News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.
I recall several years ago, closing my hotel room door and leaving the last of five regional conferences. Over the previous two years we had identified needs, set agendas, found venues, developed promotions, and guided registrations. Now it was done, and it felt great.
There's a time to plan and a time to do, and, for many, October is a doing time. This is the time that your plan comes alive, becoming a guiding light. It not only tells you what to do and when to do it, but also lets you see how the varieties of tasks relate to one another.
Keeping this valuable knowledge off the shelf and front of mind ensures that the small but often substantive decisions you make along the way furthers your mission.
Plan the work, and then work the plan. If your plan is incomplete, then take time now to complete it. It's important to know where you're headed.
Then enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.
In this inaugural installment of our Coffee series, it seems fitting that we sit down with Ann Rohrbaugh, Director of the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), and talk about her years at KPL. Having started as an aide in the bookmobile department while still at WMU, Ann held several positions and became director in 2005.
Tell us how you got to where you are today
I came to Western Michigan University (WMU) for graduate school in library science and expected I’d be here for a year! While at WMU, I had a part-time job in the reference department at KPL. When I graduated there happened to be an opening and I was offered a reference librarian position. From that position I became acting department head, then eventually to the library office in a variety of positions until I became director in 2005. Along the way, I returned to WMU and earned a masters in library administration, a degree program like library science that is no longer offered there.
Why do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
I expected to be here a year but clearly I’m here for the long haul! It has been a wonderful community in which to settle in, raise a family. I love the size of the community, the wide variety of activities, and of course, the strong support for libraries and learning.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
I certainly reply upon professional standards for the library profession….open access; freedom to read, listen, and view; the library bill of rights. I’ve learned to trust my instincts too – I think that comes increasingly with experience and a sense for what will serve our community best.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
Mentors early in my career certainly were staff at KPL, especially the Head of the Reference Department and later the library director. From both of them I learned how to operate within an organization, the importance of the long-range view, and appropriate risk taking.
What’s an average day like for you at the Kalamazoo Public Library?
Nine department heads report to me and I meet with each of them most every week, so most days I have one or two standing meetings. I’m usually preparing for some upcoming meeting or event, I often have an outside meeting AND I try to find time to sit at my desk and work….plan for our monthly board meeting, write my weekly blog, make progress on the ‘big-picture’ items. Some days email can be overwhelming – good and bad!
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
My overarching concern is the financial uncertainty facing public libraries in Michigan. On a shorter term basis, staff issues sometimes make me restless at night.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I read the standard library publications and listservs, attend state and local conferences, talk informally with colleagues. Equally important in the library field is staying current generally – technology, current events and trends, government development that could impact us, local news. That’s a challenge but I do read a lot both professionally and, of course, for pleasure.
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
I’d offer two pieces of advice: network with others both in your field and in related fields, both locally and at some distance. My small group of Michigan library directors of similar size public libraries has been invaluable both professionally and personally. We offer advice and support to each other. Second, live a balanced life. Nonprofit work can be all-consuming, don’t let it become so for you.
What do you geek?
I geek baking! I no longer select cookbooks for the library’s collection, but I still browse them frequently. I bake often, but now that our kids are grown and live elsewhere, I have to share it with others. Fortunately many baked items freeze well.
Enjoy what you do and if you don’t look for something else.
Every month, we learn much from the participants and presenters we meet at ONEplace. In Just ONEthing… we will highlight an insight gained during the past month from our nonprofit community and its partners.
This months’ insight has to do with volunteers and volunteer management. At our supervisor training, Paul Knudstrup shared the rule of thirds related to volunteer management.
- One-third will do what you ask, high quality and on time
- One-third will do what you ask, but they need a few reminders
- One-third will not follow-through on your requests
Each year, you do what you do to thank all of your volunteers, and you invite the two-thirds who did what you asked to volunteer again next year. Then, you recruit new volunteers to fill out the roster.
Over time, you build a strong corps of loyal, trustworthy volunteers.
I love checking things off my list. I love it so much that I add quickly-done things to my list just so I can check them off. Feeling the rush of placing another Check Mark (oh yes, I capitalized it) on this week’s list, I briefly bask in a business buzz.
Now it’s Friday – the week’s end. I’m looking back at the past few days – what’s done, what’s yet to do. Admiring each Check Mark on the list, I pause and puzzle over how puny each accomplishment appears. No one task seemed to do anything of great substance; rather, each task simply moved an effort one little step forward.
