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Coffee with Von Washington, Jr

This month we spent time with Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise. We learned his thoughts on service, caring, and the power of a collaborative community.

Tell us how you got to where you are today?

I did my undergraduate work in Communications and Theatre at Western State University in Colorado. After playing some basketball, I returned to Kalamazoo and studied Educational Leadership at Western Michigan University. During my years in public school education, I spent 14 years as a varsity basketball coach and held several other positions including Media Specialist, Children’s Librarian, some administrative positions, and Principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. After 22 years in public education, I did economic development work with Southwest Michigan First and then, in July 2013, accepted my current position as Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Giving and caring: these are the two easiest words for me to describe Kalamazoo. The philanthropic and service focus here is unique among other communities. “Service” in Kalamazoo is primarily expressed as caring for those in great need.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Service to others. How can you reach out to someone to help make their life better? Give them a smile and greeting. Offer assistance or a cup of coffee. What can I do to help relieve their stress? It’s something I just do – it’s in my DNA. For others, it may take more intention. I think if we all adopted this type of approach it would transform our community.

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

There have been many in my life who have served as change agents. When I worked in the public schools, Janice Brown (superintendent at that time) saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It was important to me that she saw this at that particular time. As I made the shift from public schools to economic development, Ron Kitchens (Southwest Michigan First) showed me how to apply my skills and abilities in other areas. Together, these two experiences are invaluable.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

When Kalamazoo Central High School entered the competition for President Barack Obama’s first Race to the Top, we were all in learning mode. It took strong community influence to pull this together, and the community stepped up to support the students and the school in a special way. Even those who otherwise might not support Kalamazoo Central offered their support. The experience taught me the power of collaboration and the power of a strong message. We did it.

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

I have very few average days, and that is by design. My goal is to fill each day with learning, and I cannot do that by sitting still. So, I’m on the move, visiting people and learning about their lives. I want to learn all I can about this community, its people, and their stories.

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

In my work I see great need and many problems that are not easily solved. The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship is but one piece in a puzzle that each family must put together. I want to fill the gaps in those puzzles but you can’t do it fast enough. It’s painful to think how long it will take to fully address problems. It’s tough for me.

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

I strive to stay up on social media. It’s a requirement when working with students (and with my own children). At minimum, I hope to stay level with the average young person, but it’s a constant struggle. I do know this: if you want to be grounded, get around young people and ask them what’s going on. Seek out their ideas and suggestions. Their learning environment is ten times different than what I experienced when I was young, so it’s critical for me to keep connected to young people.

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

The nonprofit sector is a great way to go. Many organizations are doing great work in our community, and there is room for you to be part of it. How? Lead with your heart. To make a significant impact, you must lead with your heart. It keeps you real and places your unique and authentic contribution in the mix. Many have said, “If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a single day in your life.” I love what I’m doing, and I wish that for others.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I love watching basketball. We’re a basketball family – my son plays for Western Michigan University and my daughter works with the coaching staff of Michigan State University basketball. I enjoy fishing and boating. I also enjoy the sun and being outdoors.

Anything else?

I offer my vote of support for the work that ONEplace is doing to develop emerging leaders. I enjoy my role as a Leadership Academy mentor and appreciate the community’s support for building our future community leaders.


Getting beyond good enough

It usually starts with big plans and a lot of anticipation. As we move further into it, schedules become crunched and other urgent matters crowd our To Do lists. Reality sets in – hard! – and we just need to get it done. Finally, we deliver the project, and it’s…well…good enough.

I’m tired of good enough.

Good enough finishes the job but doesn’t make an impact.
Good enough meets the need but doesn’t move the needle. 
Good enough satisfies the stakeholders but doesn’t transform the system.

Good enough is another glass ceiling. We look up. We get a glimpse of what could be, of what’s beyond this glass ceiling. We’re drawn to it. Yet, stretched as we are, our efforts lack the momentum and sharp edge to break through.

An emerging goal at ONEplace is to not just help organizations build capacity but to also help them strengthen capacity. I believe that many of our area’s nonprofit organizations can break through the Good Enough Ceiling, and we want to offer some programmatic umph to support those efforts.

Do you share this concern? I look forward to talking with you over the next several weeks about this. I know that some of you have broken through, and I want to hear and share your stories.

Let’s do this!


Just ONEthing - Apr 2015

Earlier this month, executive coach Mary Jo Asmus led a day-long workshop on Coaching for Breakthrough Performance. During this workshop, participants not only learned about coaching but also coached one another on real work-related issues.

Early in the practice sessions, participants commented on the power of deep listening. An undistracted listener, focused solely on the one speaking, gave the speaker space to explore their concern more fully without fear of the conversation being redirected. 

Mary Jo reminded us that this type of listening requires a person to

  • Talk less
  • Be open and receptive
  • Avoid distractions
  • Listen for understanding

The workshop ended with participants pairing up and agreeing to check-in over the next month to see how their coaching practice was progressing. Mary Jo also offered participants a group follow-up session in early April for additional check-in and a look at advancing their practice.

