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Effective cooperation

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. 


ONEplace in Focus

If you’ve been to one of my workshops, you probably heard a fair bit about “focus:” focused attention, focused direction, focused purpose, etc. In the spirit of “practice what you teach,” here’s a look at how we’re bringing focus to our workshop schedule.

In the coming weeks, you’ll begin to see workshops identified as part of a series or a track (e.g., Supervision Series, Fundraising Series, Management Track). You’ll also notice that these events will be announced further in advance. By taking these steps, you’ll be able to:

  • Go deeper into the subject matter
  • Plan to attend with a nonprofit colleague or co-worker to enhance your learning and application
  • Get workshop dates on your calendar before it fills up

It’s our intention to schedule a specific series during a time when many may be working on the topic (e.g., a fundraising series in October, prior to the year-end campaign). As always, your feedback and suggestions will help hone this schedule over time.

I’ll have more on this as it unfolds through the fall. Until then,

Stay focused!

Thom


Just ONEthing - Sept 2014

Late last month, Alice Kemerling and Alisa Carrel (Gilmore Keyboard Festival) offered a Voice from the Field workshop on securing corporate sponsorships. They used several vignettes from their years of practice to drive home the point that “sponsorships grow out of connections.”

In addition to the obvious connection of board member or staff member to corporate representative, they reminded us that we need to be mindful of the connections within the potential sponsor’s network: clients, vendors, colleagues, and professional services (attorney, accountant, real estate agent, etc.).

A potential sponsor may open the door to a roomful of others, but s/he will be protective of those relationships. So, Alice and Alisa suggested that we be willing to spend months getting to know a potential sponsor, even inviting them to participate in the benefits of sponsorship even before they sign on. They will discover how best to use those perks to the benefit of their own organization (e.g., treat clients, reward employees, court potential accounts).

Bottom line: there’s so much more to a sponsorship than the one relationship, yet that’s where it begins.


I love it when it works

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

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

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

But that’s not all.

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

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

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

And so was I.

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

Best,

Thom


Building your team

Let’s face it. Many meetings are yawners: proposal presented followed by a bit of discussion followed by unanimous approval. Rinse & repeat.

Several years ago I found myself in a meeting that was much more fun: tensions were high, voices were raised, passions flared, people paced. In the end, good decisions were made.

What made it fun is that we were working together for a common goal. Each person in the room knew and trusted that there were no hidden agendas. We all wanted the same outcome. We just needed to hammer out the best way to get there.

I did myself a favor recently and re-read Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage. In this book, he offers practical, sound analysis and guidance in developing a cohesive team. His entire approach puts vulnerability-based trust as the foundational layer. With a basis of trust, a team can grow through constructive conflict and clear commitment. Team members that trust one another hold each other accountable to deliver the results for which they – as a team – bear full responsibility.

A trusting team is a rare commodity yet critical for long-term success. I’m pleased that Pinky McPherson will be offering Building a Cohesive Team (Aug 27) as part of our ongoing Leadership Series. I hope you’ll be able to attend.

Best,

Thom


To the core

When I was in college I had a computer science professor who offered our class this advice:

If you want to succeed, don’t worry about creating the next big thing or being a stand-out performer, just do your job right.

I’ve found this to be true time and time again. Whether doing fundraising, communications, supervision, operations, or whatever, attending to the fundamental elements of the work carries 95% (or more) of the impact. When I meet with people as part of our direct assistance service, I often find that reminding them of the basics addresses the bulk of their concerns. 

You even see this at work with the stand out performers. They realistically assess their workload, get things done on time and to specification, and communicate clearly through the process. They’re honest and treat others with respect. They master the basics.

The fundamental elements of a job are like the trunk of a tree. Secure the core and you’ll branch out from there.

Best,

Thom


Meaning driven decision making

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom

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


Coffee with Janice Brown

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

Tell us how you got to where you are today

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

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

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

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

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

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

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

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you geek?

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

Anything else?

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


Just ONEthing - August 2014

Traci Furman (Senior Services) offered a Voice from the Field workshop in mid-July. She emphasized that our unique relationships with volunteers requires unique care. Those gathered identified the important aspects of this relationship as: communication, respect, compassion, trust, enjoyability (fun), and caring.

