Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is remembered for leading the Bruins to 10 National Championships in 12 seasons (1964-75) including four undefeated seasons. Do you know how many years he coached the team prior to winning his first championship? Fifteen. With this vignette, Jim Collins makes a key point in Good to Great.
Becoming great is a long-term venture.
He gave other, business-related examples: Gillette, Nucor, Pitney Bowes, and others. While the press and public hailed them as upstarts and newcomers that burst on to the scene, each company’s “overnight success” had taken years to build: focused, slow, and methodical.
In contrast, the comparison companies (that faced the same circumstances but failed to transition to a great company) looked to the next big thing to save the day: the next merger, the next new product, or the next major initiative. As a result, most bounced from one thing to the next, never committing long enough to sink deep roots into their market.
There simply is no short cut to great:
Focused, slow, and methodical – sinking deep roots that will hold the organization in place through high winds and fierce storms; Deep roots that will allow the organization to branch out and sustain new initiatives that are anchored to the core purpose; Deep roots that spread into the underpinnings of the community, contributing to a diverse ecosystem of success.
So, where is your organization headed? You may or may not have a clear, guiding mission or vision. You may or may not have a useful strategic plan. Regardless of what tools you use, you need to know where you’re headed so that each small step builds on the last and prepares for the next.
The tortoise wins the race every time.
Struck dumb by the size and airiness of the Arcus Center's atrium, I tentatively approached the right side of the room, which is bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase a neat array of tall maple trees. I sat in one of the brightly colored chairs arranged in a circle and craned my neck to read some of the phrases printed on the back wall--"curious creatures" and "things like locusts" jumped out. By then I had a hunch that I had entered a transformative space.
I was right. That night I attended a training at Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership called Trans*, Genderqueer, & Gender Non-Conforming: A Workshop for Allies. In just over three hours I and about 50 others (primarily Kalamazoo College students) participated in a variety of interactive activities and discussions. Two hours into the training, several people of different gender identities spoke about aspects of their identity and experience, and that's when the transformative piece clicked. The participants engaged in a radical act: listening. We embodied allyship by giving attention and time to community members who rarely have a platform to be heard.
That act, just listening, might be the right first step. When working with issues around which there is little widely-available, trustworthy information, I think this is the best approach to learning. Implementation is critical, but can nonprofits be expected to make thoughtful, studied practical decisions without first listening?
Join us at ONEplace for our new Inclusion Series, which focuses on how nonprofits can make our workplaces and services more inclusive. There will be plenty of opportunities for listening. Creating Accessible Content will kick-off the series on July 21. Immigration 101 is August 5, and Trans*, Gender Non-Conforming, & Genderqueer: A Workshop for Allies will take place August 12.
My work grants me the privilege of working with many boards. It’s been great to work with boards involved in food security, the arts, housing, health, the environment, community welfare, and more. One thing continually impresses me about boards of directors:
they are extremely generous people.
Board members give – hugely – of their time, talent, and treasure. Their passion and commitment fill the room with a palpable spirit. When I ask, “What do you love about your organization?” each person beams as they given genuine expression to that spirit. It’s a pleasure to behold.
The same may be said for our area’s executive directors (EDs) as well. With the weight of the organization on their shoulders, EDs give richly of themselves at every turn. To hear one speak openly of their concern and commitment stirs the heart, and to gain insight into the myriad of things they do behind the scenes inspires the soul.
So, it’s painful to see how disconnects between Boards and EDs can rattle an organization.
Everyone plays a part. According to BridgeSpan, BoardSource, and other references, Boards carry the responsibility to “support and evaluate the executive director,” and EDs carry the responsibility to “develop, maintain, and support” the board. When communication fails, that mutual support often shatters into shards of shaky accusations and puzzled disbelief.
All parties end up hurt and disillusioned. It’s very sad.
If you’re feeling even an inkling of this disconnect, then have a meeting and name it. Take the lead and set intentional steps to improve communication. Don’t wait for someone else to act. As seen above, if you’re an ED or a board member, it’s your responsibility.
Not sure how to start? Feeling stuck? Please contact ONEplace before it goes any further. Each day that a problem isn’t addressed adds another degree of difficulty to implementing a solution.
Take the lead. Make the call. It’s the generous thing to do.
“I’m having coffee with….”
How often do you say that? Monthly? Every other week? Weekly? More?
Having coffee, tea, lunch, a drink, etc. with a nonprofit colleague means you’re making connections, and these connections energize your work and your organization.
Even if the conversation is purely social, you’re deepening your relationship. This makes it more likely that you’ll pick up the phone and call this person when you need to sound out an idea or concern. You’ll also be on each other’s radars when a future conversation touches on an issue or opportunity of mutual interest.
The idea of “building your network” sometimes gets a slimy reputation when it’s seen as serving one’s own interests and careers. Don’t throw out the proverbial toddler with the mud puddle! Developing relationships across the nonprofit sector, and especially your particular corner of the sector, is critical to your organization’s impact and your cause’s success.
The ROI on relationship building is huge and…better yet…it compounds. Don’t believe me? Not sure where to start? Ask me to coffee and I’ll explain it…ask nicely and I’ll buy.
