ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

Coffee with Pat Taylor

This month we sit down with Pat Taylor, Executive Director of the Eastside Neighborhood Association. She shares her vast experience in working in the nonprofit sector and her creative approach to solving local issues.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I began my career in the nonprofit world by volunteering, first at the defunct Civic Black Theatre (acting and technical theatre positions). My next volunteer opportunity came by assisting the Executive Director at that time, late Gayle Sydnor, at the Black Arts & Cultural Center. I really did not think of these positions as any sort of prep for a career move. I was a single parent with two teen-aged boys and I wanted to show them that mom was practicing what she preached: get out and do something positive that you enjoy just for the fun of it.

I enjoyed working in the nonprofit world enough to start thinking about making a career of it when the time (and resources) came that enabled me to go to college. While at WMU, I snagged an internship with Cass District Library working with residents and businesses. I was offered a position there but declined because I am NOT the commuting type!

After my internship with Cass I went into the AmeriCorps program and worked as a Housing Specialist at the Edison Neighborhood Association. After my tour of duty expired, the Executive Director offered me a permanent position working at Edison, which I took. After working for two years at Edison, the position at the Eastside Neighborhood Association came up. I applied for it, was hired, and here I am today!

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I love how, when faced with major challenges, the Kalamazoo Community usually looks to creative approaches to solve the issue.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

The Golden Rule

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

Of the many folks (mostly women) that come to mind, the late Gayle Sydnor was instrumental in reminding me that there are several approaches to a problem. If one thing does not work, keep looking – the solution just hasn’t been found yet! She taught me that challenges are tools to assist one to shift directions. She also helped me to see that failure is a learning curve, not a punishment.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I think that my biggest learning moment came when, during my first years at the Eastside there were two “camps” (different views on how to make the neighborhood a better place). The more aggressive camp tended to push their agenda through, while the non-assertive camp – even though they did not totally agree with the agenda – stayed silent. This discovery caused me to shift from having to work for several bosses – trying to please everyone – to finding ways to make sure that everyone has a say in the decision-making process in an environment where each individual feels their concerns are heard. Through this situation I realized the importance of including EVERYONE in a conversation, making sure that everybody is really on board with the idea, and finding a venue for those who are not to have a say so the rest of the group knows. And all this must happen in a “safe” environment.

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

My day-to-day work tends to be a mix of coaching volunteers, finding information to assist my board carry out their duties, bill paying , meetings, looking for resources to assist the organization and residents, and LOTS of report writing!

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

Trying to figure how to have enough time to do all the tasks I feel need to be accomplished to keep the organization moving forward. I feel that everyone involved in the organization should have a say and be empowered to assist with progress in our neighborhood and the association. Through the years my biggest challenge is finding ways that encourage residents and board members to feel comfortable enough to take the plunge. It is not a matter of “one size fits all.” Our residents are a very diverse lot. An approach that encourages one individual may very well repel another, so building relationships is key.

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

Modern technology has its perks! I have found several resources that help me stay up to date with trends related to my field. In addition to this, when I find that I have the time (and REALLY need to see the outside world), ONEplace is another good resource with the many workshops geared towards what local nonprofit folks are looking for.

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

Always remember that we cannot accomplish our goals of making our world a better place alone. Seek out other individuals who work in the field – not just those that are specific to your industry – who can be a wealth of ideas that one may be able to adapt to the organization you are doing your good work for. …And don’t forget to do what you love!

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

I geek so many things – Arts & Crafts, reading, theater arts, music, the outdoors, gardening, playing with stained glass, and my grandkids!

ThomA

Who's your target?

Our ONEplace Nonprofit Collection has this great little book: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, by Peter Drucker and others. It’s a quick read that makes a lasting impression. Questions two & three grabbed me: Who is our customer? and What does the customer value? Specific, well-supported answers to these questions could turn your organization around.

Nonprofits have many customers. The authors distinguished between our primary customers (the persons who lives are changed through our work) and our supporting customers (volunteers, members, partners, funders, employees, and others who must be satisfied). Our business is not to casually please everyone but to deeply please our target customers. So, the first job is to clearly define our target customers in great detail. This definition affects everything.