Traci also pointed out that we probably come across to our volunteers as more critical than we think we do. She showed a video of Dan Mulhern discussing this topic and the proper balance of positive to negative comments (watch video).


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


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 

 


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


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.


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


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


Coffee with Bill Rose

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

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

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

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

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

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

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

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

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

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you geek?

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


Just ONEthing - June

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

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

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


What's in your grocery cart?

Mission, vision, values, strategic plans, purpose statements, case statements, and the list goes on. With so many ways to document our organization’s focus, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Sometimes a good metaphor helps.

The Celery Test (from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why) puts organizational focus within a grocery metaphor. We ask for advice from outside experts and each offers their own ideas of what we should buy: Oreos, Celery, Rice Milk, and M&Ms. We go to the grocery and buy all these items. In the checkout line, our variety of items indicates nothing of consequence to onlookers. Furthermore, we know that some items will be more helpful than others.

However, if we were clear that our purpose was healthy eating, then what would we buy…celery and rice milk. At the checkout, someone may notice our healthy choices and strike up a conversation based upon our shared concern (a new supporter?). We know that our money was spent on items that will be helpful. Further, once I wrote that our purpose was healthy eating, you already knew what I would be buying. In other words, clarity of purpose provides organization-wide criteria for good decision-making.

It seems that I cannot visit LinkedIn, Twitter or the bookshelves without finding more and more evidence that having and articulating a clear understanding of your purpose, your cause, and the better world you envision is the single most unifying factor for your entire stakeholder universe (staff, board, volunteers, donors, community). It speaks louder than any talking points, advertising or appeal letter. It’s at the heart of organizational integrity.

If your organization needs to recapture its purpose or simply check-in on it, ONEplace can help. Do not hesitate to call (269-553-7910) or email (ONEplace@kpl.gov) – that’s why we’re here.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Check out this detailed explanation of the Celery Test.


A time to remember

With Memorial Day fast approaching, we’ll hear much about times past and the benefits enjoyed today because of yesterday’s sacrifices. At times like these I remember a favorite maxim from a former professor: you can tell a lot about a movement by how it defines its history.

Do you know your organization’s story?

In our communications workshops, we often explore the power of stories. Generally, our focus is on transformative stories from patrons, clients, or volunteers and how their lives were improved. We use these stories to make our case and raise our funds.

But what about your organization’s story? How have you captured that story? In what ways do you tell it to the public?

Over the next week or two, find your organization’s story and spend some time with it. How does it inform what you’re doing today? In what ways are you contributing to its legacy?

A well-told organizational story melds with the community’s story, showing how we each play a role in making our home something worth telling others about.

Happy Memorial Day,

Thom 


Re-emerge...re-connect

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!

Best,

Thom

P.S. A recent Nonprofit Quarterly featured several articles on the power of networks. Check out their lead article, A Network Way of Working. 


Can we talk?

A couple of weeks ago I sent (i.e., postal mail) a card thanking Marcy for her program leadership. In subsequent email conversations with her, she thanked me for the thank you card – twice! – saying how much it meant to her. This, and other similar exchanges, makes me wonder:

With all the communications we churn out, are we really connecting with people?

Connecting is our goal. We can blah-blah-blah all we want, but if we’re not reaching people then our efforts are wasted…or, worse yet, alienating. With limited time and capacity, we must ensure that our communications are focused and effective.

May is Marketing & Communications Month at ONEplace. We have a handful of workshops and events to help you make valuable connections.

Spend some time this month evaluating your communications. Use the upcoming weeks to plan and experiment, so that, come fall, you’re ready to roll-out compelling and engaging communications.

Best,

Thom


Sustain This

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

What’s your sustainability plan?

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom


The Future is Now

Eight years ago, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article warning of a nonprofit leadership deficit “during the next 10 years” due in large part to a wave of Baby Boomer retirements. As we see nonprofit leaders retiring in our community, we recognize that their predicted future is upon us.

In anticipation of this situation, ONEplace developed the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA). In 2011, former ONEplace Director, Bobbe Luce, worked with Paul Knudstrup and others in the Consultant and Trainer’s Network to develop an intensive course offering a comprehensive overview of running a nonprofit organization. Supplemented with readings and a mentor relationship, ONLA provided a strong foundation for up-and-coming leaders.

