ONEplace

Work in progress

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an idea that keeps popping into my head again and again. I’m reading an article and (pop!) there it is. I’m discussing a fundraising concern and (pop!). I’m leading a workshop and (pop!) then (pop!) and (pop!) again. It’s this:

Stewardship is greater than Achievement (or, for you mathletes Stewardship > Achievement)

Let me unpack this a bit. According to my friends Merriam & Webster, stewardship is the job of being responsible for something, and achievement is the act of accomplishing something. For me, stewardship puts an emphasis on long-term organizational sustainability. It’s an orientation that reminds me that I’m responsible for the organization in my care – that it operates efficiently, treats people well, and stays on track to fulfill its purpose.

Stewardship strikes at the heart of what Jim Collins (Good to Great) calls Level 5 Leadership, a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. It connects us with something larger than ourselves – a timeline of stewards who have held or will hold our position and a greater cause that’s shared among several organizations. It also keeps us ever-mindful of the future, “the domain of leaders” (The Leadership Challenge).

Of course, we still need to achieve. We must meet objectives, reach goals, and make budgets. We also want to keep in mind that, in our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, achievements are often short-lived, may be reversed, and tend to focus on individuals. Emphasizing achievement over stewardship may make for an upbeat annual meeting, but it risks sacrificing long-term impact for short-term gain.

So, what does this mean to you and me? Well, that’s why this post is titled, Work in progress. I have thoughts – mostly scattered – and would enjoy an opportunity to pursue them with you.

When you read “Stewardship > Achievement” what pops into your mind?

Best,

Thom


Coffee with...you!

For some reason, the summer-to-fall transition seems to be rather momentous. Perhaps it’s the start of school (and all the programming related to schools) that makes this so. In any event, it’s often a time when we take stock of where we are and where we’re headed.

So, this month we’re having (virtual) coffee with you! We invite you to take a moment to explore one or more of the questions that we often pose to our featured guest. Share one of your answers by leaving a comment here or posting it on our LinkedIn group, Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection. (You’ll find one of my answers on LinkedIn!)

Use it as a conversation starter at the upcoming Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE gathering (Sept 3): “Did you answer one of the coffee questions last week?”

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

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

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

What hobby or outside interests do you enjoy?


I love it when it works

Sometimes you see something remarkable and you just have to comment on it.

Last Thursday I spent the morning at the Kalamazoo Nature Center as they hosted the Association of Nature Center Administrators – Summit 2014 Beyond Boundaries. During my few hours there I observed attendees:

  • Demonstrating deep commitment to their role as a community environmental leader
  • Willing to listen and learn from others
  • Eager to share from their knowledge and experience
  • Sharing contact information to provide & receive future support and encouragement

But that’s not all.

As a former meeting planner, I habitually observe conference operations and how the staff navigates through the maze of details and minor emergencies. As I scanned the opening day activities I observed:

  • Clearly marked pathways to registration, workshops, food, and facilities
  • Smiling KNC staff moving at a comfortable pace and willing to stop to offer assistance
  • Well-prepared workshop rooms with plenty of materials and equipment that worked
  • Participants thoroughly enjoying themselves

During a lunchtime conversation, I learned that total conference attendance exceeded 300 – double that of any previous year. Why? Some came because they lived near enough to drive, but many more came because of the stellar reputation of our Kalamazoo Nature Center. I heard several favorable comments on the extraordinary facilities, knowledgeable staff, and extensive programs. They were pleased to be there.

And so was I.

One phrase I like to mutter from time to time is, “I love it when it works.” As I exited the Kalamazoo Nature Center parking lot, I looked in the rearview mirror, smiled, and muttered it again.

Best,

Thom


Meaning driven decision making

One of the books I’ve read this summer is Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. As the name implies, the book encourages people to focus only on those issues vital to the organization…in short, to become Essentialists.

Among the items you would expect to find (choice, clarity, saying “no,” setting boundaries, etc.) sits chapter six: Look – See What Really Matters. Here McKeown demonstrates the importance of discerning meaning from among all the data and the value of finding what really matters to people.

He suggests we take on the role of journalist: getting out in the field to see things firsthand; role playing differing perspectives to discover abnormal or unusual details, and taking time to clarify the core question as we hone in on the decision that really needs to be made.

