ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

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.

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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

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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

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From lucky guess to solution

“Try this – it worked last time.”

“Larry had a problem like that. How did he fix it?”

“Just smack it!”

How often do we take a trial and error approach to fixing problems? It’s good to draw on our expertise and past experience, but every attempted fix costs time and money. So, we can’t afford to just wing it.

In these situations, a rational, step-by-step process provides great assistance. Throughout my career I’ve used a problem solving process individually or with groups to address assess problems and identify root causes. I’ve also taught this process several times to various management teams.

On Thursday, April 3, I’m offering a Solve Problems for Good workshop at ONEplace. This 90-minute session explores how to fully describe a problem, identify possible causes, evaluate those causes and confirm the true cause. The process helps us gather solid data, avoid common pitfalls, and document the process for effective communication.

Processes like these are helpful management tools and set a thoughtful, logical tone to addressing challenges of all sorts.

Best,

Thom

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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.

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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 

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Do you feel lucky?

It’s St. Patrick’s Day – shamrocks adorn every surface, people pinch those not wearing green and everyone claims the “luck of the Irish” for a day. It brings this question to mind:

How much do our organizations rely on luck?

I’ve heard luck invoked on several occasions: “We’re lucky we got that grant?” “Our event was riddled with bad luck.” “We’re lucky that check arrived just in time.”

Is it luck? Hmmm…. I took this opportunity to look up how luck may play a part in managing our organizations.

Finances seems driven by luck, so I looked there first. In his book, The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin acknowledges that much of our financial future is out of our control. However, he advises us to “…focus on what you can control.” He further says, “as long as you are doing the things that are in your control as effectively as you can, you shouldn't worry so much."

In business, Jim Collins (Great by Choice) examined a phenomenon he called “Return on Luck” (ROL). He says that the ability to achieve a high ROL at pivotal moments was largely a matter of considering whether an opportunity should be allowed to disrupt an organization’s plans. Those with high ROL recognized good fortune and pounced. Those with low ROL had just as much good fortune but frittered it away. They failed for a lack of execution.

So what are we to do? Richard Wiseman (The Luck Factor) sets forth these four principles for creating good fortune in life and career.

  1. Maximize chance opportunities (notice and act upon these opportunities)
  2. Listen to your lucky hunches (engage calming practices to boost your intuitive abilities)
  3. Expect good fortune (expectation heightens your awareness; sharpens intuition)
  4. Turn bad luck into good (imagine how things could have been worse)

Perhaps it comes down to a phrase that I’ve carried with me for many years: “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Do well and keep your eyes open.

Best,

Thom

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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

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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

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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.

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