ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

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.

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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Coffee with Pat Taylor

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

Tell us how you got to where you are today

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

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

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

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

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

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

The Golden Rule

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

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

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ThomA

Who's your target?

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom

ThomA

It comes down to this

Leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Where do I find...

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

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

Does it take time and effort? Yes.

Will the return on this investment be huge? Yes.

Can you afford not to do it? No.

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Hey! Where're you headed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom

ThomA

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.

ThomA

Up your rep

Every nonprofit desires a strong public reputation.

One recipe for increasing an organization’s civic stature is to: 

  1. identify your community’s long-term, well-funded priority, and then
  2. help it be successful while staying true to your mission.

The result is that the organization:

  • does what it does best
  • builds strong alliances with other organizations, businesses, and agencies
  • enjoys endorsements from community leaders as an example to be followed

In most communities this is a near-impossible task because there are no long-term, well-funded priorities. The priorities change with each new administration or budget cycle.

Not so in Kalamazoo County. We share a common vision – a sustainable culture of learning at home, in school, at work and throughout the community. Its pillars are the Kalamazoo Promise and The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo, but its active participants populate a very long list. And, make no mistake, the effort is well funded, and we’re in it for the long haul.

Recent recognition from the Lumina Foundation and Dan Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools, Inc., indicates that we’re moving in a good direction. Cardinali writes:

What's tremendously encouraging to me is the way that the entire community is coming together in support of the public schools. In Kalamazoo, public education is everyone's business. The silos that separate schools, businesses and civic organizations are coming down as everyone accepts a shared responsibility to prepare young people for a successful, productive life. In other words, Kalamazoo is re-forming its sense of community, not just reforming its schools. (read full post)

Are we on the right path? Yes…for now. But there’s a long way to go and the path twists and turns. And, it has no end. We just need to keep moving forward.

Will you and your organization be satisfied walking the sidelines or being an armchair quarterback to this adventure? I hope not. Get in the game! Claim the vision as your own, and offer your best. The least it will do is up your rep.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Kalamazoo is among 20 communities selected by the Lumina Foundation for project to boost college success (read article).

ThomA