What hooks me about the role of journalist is that the resulting story may bear little resemblance to stream of facts and figures. The journalist consumes the data not just to regurgitate it back in narrative form but to find the signal in the noise, to hear what’s not being said, and to uncover the essence of the story.

He reminds us that studies, interviews, and raw data of various sorts never drive our actions. Our decisions are guided by how we understand the information in light of our cause, our mission, and a myriad of other subjective filters. Our best decisions are meaning driven.

Best,

Thom

P.S. I recommend the book. The library has it in multiple forms. For a quick overview, see Michael Hyatt’s recent article.


Coffee with Janice Brown

This month we sat down with Janice Brown, now Trustee with The Kalamazoo Promise, as she discusses her career journey.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

My professional life has been a wonderful journey. From special education teacher to consultant, principal, central office administrator, superintendent and finally with The Kalamazoo Promise, these jobs have been so fabulous. Each and every one is a learning experience and helped to build the skill set for the next experience. The key to success is always being a learner, and enjoy the moment. I feel nothing but humility and gratefulness to have many experiences related to my professional career. Right now, I cannot pick out the “best” job I have had; each one was the best when I held it.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I love the people of this community and the generosity that has become engrained in each of us. Also, if you don’t know someone, you can just reach out and get to know them. Because education is universal to all walks of life, I have been fortunate to penetrate all cultures, neighborhoods and communities in my work. Each is special and has a significant gift to bring to this community.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Each person must start their day with integrity and honesty and build from those principles, and those principles need to be contemplated each and every day. Most would tell you that my positive attitude, resiliency and commitment to education are what remind them the most about me.

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

Interestingly, I was not a well behaved child in school—often distracting the class and getting in trouble. My 4th grade teacher saw that energy and was clever enough to turn it around. She gave me “active” projects, kept me busy with productive work and overlooked my human frailties. The lesson I have learned from this is that it is pretty true of all human nature. We all have such goodness in us, but a dark side as well. If we are all about strengthening and highlighting that goodness, imagine what we could become!

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

There have been so many “biggest” learning moments that the tale is too long to tell. Some examples include, we truly are interdependent, there are some things I do better than others, the more I learn the less I know and what you think of yourself and what others think of you often differ.

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

It’s interesting that you ask this question because I am involved in a major life transition at the moment. The good news for me is that there have been many; the tough news is that this could be one of the most challenging. In June, I completed my administrative work with The Kalamazoo Promise and moved to being a trustee. In addition to this new role, I have many board/community responsibilities so it doesn’t feel quite as dramatic as one might think. I love to work and now need to find out what that will look like for me.

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

The relationship between poverty and education keeps me thinking day and night. As a community we must begin to talk about the impact of poverty, including the recent acts of violence in the community. We must also join as a community to have common goals and common accountabilities. Our fragmentation really gets in the way of our progress. We must lead, and we must follow. The challenges and difficulties of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo reflect our inability to do so. WE are The Learning Network and responsible for its successes and failures. If we continue to reject a common community framework, we will continue to spin our wheels no matter how competent the individual organizations seem. Eradicating poverty and its impact on the community will take all of us…working together.

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

I continue to meet with folks in the community to get updates on their efforts. The latest education research is available at my fingertips, and I read books, articles and journals related to my field.

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

Enjoy the journey; never miss an opportunity to consider a new job or one that will enhance your learning. Be a good listener and a good learner. Build a team that compliments your skills and talents; and continue to do things that keep your passion for your work and life fresh and new.

What do you geek?

I geek outdoors and nature. There probably isn’t an outdoor sport or activity I don’t like. Some of my favorites include walking/hiking, swimming, camping, biking and golfing. If I’m not out doing that, you can probably find my nose behind my reader or a book.

Anything else?

I never miss an opportunity to say thank you to the donors of The Kalamazoo Promise.


Sneak a peek...workshops

You see our “This Week” email every Monday listing the next three weeks’ worth of events at ONEplace. Do you ever wonder how these events get selected…or how you can influence the selections? Let’s peek behind the curtain for a brief moment.

For several months, we’ve been selecting workshops based upon evaluation feedback, issues from direct assistance meetings, and research studies. We then ensure a balanced offering addressing leadership, management, fundraising, and communications.

