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No short cut to great

Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is remembered for leading the Bruins to 10 National Championships in 12 seasons (1964-75) including four undefeated seasons. Do you know how many years he coached the team prior to winning his first championship? Fifteen. With this vignette, Jim Collins makes a key point in Good to Great.

Becoming great is a long-term venture.

He gave other, business-related examples: Gillette, Nucor, Pitney Bowes, and others. While the press and public hailed them as upstarts and newcomers that burst on to the scene, each company’s “overnight success” had taken years to build: focused, slow, and methodical.

In contrast, the comparison companies (that faced the same circumstances but failed to transition to a great company) looked to the next big thing to save the day: the next merger, the next new product, or the next major initiative. As a result, most bounced from one thing to the next, never committing long enough to sink deep roots into their market.

There simply is no short cut to great:

Focused, slow, and methodical – sinking deep roots that will hold the organization in place through high winds and fierce storms; Deep roots that will allow the organization to branch out and sustain new initiatives that are anchored to the core purpose; Deep roots that spread into the underpinnings of the community, contributing to a diverse ecosystem of success.

So, where is your organization headed? You may or may not have a clear, guiding mission or vision. You may or may not have a useful strategic plan. Regardless of what tools you use, you need to know where you’re headed so that each small step builds on the last and prepares for the next.

The tortoise wins the race every time.

Best,

Thom


Inclusion Series: How Listening Can Be Transformative

Struck dumb by the size and airiness of the Arcus Center's atrium, I tentatively approached the right side of the room, which is bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase a neat array of tall maple trees. I sat in one of the brightly colored chairs arranged in a circle and craned my neck to read some of the phrases printed on the back wall--"curious creatures" and "things like locusts" jumped out. By then I had a hunch that I had entered a transformative space.

I was right. That night I attended a training at Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership called Trans*, Genderqueer, & Gender Non-Conforming: A Workshop for Allies. In just over three hours I and about 50 others (primarily Kalamazoo College students) participated in a variety of interactive activities and discussions. Two hours into the training, several people of different gender identities spoke about aspects of their identity and experience, and that's when the transformative piece clicked. The participants engaged in a radical act: listening. We embodied allyship by giving attention and time to community members who rarely have a platform to be heard.

That act, just listening, might be the right first step. When working with issues around which there is little widely-available, trustworthy information, I think this is the best approach to learning. Implementation is critical, but can nonprofits be expected to make thoughtful, studied practical decisions without first listening?

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Join us at ONEplace for our new Inclusion Series, which focuses on how nonprofits can make our workplaces and services more inclusive. There will be plenty of opportunities for listening. Creating Accessible Content will kick-off the series on July 21. Immigration 101 is August 5, and Trans*, Gender Non-Conforming, & Genderqueer: A Workshop for Allies will take place August 12.


Do the generous thing

My work grants me the privilege of working with many boards. It’s been great to work with boards involved in food security, the arts, housing, health, the environment, community welfare, and more. One thing continually impresses me about boards of directors:

they are extremely generous people.

Board members give – hugely – of their time, talent, and treasure. Their passion and commitment fill the room with a palpable spirit. When I ask, “What do you love about your organization?” each person beams as they given genuine expression to that spirit. It’s a pleasure to behold.

The same may be said for our area’s executive directors (EDs) as well. With the weight of the organization on their shoulders, EDs give richly of themselves at every turn. To hear one speak openly of their concern and commitment stirs the heart, and to gain insight into the myriad of things they do behind the scenes inspires the soul.

So, it’s painful to see how disconnects between Boards and EDs can rattle an organization.

Everyone plays a part. According to BridgeSpan, BoardSource, and other references, Boards carry the responsibility to “support and evaluate the executive director,” and EDs carry the responsibility to “develop, maintain, and support” the board. When communication fails, that mutual support often shatters into shards of shaky accusations and puzzled disbelief.

All parties end up hurt and disillusioned. It’s very sad.

If you’re feeling even an inkling of this disconnect, then have a meeting and name it. Take the lead and set intentional steps to improve communication. Don’t wait for someone else to act. As seen above, if you’re an ED or a board member, it’s your responsibility.

Not sure how to start? Feeling stuck? Please contact ONEplace before it goes any further. Each day that a problem isn’t addressed adds another degree of difficulty to implementing a solution.

Take the lead. Make the call. It’s the generous thing to do.

