Last Thursday I enjoyed gathering at ONEplace with around 50 others to again explore the topic of community alignment. We spent good time hearing aspirations from each person, reviewing some statistics and concepts, and then engaging conversations – both in small groups and large group. At the end of the session, one thing was very clear to me.
We will never achieve community alignment.
I don’t see this as bad news or a negative statement. It’s simply grasping the fact that getting the 75,000 people who live in Kalamazoo or the 250,000 who live in Kalamazoo County to align around a common care may be an unrealistic expectation. And, even if we did agree on something (e.g., education is important), wouldn’t it be so high level, so unspecific as to appear unactionable?
We may never achieve community alignment as long as we define “community” as including thousands of people. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell referred to Dunbar’s Law which says that once you hit 150 people, it’s time to start another community or open another location. Why? No one individual can be in relationship (i.e., in community) with more than 150 people. It’s too overwhelming.
Further, with 150 people we can achieve alignment at a deeper, more specific, more actionable level. A level where people can connect and impact can be felt.
Another relevant fact is that each of us lives within several communities. We have our neighborhood community, our work community, our religious community, our civic communities, our families, our friends, and more. Because we’re part of several communities, these various groups – aligned within themselves – may become interaligned due to our involvement in all of them.
(yes, I made up the word interaligned…don’t look it up)
So, a series of aligned communities may become interaligned as an individual takes part in all of them and carries their messages from one to another and another. This cross-germination may not align the wider community very specifically, but it may get it moving in the same general direction.
I’m still working on this one. It’s all to say that perhaps we’re expecting too much from community alignment and need to encourage a network of action-oriented interaligned communities.
What do you think?
In a recent interview, former President Bill Clinton discussed ten years of working on global initiatives. After enumerating the significant changes that have marked the last decade – increased reach of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), rise of social media, and diffusion of power – he made this bottom-line statement:
The only thing that really works in the modern world is cooperation.
In his foundation’s work they see that those efforts with at least one partnership between a corporation and NGO consistently do better than those without. And when you add governmental cooperation to mix, they do even better. He concluded:
If you want to have an effort that’s effective, you must be more inclusive.
This international dynamic is scalable. I’ve seen it manifest itself on teams, in organizations, and within neighborhoods and communities. It begins with a shared sense of cause and a common vision of our shared future. And, we’re beginning to understand this. Clinton pointed out that, today, we know that we’re interdependent, but we’re only about half way there to embracing that fact.
So, how do we become more inclusive?
I’m sure there’s no one right recipe, and it will take a lot of trial and error. Clinton acknowledges that we have to accept that we may not win every battle. Further, he encourages having patience, ridding ourselves of arrogance, dealing in facts rather than impressions, and relying upon cooperation.
Once again, it’s all about relationships.
One lesson regularly presents itself to me in a variety of forms – the importance of clarity over and above certainty.
Without going into all the gory details, suffice it to say that processes have stalled waiting for every last fact to be gathered, people have adorned their arguments with extraneous and jargonistic detail to prove the absolute rightness of their point of view, and meetings have been endlessly prolonged while meaningless minutia was debated. It’s exhausting!
In his book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni names “choosing certainty over clarity” as temptation number three. While he affirms the importance of working with good information, he argues that many of us (CEO or not) take pride in our analytical skills and keen insights. Consequently, we spend too much time honing even-more-finely-detailed analyses into conclusions that get a nod but don’t move our organizations forward. Further, the higher impact issues before the group are left to the final few minutes of an already-too-long meeting.
Clarity, in contrast, means that you take a stand, and people understand the argument being made. They know points on which they agree and, perhaps more important, points on which they disagree. To speak clearly, however, requires us to set aside our fear of being wrong (or, at least, not-completely-right) and willingly invite others to challenge and improve our arguments.
Also, clarity makes accountability possible. Clarity of mission and purpose as well as clarity on individual roles and responsibilities means everyone knows why we exist, where we’re headed and who’s doing what. Everyone knows what’s expected and each person participates in keeping the organization on track.
In the study, Fearless Journeys, the researchers describe how several orchestras took on innovative ideas to invigorate their organizations. In the closing, the writer observed that what made all the difference was NOT the choice each made, but the fact that they dared to choose.
A frequent question at ONEplace is some version of: how do I deal with this person?
Supervision is something many of us do, yet few (if any) of us received formal education in supervising. Instead, we learn “on the job” or through work-related training opportunities.
And we want this training. Our upcoming Supervision Series is already filled and each session has a waiting list. This tells me that more and more people are interested in becoming better managers.
One key to excellent management is asking the right questions. Good questions will improve your decision making, increase employee engagement, and build a more knowledgeable workforce. Check out Gary Cohen’s article on Just Ask Leadership (based upon his book). It provides a primer on how to ask the right questions.
To further support your work, we’ll unveil our Management Track in a couple of weeks. This ongoing series of workshops explores issues and skills critical to the work of management and supervision. And, wouldn’t you know it, many of these skills hinge on asking the right questions.