Indeed, accomplishments of great substance – such as eating the proverbial pachyderm – are done one step at a time…and often by more than one person or one team or even one organization. Collective impact moves the big issues.
So, each day we move forward, one step by one step. We communicate, person by person. We ask, question by question. We explore, issue by issue – each conversation, each action, each insight contributing a thin layer of substance and understanding.
Eventually, the big issue falls. But it was the daily nudge that brought that issue to the edge.
As they say, the dollar’s in the details, life’s in the little things, and Check Marks ROCK! So, I think that I’ll go make my To Do List for next week.
Are you squeezing every last cent out of every dollar, every year…and still running a deficit? Are you expanding your mission to chase after one more grant? Do your communications often (too often) say, “please save us, we’re worth it?”
If so, it’s time to admit that your organization’s business model is unsustainable. It’s not time to redouble efforts. It’s time for a new direction - time for a turnaround.
Turnarounds are not miracles. They result from good planning and determined implementation, and they require an unwavering focus on strong leadership, disciplined management, aggressive marketing, and right-sized fundraising.
Strong leadership delivers
* a single, unified vision
* a positive, forward-looking face to outside world
* courageous decision-making
Disciplined management delivers
* obsessive focus on the mission
* a feasible plan toward sustainability
* short-term needs handled with long-term perspective
Institutional marketing delivers
* A clear, mission-focused message that’s descriptive and inspiring
* One solid PR hit every quarter (monthly for larger orgs)
* One spokesperson who controls the media message
Right-sized fundraising delivers
* Gifts that make sense given your organization’s budget and profile
* Grants that support the current mission (vs. create new lines of programming)
* Increased revenue
Again, turnarounds are not miracles. They result from good planning and determined implementation. Further, they take place with energy and speed – no more than three years.
ONEplace@kpl can assist with your turnaround. Email or call today (269-553-7899).
Much of the above is drawn from Michael Kaiser’s excellent book, The Art of the Turnaround. He sets forth ten rules that are clear and practical, and he tells several stories of how he applied those rules to turn around various struggling organizations.
Leadership resides at the core of our failure or our success. If incompetent, it ruins us. If ineffective, it holds us back. If satisfactory, it moves us forward. If exemplary, it takes us beyond our imagination.
We need satisfactory leadership.
One of my college professors offered our computer science class some excellent counsel when he said, “To succeed you don’t need to over-achieve at your job – just do it right.” We need leaders who just do it right.
Lou Salza, Headmaster of Cleveland’s Lawrence School, defines leaders as
…people with a professional, personal, and passionate commitment to solving a problem about which they possess a commanding and deep understanding. “Professional” means they have studied the problem and have a sense of what works and doesn’t. “Personal” means that they are all in—and willing to burn out to succeed. “Passionate” means that it is not about them as people. It is about the mission—solving the problem.
Satisfactory leaders embrace the first two of Lou’s three qualifications. They know their stuff, and they know how to deliver in a professional way. Further, they pour their lives into it – what Jim Collins describes as fanatic ambition for the cause.
Leaders who take their fanatic ambition beyond themselves, their careers and even their organizations, and focus on the organization’s mission, become exemplary leaders. These rare individuals embody the paradox of Collins’ Level Five Leadership – fanatic professional ambition and extreme personal humility. They connect with others who share their vision, and, together, they deliver transformative community impact. They also care deeply for their people – staff, board, volunteers & supporters – knowing that “organizations” don’t succeed, people do.
We value and are grateful for the leaders we have in our community, but our shared dilemma – here and throughout the country – is the need for more satisfactory leaders. While much time and money is spent on leadership development, we still find ourselves lacking.
In her book, The End of Leadership, Harvard professor Barbara Kellerman offers her critique of the leadership industry and suggests that we need to recognize that leadership development is a long-term proposition (not the result of a brief series of workshops designed in a one-size-fits-all fashion), and, more pointedly, we need to stop ignoring and start addressing leadership that is ineffective or incompetent.
As we look ahead, ONEplace commits to a three-year plan of establishing long-term leadership development beginning with a balance of workshops and various small group intensives. Further, we’re expanding our board of director services to help boards better develop themselves as well as their organizations.
Leadership is our core issue. Let’s stay connected to build strong leadership over the years to come.
Lunch…coffee…a meeting…a walk. When we get together we have a reason. The activity creates a context and sets a tone for the interaction.
On August 14, ONEplace holds its second Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE gathering. The context is nonprofit and the tone is mutual support.