Last spring, we decided to add a strategic element as well. We developed a generic calendar of nonprofit activity that plots approximately when certain activities take place in an organization’s life. For example, year-end fundraising campaigns in Nov-Dec, annual reports three months following the year’s end, annual review of communications in the spring, etc. We implemented this approach July 1 with a four-webinar series on event planning (in anticipation of fall fundraising events). Series attendance exceeded workshop averages by 20%.

As we implement this further, you’ll notice that we will announce some events months in advance. This will give you an opportunity to better plan your professional development and hold those spaces on your calendar.

Lastly, selected workshops will be ear-marked as ONEplace Leadership Series events. These events will address key leadership issues and will be suggested as preparatory work for those considering the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy. Topics such as Supervision, Mission/Vision, Strategic Communications, Emergency Preparedness and others will be offered.

Your evaluation feedback, survey responses, and comments offer extraordinary assistance in keeping ONEplace programming targeted to your needs. Thank you!


Training humility

I’m on a quest. Since first reading Jim Collins’ (Good to Great) description of Level 5 Leadership as a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will, I’ve searched for the answer to one question:

How can we best develop personal humility in the workplace?

Let me be clear right up front: I don’t have the answer. I may never have the answer. There may not be one definitive answer. But that won’t stop my search. Here’s a brief update.

Focus on Cause

Ask yourself, “where is my focus?” Humility takes us beyond our careers, beyond our organizations, and rests on the greater cause for which our organization was founded. Focusing on something greater than ourselves and our organizations releases us from blind loyalties to worn-out programs and lays the foundation for collaboration and collective impact.

It also takes us beyond today…or this quarter…or this year. Adopting the long view – beyond the short-term, even beyond our career-term – nurtures a perspective built more on stewardship than achievement.

Listen to yourself

Find some uninterrupted span of time and ask yourself, “what are my deeply held values and beliefs?” Stress, discontent, and all-around crotchety behavior often is rooted in the disconnect between our deeply held values and our actions. It’s difficult to diagnose because we don’t often find the space to clearly listen to the quiet voice inside – the one that knows us best.

Regularly listening to that voice, considering what it has to say and aligning our actions with it creates a personal integrity that helps us own our actions. It moves us beyond what we think we should do or what others suggest we do, to the place of what we believe is right to do. Actions grounded in humility also build courage, fortitude, and resilience.

Meet with people

Commonly asked questions at ONEplace include, “How do I…:” Increase donor contributions? Improve board recruitment? Focus my communications? Better supervise my staff? Connect more with the community?

The answer to all these questions is some form of: do what best serves the people involved. This means we need to get to know the people involved.

If you are overwhelmed by tasks, buried in reports, tied to your technology, stuck in the office, etc., then you may need to reassess. Nothing trumps face-to-face interaction when it comes to fundraising, board development, improved communications, better supervision, community connections, etc. Nothing. Above all, it’s about people.

What’s this have to do with humility? Knowing others – their circumstances, their stories – reveals the randomness of life events, puts our perspective into the kaleidoscope of varied viewpoints, and underscores the layers of interdependence that exist even within a small community.

So ends the update – brief and incomplete. The quest continues.

Best,

Thom


The B Side

Do you remember the 45 rpm record? It was a vinyl recording, a bit larger than a CD, which had a big hole in the middle. The A side was generally the highly-promoted hit single, and the B side was…well…the other side. 

Sometimes the B side made a surprise showing on American Top 40 (especially if you were the Beatles or Elvis). Generally, however, the B side remained unknown, unmentioned, and undiscovered. This reminds me of a humbling truth: 

Every action and decision we undertake – even the best ones – have a B side. 

No matter how effective or laudable, our efforts to do good carry negative ramifications for someone somewhere. This is seen most clearly in basic tradeoffs. When we choose to serve one group, other groups remain unserved.  

More elusive are the multi-layered and interweaving systems of impact. As we select vendors, pursue donations and sponsorships, select board members, and implement employee policies we weave a web of actions and associations that includes unknown tradeoffs and unintended consequences. When catching glimpses of these, it’s common to ignore them or dismiss them as simply the cost of doing business. But, what’s being missed? 

Every B side presents an opportunity…when we listen. 

When we take time to explore the flipside of our decisions, activities, and policies, we discover connections and impact that could revolutionize our organizations. Inclusive hiring practices, socially responsible investing, family-friendly employee policies, LEED certification, and more all came about, in part, because someone took the time to identify the hidden consequences of our behaviors and listen to those impacted by them. 