Check out the article and watch for our Management Track announcement later this month. Also, ask more questions – you’ll be glad you did.
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?
Two events highlighted effective meeting practices from two national personalities.
On June 12, several from Kalamazoo ventured to Grand Rapids to hear fundraising researcher and author Penelope Burk (Donor-Centered Leadership). During the course of her workshop, she provided her thoughts on effective meeting practices. These include:
- Meeting should be on a single topic
- Invite only those who need to be at the meeting
- Provide an agenda in advance so people can prepare
During our Effective Meetings workshop on June 17, these points were expanded upon from the writings of Patrick Lencioni (The Advantage). His Meetings Model makes an important distinction between the tactical staff meeting and a strategic topical meeting.
He warns against letting the staff meeting become “meeting stew” where everything gets thrown on to one agenda. The problem is that long-term strategic items usually get short-changed – given too little time and attention from too few people.
He advises calling a strategic topical meeting so the one or two strategic concerns can be thoroughly and thoughtfully addressed. Also, since strategic issues often cross departmental lines, calling a separate meeting allows us to make sure the right people are at the table.
In a nutshell, an effective meeting involves the right people focused on the right issues.
The annual Giving Report from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is out. Once again, it shows that individual donations and bequests make up around 80% of total giving. It also shows that…
…giving was up 4.4% overall.
Recently, Gail Perry provided an overview of this report. (I hope you’re receiving her weekly email.) In her summary, she provides key data points and offers her insights. She notes that while giving is up overall, the increase was driven by major gifts from loyal donors. Her bottom line:
“Create a donor retention task force to ‘love on’ your current donors.”
Last week I referred to Penelope Burk’s research showing the startling impact of simply having board members make thank you calls. Place this basic activity within a strategic approach to donor retention and your program will take off.
You’ll also avoid what the Giving Report suggests may be a looming storm – a net loss of 12 donors for every 100 gained or retained since the Recession. How does your retention rate compare?
Why have I written on this topic for two weeks in a row? The cost difference between renewing donors and acquiring new donors is around one dollar for every dollar given. You read that right. According to data from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), renewal efforts cost around $0.20 for every dollar given while donor acquisition costs around $1.20 for every dollar given.
It may be time to evaluate your donor retention efforts. You can’t afford not to.
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.
P.S. Read the full interview with Penelope Burk from last summer (read now)
We consistently hear from you (including our recent survey results) that you value discussion and interaction with your peers. This makes sense. As we work together on new information, we challenge each other’s assumptions, uncover 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 examined literature from 2008-2013, surveyed 236 foundations, and included 20 interviews. One key result of this study was that peer learning surfaced as the most effective capacity building approach.
Over the past several months, ONEplace has been piloting peer learning groups. In addition, we’ve interviewed persons who have benefitted from other peer learning groups. Now it’s time to move this effort to its next phase.
Soon we will issue an invitation for our ONEplace Peer Learning program. Participants will be gathered in small groups. Here are some details:
- Groups will be approximately 8 persons
- Peer groups will be defined by common position held and similar level of experience
- Time commitment will be up to each group (suggestion is at least six monthly meetings)
- All groups will be facilitated by ONEplace
We look forward to this new venture, and we look forward to your participating and helping it to grow into an effective way to learn, connect, and grow in your career.
ONEplace exists to help you do your job better. So, when you talk, we listen.
Last year, you said that you wanted more interactive workshops and fewer webinars. We cut the number of webinars in half and replaced them with 60-90’ workshops/discussions, often supplementing these with ONEpage or video pre-work.
You also said you liked small group roundtables but wanted the group to be bigger and more targeted. This past year we discontinued the open roundtables and replaced them with targeted, short-term small groups. Look for our next small group invitations coming soon.
Overall, you find ONEplace to be meeting your training needs, but you wanted more time for chatting and connecting with colleagues. In response, we started the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection (LinkedIn group) and our quarterly Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE networking event. Your participation makes these valuable tools to strengthen our nonprofit sector.
A few weeks ago, we sent our semi-annual Training Event Survey. “Thank You” to the 95 respondents who participated.
At ONEplace, we measure our impact with post-session evaluations and a bank of semi-annual surveys. In the recent Training Events survey, we measure success on these questions:
- Do you plan to return? If you find value, you’ll return for more.
- Do you recommend ONEplace to others? If you find value, you’ll recommend ONEplace to others.
- Do you see a benefit to your job, your organization, and yourself? You notice improvement.
- Do you expand your network by attending? You feel more connected to your nonprofit colleagues
Our benchmark is 85%. Here’s what you reported:
- 99% plan to attend future events at ONEplace
- 97% have recommended ONEplace to colleagues or others
- 99% agree or strongly agree that workshops benefitted their organizations
- 99% agree or strongly agree that workshops helped them do their jobs better
- 98% agree or strongly agree that workshops benefitted them personally
- 91% agree or strongly agree that workshops expanded their network
Your comments also help guide ONEplace programs and activities. Here’s a summary of your 45 separate comments.