The third ONLA class will come to completion in mid-May. Three participants from the previous two classes have already moved into executive director positions. While ONLA may not have played a pivotal role in their careers, it certainly played a preparatory one.

The ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy will be highlighted at the next Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection LIVE gathering on May 14. Information about next year’s Academy will also be available.


Just ONEthing - May

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

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

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

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

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


Coffee with Donna Odom

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

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

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

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

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

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

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

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

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

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

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I serve on several boards of history-based organizations.

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

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

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

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


More with less

Recently I spent time outside Michigan with a room of nonprofit professionals. As we discussed tighter budgets and higher demands, a consensus grew around a perceived shared mandate. With a weary shake of the head, one person stated their common dilemma:

We must do more with less.

The statement was received both as an unavoidable reality as well as a virtual prison sentence. It meant doing more activities with fewer people and less money. "My board just won't have it any other way." "People are suffering and need our help." "It's impossible to say No."

The phrase "more with less" took me back to a 1970's Mennonite cookbook - the "More-with-Less Cookbook." I revisited the introduction which says, "the book demonstrates clearly how we may enjoy more while eating less. There is a way of wasting less, eating less, and spending less which gives us not less but more."

Here, more with less meant more quality with less stress.

I've seen this principle at work in many arenas. Organizations that focus on fewer programs and do  them well without over-stretching their staff or budgets serve more people over time...and serve them better. Those that won't say No and keep over-stretching themselves just fight the same battles year after year after year.

We can do more with less. We can add more quality to our services, more patrons to our rolls, and more funding to our mission. We can do this with less stress, less burnout, and less tension. One key is to focus on what we can do well, and say No to the rest. Like a great tree, build a solid core and then add a little ring every year.

More with less is a long-term recipe for success, not a short-term fix.

Best,

Thom


I never thought...

We’ve seen the interview dozens of times. The person-in-charge stands, gazes into the void, and with a shake of the head says, “I never thought this would happen.”

It could happen.

Regardless of the venue or situation, we must face the facts as they present themselves, and one clear, undeniable fact is that circumstances beyond your control could derail your operation. It’s not about being a doomsayer or copping a negative attitude or even painting a worst-case scenario. It’s about recognizing risks and taking steps to protect your organization and the people who rely upon it.

ONEplace welcomes back Audrey Randall (Paradigm Risk Management) to lead us in two sessions aimed at avoiding being caught by what could happen. First, Business Continuity Planning (April 24) examines how to keep your operation running when risks become reality.

Next, Your Emergency Action Plan (May 8) looks at how we can prepare now to respond quickly when time if of the essence. Developing plans of action and getting your staff and volunteers prepared may save your organization thousands of dollars. It could even save lives.

Business continuity and emergency action planning are easy things to put off. They are also our biggest regrets when we are caught without them. Don’t put it off any longer. Register today.

Best,

Thom


How long?

Once again, the Kalamazoo Promise put our community in a national spotlight. This time, Politico featured it as part of their year-long innovative ideas series. Julie Mack wrote about it last week on MLive. She summarized the Politico story and stated its conclusion: “…the jury is still out on true transformation, including the impact on economic development.”

I would add: “…and the jury will be out for several years.”

Things that matter take focused effort over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the bigger the impact desired, the more time required. For example, in the Politico article, when asked about the slight improvement in graduation rates, KPS Superintendent Michael Rice rightly said, “It takes 18 years to grow a high school graduate.”

True. And it takes decades to transform a community. The Promise is here in perpetuity and it just may take that long to see the scale of change that exists in our hopes and dreams.

But, long-term effort isn’t just for the big dreams. Even smaller changes take time. If a nonprofit wants to build a sustainable fundraising program, it generally takes three or four years of focused effort…and that assumes everyone (board and staff) is ready and eager to act. If they’re not ready, it will take longer.

But, we hate to wait. No matter what the effort – big or small – it only takes a few months before the question comes up: “How long? How long is this going to take?”

It’s going to take as long as it takes, and it’s well worth the effort. Things that matter take focused effort over a long period of time.

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Christine Zeigler

This month we sit down with Chris Zeigler as she recalls lessons and memories from her career, including her current position as Executive Director of MRC Industries.