For more information on Mary Jo and to access her fantastic blog, visit aspire-cs.com


Face-to-face

I recently met a person online (it’s not what you think). It was a local business relationship, but the first several interactions were on email…and it got off to a rocky start…I think.

You see, I wasn’t sure. It felt weird – like we weren’t connecting. But I didn’t know if the other person felt that way. Her emails generally came from a mobile device, so perhaps the shortness I sensed was due to her being busy or not-so-quick at thumb-typing.

I tried calling, but we only exchanged brief voicemails. I needed to connect with her, but did she want to? Was this going to work? Should I just let it go? Though unsettled, I ventured to the meeting ready to navigate what I assumed would be choppy relational waters.

We met. At first the discussion focused on the business matter at hand, and then things relaxed a bit. By the end of the meeting, we were fast friends. Two weeks later we had a follow-up meeting that was fun and productive.

Since then, despite all the emails, to do’s, and stacks waiting for me on my desk, I’ve put a higher priority on meeting people face-to-face. In this short time, both efficiency and effectiveness have increased as well as job satisfaction. This experience reinforces what I’ve always known: while relationships can be sustained electronically, they deepen through personal interaction.

But, I’m just one voice on the matter. What do you think?

Best,

Thom

P.S. Here’s a related quote from film producer and author Peter Guber: “Nothing replaces being in the same room, face-to-face, breathing the same air and reading and feeling each other's micro-expressions.”


Fund marketing

There it was again. Originally, it surprised me…even confused me. My background colored my perception. Today, I’ve seen it so often, it no longer surprises me. And now, I find a reputable post placing it plainly before me.

Fund Marketing strategically merges fundraising and marketing strategies.

Coming from arts marketing, I often experienced marketing as quite distinct from fundraising, focusing on event advertising, subscriptions and ticket sales. Over the past five years or so, I’ve come to see much more overlap in these two areas. So has Gail Perry.

In her recent blog on Fund Marketing, she points out that, thanks to recent marketing research, we know: how to increase response to our newsletters, what type of images work best, and how to shape a call to action. Successful fundraising centers on relationships, and it also includes “a working knowledge of messaging, copyrighting, good design and layout.”

Few areas change as often, or as quickly, as marketing. So as we prepare for our annual Marketing & Communications Series (April 29, May 6 & 13), we’re pulling together the most recent research, practices, and tools to help you with your marketing challenges.

Keeping a sharp, focused, relevant message helps you cut through the noise and clutter to be heard and to motivate response…and, to raise more money!

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Ellen Stone

This month we sat down with Ellen Stone, Executive Director at The Arc Community Advocates.

Tell us how you got to where you are today?

While in college, I started working at a camp for people with disabilities as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor. I fell in love with the people and the work. After graduation from Michigan State, I spent 13 years working at camps in Iowa, Texas, Michigan, and finally Washington where I directed all camping and respite programs for Easter Seals. Eventually, with the camp schedule of working most weekends and 3 months of 100-hour weeks all summer, I wanted to find a job with a more regular schedule. Seeing the struggle faced by individuals with disabilities and their families as they sought to access services, I was determined to help improve the systems. I also had a desire to return to Michigan. In February 2012, I began my work with The Arc Community Advocates and spend my days in client and policy advocacy.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Kalamazoo is the perfect blend of small town and urban center. As a smaller city, it’s easy to get around, connect with people, and get things accomplished rather quickly. As an urban center, you find good restaurants, theatre, and other entertainment and services. It’s also a very supportive and caring community.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

My primary guiding principle is to always assume positive intent. I assume that people want things to work out well, even if I disagree with their approach. This keeps me from getting overly aggravated or angry, and it helps focus our discussion on the desired outcome that we all share.

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

My mentor was Jeanne from Camp Courageous in Iowa. She had a philosophy of abilities that I continue to use as a second guiding principle: approach people and events from a strengths and abilities perspective. This means that I not only work with people with disabilities from this perspective but also with myself, my staff, volunteers, community members, everyone. I look to engage an individual’s passion, utilize and extend their strengths, and then help them build upon those strengths.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

During my first year at The Arc, we had to evacuate Rib Fest (our big fundraiser for the year) due to inclement weather. Unfortunately, we ended up losing money rather than raising money. As a new Executive Director, it was a disaster. Yet, because of this disaster, I came to know the caring support of our base as well as the Kalamazoo community. Individuals and foundations worked with us to weather this storm and demonstrated their deep commitment to the organization.

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

There are no average days. Some days I run from meeting to meeting – in town or throughout the state – while other days I’m in the office, answering client calls or grant writing. Every day is different. We don’t even have a strong seasonal pattern to our work.

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

I don’t let problems overcome me. They tend to work themselves out as we address them. The things that keep my brain spinning are the opportunities. For example, we recently were exploring a post-secondary education option for people with disabilities – a true college option. The impact on quality of life, especially employment opportunities, could be huge. Those are the things I like to dwell on.

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

This is a broad field with a lot going on, so I need to keep up on legislation, regulations, positions, and opinions. This translates into several policy alerts, briefings, and meetings every month. It’s a lot of reading, a lot of listening, and a lot of discussing. For example, social safety net programs are always under attack, so I need to follow the trends and positions of key influencers. It’s a big part of my job, and it’s all very exciting.

