ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

Do you feel lucky?

It’s St. Patrick’s Day – shamrocks adorn every surface, people pinch those not wearing green and everyone claims the “luck of the Irish” for a day. It brings this question to mind:

How much do our organizations rely on luck?

I’ve heard luck invoked on several occasions: “We’re lucky we got that grant?” “Our event was riddled with bad luck.” “We’re lucky that check arrived just in time.”

Is it luck? Hmmm…. I took this opportunity to look up how luck may play a part in managing our organizations.

Finances seems driven by luck, so I looked there first. In his book, The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin acknowledges that much of our financial future is out of our control. However, he advises us to “…focus on what you can control.” He further says, “as long as you are doing the things that are in your control as effectively as you can, you shouldn't worry so much."

In business, Jim Collins (Great by Choice) examined a phenomenon he called “Return on Luck” (ROL). He says that the ability to achieve a high ROL at pivotal moments was largely a matter of considering whether an opportunity should be allowed to disrupt an organization’s plans. Those with high ROL recognized good fortune and pounced. Those with low ROL had just as much good fortune but frittered it away. They failed for a lack of execution.

So what are we to do? Richard Wiseman (The Luck Factor) sets forth these four principles for creating good fortune in life and career.

  1. Maximize chance opportunities (notice and act upon these opportunities)
  2. Listen to your lucky hunches (engage calming practices to boost your intuitive abilities)
  3. Expect good fortune (expectation heightens your awareness; sharpens intuition)
  4. Turn bad luck into good (imagine how things could have been worse)

Perhaps it comes down to a phrase that I’ve carried with me for many years: “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Do well and keep your eyes open.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

What's a board to do?

Faced with an ever-changing landscape and the annual coming and going of members, boards often scramble to keep up. Time and again, however, our research and experience show that keeping the basic responsibilities in front of the board provide the needed grounding and focus to maintain the board’s effectiveness.

What are these responsibilities? They may be described in various ways. Under the law, board members must meet certain standards of conduct in carrying out their responsibilities to the organization. These are usually described as:

  • Duty of care – exercising reasonable care in making decisions as a steward of the organization
  • Duty of loyalty – acting in the best interest of the organization and never using information obtained as a member for personal gain
  • Duty of obedience – being faithful to the organization’s mission and acting in ways consistent with the organization’s central goals

In our recent Leadership Academy class, Larry Hermen took the Ten Basic Responsibilities of a Board and categorized them as:

  • Mission – This includes establishing and evaluating mission & vision, engaging in strategic planning, overseeing programs, and helping the organization communicate effectively
  • Money – This includes overseeing the organization’s finances, fundraising, and ensuring sound risk management practices
  • Management – This includes managing the work of the board, member recruiting and orientation, and executive director hiring and supervision

In our recent Better Board Series, we reduced the Ten Basic Responsibilities to three foundational tasks:

  • Manage relationships – This sets the foundation for fundraising, board recruitment, executive director hiring and supervision, and enhancing the organization’s public standing
  • Set direction – This sets the foundation for establishing and evaluating the mission and vision, ensuring effective planning, and monitoring the effectiveness of programs and services
  • Ensure integrity – This sets the foundation for proper financial oversight, protecting assets, and ensuring legal compliance

I’m sure there are many other ways to slice and dice these core responsibilities.

The sum of all of these is that they encourage the board to:

  1. Keep focused attention on its mission as well as the larger cause that it serves
  2. Work together because no one person or ad hoc group may act on behalf of the board

Keeping these basic responsibilities in front of the board goes a long way to keeping the board engaged and the organization sustainable.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Just ONEthing - March 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 Janice Maatman, Director of Nonprofit Education Programs at WMU, who recently presented an ethics seminar to the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy. Quoting from Ethics in Nonprofit Management by Thomas Jeavons, Jan said, “Trust is the lifeblood of any organization.” She then highlighted five attributes of trust:

  • Integrity – continuity between talk & walk, internal & external
  • Openness – “is it OK if your 6 year-old sees you doing it?” transparency
  • Accountability – you can explain your choices
  • Service to a cause – focusing beyond your own organization
  • Charity – generosity not out of pity but out of a sense of compassion
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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

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.

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Think on your feet

Prepare all you want, but most situations include several unscripted moments. We need the ability to think on our feet.

In reviewing articles on this topic, I found that some suggest stall tactics such as having the person repeat the question, you repeating the question, or asking a clarifying question. These may buy time, but sooner or later you must respond. So, what do you do?

Many take their cue from those who regularly improvise. Citing jazz musicians, for example, one coach encourages clients to be fully in the moment – focused and engaged. Advisors among all articles advocate staying positive, actively listening, and taking risks.

Our upcoming workshop, (Manage by Improv – Jan 23), explores how we think on our feet. Using improvisation games, our leaders (Improv Effects) demonstrate how we can enrich our communication skills and increase our confidence. It’s a unique angle on engaged interaction, plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Whether you can make the workshop or not, prepare for unscripted moments. Here’s an article to help with that.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Improv Effects is featured in the current issue of Encore.

ThomA

Just ONEthing - Jan 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 months’ insight comes from our Annual Reports People Actually Read webinar. During the webinar, Kivi Leroux Miller (Nonprofit Marketing Guide) presented the sobering fact that the vast majority of people receiving our annual reports will spend only 30-to-90 seconds with them before putting them in the recycle bin. Ouch!

This led into an excellent presentation and discussion on how to best use annual reports. Since there are no regulations or requirements governing nonprofit annual reports, they may focus on connecting with the target audience – commonly donors. Her two main guidelines: frame the report with one main thing to be remembered and keep the report short, personal, and timely.

More information may be found at Kivi’s webpage devoted to annual reports. Also, this webinar (like many that we present) may be viewed individually at the library. Simply call ONEplace to set an appointment (269-553-7910).

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.

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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