Next, ask What does the customer value? This may be the most important – but least often asked – question. The authors suggest beginning with your assumptions of what you believe your customers value. Next, gather customer input and then compare your assumptions with what the customers actually are saying, find the differences, and go on to assess your results. Do this for both primary and supporting customers.

It takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it. The reward comes in a greater focus on your mission, money-saving operational efficiencies, and greater value delivered to all of your customers.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

It comes down to this

Leadership.

We all take our cue from the top. A leader’s style determines about 70% of the organization’s culture which, in turn, drives up to 30% of performance (Firms of Endearment).

Of course, I don’t need to cite research. We all know it’s true. We see it every day: at works, at home, in schools, and in the community.

With few exceptions, when ONEplace staff meets with an organization to discuss concerns and challenges, dysfunctional leadership plays a debilitating role. The flipside is also true. When we work with healthy, effective organizations, we find that vital leadership sits at the hub of their progress and success.

Most often, the crux of the leadership challenge or success rests in the partnership between the executive director and the board. Like ripples in a pond, the actions of this crucial partnership radiate to every stakeholder, often having the greatest impact on those furthest out. This commonly means that those staff and volunteers on the front lines are motivated by impeccable clarity of mission and direction or left frustrated, arguing over ambiguous pronouncements.

So, what to do? Pointing fingers (be it blaming or idolizing) either exacerbate a problem or simplify a success. For now, I ask you to consider two things:

  1. Please share your successes. Leave a comment, post on our LinkedIn group, send me an email or otherwise share what you’re doing that works. Supporting one another in this way builds a stronger sector for us all.
  2. Please do not let a problem situation fester any longer. Problems often take months to develop, and they will take focused effort over time to resolve. Let’s work together to explore your particular situation and begin to take steps to repair your system.

It comes down to this: what’s your next move?

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Looking ahead...planning ahead

How clear is your crystal ball? When we set forth plans of any stripe – strategic, budget, project, etc. – we are saying that this is how we plan for the organization to operate within a given timeframe. In other words, we’re predicting the future.

For the vast majority of us, our past teaches us that we cannot predict the future. We’ll get close, but things happen outside of our control that throw curveballs, plant bumps in the road, and knock us off-kilter.

The lesson is clear: we need to plan for things NOT to go as planned. We need to have back-up. So, how many of your organizations:

  • Build a surplus into your annual budget (e.g., 3-5%)?
  • Maintain an adequate reserve in the bank (e.g., 3-6 months of expenses)?
  • Have succession plans (quick exits and planned exits) for your key positions (both staff and volunteer)?

Building and maintaining an operational reserve means that your organization faces the fact that “stuff happens.” It demonstrates your ability to stay disciplined over the long-term, and it is one of the hallmarks of a sustainable organization. Further, it provides the financial capacity to resist the urge to cling to the familiar and adapt to changing times. It gives you choices!

Operational reserve can also apply to staff time and energy. According to BoardSource’s most recent Governance Index, 22% of nonprofits cut staff and 23% froze or reduced salaries in 2012. While these numbers are lower than the 2010 report, we often find that these cuts are NOT accompanied by commensurate changes in programs and services. In other words, staff must to do more with less.

This trend finds support in two other recent studies. Nonprofit Marketing Guide’s 2014 Trends survey reports that 57% of communicators say they are asked to do more than is possible within the given time. Further, CompassPoint’s 2013 “Underdeveloped” survey reports that the average length of vacancy after a development director leaves is six months. For organizations with operating budgets of $1 million or less, the average jumps to 12 months.

Cultivating a long-term approach to financial reserves AND staff time/energy reserves is critical to success. It develops a strong organizational core that withstands annual ups and downs and develops overall quality and quantity.

This is an area that we can assist one another. What have you done to successfully build your reserves? Leave a comment or send me an email (thoma@kpl.gov).

Best,

Thom

P.S. I posted a recent article on our LinkedIn group that has attracted some conversation. Check it out.

ThomA

Where do I find...

When looking for an answer to a sticky question, it’s likely that another nonprofit has just what you need.

