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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


What's your point?

Have you ever watched a debate, read a series of comments, or participated in a discussion and wondered if the various voices were even discussing the same issue? You may shake your head and wonder,

What’s your point?

For many of us, our attention swirls around a small set of fixed points from which all other things take their meaning. Be it a matter of value, belief or assumption, the fixed points ground our thinking, guide our notice, and color our interpretation.

Sometimes we formalize these points as mission statements or statements of purpose. More often, however, they remain hidden. Given sufficient reflection, awareness rises of our less intentional yet more influential guideposts – those that focus our leadership and anchor our organizations.

Our vulnerability rests at the level of these assumptions. Here also reside our reasons, justifications, and inclinations toward collaboration and staff support. So, consider:

What are your fixed points? What does this awareness tell you?

Best,

Thom


Twitter Time at ONEplace

In the spirit of practice what you teach, we’ve taken a deliberate, strategic approach to Twitter. We carefully considered several questions, including:

 

  • What are the benefits of using Twitter relative to other social media platforms?
  • What presence do we want to establish?
  • What’s the best balance of original tweets, retweets, and promotional tweets?
  • Who do we want to follow…and why?

 

Over the past several weeks, we’ve documented our experience online as well as off, and examined how to use Twitter as a metric for larger program goals, and how adding this effort affects our workload and schedules.

We’ve learned a lot. Lolita has been driving the effort and she presents her research, cases from local organizations, experience, and insights in Twitter Time for Kzoo Nonprofits on February 10.

We invite you to attend to learn, share, and see how Twitter may fit into your personal or organizational communications efforts.


Coffee with Steve Springsdorf

This month we visit with Steve Springsdorf, Executive Director of the YMCA, as he tells of capitalizing on opportunities, staying focused, and prioritizing relationship-building.

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

Mine is partially a story of being in the right place at the right time. I graduated from MSU with a degree in Environmental Education. I couldn’t find a teaching job, but I student taught in Saginaw and the Y Exec Dir. was on the school board, saw my resume and offered me a job. I took it until I could find a teaching job. I became the Asst. Camp Director the next year until the Camp Director quit two weeks into the season. After 9 years as the Camp Director, the CEO retired. I applied and became one of the youngest YMCA CEO’s in the country. I directed the Saginaw Y for 14 years when I was invited to apply to become the CEO of the State YMCA in Central Lake, MI. It was a very different experience for me, no main building, primarily residence camps, a unit in Petoskey and a state wide Youth in Government program. The camps served families not only across the country but also internationally. This job gave me a much broader perspective of how we can influence youth. After 8 years I was invited to be the CEO at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo in 2008 where I continue to serve.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I love the pride that people have in the community, I love the diversity of people and thought, I love vibrant downtown in Kalamazoo and the strong shopping area in Portage, I love the variety of restaurants and brewery’s; finally I love how there is so much energy to make our community better.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Basically, if you keep doing the right thing, good things will happen and treat people as you would want to be treated.

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

My first boss was a huge influence in my career. He was a man of strong conviction, he held people accountable, but he also was a strong advocate and supporter of staff development, both in training and in challenging you to be better. He felt that being a nonprofit didn't mean you were less responsible or business minded than for-profit businesses.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

If you have someone working for you that is either not performing or doesn’t fit with the organization then make a change sooner than later. Attempting to be nice only prolongs the inevitable and isn’t helpful to the staff or the organization.

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

I wish I had an average day. I begin with reading two newspapers, handle emails, check in with staff to see if there are areas I can help with; communicate with my board and other partners; building relationships is a big part of what I do. Finally, I have projects I am working on in the areas of organizational improvement, fundraising, and program directions.

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

We are in the midst of a capital campaign so concerns about donors and volunteers are on my mind. The other area is motivating and managing my staff; these are the people who make our Y successful.

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

I read two newspapers a day, I visit our professions websites, but most importantly, I network and talk with my peers on a regular basis. I try to stay involved on state and national levels.

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

Stay fresh, stay challenged, and stay focused on what is important – the mission of your organization, how are you impacting the lives of the people your organization touches. Keep your eye open for opportunities, but build your career on results.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I am an avid reader and enjoy a good game of golf, wish I had one. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling and camping around Michigan.


What's in your locket?

I have a professional question for you: What’s in your locket?

A locket is a small pendant that includes a space for storing a small keepsake, e.g., a photo of a loved one. Worn on a necklace or bracelet, this charm holds a cherished item, and the wearer often opens it to be reminded of one so near to their heart.

So, what’s in your locket (real or imaginary)? Besides being a twist on a popular ad campaign (thanks, Capital One), it’s a relevant question for anyone who wants to enjoy their work. Job satisfaction – and effectiveness – is directly related to the laser-like alignment of your deeply held values, personal passions (loves), and outward actions and abilities.

Jim Collins calls it a Hedgehog Concept. Simon Sinek calls it his Golden Circle. Steven Covey calls them habits. Patrick Lencioni has a pyramid. And Peter Drucker posed them as six critical questions. While each of these authors (and several others) adds his own contribution to the discussion, they all build off of this place of inner-outer alignment.

Yet, while many write about it, few of us are so aligned. Like an aching back, painful barbs shoot through our activities and discourse. And we’re left feeling out of sorts.

This chiropractic conundrum of misalignment is often more intrapersonal than interpersonal. Few of us take the time to listen to our true selves (our inner voice) and understand our deeply held values and personal passions. Instead, many align with an external set of expectations packaged and presented as an appealing alternative to our dissatisfaction.

One of Simon Sinek’s (Start with Why) contributions to this discussion is the idea that people align with others who believe what they believe. He says it this way: “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”

So, we need to open our lockets and peer inside to that which we hold dear and then find the words to speak it clearly to ourselves, our families, our organizations and community. Take some time – quiet, reflective time – to listen and learn from yourself.

My guess is this: once we align ourselves to the most important things in our lives, we’ll find that interpersonal (also intergenerational, interracial, intercultural) alignment comes much easier.

Best,

Thom


Didn't see that coming

It’s not uncommon to be surprised by people and events. When you least expect it, a situation arises, a problem occurs, or a discussion ensues that throws you for a loop. It’s not something you’ve ever dealt with before, and you’re not sure what to make of it…what to do about it.

You’re not alone.

Everyone – even a seasoned executive – encounters a baffling challenge from time to time. Try as we might, we can’t seem to figure it out. We need to get some distance, some perspective on the matter.

That’s why ONEplace offers direct assistance services.

We’re prepared to listen, inquire, and help you come to grips with your new challenge or concern. Depending on the nature of the concern, we may have suggestions, resources, or recommendations of actions to take or people to consult.

Don’t let a festering issue hold you back. We’re here to be at your service. 

Best,

Thom