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

I worked for 20 years for a company in the Central Michigan area called Mid-Michigan Industries. We worked in 7 different counties and provided primarily vocational training to individuals with developmental disabilities. I got the job quite by accident – I applied for a position there after seeing an ad in the newspaper. I had absolutely no experience. The way our Executive Director at the time tells it – it came down to a choice between a guy who had lots of experience in the field and me who had none but apparently they liked my interviews. When she asked the hiring supervisor to tell her a bit more about each candidate he told her that I had played golf in college. Finally, when they could not make a decision she said and I quote –“ oh heck, just hire the golfer.” I did not find out about this until about 3 years later when she was telling this to a group of people and I must say I was a bit miffed. Little did I know that as a result of that opportunity however, that I would find a career that I love and that has been fulfilling and rewarding to me and that I hope has made a difference to others.

After working in my first position there for a couple of years I then became a supervisor and started our Supported Employment program in Isabella County placing people with more severe disabilities into jobs and supervising our staff in this program. We then took over another rehabilitation facility in Gratiot County that was in crisis and I was promoted to Branch Director of that location and after a period of time was then promoted to the Branch Director position in Isabella County. I continued to work my way up through the company and when I left there to take the position at MRC Industries I was Vice-President of Operations. I was familiar with MRC and had visited here a couple of times throughout the years. When this position became open I decided to apply. It was a position of greater responsibility and my family all lives in Kalamazoo. It was an opportunity to be closer to them. I am thankful every day that I was given the opportunity to lead a fantastic organization.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I had no idea when I moved here the depth and number of non-profit human service organizations – and also the philanthropy – that exists in our community. There are a lot of people that really care about making our community a fantastic place to live and that care about those less fortunate than we are. I have developed some terrific friendships here (I love that) and there is always something to do. I also can’t let this question go by without saying that I love the golf courses in this area. I am a member of the Moors Golf Club and also love playing at the many other fantastic courses in this area. Really, when I think about it I can’t think of anything I don’t like about Kalamazoo.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

The principle I rely on most and that I value above all others is integrity. I believe that if we conduct ourselves with that value in all of our interactions and responsibilities then things will always work out. Even when they don’t seem to work out, they do because you did the right thing. It’s as simple as that.

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

The person that had the most influence on me in my work career was my previous boss, Judy Garland – yes the one mentioned in question 1. She taught me a lot of things as I was growing up in this field but the one that I think is most important is that we treat the people we serve with dignity, respect and compassion – how we would want a family member or loved one to be treated if they were receiving services from us.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

One of my biggest learning moments came when I had started my new job here at MRC and we had the major flood in 2008. Our building on Bank Street had about 5 feet of water in it and most everything was ruined. We had to try and find a place to continue services, we had production and mailing customers that lost their product, staff who no longer had a desk, a computer or place to go, payroll that needed to be met etc. etc. I had about one minute to get over the initial shock and devastation and then had to move quickly.

I remember having all kinds of questions such as “what are we going to do, how are we ever going to recover from this, can we recover” etc. and then I said to myself “you are it.” In other words, it was my responsibility to figure out what we were going to do and my responsibility to go forward with the belief that we would recover from this. I remember thinking: nobody died, nobody was seriously injured and we will figure this out and come out stronger as a result. It was my job to make that happen. That is not to say that we did not get a lot of support from the community, our board of directors and our staff but ultimately I felt that I was responsible for the outcome we did or did not achieve. This weighed very heavily on me.

The other thing I learned from this was the tremendous support that we had in this community. It was very heartwarming and meaningful to learn that people really cared about MRC and therefore that people really cared about the individuals we serve and that they were considered an important and respected part of our community.

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

I have two things that keep me up at night. The first is that I worry about what if something happens to someone under our care. We have responsibility on any given day for around 450 individuals with disabilities. I am proud to say we have an excellent safety record but it only takes one mistake or one person not following a policy or procedure when something bad could happen so that responsibility is something that never leaves me. The other thing that keeps me up at night is worrying about money. Although MRC is a very financially stable organization, my job is to make sure it stays that way and when we have funding cuts that are outside of our control it makes me worry.

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

I do a lot of reading and talking to people in our field. I am on the Board of Directors of MARO, our state association and they provide a lot of good information to us. I am also on two other committees/work groups in Lansing that helps me keep abreast of current trends. I also would like to think we are not just following the latest trend but setting the trend!

