My work grants me the privilege of working with many boards. It’s been great to work with boards involved in food security, the arts, housing, health, the environment, community welfare, and more. One thing continually impresses me about boards of directors:
they are extremely generous people.
Board members give – hugely – of their time, talent, and treasure. Their passion and commitment fill the room with a palpable spirit. When I ask, “What do you love about your organization?” each person beams as they given genuine expression to that spirit. It’s a pleasure to behold.
The same may be said for our area’s executive directors (EDs) as well. With the weight of the organization on their shoulders, EDs give richly of themselves at every turn. To hear one speak openly of their concern and commitment stirs the heart, and to gain insight into the myriad of things they do behind the scenes inspires the soul.
So, it’s painful to see how disconnects between Boards and EDs can rattle an organization.
Everyone plays a part. According to BridgeSpan, BoardSource, and other references, Boards carry the responsibility to “support and evaluate the executive director,” and EDs carry the responsibility to “develop, maintain, and support” the board. When communication fails, that mutual support often shatters into shards of shaky accusations and puzzled disbelief.
All parties end up hurt and disillusioned. It’s very sad.
If you’re feeling even an inkling of this disconnect, then have a meeting and name it. Take the lead and set intentional steps to improve communication. Don’t wait for someone else to act. As seen above, if you’re an ED or a board member, it’s your responsibility.
Not sure how to start? Feeling stuck? Please contact ONEplace before it goes any further. Each day that a problem isn’t addressed adds another degree of difficulty to implementing a solution.
Take the lead. Make the call. It’s the generous thing to do.
In last week’s NEWSletter article I mentioned being on retreat with several of our nonprofit colleagues. We gathered Wednesday evening and worked together through Friday noon, pilot testing a service we’re considering for ONEplace. While I’m still pulling together all that I learned, I can tell you this:
It was a moment for me.
As we entered our time together on Wednesday, I marveled at what I saw. Here I was in a familiar environment. I had been on retreat at this venue several times. And, here I was with people I knew. I had worked with almost everyone there. However, these had been two different worlds for me, and now they were coming together. More than that…
It was a fulfillment of a two-year plan, a two-year vision.
Various strands of activity over the past two years were slowly woven together to arrive at this moment – and the impact hit me square in the chest. Yet, it was different.
I’ve worked on long-term projects before. In a previous job, I led a four-year effort that culminated in five regional conferences at sites all across the country. I recall the moment when we closed the fifth conference and headed for the airport. It was a sense of completion, achievement, and success.
While holding a sense of fulfillment, this recent moment pointed more to the future than the past. It was like finally cresting the hill to see the green valley below. Yes, we made it up the hill, and now the fun work begins.
So, I offer my thanks to those who participated in the retreat and to those supervisors and colleagues who supported their participation. It was a moment to treasure.
And, we’ve only just begun.
It seems this one question almost always comes up. Be it a struggling nonprofit, an association of service providers, a stable nonprofit, an ad hoc task force, a civic club, or any other service-providing entity, they all end up discussing essentially the same concern:
How shall we choose to participate?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a variety of meetings and each discussed the dynamic environment around them. Each struggled with concerns over funders and fundraising, communications and marketing, as well as governance and board development. Each felt pulled in various directions, stretched beyond capacity, and blocked at several turns.
The biggest barrier was often identified as not having enough time.
The biggest barrier, however, was a failure to choose.
It’s the organizational version of “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” We consistently bite off more than we can chew. Or, to be more precise, we don’t accurately weigh the cost of decisions, especially those decisions to take on more work. We’ll put more on the already-full plates of staff and volunteers and name it all as “high priority.” It only creates misery and, at best, mediocrity, and it needs to stop.
Choices – good, wise choices – must be made.
If this sounds familiar, then start with the assumption that every line of business, every service or program requires more work (time, energy, money) than you currently understand – say, twice as much. Then look at what that means relative to the quality and sustainability of the services you provide, including: staff development and turnover, relationship building and nurturing with many stakeholders, regular and consistent communications and public relations, and periodically evaluating and updating your services and the systems that support them. If you need help with this, ONEplace can assist you.
There’s always more to it than meets the eye. So, it’s time to choose. Otherwise, choices may be made for you.
Summer is often seen as a different time. The fact that school is out of session affects many. Also, people just get out and about more often. At ONEplace, we continue doing what we do, but this summer affords us opportunity to do something new.
This summer we’re doing some experimenting. We’re testing three services that look to extend our depth and breadth.
Courage to Lead – Introductory Retreat: This three-day, two-night retreat provides a slow-paced, reflective experience designed to reconnect us with our values and passion. Based upon the work of Parker Palmer, the retreat follows the design from the Center for Courage & Renewal. (more info)
ONEplace On the Road: We’re leaving the friendly confines of downtown Kalamazoo to bring selected Management Track workshops to the wider county. We’ll be in Oshtemo on June 2, Richland in July, and Portage on August 18.
Lunch & Learn: These noontime discussions focus on the gnawing issues that plague most managers. Bring your questions, your concerns and your lunch, and we’ll explore research, best practices, and helpful hints from colleagues.
So, try one or more of these this summer. Do some experimenting yourself. Perhaps we’ll all learn something along the way.