One of the unique things about working at ONEplace is that we are the only management support organization (MSO) in Kalamazoo dedicated to capacity building for area nonprofits. Statewide, we are one of nine organizations doing this work, all with our own specific service models. Two weeks ago, staff from all nine MSOs came together for a retreat. It was a rare opportunity to share the same space and learn from each other.
The session that resonated with me most focused on a timely issue: partnerships. The social sector generally promotes the value of collaboration (yes, including ONEplace!) and we all know the advantages, e.g. greater efficiency, wider impact, etc. So, why don't we all have more major partners in our work? Certainly, a lack of time and resources to devote to figuring out where partnerships would be appropriate is a factor. But I wonder if there are two other major roadblocks: 1. a lack of information on how the process could work; and 2. examples of actual successful partnerships.
The Powerful Partnerships session was a case study presented by Yodit Mesfin Johnson, Chief Relationship Officer at NEW. She explained in depth how she executed a nonprofit-private sector partnership between NEW and Zingtrain (the training arm of Zingerman's Deli) to develop Leadership DELI. This program helps Ann Arbor area nonprofit leaders learn specific skills that will push them through the leadership pipeline.Yodit shared four key characteristics of powerful partnerships:
1. Clearly defined roles
2. A common set of values that drive outcomes
3. Understanding that joining together offers clear mutual benefit
4. A willingness to be flexible
This case study gave me a lot to think about. How can Kalamazoo County nonprofits use partners in the public or private sector to fulfill their missions? And, how can ONEplace be a resource in the process? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.
It seems this one question almost always comes up. Be it a struggling nonprofit, an association of service providers, a stable nonprofit, an ad hoc task force, a civic club, or any other service-providing entity, they all end up discussing essentially the same concern:
How shall we choose to participate?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a variety of meetings and each discussed the dynamic environment around them. Each struggled with concerns over funders and fundraising, communications and marketing, as well as governance and board development. Each felt pulled in various directions, stretched beyond capacity, and blocked at several turns.
The biggest barrier was often identified as not having enough time.
The biggest barrier, however, was a failure to choose.
It’s the organizational version of “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” We consistently bite off more than we can chew. Or, to be more precise, we don’t accurately weigh the cost of decisions, especially those decisions to take on more work. We’ll put more on the already-full plates of staff and volunteers and name it all as “high priority.” It only creates misery and, at best, mediocrity, and it needs to stop.
Choices – good, wise choices – must be made.
If this sounds familiar, then start with the assumption that every line of business, every service or program requires more work (time, energy, money) than you currently understand – say, twice as much. Then look at what that means relative to the quality and sustainability of the services you provide, including: staff development and turnover, relationship building and nurturing with many stakeholders, regular and consistent communications and public relations, and periodically evaluating and updating your services and the systems that support them. If you need help with this, ONEplace can assist you.
There’s always more to it than meets the eye. So, it’s time to choose. Otherwise, choices may be made for you.
Like most of you, I struggle with how to get the word out. How do I best let people know about the services we offer and encourage them to take advantage of them? Marketing. It’s important, yet it’s elusive and often stays on the back burner.
In a recent Entrepreneur article, Jurgen Appelo points out that we no longer need broadcast-based marketing (“Hello everyone! This is what we do!! We are very cool and awesome! Hello?!”).
He sets out 3 rules of marketing for the 21st century:
“Pull, don’t push. Make sure that people can find you using Google, social network and/or market places. Attract them with great content.
“Show, don’t tell. Make sure people can see with their own eyes that you are awesome. Those who are cool and remarkable don’t need to say it.
“Share, don’t beg. Don’t annoy everyone with 20th-century marketing tactics. Thanks to transparency, when you behave like a beggar, everyone will know.”
Two comments. First, I must underscore Appelo’s assumption that your marketing includes “great content” and that your organization is “cool,” “remarkable,” and “transparent.” Great marketing cannot make up for a great organization, so your best marketing strategy begins with becoming a great organization.
Second, if I could add one more word to his list, it would be targeting. Marketing is no longer a numbers game – connecting with 0.5% of a huge mailing list. Rather, it’s a strategic game – smaller lists, higher response rates.
Strategy requires more thought, more planning, more testing, more tracking. Yet, over time, we’ll learn where our audience resides and what messages motivate response. In short, we’ll become more relevant.
P.S. Find out more by participating in the upcoming Marketing Makeover 2015 webinar.
Earlier this month, John Greenhoe (WMU Major Gift Officer) presented Opening the Door to Major Gifts (also the title of his best-selling book). During the session we examined the process of making Discovery Calls as well as solutions to common mistakes.
A Discovery Call (also known as an Identification Call or Qualification Call) is a face-to-face visit with a prospect that you believe may have the capacity for making a major gift. While rarely done, tracking Discovery Calls keeps you apprised of how many people you’re putting into this pipeline and the percentage of those who eventually make a major gift.
Often, nonprofits don’t support making Discovery Calls because they don’t involve making an ask. Yet, John recommends developing an organizational culture that supports making Discovery Calls. These visits open the door to deeper relationships, greater trust, and larger gifts.