Best,

Thom


One nation...indivisible

Emerging from this July Fourth weekend, one phrase sticks with me.

“One nation...indivisible”

We say it in the Pledge of Allegiance as both an aspiration and recognition that, once the debate is done, the votes are tallied, and the commitments are made, we act as one. On the world stage, there is only one USA voice.

This understanding is scalable, too.

It’s true for states, cities, neighborhoods, organizations, boards, senior management teams, departments, and even individuals. Each may puzzle out its myriad of daily routines, acute concerns and seasonal celebrations. Internal debates may rage on, but the entity acts as one.

Leaders know this. 

Leaders occupy seats both in the balcony and on the stage, observing the forest and navigating amongst the trees. They know this about their organizations: presenting unified services to the public while dismantling silos in-house. They know this about their boards and leadership teams: encouraging stakeholders with a focused message while mining productive conflict and encouraging debate inside the conference room. 

They also know this about themselves.

Leaders in any position recognize that we bring all of who we are to every situation. We may separate and compartmentalize our activities, behaviors, concerns, et al to analyze and understand them. Yet, on the ground, where life is lived, we must acknowledge and manage the swirling, indivisible mix of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; choose our path; and move forward. We may understand things in categories, but we function as one.

One nation (one city, one organization, one board, one person), indivisible: it’s how we want it, and it’s how it is.

Best,

Thom


In the moment

In last week’s NEWSletter article I mentioned being on retreat with several of our nonprofit colleagues. We gathered Wednesday evening and worked together through Friday noon, pilot testing a service we’re considering for ONEplace. While I’m still pulling together all that I learned, I can tell you this:

It was a moment for me.

As we entered our time together on Wednesday, I marveled at what I saw. Here I was in a familiar environment. I had been on retreat at this venue several times. And, here I was with people I knew. I had worked with almost everyone there. However, these had been two different worlds for me, and now they were coming together. More than that…

It was a fulfillment of a two-year plan, a two-year vision.

Various strands of activity over the past two years were slowly woven together to arrive at this moment – and the impact hit me square in the chest. Yet, it was different.

I’ve worked on long-term projects before. In a previous job, I led a four-year effort that culminated in five regional conferences at sites all across the country. I recall the moment when we closed the fifth conference and headed for the airport. It was a sense of completion, achievement, and success. 

While holding a sense of fulfillment, this recent moment pointed more to the future than the past. It was like finally cresting the hill to see the green valley below. Yes, we made it up the hill, and now the fun work begins.

So, I offer my thanks to those who participated in the retreat and to those supervisors and colleagues who supported their participation. It was a moment to treasure.

And, we’ve only just begun.

Best,

Thom


The power of coffee

“I’m having coffee with….”

How often do you say that? Monthly? Every other week? Weekly? More?

Having coffee, tea, lunch, a drink, etc. with a nonprofit colleague means you’re making connections, and these connections energize your work and your organization.

Even if the conversation is purely social, you’re deepening your relationship. This makes it more likely that you’ll pick up the phone and call this person when you need to sound out an idea or concern. You’ll also be on each other’s radars when a future conversation touches on an issue or opportunity of mutual interest.

The idea of “building your network” sometimes gets a slimy reputation when it’s seen as serving one’s own interests and careers. Don’t throw out the proverbial toddler with the mud puddle! Developing relationships across the nonprofit sector, and especially your particular corner of the sector, is critical to your organization’s impact and your cause’s success.

The ROI on relationship building is huge and…better yet…it compounds. Don’t believe me? Not sure where to start? Ask me to coffee and I’ll explain it…ask nicely and I’ll buy.

Best,

Thom


Courage to Lead

When this email arrives in your inbox, I’ll be on retreat with a several others. Called Courage to Lead, this retreat creates space for each person to relax, rest, and listen to the quiet voice of their own wisdom.

I cherish these times.

For the past two years, I’ve been on retreat at least once every quarter. It’s an opportunity to declutter, recharge, and reconnect with what’s important. It helps me align my deeply held values with my actions and activities…to merge soul and role.

It’s also something I can carry with me. The retreat works on the principles of the Circle of Trust as developed by the Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle. These principles (e.g., extend hospitality, listen deeply, ask open honest questions, maintain confidentiality) can be carried and practiced outside the retreat center – in the home, in the workplace…anywhere. And yet...

their power is greatest on retreat – in a community of solitudes.

