ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

Up your rep

Every nonprofit desires a strong public reputation.

One recipe for increasing an organization’s civic stature is to: 

  1. identify your community’s long-term, well-funded priority, and then
  2. help it be successful while staying true to your mission.

The result is that the organization:

  • does what it does best
  • builds strong alliances with other organizations, businesses, and agencies
  • enjoys endorsements from community leaders as an example to be followed

In most communities this is a near-impossible task because there are no long-term, well-funded priorities. The priorities change with each new administration or budget cycle.

Not so in Kalamazoo County. We share a common vision – a sustainable culture of learning at home, in school, at work and throughout the community. Its pillars are the Kalamazoo Promise and The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo, but its active participants populate a very long list. And, make no mistake, the effort is well funded, and we’re in it for the long haul.

Recent recognition from the Lumina Foundation and Dan Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools, Inc., indicates that we’re moving in a good direction. Cardinali writes:

What's tremendously encouraging to me is the way that the entire community is coming together in support of the public schools. In Kalamazoo, public education is everyone's business. The silos that separate schools, businesses and civic organizations are coming down as everyone accepts a shared responsibility to prepare young people for a successful, productive life. In other words, Kalamazoo is re-forming its sense of community, not just reforming its schools. (read full post)

Are we on the right path? Yes…for now. But there’s a long way to go and the path twists and turns. And, it has no end. We just need to keep moving forward.

Will you and your organization be satisfied walking the sidelines or being an armchair quarterback to this adventure? I hope not. Get in the game! Claim the vision as your own, and offer your best. The least it will do is up your rep.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Kalamazoo is among 20 communities selected by the Lumina Foundation for project to boost college success (read article).

ThomA

Small Group Update

Many people find that having a small group of trusted colleagues contributes to the foundation of their success. These take various forms: master mind groups, personal boards of directors, content-area small groups, sector-based small groups, and more. Some last for a few months and others continue for years.

What’s clear is that having a mutually supportive network of trusted colleagues is critical to personal development. At ONEplace, we’ve just completed piloting a mindfulness small group and we’re currently facilitating two other small groups. We’re learning as we go, but we’re already seeing promising results, such as: focused, in depth exploration of real, current issues; development of personal practices that reduce stress; and deepening relationships with nonprofit colleagues.

Would you like to participate in a small group? Do you know 2, 3 or 4 others who also may be interested? Here’s how ONEplace can assist:

  • Additional recruitment & scheduling of meetings
  • Host meetings
  • Facilitation of the group process & plan
  • Any needed follow-up

At our first meetings, the group decides how frequently they’ll meet and the number of meetings involved in the initial commitment (e.g., meet monthly for six months).

Please email me (thoma@kpl.gov) with your thoughts and interest. We’ll launch new groups in January.

ThomA

Just ONEthing - Dec 2013

Every month, we learn much from the participants and presenters we meet at ONEplace. In Just ONEthing we highlight an insight gained during the past month from our nonprofit community and its partners.

This months’ insight comes from Suprotik Stotz-Ghosh of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and others who attended our community alignment workshop on November 6. During this time, Suprotik posed the question, What are the barriers to your operating at maximum potential? Among the responses came these insights:

  • We think we have to do it all vs. working smarter
  • Organizational tunnel vision – we don’t see the full picture
  • We work in silos and will collaborate only so far. We stop when we fear losing funding
  • We may use the same terms, but we have differing definitions of those terms - misunderstanding
  • We often reinvent the wheel, trying to solve issues by ourselves when someone already has the answer
  • Always done it this way vs. Willingness to change

Suprotik offered that what works best for any specific community is found in the intersection of Best Practices (success in many communities), Local Data (trends unique to our community), and Local Voices (from people nearest the issues).

ThomA

Coffee with Mitch Wilson

This month we sit down with Mitch Wilson, Executive Director of Pretty Lake Camp.