We’re all working together, that’s the secret. Sam Walton
Collaboration is about being who you are and speaking what you see. Lynn Serafinn
Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Henry Ford
[add your own synergy-laden quote]
For the past three years, one of our key strategies has been to encourage strong, collaborative connections. As one executive director is fond of telling me, “If you want to increase your organization’s capacity, collaborate.”
Collaboration and cooperation is something we encourage, but it’s also something we practice.
In the past, ONEplace has cooperated with the Arts Council, Volunteer Kalamazoo, the Cultural Data Project, Kalamazoo Bar Association, and others to bring workshops and service opportunities to the nonprofit sector. Looking ahead, upcoming collaborative efforts at ONEplace include:
By working together we can move the needle on some of the most entrenched issues facing our community. I know many of your organizations are doing this. Please use the Comment tool and let us know how you’re building strong, collaborative connections.
There are things we do every day. Certain actions and behaviors form the habits that seem to run on autopilot – without thought. It’s for these actions and behaviors that ONEplace created the Lunch & Learn Series, where we
Spend one hour focused on something we rarely think about.
Each session explores a habit, beginning with a short presentation on the topic followed by a facilitated discussion among your colleagues. You get to share information, test ideas, and connect with others in the nonprofit sector.
Mostly, however, you spend about an hour becoming more self-aware.
We opened the Lunch & Learn Series last week with a look at Giving & Receiving Feedback. This week (Wed, May 27), we examine how we’re Managing Expectations. Next month (Tues, June 23) we’ll explore Effective Board Meetings.
We limit the discussions to 12 so all have a chance to participate. Consider coming to a Lunch & Learn, or at least consider spending some focused time discovering and testing your habits.
It’ll be time well spent.
The Kalamazoo Human Resource Management Association (KHRMA) in association with ONEplace will be offering assistance to area nonprofits in July for Human Resource related questions.
Members of KHRMA have offered to volunteer a few hours of their time in July to assist with Human Resource projects or issues that they may have. Last year's inaugural program saw KHRMA members helping with everything from areas of a strategic plan to handbooks to onboarding practices.
If you are with a nonprofit in the Kalamazoo area and are interested in receiving assistance, please email Ben Cohen, the KHRMA Community Relations Chair, with your name, organization, and a description of your requested assistance. Ben will assign a KHRMA volunteer to assist you, and they will reach out to you directly to schedule a time to help.
Ben's contact information is firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 552-3248 (office). If you're unsure about anything, please also feel free to reach out to Ben.
Please have all requests in by Friday, June 12, 2015. Thank you!
The Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Institute is a beginning-level program for organizations that are ready to engage in advocacy but need the skills to do so. It is designed to enhance your nonprofit’s capacity to impact public policy at the local, state and federal levels. Michigan Nonprofit Association has contracted with Erin Skene-Pratt to facilitate the sessions. During the five month program, you and your peers will learn how to engage in policy work with specific strategies tailored for your community.
The Institute will include:
Individualized course learning plan
Five group sessions covering the following topics with customized content:
- June 16, 1-4 pm: “How and Why of Advocacy”
- July 28, 1-4 pm: “Systems and Process: How to institutionalize Public Policy in Your Organization”
- August 25, 1-4 pm: “Effective Techniques for Engaging Policymakers”
- September 22, 1-4 pm: “Engaging Your Team to Affect Change”
- October 20, 9 am-4 pm: “Funding Your Advocacy Efforts”
Monthly one-on-one conference calls with the instructor, Erin Skene-Pratt
Individualized organizational advocacy action plan
Upon completion of the program, you will have a customized advocacy action plan that includes specific objectives for building your organization’s capacity to advocate.
Registration is limited to 10 organizations. Organizations are required to assign a representative from the staff and one from the board of directors to participate in all aspects of the Institute. It is estimated that each participant will spend about 10 hours per month on this course. Organizations must be members of Michigan Nonprofit Association. The cost to participate is $100 per organization.
If you and a board member are interested in participating in the Institute, please request an application and submit by Monday, May 11.
Questions? Contact Erin Skene-Pratt, facilitator, at email@example.com or Thom Andrews, at ThomA@kpl.org
As I approach my third anniversary as director of ONEplace, I’m still amazed at the foresight of those who created it. Year round professional development, free of charge for all nonprofits in Kalamazoo County – it’s quite a gift. Yet, there are many who still don’t know all that ONEplace has to offer.
I want you to help me change that. Here’s how:
1. Let’s get all your staff and board officers on the ONEplace email list. Every Monday, we send a brief email listing our upcoming events. Every month, our events address topics in fundraising, communications, management and leadership. Keep your team in the know. Sign up on our website or send me a list.
2. Give ONEplace 15’ on an upcoming staff meeting. ONEplace offers more than events, including many resources available online. We’ll do a brief presentation with time for Q&A to make sure your staff knows how to take advantage of all our resources. We’ll also hold a drawing for a stylish ONEplace mug! Let us know a good day/time to visit.
I’m grateful to the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Public Library and others who make sure you have ONEplace as a resource. I also appreciate your comments and suggestions – so keep ‘em coming.
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!