization, and yourself? You notice improvement.
  • Do you expand your network by attending? You feel more connected to your nonprofit colleagues

Our benchmark is 85%. Here’s what you reported:

  • 99% plan to attend future events at ONEplace
  • 97% have recommended ONEplace to colleagues or others
  • 99% agree or strongly agree that workshops benefitted their organizations
  • 99% agree or strongly agree that workshops helped them do their jobs better
  • 98% agree or strongly agree that workshops benefitted them personally
  • 91% agree or strongly agree that workshops expanded their network

Your comments also help guide ONEplace programs and activities. Here’s a summary of your 45 separate comments.

  • Twelve (27%) comments affirming current programming and approach
  • Eight (18%) requested evening workshops
  • Three (7%) suggested holding events at locations other than the library
  • Three (7%) requesting more small group opportunities with like positions
  • Two (4%) encourage more interaction & discussion time in workshops

In addition, there were several single comments sharing ideas for programs and improvements. Some we’ve already started on based upon comments gleaned from post-session evaluations. Others are still to be considered.

We know that ideas and concerns arise any time (not just at survey time), so please do not hesitate to send us your thoughts (oneplace@kpl.gov).

ThomA

Just ONEthing - June

Two workshops this past month emphasized the importance and value of planning ahead.

Audrey Randall (Paradigm Risk Management) and Adam Castle (American Red Cross) guided participants through emergency action planning. The key framework they outlined includes building a plan, periodic training and drills with staff, and clear communication protocols. The Red Cross has free online assessment tools and planning resources to guide you through your planning and preparation.

Chris Dilley (People’s Food Co-op) shared his story and insights into nonprofit financial management. He cited a key to successful financial management as building a reserve, i.e., having sufficient cash in the bank to handle small crises and the variations of cash flow through the year. Building a reserve develops community trust and allows you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. One workshop participant’s organization has an emergency fund in addition to the operating reserve. The emergency fund is protected by several policies and procedures to ensure that it’s used only in case of an emergency. That’s planning ahead!

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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.

ThomA

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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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

ThomA

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.

ThomA

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

ThomA

How long?

Once again, the Kalamazoo Promise put our community in a national spotlight. This time, Politico featured it as part of their year-long innovative ideas series. Julie Mack wrote about it last week on MLive. She summarized the Politico story and stated its conclusion: “…the jury is still out on true transformation, including the impact on economic development.”

I would add: “…and the jury will be out for several years.”

Things that matter take focused effort over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the bigger the impact desired, the more time required. For example, in the Politico article, when asked about the slight improvement in graduation rates, KPS Superintendent Michael Rice rightly said, “It takes 18 years to grow a high school graduate.”

True. And it takes decades to transform a community. The Promise is here in perpetuity and it just may take that long to see the scale of change that exists in our hopes and dreams.

But, long-term effort isn’t just for the big dreams. Even smaller changes take time. If a nonprofit wants to build a sustainable fundraising program, it generally takes three or four years of focused effort…and that assumes everyone (board and staff) is ready and eager to act. If they’re not ready, it will take longer.

But, we hate to wait. No matter what the effort – big or small – it only takes a few months before the question comes up: “How long? How long is this going to take?”

It’s going to take as long as it takes, and it’s well worth the effort. Things that matter take focused effort over a long period of time.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

From lucky guess to solution

“Try this – it worked last time.”

“Larry had a problem like that. How did he fix it?”

“Just smack it!”

How often do we take a trial and error approach to fixing problems? It’s good to draw on our expertise and past experience, but every attempted fix costs time and money. So, we can’t afford to just wing it.

In these situations, a rational, step-by-step process provides great assistance. Throughout my career I’ve used a problem solving process individually or with groups to address assess problems and identify root causes. I’ve also taught this process several times to various management teams.

On Thursday, April 3, I’m offering a Solve Problems for Good workshop at ONEplace. This 90-minute session explores how to fully describe a problem, identify possible causes, evaluate those causes and confirm the true cause. The process helps us gather solid data, avoid common pitfalls, and document the process for effective communication.

Processes like these are helpful management tools and set a thoughtful, logical tone to addressing challenges of all sorts.

Best,

Thom

ThomA