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

I “grew up” in the corporate environment as an IT professional and manager most of my career. Most of my time was spent with Pfizer and its legacy companies (Pharmacia, Upjohn) along with being an independent consultant. In 2008, I was part of the “right sizing” effort locally, which opened up a number of new opportunities for me. I had two criteria in re-evaluating my career – I wanted to find an organization that I feel I could add value to and also have a passion for work every day. Pretty Lake Camp was looking for a new Executive Director at that time. They took a bit of a chance on me as I wasn’t a “typical” non-profit leader. I like to think it was a good move for both of us.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I grew up in Kalamazoo and also have spent most of my adult life here. There is just so much opportunity here and the commitment to make the community thrive is fantastic. The Promise, WMU, Kalamazoo College – it is such a great learning community, and the revival of downtown has been awesome to watch. There is a lot of upside to our great community.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

It has to be the Golden Rule – especially since the summer staff this year presented me with the Golden Rule award. Treat others well, respect what others do, and in return, you will be treated well. Be honest and truthful. Every summer, I hand out “The Golden Rule in Practice” to our staff which is a list of phrases of how to personally conduct yourself. My two favorites are the last two on the list: “If it will brighten someone’s day, say it”, and “If you can help someone, do it.”

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

My parents and my wife Sarah. My parents taught me to be positive, help others when you can, and that the glass is always half full. Sarah taught me about passion for a career and helping children. She was a phenomenal educator as a middle school math teacher (now retired) – very creative, great sense of humor, yet held her students accountable. She inspired me to take my current role at Pretty Lake.

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

Where ever you work, whether it’s a for-profit or non-profit, it’s always about the people in the organization. It’s being able to understand not only how a person fits in the organization, but how their personal life impacts their work. It’s very satisfying to see people in your organization have success, but also very hard when a person doesn’t work out or doesn’t fit. Building a good, cohesive team takes time, energy, and patience, and the willingness to listen and coach people in your organization.

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

ONEplace and The Johnson Center in Grand Rapids are two of my favorite organizations. The education and training provided by each at a great price (free at ONEplace) are great resources for our community. I also just try to network with other leaders to find out what works – and doesn’t work for each of them. The Michigan Nonprofit Association and their annual conference is another great resource.

Advice for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Probably because of my background, I don’t like to differentiate between the “for profit” and “nonprofit” sectors. It’s true that the revenue sources are different, but at the end of the day, it’s about managing people, functions, and financials with your available resources. My advice is to think a little more out of the box and use good ideas from wherever they come from.

What do you geek?

As I have my whole life, I still play golf competitively and enjoy the challenges that it brings. Over the last couple of years, I have taken on triathlons as very much a beginner. I also really love to scuba dive.

ThomA

Synergies

“Two heads are better than one” (as long as they’re not banging against one another).

Better answers don’t come simply by having more people in the room. To ensure the synergy of many minds or multiple efforts, you need a process or guide, something that facilitates the act of “working together.”

Synergy is a theme that runs through much of our December programming.

Small adjustments to activity or perspective often make big differences in how well we work together. Consider taking a closer look at how you can synergize your efforts.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Many thanks

Thanksgiving fast approaches. So, this week I’ll simply share with you three Work-Related Gratefuls (WRGs, pronounced wergs).

1. ONEplace colleagues – It’s great to work with people you enjoy and admire, and I’m grateful to work with Adam McFarlin. Many of ONEplace’s innovations these past months are his contributions. I also am grateful for colleagues past, Bailey Mead and Bobbe Luce, whose contributions continue to benefit our nonprofit sector.

2. Consultant network – Talent abounds in so many corners of our county. Our consultant network includes smart, insightful, dedicated, and innovative persons who put the meat and muscle into ONEplace workshops, Leadership Academy, and more. I’m grateful and honored to work with them.

3. Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – While I’m grateful for every dedicated nonprofit staff, board member, and volunteer, I especially want to thank those who connect through the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – both the LinkedIn group and our LIVE gatherings. Taking time to meet, share and regularly connect with your nonprofit colleagues illustrates your grasp of the long view and your commitment to collective impact.

I could go on, but three is a good number. Plus, why should I have all the fun – what are your WRGs?