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

The best advice I could give someone is to first make sure that you have a passion for the mission of your organization, the willingness to work hard as a result and to take the responsibility you are given seriously. Second, I would remind people that the funding we primarily get is tax payer money and we have a responsibility to assure that it is used wisely and in a way that most impacts the individuals we serve. Third, always maintain a sense of humor, be flexible and do what you can to make life a little easier for the individuals you serve. You will be rewarded many times over.

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

Golf is my number one hobby. When I am not at work you can usually find me on the golf course. I still love to compete. I love being outside and particularly love boats and being on the water. I even like to fish as long as I don’t have to touch the worms or the fish. I also love to read and am always in the middle of a good book.


The Madness of Winners & Losers

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:

  1. Work to increase the resource pool for your cause more than grabbing for your share
  2. Share knowledge and expertise to gain more influence as a collective
  3. Develop leadership throughout the network
  4. 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.


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.


Data-driven...Purpose-driven

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.

Best,

Thom 


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


I'd like to thank...

I don't go to many movies but I always watch the Oscars. This year was no different.

Every year, without fail, the one thing you can count on is that every acceptance speech will include a long list of names – usually too long to name everyone. These lists include close colleagues, family, and long-time supporters; people to thank and to share in the award. Why? The point is clear:

No one achieves great things alone.

I see the same thing happen at any awards program from the national stage to the local community center. Working together is the only way we can move the needle, change the conversation, create collective impact or fulfill our vision. So, a key question for each one of us is this:

With whom do I need to connect?

I recently talked with a board president who told me that their board created a list of key influencers - people who would support their cause and were in a position to advance their cause. After refining the list, they divided it up, each person taking responsibility for connecting with the people on their list. In this way, the board engaged efforts towards building public support and laid the foundation for sustainability.

What’s your vision for a better tomorrow, and who shares that vision? Who can help address the cause your organization is working so hard to advance? These and similar questions may stimulate discussion at your next management or board meeting. If you’re not sure how to proceed, contact ONEplace and we’ll work on a strategy together.

Best,

Thom


Direct Assistance for Unique Challenges

Many of you are aware that ONEplace offers direct assistance services, i.e., first line consultation on unique challenges and concerns faced by nonprofit staff and boards. We average about six contacts each day, attending to phone calls, emails, and personal appointments.

We value this work in large part because of the trust inherent in our conversations. You not only trust us to provide sound guidance and resources but also to hold your concerns in confidence. We honor this position and hold it as a cornerstone of our organization’s integrity.

Building upon this position, we have responded to specific needs by conducting limited on-site facilitation and training for organization staff and boards of directors. These tailored events not only address your specific challenges and concerns, they also provide a common experience upon which to build. Responses to this service so far have been very positive.

Another extension of our direct assistance services comes in recognizing that ONEplace doesn’t have all the answers. Sometimes your best solution resides within another organization that has faced a similar challenge in their recent past. So, from time to time, we facilitate introductions and connections between nonprofits to address the specific concern and to continue to strengthen the overall nonprofit sector.

We value your trust and hope you will extend it to your colleagues as we assist one another in building more effective organizations and a stronger community.


Coffee with Pat Taylor

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

Tell us how you got to where you are today

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

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

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

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

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

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

The Golden Rule

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

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

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who's your target?

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom


It comes down to this

Leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Thom


Looking ahead...planning ahead

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 (thoma@kpl.gov).

Best,

Thom

P.S. I posted a recent article on our LinkedIn group that has attracted some conversation. Check it out.


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


Peer-to-Peer Learning

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.


Just ONEthing - Feb 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 our Monthly Giving workshop. During the workshop, Daren Wendell (Executive Director of Active Water) described his three-year journey developing a monthly giving program. The ONEthing I pulled from his presentation is the need to do many little things – meticulously, consistently, and relentlessly. No one thing is difficult, but the discipline to persevere and stay on top of things poses perhaps the greatest challenge.

