ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

The dele(ga)te key

 If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the phrase, “stretched too thin,” I’d be neck-deep in nickels. Nonprofit or not, many staff feel the strain of too much to do and not enough time to do it. One executive director recently phrased the question this way:

How do we prioritize our work and then be willing to live with it?

Setting priorities, in part, means choosing what’s not going to get done. Everything can’t be a priority. Most things can’t be a priority. Only the few, essential, mission-critical things are priorities. The rest…well…I can hear it now.

“52 of my 57 tasks ARE mission-critical! It all MUST be done and done soon!”

Assuming the criteria of what is and is not mission-critical is sound, you’re left with two choices: delegate or delete. Both involve letting go.

Delegation means being willing to let go of control and trusting someone else to put their stamp on the result. However, there may be more options here than you first imagine. We may delegate to someone within our organization or work collaboratively with another organization. We may hire out certain tasks. We may be able to divide a task and only attend to the critical aspect of it. What other options can you think of?

Deleting critical tasks may mean facing the fact that capacity is truly being exceeded and then letting go of that which makes the task critical (e.g., paring programs or services). This is an extreme measure to be sure. 

These are not easy decisions. The important ones rarely are. Yet, we must maintain the capacity to deliver on our commitments, and recognize that every “yes” that takes us beyond our capacity diminishes the quality of our programs and the integrity of our organization.

If you find yourself wresting on this particular mat, please contact ONEplace. We’ll work with you to sort things out.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

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

ThomA

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 

 

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Questioning leadership

I recently stumbled upon Michael Hyatt’s podcast from May 28 where he says, “If you are going to be a successful leader, you have to get better at asking good questions.” It’s “even more important than having the right answers.”

Exercising healthy skepticism, I did an internet search on “questions more important than answers” and received dozens of supporting articles, blogs, and quotes. I did another search on “answers more important than questions” and got plenty of results but nothing – that is zero – to support this notion.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, avidly supports asking questions as well. He said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”

Schmidt, like Hyatt and others, realize that if you keep asking better questions you keep finding better answers.

And that’s the key – asking better questions. Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, says, “The big trick to being successful is always making sure you’re asking the right questions and focusing on the right problems. If you’re focusing on the wrong questions, you’re not really providing the leadership you should.”

Next time you find yourself gathering to brainstorm solutions to a problem, begin by taking time to first brainstorm questions. Often how you frame the question makes all the difference. As Tim Brown says,

“If you don’t ask the right questions, then you’re never going to get the right solution.”

Best,

Thom

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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.

ThomA

Just ONEthing - July 2014

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.

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Coffee with Alice Kemerling

This month we sat down with Alice Kemerling, Assistant Director of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival as she shares about her career and the people who inspire her.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I came to Kalamazoo in 1976 to work in Admissions at Kalamazoo College. In the 1980s and early 90s I had the great privilege of staying home with our kids and did a lot of volunteering, including service on the KVCC Foundation Board. KVCC was just embarking on a $20 million campaign to build a new public museum when their Director of Development resigned. I was hired, and went feet-first into the frying pan. The campaign was intense and exhilarating, and I loved every minute of it (except for the agonizing process of ensuring that 11,000 donor names would appear correctly on the wall of the new museum). I continued with the KVCC Foundation for about 5 years after the end of the campaign, working with the KVCC Foundation Board to develop strategies for securing support for scholarships and college initiatives from individuals, corporations and foundations.

I worked for The Owen Group from 1998 – 2000, during which I consulted on capital campaigns for the Humane Society, Markin Glen Park, and Ministry with Community. I also helped with a feasibility study for the United Soccer Alliance. In late 2000, I was hired as Director of Development for the Gilmore Keyboard Festival. I did not know at the time that this would turn out to be my dream job, but it is that and more. I cannot believe that 14 years have gone by so quickly. The first 12 were spent building up the annual fund, corporate sponsorships, foundation support and starting an endowment, and since 2012 I have also helped manage the organization as Assistant Director.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I love the friendliness, creativity and collaborative spirit of its residents and organizations.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Be friendly, be compassionate, listen well, collaborate, and strive for the highest quality.

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

Blaine Lam, who taught me in 1992 that there are limitless opportunities if you seek help from others and don’t sweat the small stuff. I still quote him regularly when I or someone with whom I am working gets bogged down by details: “Don’t worry. It’s a speck on a moving horse.”

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I learn at every meeting with our Board of Trustees. They are amazing. I also learn every time I make a mistake. On a practical level, Penelope Burke’s seminars have been inspirational.

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

My average day is exciting, challenging, rewarding, and occasionally tedious (think database and budgets).

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

I’m concerned about timely communication with donors and endowment building.

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

I am not so good at this, but our Development Officer is, so I rely on her advice and information. I also rely on e-news from Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, the Independent Sector and Artserve.

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

Work with people you admire and for causes you can represent proudly and passionately.

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

Volunteering, going to the farmers market and cooking.

Anything else?

We are so lucky to have ONEplace. My colleagues in other cities are amazed at all that is made available to Kalamazoo non-profits – free of charge. It is one more testimony to the community spirit that is ingrained in our local culture.

Note: Alice Kemerling and Alisa Carrel (Development Officer at The Gilmore) will present Securing Corporate Sponsorships at ONEplace on July 30

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Retain for greater gain

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.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

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)

ThomA

ONEplace Peer Learning

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.

Best,

Thom

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