You know this. You’ve experienced the synergy of several people working together. Each has his/her own unique task or challenge, but the energy of everyone doing their work creates a spirit that motivates and sustains. It’s awesome and invigorating.

This week’s retreat is a pilot for ONEplace. We’ll evaluate the experience and plan how to move forward from here. I anticipate other Courage & Renewal experiences to come through ONEplace in the near future. 

Stay tuned.


Just ONEthing - July 2015

Last week, Tamela Spicer (The Intentional Catalyst) presented a Management Track workshop on Event Management. During the session, we dissected the finer points of holding a fundraising event. Here are a few points to consider.

First, it’s all in the planning. My experience with nonprofits (and everyone else) is that we commonly don’t think through the details before taking on a new project. Tamela supported that opinion and advocated detailed planning (don’t forget the post-event follow-ups in the plan) and document everything as you work the plan. It helps track this event and plan for the next one.

A second key to success is making sure your volunteers have a great experience…a Wow! experience. This is respect and good hospitality for the volunteers, and it’s a great investment in building your reputation. Give them a great answer to the inevitable question, “How’d it go?” If this is done well, then recruiting volunteers for the next event will be that much easier.

One more highlight: make sure your event shows your core purpose. It can be popular and fun, but if people don’t know what they’re supporting then you’ve done little to connect with that donor.

And a final word: don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. If you meet all your goals, you may have planned too easy.


Powerful Partnerships & How to Forge Them

One of the unique things about working at ONEplace is that we are the only management support organization (MSO) in Kalamazoo dedicated to capacity building for area nonprofits. Statewide, we are one of nine organizations doing this work, all with our own specific service models. Two weeks ago, staff from all nine MSOs came together for a retreat. It was a rare opportunity to share the same space and learn from each other.

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The session that resonated with me most focused on a timely issue: partnerships. The social sector generally promotes the value of collaboration (yes, including ONEplace!) and we all know the advantages, e.g. greater efficiency, wider impact, etc. So, why don't we all have more major partners in our work? Certainly, a lack of time and resources to devote to figuring out where partnerships would be appropriate is a factor. But I wonder if there are two other major roadblocks: 1. a lack of information on how the process could work; and 2. examples of actual successful partnerships.

The Powerful Partnerships session was a case study presented by Yodit Mesfin Johnson, Chief Relationship Officer at NEW. She explained in depth how she executed a nonprofit-private sector partnership between NEW and Zingtrain (the training arm of Zingerman's Deli) to develop Leadership DELI. This program helps Ann Arbor area nonprofit leaders learn specific skills that will push them through the leadership pipeline.Yodit shared four key characteristics of powerful partnerships:

 

    1. Clearly defined roles

    2. A common set of values that drive outcomes

    3. Understanding that joining together offers clear mutual benefit

    4. A willingness to be flexible

 

This case study gave me a lot to think about. How can Kalamazoo County nonprofits use partners in the public or private sector to fulfill their missions? And, how can ONEplace be a resource in the process? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.


The choice is yours

It seems this one question almost always comes up. Be it a struggling nonprofit, an association of service providers, a stable nonprofit, an ad hoc task force, a civic club, or any other service-providing entity, they all end up discussing essentially the same concern:

How shall we choose to participate?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a variety of meetings and each discussed the dynamic environment around them. Each struggled with concerns over funders and fundraising, communications and marketing, as well as governance and board development. Each felt pulled in various directions, stretched beyond capacity, and blocked at several turns.

The biggest barrier was often identified as not having enough time.
The biggest barrier, however, was a failure to choose.

It’s the organizational version of “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” We consistently bite off more than we can chew. Or, to be more precise, we don’t accurately weigh the cost of decisions, especially those decisions to take on more work. We’ll put more on the already-full plates of staff and volunteers and name it all as “high priority.” It only creates misery and, at best, mediocrity, and it needs to stop.

Choices – good, wise choices – must be made.

If this sounds familiar, then start with the assumption that every line of business, every service or program requires more work (time, energy, money) than you currently understand – say, twice as much. Then look at what that means relative to the quality and sustainability of the services you provide, including: staff development and turnover, relationship building and nurturing with many stakeholders, regular and consistent communications and public relations, and periodically evaluating and updating your services and the systems that support them. If you need help with this, ONEplace can assist you.

There’s always more to it than meets the eye. So, it’s time to choose. Otherwise, choices may be made for you.

Best,

Thom