“I’ll Be Around” (The Spinners), “Maggie May” (Rod Stewart), “Strawberry Fields” (The Beatles), “Single Ladies – Put a Ring On It” (Beyonce), “We Will Rock You” (Queen), and “Unchained Melody” (The Righteous Brothers) started as B sides. Give a listen to the B sides of your decisions, programs, and policies. You may improve someone’s life…and find your next hit! 

Best, 

Thom 

 


New Year's Eve!

Like many of you, ONEplace operates on a fiscal year, and our new year begins July 1. This coming Monday is New Year’s Eve – Woo-hoo!

We have no New Year’s Resolutions, however we can announce some new and developing capacity building efforts.

Our ONEplace Peer Learning program launched with a recent survey of interest. With 80 of you interested in participating, we’re looking forward to many rich, insightful discussions in the months ahead.

Before the summer’s out, we’ll also be unveiling ONEplace Essentials, a core selection of workshops in each of five key areas: management, leadership, governance, fundraising, and communications. These workshops will be scheduled months in advance so you can hold the dates and better plan your professional development activities.

Details of the next ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy will be announced in September. Feedback from the previous three classes and discussions with leaders of similar programs in other communities are helping to refine our Academy each year.

Finally, we will continue to encourage you to connect with your nonprofit colleagues through our Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection on LinkedIn and in LIVE quarterly gatherings (next is August 20). These networking opportunities expand your resource pool and often connect you to the solutions you need.

So ring in the New Year by taking time to consider your professional development needs and those of your staff and board. We’re happy to work with you to prepare your plan.


Increase donor retention by 250%

Do you want to increase retention of first time donors from 20% to 70%? It’s easy.

Have a board member call the donor within 48 hours to say “thank you.” The call will take about a minute – half of the calls will go to voice mail (which is fine).

Not convinced? Last Thursday, I attended a workshop with Penelope Burk, fundraising consultant and President of Cygnus Applied Research (presented by Association of Fundraising Professionals – West Michigan Chapter). She has been researching fundraising practices and donor behavior for many years and has keen insights on what works and what doesn’t.

In a recent interview, she cited her research on first time donors who received a thank you call after their first gift:

We watched what happened with donors for two years, over six subsequent campaigns. They were never phoned again, but even by the end of the second year, the test group was still performing much higher — an average gift 42 percent higher than the control group — and they had a 70 percent retention rate from the first time they gave right through to the end of the sixth request. In contrast, the control group had an 80 percent drop-off rate [i.e., a 20% retention rate].

How much will it cost your organization’s budget to have board members make thank you calls? Zero dollars. What are the benefits? 42% increase in average gift, 250% increase in donor retention, and a more engaged board. That’s an incredibly huge ROI.

I know that some organizations already do this – Bravo! For those of you who aren’t doing this – start today.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Read the full interview with Penelope Burk from last summer (read now)


Coffee with Bill Rose

This month we sit down with Bill Rose, President and CEO of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, as he talks about how he developed his approach to leadership.

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

I went to graduate school to work on my Ph.D. so I could follow an academic career path at a university. While completing my degree, I began to realize that I had a deep passion for conservation and environmental action. A friend of mine told me about a job opening as a plant ecologist with The Nature Conservancy that she thought I should apply for. She was right. I got the job and that started me down a path of working for nature and environmental private nonprofit organizations. While working as a plant ecologist, I began to discover a latent interest that I had in administrative and fundraising work. I started raising money so I could hire more people to do more work. When a job opening came up in The Nature Conservancy for a Regional Director position, I jumped at the chance. This gave me the opportunity to further my interest in the business and leadership side of nonprofit work. After a number of years in this position, an executive search firm contacted me about working for the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It looked like a perfect fit that would allow me to combine all the things that I had a passion for: nonprofit leadership in the area of environment/nature; opportunity to continuing applying my scientific training/education; and, be active in an educational organization.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I love Kalamazoo for many reasons. It is a progressive and philanthropic community that embraces change which leads to so many good things for all people in our community. The cultural and natural features of this community bring richness and depth that is not often found in a community of our size. The institutions of higher learner present us with the challenge to stay fresh in our ideas about how our community continues to stay relevant.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