Happy Thanksgiving,

Thom

ThomA

Trust connections

In a video I recently viewed, Diana Chapman Walsh, president emerita of Wellesley College, offers her five attributes of trustworthy leadership: question ourselves, develop and attend to solid partnerships, avoid the use of force except as a last resort, value differences not only as a source of respect but as a source of creative information, and create a community.

Certainly, others may vary their own trustworthy leadership list, but I find that in leadership, as in many other areas, it all comes down to relationships. The connections we build over the course of our careers make all the difference in our individual success as well as our organization’s impact.

Our quarterly Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE events were created as a venue for you to make and strengthen connections with your nonprofit colleagues. Along with its sibling, the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection LinkedIn group, they provide opportunities to meet, discuss, ask questions, share resources, and support one another.

I hope you’ll stop by the upcoming LIVE gathering on Wednesday, November 20. We’re here from 4:30 – 6 pm.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Inter(active)dependence

I get jazzed when I'm part of a group that's getting deep in the hoo-ha on issues that matter. Last week (Nov 6), we had moments of that during our Community Alignment workshop.

During the discussion, Suprotik Stotz-Ghosh (Kalamazoo Community Foundation) offered three keen insights that brought this elusive topic into clearer view.

Community alignment is an act of our will
We choose to be aligned or not. There's no magic formula or moment when all falls into place. Alignment occurs when two or more organizations set their intentions to a common outcome and consent to common goals; when we choose to combine our power to do good and to do it well.

Community alignment is about a better way to connect us
Our work takes on greater meaning when it engages us in something bigger than ourselves or our organizations. When we choose to align around these larger goals, the connections we make are stronger and deeper. They withstand conflict and debate, and they surround us with the net of support required to pursue transformational change.

Community alignment begins by starting conversations with people we don't know
While we acknowledge the truth that "we're all in this together," we often don't recognize that "all" includes those voices not being heard. Aligning with those we know takes work. Seeking those we don't know - but need to know - requires curiosity as well as vulnerability. Let's keep asking, "Who's not at the table?" And then, offer them a chair.

We live in a dynamic community - a living system in constant flux. In such a place, community alignment is not something to be attained so much as to be pursued (like "the pursuit of happiness"). At best we'll achieve moments - moments when months of effort from many people results in lives being changed...improved...transformed. At the end of the day, that's something to celebrate!

Then, tomorrow, we do it all over again.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Help!

Once again, a challenge arrives that stops you in your tracks. What do you do? Where do you turn?

   Help! I need somebody

You’re the only one in your organization who does this work – a lone ranger. Be it fundraising, communications, executive leadership, program manager – you need to talk through this challenge with someone who gets it.

   Help! Not just anybody

After combing the internet, you find information. Some of it may be helpful…you’re just not sure. The more info you find, the more you time you spend, generates as many questions as it does possible answers. So frustrating!

   Help! You know I need someone

Do not hesitate to contact ONEplace. We were created by area foundations and nonprofit leaders to offer direct assistance to nonprofit staff and volunteers. You face a challenge and you need to talk it through, to make sense of it, and to set a reasonable course of action. Don’t remain stuck – call (269-553-7899) or email (oneplace@kpl.gov).

Best,

Thom

P.S. Enjoy this video of the Beatles singing “Help” at Shea Stadium.

ThomA

Executing Leaders

It’s Halloween! So I bow to the gruesome and gory and offer a gallowed twist to basic leadership practices.

Hang’em High – Put your clean & dirty laundry high on the line for all to see. Transparency is a must and leaders should be the first to admit mistakes and offer second chances.

Stake in the Heart – Plant your stake (i.e., take a stand) aligned with your passion. A misplaced stake will burn you out, and unplanted stakes mean you and your organization stand for nothing.

Firing Squad – Keep the right people on the bus in the right seats and fire those who shouldn’t be on the bus. Make the difficult decision and do it compassionately and appropriately – but do it. Not taking action frustrates the people you want to keep and it holds back the operation.

Off with their Heads – Big-headed egos must go! And, the bigger they are, the harder they’ll fall. It’s not about you (the leader), and it’s not even about your organization. It’s about your mission and the collective impact you can make aligned with others who share your vision.

Leaders who execute well not only know what to do, they have the fortitude to do it.

ThomA