What does Daren do? Here’s a sampling:

  • Takes a long-term view (3-4 years) and expects to go slow at the beginning
  • Receipt automatically emailed to every online donor
  • Daren calls every donor who gives a one-time gift (i.e., not monthly program)
  • Daren calls every monthly donor once per quarter
  • Special monthly email newsletter to monthly givers (includes personal note from Daren)
  • High-level monthly givers receive an annual gift reflective of their mission
  • Monthly givers living locally are invited to visit the office to meet others and see pictures of programs
  • Board members gather to call & thank every donor at Thanksgiving time
  • Daren invests in and power-uses a quality donor management system – like having another staff member

Among the many benefits of a monthly giving program are consistent, predictable monthly income and the ability to set more accurate goals on other campaigns.


Coffee with Bob Littke

This month we sit down with Bob Littke as he recalls lessons and memories from his career, including 22 years as Executive Director of Senior Services.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I worked for 12 years in Radio and Television broadcasting. My first job in broadcasting was working with radio legend Paul Harvey in Chicago on his daily national broadcast. After completing a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1985 I left broadcasting and took my first job in human services as the Director of the St. Joseph county Commission on Aging (Michigan) where I worked for six years as Executive Director before coming to Senior Services of Southwest Michigan where I have been President and CEO for the past 22 years.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

The giving spirit of the community is what most impresses me. This community has gained national attention for its generosity and willingness to share in countless ways. Nonprofits are particularly helped by the philanthropic sector as well as by the thousands of people who volunteer each year to help others in our community.

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

Joseph Dunnigan was my closest mentor and he helped me in countless ways. His long history and extensive background in the community were combined with a huge heart. I often think of him and the times we spent together.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

There are several that come to mind, but one in particular is relevant to this conversation. Shortly after coming to Senior Services I was asked by my board to conduct a $2 million fund raising campaign. After extensive research I developed the campaign strategy and rationale. My mentor, Joe Dunnigan, wanting to help me arranged a meeting with a major foundation professional who promptly shot my entire project full of holes. While this stung at first, I was able to step back and see the concerns he had identified. After addressing all the weaknesses of my original proposal I was able to develop a winning concept that resulted in a successful campaign that raised the entire $2 million goal.

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

Luckily, I am surrounded by a great staff and leadership team who help accomplish even what seems impossible at times. I’ve never believed that long hours are an indicator of success but that leadership is best when accomplished strategically. Following a well-designed strategic plan that we all have agreed to allows for a structured calendar of events and minimizes the potential for crisis management and/or uneven workloads throughout the year.

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

Those things that are beyond our control are always potential sources of stress. With a background in Psychology I often remind myself that “worry is like a rocking chair…while it gives you something to do, it does not get you anywhere”.

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

Belonging to organizations that bring similar organizations together has always been one of the most beneficial tools I use to stay up-to-date. While there are unlimited amounts of facts and statistical information available on-line, I find nothing more valuable than getting together with other leaders around the State and Nation and learning about new and innovative ideas from these peers.

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

Be a leader, not a manager. Managers do great things and get the job done, but leaders help set the course, determine the direction and create the vision that others need.

What do you geek?

I really enjoy flying and have been a F.A.A. licensed pilot for over 30 years. I’m also very active in my church and assist as a part time staff member.


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


Pages will turn

When reading a book, article or anything in hard copy, to find out what happens next you must turn the page. The act becomes a revealing – circumstances once hidden, now coming into plain sight.

Pages are turning in our area. Last week, Pretty Lake Camp announced that Michelle Karpinski would succeed Mitch Wilson as its new executive director. Michelle spent the past nine years as vice president for development at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Pages also are turning at other organizations in our area. Leadership changes, on staff as well as on the board, are inevitable. Many organizations, like the ones above, prepare for such inevitabilities. However, several others do not – an act akin to living in denial.

One mark of a “sustainable organization” is a succession plan. The plan should address the sudden departure as well as planned departure of key leadership positions – executive director, board chair, and any others where a vacancy would significantly impact the organization.

Also, the longer one has held a position, the more important this plan becomes. Often, the long-term leader holds so much knowledge, carries so many key relationships, and has become so efficient in their role that it takes more than one person to replace them. That’s an unexpected – and unwelcomed – kick in the budget.

How would you navigate a change in executive director…a change in development director? Serve your organizational well and ensure that succession plans are in place and up to date.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Read about Michelle (a 2012 ONEplace Leadership Academy grad) and her new role at Pretty Lake Camp


Think on your feet

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.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Improv Effects is featured in the current issue of Encore.


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.