  1. Follow your passion.
  2. Have fun.
  3. Be a leader, not just an administrator.
  4. Define what the culture of your organization should be and continuously work to build that culture.
  5. Strive to exceed the “customer’s” expectations.
  6. Work toward constant quality improvements in every area of your organization.
  7. Society is constantly changing so you need to change too or you begin to fall behind

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

Bob Tower (retired from Tower Pinkster), he taught me to be a good fundraiser and helped me begin to develop my network of contacts. I learned how important it is to be a good listener.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I attended the week long program on leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina in the mid-1980s where I learned many of the fundamentals of “leadership.” Another big aha moment came in the early 1990s when I attended Disney University’s program on high quality customer service where I learned the significance of establishing a positive culture in your organization.

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

I’m constantly juggling a thousand balls while remaining focused on a few key strategic items.

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

Not much. I am really comfortable knowing that the Nature Center is a successful organization that can always do more but satisfied that we are making a difference.

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

Being engaged with professional support organizations locally and nationally. This includes: Meeting with peers; Constant continuing education; Staying up with the news, and; Always looking for ways to network.

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

Follow your passion, have fun and strive for a balanced life.

What do you geek?

For me that has changed over time. Now that I have adult children and grandchildren, on opposite coasts, I love to engage with them in any way that I can. I love to play on the water at our cottage. 


Just ONEthing - June

Two workshops this past month emphasized the importance and value of planning ahead.

Audrey Randall (Paradigm Risk Management) and Adam Castle (American Red Cross) guided participants through emergency action planning. The key framework they outlined includes building a plan, periodic training and drills with staff, and clear communication protocols. The Red Cross has free online assessment tools and planning resources to guide you through your planning and preparation.

Chris Dilley (People’s Food Co-op) shared his story and insights into nonprofit financial management. He cited a key to successful financial management as building a reserve, i.e., having sufficient cash in the bank to handle small crises and the variations of cash flow through the year. Building a reserve develops community trust and allows you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. One workshop participant’s organization has an emergency fund in addition to the operating reserve. The emergency fund is protected by several policies and procedures to ensure that it’s used only in case of an emergency. That’s planning ahead!


Sustain This

It’s a question on most grant applications and it also gets raised from time to time in the board room. It’s not a question we avoid, but it’s one of those loaded questions – the kind that elicits a tremendous amount of discussion, varied opinions, and multiple proposed solutions. The question is this:

What’s your sustainability plan?

We know we need it, but it’s difficult to get our collective mind around it. We often get caught up in trying to figure out the future. What will the world look like in five years or ten years? How can we plan for that? There are simply too many unknowns.

But, what about today…how do you know if you’re a “sustainable organization” right now? Sustainability is not a goal to reach or something to check off the To Do List. It’s a state of being. It’s a path that you choose.

So, what does a sustainable organization look like? Here are some indicators that I’ve gleaned from several articles:

  • A single, clean, up-to-date patron/donor database – the life blood of the organization. This includes up-to-date policies & protocols governing its use and procedures that ensure the data stay up-to-date.
  • Fund development activity fully funds expenses, satisfies reserve needs, and reasonably projects revenue needs and strategies for meeting those needs for the next three years.
  • Communications activities reach their target audience(s) with appropriate frequency so that audiences feel welcomed, involved, connected, and inspired.
  • Clear program policies and procedures as well as the supervision to ensure they are followed.
  • Regular measures, assessments, and evaluation of program and administrative effectiveness.
  • Succession planning for key roles in the organization (staff & board) – both short-term for sudden departures and long-term for planned departures.

I’m sure the list above is not comprehensive, but it’s a good start. What else would you add as a key indicator of sustainability?

Best,

Thom


Just ONEthing - May

Kerri Karvetski (Company K Media) presented a webinar on advanced social media strategies that ONEplace hosted in April. She made the point that nonprofits have experimented long enough with social media. It’s now time for social media to carry its weight in fundraising campaigns…but they can’t go it alone.

Multi-channel campaigns, especially those pairing email and social media, consistently provide increased impressions and highly reinforced messaging. They allow supporters to take action in the channel of their choice (which often changes over time). Multi-channel campaigns result in stronger relationships and better donor retention.