- Twelve (27%) comments affirming current programming and approach
- Eight (18%) requested evening workshops
- Three (7%) suggested holding events at locations other than the library
- Three (7%) requesting more small group opportunities with like positions
- Two (4%) encourage more interaction & discussion time in workshops
In addition, there were several single comments sharing ideas for programs and improvements. Some we’ve already started on based upon comments gleaned from post-session evaluations. Others are still to be considered.
We know that ideas and concerns arise any time (not just at survey time), so please do not hesitate to send us your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
With warmer weather I've been outside more - doing yard work, walking around our neighborhood. I've had several "good to see you again" conversations with neighbors as we emerge from our winter confines.
It feels good to reconnect with neighbors, and it's also very informative. I learn what's going on with them, and we share information impacting all of us - in our neighborhood, city, and region. It reminds me that no one of us has the complete picture. We all benefit from sharing what we know.
That's one of the main reasons we host Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection - Live. By connecting, sharing information, and nurturing networks, we get outside of our bubbles. Taking an hour every quarter to catch up and learn what's going on around the area can have great benefits.
This will be our fifth gathering. At each of the previous events connections have been made leading to collaborative events and projects as well as resource sharing in communications and fundraising.
Sometimes the best resource to help you resolve your problem is the nonprofit that's already dealt with that problem.
We gather this Wednesday, May 14, 4:30-6 pm at Central Library. Don't miss it!
P.S. A recent Nonprofit Quarterly featured several articles on the power of networks. Check out their lead article, A Network Way of Working.
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?
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.
Our April NEWSletter arrives in the midst of March Madness. Those who attend to such things complete their brackets, contribute to the office pool and cheer on their team. And, while there may be several moral victories, the final result is one winner and several losers.
Sports competitions provide entertainment for most of us and build skills and character for those on the court or the fairway or the field. That spirit of competition also informs many approaches to business. However…
…competition is no way to run a nonprofit.
Successful nonprofits (as well as most successful businesses) thrive because they work cooperatively with other organizations. (BTW, this is confirmed by hundreds of studies dating from the late 1800’s through today.) They place their long-term vision and desire for impact above their own self-interest. And they increase their impact by embracing a network mind-set, giving knowledge and resources away to accomplish more than if they acted alone.
The funny thing is this: even though a network mind-set appears as generous and altruistic, it’s actually a function of enlightened self-interest. By focusing beyond your personal career and organizational success to the impact you wish to make, you increase your chances of being successful.
In their book, Forces for Good, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather Grant identify four tactics to implement this mind-set:
- Work to increase the resource pool for your cause more than grabbing for your share
- Share knowledge and expertise to gain more influence as a collective
- Develop leadership throughout the network
- Grow small networks into increasingly larger coalitions
Overall, it’s not about who gets the biggest grant or who gets the credit. It’s about getting that change.
In these days of big data, organizations are encouraged to embrace data-driven decision-making. “Trust the data!” becomes the grease on the wheels of success.
And yet, when provided access to the same data, different people arrive at different conclusions. Business leaders, politicians, and others will take a variety of actions based upon the same data. Why?
You cannot remove the human element.
Occasionally I stumble upon the quote, “Data is the seed…information is the crop…knowledge is the harvest.” How data becomes information and knowledge seems to make all the difference. In fact, I’ve seen self-proclaimed “data-driven organizations” intentionally take action directly counter to the data presented to and understood by them. They do this because they process the data through their purposes and priorities (and, perhaps, their politics) to arrive at meaningful information and knowledgeable action.
Big or small, data is an extremely valuable input, but it’s not the driver.
Purpose is the driver. Purpose drives it all – individuals, organizations, communities…everything.
Well-known living systems author Margaret Wheatley lays this out in her book, The Community of the Future. She observes that communities (i.e., organizations, neighborhoods, nations) driven by a common purpose support both an individual’s self-determination and their need for interpersonal relationships.
She suggests that an organization, community or any other entity achieves clarity of purpose and then lets each contribute to that purpose in his/her own way. This approach draws upon the energy created within the paradox of individual freedom and connected community, attracting people to the entity without asking them to shed their uniqueness.
While the human element may be messy at times, it brings the determination, vitality, and resilience required to develop effective, stable and sustainable entities. Plus it provides the security to reach out and collaborate with those around them.
So gather good data and give it your serious attention. But let your purpose be your driver.
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.
- Maximize chance opportunities (notice and act upon these opportunities)
- Listen to your lucky hunches (engage calming practices to boost your intuitive abilities)
- Expect good fortune (expectation heightens your awareness; sharpens intuition)
- 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.
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:
- Keep focused attention on its mission as well as the larger cause that it serves
- 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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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?
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 (email@example.com).
P.S. I posted a recent article on our LinkedIn group that has attracted some conversation. Check it out.
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.
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.
P.S. Improv Effects is featured in the current issue of Encore.