Sure, there will be snacks, but best of all, your nonprofit colleagues will be there – those who value referral networks, desire a deeper community connection, and want to accelerate their organization’s impact.
We all seek stronger ties to our colleagues and community. But one evening alone won’t do it. According to “The Real Purpose of Networking,” the most common mistake that individuals make after attending a networking event is not following up. So, put some time on your Aug 15 calendar for follow up.
Stronger collaborative networks open communications, save time, and make us all more effective. But, like most things of value, they require little bits of attention over a long period of time. So, take an hour or so on August 14 to invest in your future…and have a good time doing it.
I recently met a person online (it’s not what you think). It was a local business relationship, but the first several interactions were on email…and it got off to a rocky start…I think.
You see, I wasn’t sure. It felt weird – like we weren’t connecting. But I didn’t know if the other person felt that way. Her emails generally came from a mobile device, so perhaps the shortness I sensed was due to her being busy or not-so-quick at thumb-typing.
I tried calling, but we only exchanged brief voicemails. I needed to connect with her, but did she want to? Was this going to work? Should I just let it go? Though unsettled, I ventured to the meeting ready to navigate what I assumed would be choppy relational waters.
We met. At first the discussion focused on the business matter at hand, and then things relaxed a bit. By the end of the meeting, we were fast friends. Two weeks later we had a follow-up meeting that was fun and productive.
Since then, despite all the emails, to do’s, and stacks waiting for me on my desk, I’ve put a higher priority on meeting people face-to-face. In this short time, both efficiency and effectiveness have increased as well as job satisfaction. This experience reinforces what I’ve always known: while relationships can be sustained electronically, they deepen through personal interaction.
But, I’m just one voice on the matter. What do you think?
P.S. Here’s a related quote from film producer and author Peter Guber: “Nothing replaces being in the same room, face-to-face, breathing the same air and reading and feeling each other's micro-expressions.”
Tell to Win
How do you achieve clarity on gnarly issues?
As highly-wired, multi-networked, resource-rich folks we likely turn to our various webs of family and friends as well as books and blogs. Yet, we may be overlooking the most powerful teacher of all – ourselves.
When my son was a preschooler, he simply would not act on a suggestion or direction from me until he had made it his own. His entire body revealed his process from “I’m not so sure” to “maybe” to “I have decided that I’ll do this.” It had to make sense to him and, in essence, become his idea.
As adults, I observe (in myself and others) that we’re little different. Simply being advised or directed toward a certain solution or course of action doesn’t mean we’ll blindly give our assent. It needs to make sense to us. Often, this is a quick bit of consideration. But on those complex, many-layered issues, we need more.
Many authors suggest steps we can take, and our Achieving Clarity ONEpage resource provides a brief digest of these. Yet, outside sources alone don’t motivate action. Until we take the time to individually consider, mull and reflect – listening to the guide within – we will not commit to serious action.
When we want to achieve “buy in” with an individual or group, the critical step is not telling, it’s listening. How do you best listen to your inner guide?
A Hidden Wholeness
Who is in your learning network?
Who do you learn from on a regular basis?
Who do you turn to for your own professional development?
These are the questions that educator Dr. Mark Wagner poses at the beginning of his seminars on personal learning networks. He finds that, with so many of us working as “lone rangers” in our given organizations, we best keep our edge by building our own networks of learning or growth.
While ONEplace can play an integral role in your professional development, each of us needs to build our own dynamic learning network. Fortunately, the online connections available to all of us make this less of a challenge. Indeed, the greatest challenge may be the overwhelming amount of available information and connections.
While Dr. Wagner offers us some clear direction to building our personal learning networks, it’s important to keep some guidelines in mind.
First, your network is for you. Don’t follow someone on Twitter because other people do or don’t give in to the temptation to grade yourself by the number of connections or comments or likes on Facebook or LinkedIn. This is your learning network, so make sure it is serving your learning needs.
Second, your needs change so let your network change, too. Follow a thought leader’s posts and blogs as long as they are helpful. Some writers keep rehashing their insights, so after a few weeks, you know their perspective and can move on. Sometimes, you may wish to simply get new voices into your learning mix, so shake up the roster. The point is to freely adjust the mix to meet your changing needs.
Third, keep your network manageable. There is only so much that any one person can digest, so keep the number of blogs, tweets, groups, etc. within reason. Make sure the ones you follow give you the highest quality information, best connections, and most insightful conversations.
Take these three guidelines and Dr. Wagner’s information with you by downloading our ONEpage resource, Personal Learning Network.
Inside Drucker’s Brain