In fact, according to Blackbaud’s Idea Lab, first year donor retention rates double with a multi-channel campaign.

  • Offline only donors retain 29% of first year donors
  • Online only donors retain 23% of first year donors
  • Multi-channel donors retain 58% of first year donors

If you would like to see this webinar, you may do so at ONEplace. Simply call (553-7899);or email to set an appointment.


Coffee with Donna Odom

This month we sit down with Donna Odom as she recalls the path and passion leading to her present post as Executive Director of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society.

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

There were many shifts that led me to where I am today, but the primary shift was leaving Chicago and relocating to Kalamazoo.  In Chicago I began my career as a French and English teacher.  From there I transitioned to positions in career services and cooperative education.  My last position before leaving Chicago was teaching college English Composition and Research Writing.

After coming to Kalamazoo, I began part-time at Kalamazoo Valley Museum and remained there for 12 years in the Education and Programs area, where I coordinated science and history programs.  That was where my interest in regional African American history was sparked.  In 2003 I founded the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society, along with Dr. and Mrs. Romeo Phillips, Harold Bulger, and Horace Bulger.  I served as president of the Society through 2010.  After retiring from the Museum, I later transitioned to serving as Executive Director of the Society.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I love the openness and friendliness of the people in the community and their spirit of service.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

I like to maintain focus, to complete what I start, and to stay true to my word.

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

I can’t identify any one mentor.  I learn from everyone with whom I interact and let their best qualities serve as a guide to my own behavior. 

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

My biggest learning moment was realizing that I do my best work when I’m following my passion.

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

Because I’m primarily a volunteer at what I do and I don’t have set hours, my days are always different, which is the thing I like most. However, almost all of them involve at least one meeting.

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

When we are planning a specific project or program, I find myself getting my best ideas in the wee hours of the morning.

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

I serve on several boards of history-based organizations.

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

Make sure you are making the decision to enter the field because what you are going to do enables you to follow your passion or your life purpose, not because you think it will make you rich.

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

Believe it or not, I geek my work which allows me to do the things I enjoy most -  expressing myself through speaking and writing, planning and organizing, researching history, interacting with others.  The only other thing I do as much is read.  I also enjoy classical music, theater, dancing, and interior decorating. 


Just ONEthing - April

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 Mary Jo Asmus, President of Aspire Collaborative Services. In her recent workshop, Coaching for Breakthrough Performance, Mary Jo taught and demonstrated the power of focused attention.

Spending as little as ten minutes being focused on the other person and asking them open questions, allows the individual to peel back layers of understanding and discover more effective courses of action.

Unlike feedback which offers evaluation of previous acts or consulting which offers specific direction, coaching opens individuals to the insights and possibilities within themselves.

More specifically, coaching:

  • Helps an individual visualize the current situation and desired future situation
  • Restates and builds on an individual’s own insights to co-discover possible options
  • Explores necessary tasks to remove barriers and achieve desired ends
  • Ensures commitment of the individual to take action and be accountable

Find out more about Mary Jo, including her informative blog at aspire-cs.com.


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


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

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!


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


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


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


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


Unresolved

Tired of hearing about New Year’s resolutions? Me, too. So let’s have some fun with it.

Like many words, “resolution” has more than one meaning. For instance, resolution also refers to the sharpness of an image and the clarity of its detail. Resolution provides a measure of presentation quality, and higher resolution usually means better quality.

So, what if, instead of cramming more should’s, ought’s, or to do’s on ourselves via New Year’s resolutions, we create a high resolution New Year? We rid ourselves of the everything’s-a-priority, pixelated view of our efforts and sharpen our clarity on things that bring out the vibrant hues of our mission. That is, we bring our work into focus.

Daniel Goleman (Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence) writes daily on this topic. He identifies the myriad of distractions vying for our attention and identifies the importance of sustained, concentrated focus for insight and innovation. His suggestions include actions we can take in the workplace and beyond. For example:

When you find yourself checking your email when you should be working on something else instead, just telling yourself 'I'm distracted now' activates a brain circuit that makes it easier to drop what's irrelevant and get back to focusing on your work.

Few of us have time or energy for what’s irrelevant. So let’s make it a Hi-Res New Year.

Best,

Thom

P.S. The above example came from this brief Daniel Goleman article on Seven Ways to Sharpen Your Focus.