Call it relationship building, networking, cultivation, or connecting, the act of building enduring, mutually beneficial, professional relationships accelerates and sustains success for individuals and organizations. It’s time-tested, well-documented, and prescribed by every thought leader.

Does it take time and effort? Yes.

Will the return on this investment be huge? Yes.

Can you afford not to do it? No.

Need more? Among the benefits of strong professional relationships are:

  • Keeping you and your organization front of mind amidst all the noise and clutter
  • Creating a resource pool supporting mutual success
  • Building within-sector and cross-sector trust – the foundation of collective impact
  • Promoting sustainability and overall success

 At ONEplace, our goal is to operate as a catalyst of your success, to help you meet people to include in your network and expand your sphere of influence. We invite you to connect with new people, cultivate emerging relationships and leverage your network. To accomplish this, we offer:

  • Interactive discussion at every ONEplace workshop
  • Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection (LinkedIn group)
  • Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE (quarterly networking event)

Our next quarterly gathering is Wednesday, February 12, 4:30 – 6pm (more info). I hope to see you there.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Peer-to-Peer Learning

We consistently hear from you that the discussion and interactive aspects of our workshops are highly valued. This makes sense. As we work together on new information, we challenge our assumptions, develop specific insights, and learn from one another.

A recent study supports your feedback. Last year, the Johnson Center for Philanthropy did a study for Wilberforce University on effective capacity building strategies. This exhaustive study surveyed literature from 2008-2013, surveyed 236 foundations, and included 20 interviews. One key result of this study was that peer-to-peer learning (or collaborative learning) surfaced as the best capacity building approach.

Since last summer, ONEplace has been piloting peer-to-peer learning groups. In addition, we’ve learned from persons who have benefitted from other collaborative learning groups. Now it’s time to move this effort to its next phase.

On March 6 we will hold a Peer-to-Peer Learning Forum that will include a short presentation plus opportunities to discuss and contribute to the next significant steps in this process. Your voice is a vital component, because our goal, as always, is to be a catalyst for your success.

ThomA

Just ONEthing - Feb 2014

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 month's insight comes from our Monthly Giving workshop. During the workshop, Daren Wendell (Executive Director of Active Water) described his three-year journey developing a monthly giving program. The ONEthing I pulled from his presentation is the need to do many little things – meticulously, consistently, and relentlessly. No one thing is difficult, but the discipline to persevere and stay on top of things poses perhaps the greatest challenge.

What does Daren do? Here’s a sampling:

  • Takes a long-term view (3-4 years) and expects to go slow at the beginning
  • Receipt automatically emailed to every online donor
  • Daren calls every donor who gives a one-time gift (i.e., not monthly program)
  • Daren calls every monthly donor once per quarter
  • Special monthly email newsletter to monthly givers (includes personal note from Daren)
  • High-level monthly givers receive an annual gift reflective of their mission
  • Monthly givers living locally are invited to visit the office to meet others and see pictures of programs
  • Board members gather to call & thank every donor at Thanksgiving time
  • Daren invests in and power-uses a quality donor management system – like having another staff member

Among the many benefits of a monthly giving program are consistent, predictable monthly income and the ability to set more accurate goals on other campaigns.

ThomA

Coffee with Bob Littke

This month we sit down with Bob Littke as he recalls lessons and memories from his career, including 22 years as Executive Director of Senior Services.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I worked for 12 years in Radio and Television broadcasting. My first job in broadcasting was working with radio legend Paul Harvey in Chicago on his daily national broadcast. After completing a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1985 I left broadcasting and took my first job in human services as the Director of the St. Joseph county Commission on Aging (Michigan) where I worked for six years as Executive Director before coming to Senior Services of Southwest Michigan where I have been President and CEO for the past 22 years.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

The giving spirit of the community is what most impresses me. This community has gained national attention for its generosity and willingness to share in countless ways. Nonprofits are particularly helped by the philanthropic sector as well as by the thousands of people who volunteer each year to help others in our community.