What advice do you have for those wishing to secure a leadership position in the nonprofit sector?

Find an area of passion and be willing to go wherever it takes you. Most nonprofits don’t have advancement opportunities within their organizations, especially at the supervisory level, so to move up you often have to move on. You must be flexible. I lived in four states since graduating from college, always moving to take advantage of the next opportunity.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I enjoy cooking, knitting, and sewing. I absolutely hate shopping, so I make gifts rather than buy them. I also enjoy a good cup of tea.

What else?

Over the past two years, we’ve been in the Imperial Beverage building along with two other small nonprofits – Volunteer Kalamazoo and Parent to Parent. Our former office building was not connected to other non-profits and didn’t meet the needs of our clients. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the advantages of this space: feeling less isolated, a large pool of colleagues, collaboration opportunities, and the ability to bounce questions and ideas around with other executive directors. We’re working together in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Space is available and we’d enjoy more neighbors!


Direct Assistance from ONEplace

Direct Assistance forms one of the cornerstones of ONEplace. Available to all nonprofit staff, board members and other volunteers, our Direct Assistance services help you get a grip on new or uncommon challenges and concerns. 

Whether by phone, email or personal meeting, we’ll work directly with you to improve your situation, whatever it may be. These confidential conversations help pinpoint problem areas, identify underlying issues, and determine the best course(s) of action.

Should you desire someone to come alongside your organization to help for a period of time, we will provide recommendations from our endorsed consultant directory. These consultants bring high levels of expertise and considerable nonprofit experience to your organization, often at a discounted rate. Further, they come highly recommended from past clients.

Every month, ONEplace handles around 120 Direct Assistance requests and makes about 10 consultant recommendations. It’s a primary reason ONEplace was founded, and, like all ONEplace services, it’s provided to you free of charge. [learn more]


Just ONEthing - Mar 2015

Earlier this month, we explored Donor Retention with Michelle Karpinski (Pretty Lake Camp). During this workshop, we learned about donor-centered recognition.

According to research by Penelope Burk, the essential components of donor-centered recognition include:

  • Prompt, meaningful gift acknowledgement
  • Ability to designate the gift to a program, service or project more narrow in scope than the charity’s overall mandate
  • Measureable results report on the last gift before being asked for another gift

If all three of these essentials are present, donors report that

  • 93% would give again
  • 64% would make larger gifts
  • 74% would continue indefinitely if the essentials continued 

The bottom line was to not over-think the effort but to keep the donor relationship front-and-center while doing the essentials well: timely, genuine, and accurate.


On being prepared

It was late, and the airport shuttle had just delivered my parents, brother and I to the far reaches of remote parking. Tired and hungry, we lugged our bags over to my old van. I put the key in the lock and – snap! – the key broke in the lock. The worn faces turned to me with eyes wide and mouths open. What were we going to do?

I simply pulled my spare key from my wallet. We entered the van and went home.

Three years prior to this incident, I had been a passenger when our driver had the same problem – key broke in the lock. He had an extra key in his wallet, and the problem was easily solved. His example helped me prepare for my family’s little emergency.

Emergencies happen – we know this. We just don’t know when, nor do we know the common possibilities. A little planning may not only save us some time and inconvenience, it may save our organization.

Protecting our organizations protects the clients, staff, board, and community that depend upon them. So we offer Emergency Action Planning every year to encourage and equip you with the tools and information you need to be prepared. Our next session is Wednesday, February 25.

For more information, visit Ready.gov

Best,

Thom


Leading with Intent

Our direct assistance services bring a myriad of issues and concerns through our door. While each appointment paints problems with its own palette of colors and textures, one common thread runs through almost every meeting.

Organizational concerns always involve the Board.

Every business, club, and organization takes its cue from the top. Boards, in partnership with the chief executive, set the tone for the nonprofit organization, affecting its climate, culture, and effectiveness.

Collecting and analyzing data since 1994, BoardSource’s biennial reports provide one of the deepest dives into the state of board leadership and trends. Their January 2015 report, Leading with Intent, surfaces three key findings:

 

  • Getting the people right is fundamental – Boards that aren’t thoughtfully composed relating to skills sets, leadership styles, and diversity of thought and background are less likely to excel.
  • Boards need to get outside their comfort zones – Boards generally do well at compliance and oversight functions, but strategic and external work challenge them.
  • Investments in board development are worth the effort – Building and strengthening a board takes ongoing, intentional effort.

BoardSource, Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2015).

Many executive directors find the amount of time they must spend on board matters surprising. Even though they function as the ED’s superior, boards pose a volunteer management challenge of the highest order.

ONEplace recognizes the need for intentional board development efforts. Our quarterly Board Membership 101 workshop not only provides basic board responsibility training but also serves as a regular reminder for organizations to attend to their own board development. We also stand ready to work with you to develop a focused board recruitment and development plan.

Board service offers individuals unique challenges. It also offers unique opportunities for personal growth and enjoyment. Intentional board development helps your organization strike this balance.

Best,

Thom