John also reminded us that fundraising is still a young industry and much of it is “largely a business of figuring it out on your own." So to get started, he suggests: (1) Plan time each day for making phone calls to schedule the initial visit; (2) When you get the visit, be yourself – tell your story and show your enthusiasm; and (3) Celebrate small victories because it is difficult, and you’ll hear “no” more than you hear “yes.”
During the program, John also recommended Gail Perry as a resource especially for smaller nonprofits. Find out more on major gifts on Gail’s website.
This month we spoke with Jan Barker, CEO at Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan and discovered how Girl Scouts has influenced her at various stages of her life.
Tell us how you got to where you are today
I traveled to Michigan from my native Florida and developed a real appreciation for the changing seasons, so I decided to make Michigan my new home. After working for Michigan State University Extension Services for 15 years, I accepted the Chief Executive Officer job with Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. I am committed to helping girls gain leadership skills so they can make the world a better place.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
The area is beautiful with interesting topography and clean lakes. As a student of botany, I am intrigued with the flora and fauna native to Michigan. I also love the culture and having access to big city amenities without the big city hassles like traffic congestion. The people in Southwestern Michigan are generous and caring which is how it earned its reputation as a can-do and caring community that I am proud to be a part of.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
Learn as much as you can, share it for the good of all, try to find the positive in everything, and have fun while you’re doing it.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
My father taught me to be curious and patient. Because of his interest in how things work I am always taking a deeper dive to get a better understanding of how things are built and how they run.
My father quietly set the example that a person can do anything if they work hard. My mother was my Girl Scout leader and she taught me that girls can do anything. She created an environment focused on having fun while learning new things. This gave me a passion for life and learning.
The people I work with everyday teach me so much. They have great ideas for helping girls grow and learn skills that will prepare them to be leaders in all areas of their lives. I admire their selflessness and think they are some of the most dedicated and committed people I know.
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
I was a very shy child which made reaching out to others and joining in activities a struggle. My time in Girl Scouts taught me skills which gave me the confidence to be courageous and get involved. I carry those lessons with me to this day.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
I travel between 5 offices throughout mid-Michigan: Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Lansing, Jackson and Saginaw. Our staffing model is very customer-focused so I spend time in the communities we serve meeting people, and sharing news about the bold impact Girl Scouting has on both girls and volunteers.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
Ways to improve, projects needing more attention and are my children safe and happy?
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I read and read and read.
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
Stay focused on making the world better and don’t worry about the money. You don’t go into nonprofit work to become a millionaire. You do it because you want to make someone else’s life better. You will make many contributions by persevering and maintaining your focus. As a young, single mother of two when I was starting a career in the nonprofit sector, I was challenged every day to find a healthy balance between my family and work responsibilities. I found that adding an element of fun and accumulating experiences has made each of my jobs easier.
What would you most like to do?
- To stay vibrant and energized spend time outdoors
- Visit The American Camellia Society Garden at Masse Lane near Warner-Robins, GA. Make sure to see the Japanese Garden.
- See the magic at Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, FL
- Read something by Julia Child or Graham Greene in a hammock
- There is great value in traveling and refreshing your perspective with time-off on an adventure.
- Count on great ideas and fresh brilliance to come.
- Be curious, get curious, spread curiosity.
- I encourage my staff to live out loud, and to bring their very best to work and family every day.
What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?
I love to cook. I have cookbooks containing recipes from all over the world which help me to develop an appreciation for other cultures. I use these recipes to make food to share with family and friends. Cooking, science and botany have helped me learn about the world.
Being a mother to a daughter and son who have become amazing adults keeps me centered and grounded. My kids and my husband form the nucleus of a family that supports and cares for me. They challenge me every day to be bold and take chances.
I am finally coming to understand that conflict at work is unavoidable. Even though I am extremely conflict-averse, sometimes misunderstandings just happen. My experiences have been fairly run-of-mill; I’ve had collaborators surprise me with an offhand comment, and even had clients become hostile for no apparent reason. Most times workplace conflict ends up with all parties walking away hurt and upset.
I'm willing to bet that "hurt and upset" rank among the least productive emotions for working towards reconciliation. Often it feels easier to complain about the situation with friends and hope you can avoid the other person around the office. But I want to challenge that. What if we empower ourselves to believe that resolving the issue is as much your responsibility as it is the other person's? Here's why: your personal comfort at work depends on your ability to communicate. This is true of everything else -- getting the right desk chair, getting help on a difficult project -- so why should interpersonal issues be any different?
Moving towards reconciliation often feels impossible if the incident was highly emotional. So how do you move past that? Thom mentioned a concept other day that stuck with me: sit across the table from yourself. Multiple studies show that we all have blind spots when it comes to our behavior. So, "sit across" from yourself and trade your first-person perspective with a third-person narrative. Write down what happened as if you were not at all involved, and then read the story. Trying out this exercise could put you in the proper headspace to broach reconciliation. Or maybe it could be a tool you use to decide if you want to involve a mediator.
No matter what happens, I've come to see that you cannot control anyone else. So, if you approach the idea of a resolution with an open mind, your work environment will be so much the better for it.