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

Joseph Dunnigan was my closest mentor and he helped me in countless ways. His long history and extensive background in the community were combined with a huge heart. I often think of him and the times we spent together.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

There are several that come to mind, but one in particular is relevant to this conversation. Shortly after coming to Senior Services I was asked by my board to conduct a $2 million fund raising campaign. After extensive research I developed the campaign strategy and rationale. My mentor, Joe Dunnigan, wanting to help me arranged a meeting with a major foundation professional who promptly shot my entire project full of holes. While this stung at first, I was able to step back and see the concerns he had identified. After addressing all the weaknesses of my original proposal I was able to develop a winning concept that resulted in a successful campaign that raised the entire $2 million goal.

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

Luckily, I am surrounded by a great staff and leadership team who help accomplish even what seems impossible at times. I’ve never believed that long hours are an indicator of success but that leadership is best when accomplished strategically. Following a well-designed strategic plan that we all have agreed to allows for a structured calendar of events and minimizes the potential for crisis management and/or uneven workloads throughout the year.

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

Those things that are beyond our control are always potential sources of stress. With a background in Psychology I often remind myself that “worry is like a rocking chair…while it gives you something to do, it does not get you anywhere”.

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

Belonging to organizations that bring similar organizations together has always been one of the most beneficial tools I use to stay up-to-date. While there are unlimited amounts of facts and statistical information available on-line, I find nothing more valuable than getting together with other leaders around the State and Nation and learning about new and innovative ideas from these peers.

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

Be a leader, not a manager. Managers do great things and get the job done, but leaders help set the course, determine the direction and create the vision that others need.

What do you geek?

I really enjoy flying and have been a F.A.A. licensed pilot for over 30 years. I’m also very active in my church and assist as a part time staff member.

ThomA

Hey! Where're you headed?

When was the last time your board discussed the organization’s mission and vision? How much has changed – big shifts as well as incremental changes – since that time?

We find that evaluating the mission and vision is either a glossed over exercise – not much more than a quick reaffirmation of the mission statement – or a tediously-detailed (i.e., word-smithing) part of a large strategic planning effort. Neither produces helpful results.

Yet, a biannual mission and vision evaluation serves several needs of the board. First, it takes stock of the environment in which you live and work. What’s it like today? How do we expect it to change in the next two or three years? How does this impact our long-term direction?

Second, it faces everyone in the same specific direction. It’s no good to say something akin to, “We’re heading north” (a 90-degree chunk of the compass). Rather, we need to say, “Our heading is 012 degrees.” Specificity lets everyone know exactly who we’re serving and why.

Third, and perhaps most significantly, reconnecting with the mission and vision of the organization breeds ownership. Effective fundraising, ambassadorship, and board recruitment requires personal connection to the mission of the organization. This exercise allows each board member the opportunity to engage the mission on his/her own terms…to find that personal stake. It deepens each person’s commitment and motivates their informing and inviting others.

So, I encourage taking time to evaluate your organization’s mission and vision at least every other year. ONEplace can help with resources or in facilitating the conversation. It will strengthen your connections and your resolve.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Pages will turn

When reading a book, article or anything in hard copy, to find out what happens next you must turn the page. The act becomes a revealing – circumstances once hidden, now coming into plain sight.

Pages are turning in our area. Last week, Pretty Lake Camp announced that Michelle Karpinski would succeed Mitch Wilson as its new executive director. Michelle spent the past nine years as vice president for development at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Pages also are turning at other organizations in our area. Leadership changes, on staff as well as on the board, are inevitable. Many organizations, like the ones above, prepare for such inevitabilities. However, several others do not – an act akin to living in denial.

One mark of a “sustainable organization” is a succession plan. The plan should address the sudden departure as well as planned departure of key leadership positions – executive director, board chair, and any others where a vacancy would significantly impact the organization.

Also, the longer one has held a position, the more important this plan becomes. Often, the long-term leader holds so much knowledge, carries so many key relationships, and has become so efficient in their role that it takes more than one person to replace them. That’s an unexpected – and unwelcomed – kick in the budget.

How would you navigate a change in executive director…a change in development director? Serve your organizational well and ensure that succession plans are in place and up to date.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Read about Michelle (a 2012 ONEplace Leadership Academy grad) and her new role at Pretty Lake Camp

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