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How to Thoughtfully Add to Your Plate

Around ONEplace, we joke that we don't have a slow season and that probably applies to most nonprofits. As you well know, many in the nonprofit sector are stretched thin. Even with a stuffed workload, most of us are presented with opportunities to do more, either at work or in the community. Join this committee! Help plan the company picnic!

 "Macaron" by "jonastana" is licensed under CC2.0

These opportunities present a specific challenge for early career professionals. We've been trained that taking on added work-related responsibilities shows our supervisors initiative and commitment. Plus, many post-workday activities, like volunteering, help grow your resume. Neither of these advantages account for burnout, or the potential to waste your time. As I've experienced both scenarios, I've made a commitment to myself to be more discerning. Before putting new things on my plate, I ask myself these three questions:

 

1. Will this commitment help me reach a personal/professional goal? If taking on a new responsibility bears so few benefits that you're really on the fence, or worse, could actively harm you, pass on it.

2. Does this have a fixed date of participation or is it on-going? Sometimes, new opportunities might mean significant amounts of stress, but also have a clear end date. For example, helping organize your neighborhood's garage sales might cost you three Saturday afternoons, but once the event is over, your schedule can revert back to normal.

3. Will this opportunity require that I use existing skillsets, or help me build new ones? This question is really helpful for me when I'm being sold on something that is "easy" or "stress-free." Whether you're trying to impress your current boss or future ones, if an activity seems simple, it will probably look that way on your resume.

 

There is no easy way to decide, but these questions allow me to think more deeply so that I can ultimately arrive at a thoughtful decision. Now I feel more confident about when and why to add to my plate.

 


Win a mug!

As I approach my third anniversary as director of ONEplace, I’m still amazed at the foresight of those who created it. Year round professional development, free of charge for all nonprofits in Kalamazoo County – it’s quite a gift. Yet, there are many who still don’t know all that ONEplace has to offer.

I want you to help me change that. Here’s how:

1. Let’s get all your staff and board officers on the ONEplace email list. Every Monday, we send a brief email listing our upcoming events. Every month, our events address topics in fundraising, communications, management and leadership. Keep your team in the know. Sign up on our website or send me a list.

2. Give ONEplace 15’ on an upcoming staff meeting. ONEplace offers more than events, including many resources available online. We’ll do a brief presentation with time for Q&A to make sure your staff knows how to take advantage of all our resources. We’ll also hold a drawing for a stylish ONEplace mug! Let us know a good day/time to visit.

I’m grateful to the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Public Library and others who make sure you have ONEplace as a resource. I also appreciate your comments and suggestions – so keep ‘em coming.

Take care,

Thom


Spring for a break

This week our county’s public schools enjoy spring break. While the phrase “spring break” conjures up a variety of thoughts and images, it also reminds me of the inherent, indisputable, scientifically-proven need for us to take breaks – to refresh, renew, and revive. So the question (or challenge) for you today is this:

How do you take breaks during your workday?

Whenever I ask that question, I usually get something akin to “I don’t have time to take a break” or “I can’t afford to take a break.” The truth is: you can’t afford NOT to take a break.

An article in The New York Times, a tome in Scientific American and even a post from Fast Company argue for the effectiveness of taking breaks. Support for taking breaks to boost productivity and quality of work is legion. But before you start searching for work-break-best-practices, let me offer this:

Find what works best for you.

Personally, I’m not one to take the 15-minute mid-morning coffee break or even the hour lunch break. What works best for me is a breaks-as-needed approach. I’ll take a minute to shut my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I look out the window and watch the clouds or marvel at the cloudless sky. I take a walk: if inside the library, I’ll take in the wonderful sights within our atrium; if outside, I’ll feel the warmth of the sun or the crispness of the air, and I’ll examine the status of the trees in Bronson Park (no buds yet).

My guiding principle on breaks is to take intentional moments of diverting attention to something other than my To Do list. They take my mind, body, and spirit to another space and I return refreshed.

So, employ healthy practices for yourself and model them for your colleagues. Spring for a break! You can afford it.

Best,

Thom


Doing that thing you do

Last week, several gathered at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to hear Gloria Johnson-Cusack. She’s Executive Director of Leadership 18, an alliance of CEOs responsible for leading some of the country’s largest and most respected nonprofits. During her time with us, she asked each of us to respond to a rather provocative question:

Why do you do what you do?

It was a good question. It examined your deepest motivation, that thing that gets you up in the morning and drives you to take on the difficult tasks. It grounds you and guides you. It’s your still point, your North Star.

My answer? I’m on a quest. Three years ago, I revisited Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (Good to Great), and since then I’ve wondered how ONEplace could structure a program to develop it.

Level 5 Leadership is defined as a paradoxical blend of intense professional will plus extreme personal humility. While passion often drives will, Collins (and others as well) comes up short as to what develops humility. His best advice is “to begin practicing the other good-to-great disciplines” and Level 5 will come about.

I’m convinced that “leadership development is ultimately personal development” (The Leadership Challenge). It involves building discipline, fortitude, compassion and resilience. It’s not found in a series of workshops, classes or books; rather, it’s a challenging path that travels through forests, rivers, mountains, deserts, and more.

Again, Collins says:

Our research exposed Level 5 as a key component inside the black box of what it takes to shift a company from good to great. Yet inside that black box is another black box – namely, the inner development of a person to Level 5.

Gloria wrapped up the exercise by asking if any of us were surprised by what we heard ourselves say. Personally, it was not so much a moment of surprise as it was a moment of clarity.

What about you: why do you do what you do?

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Von Washington, Jr

This month we spent time with Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise. We learned his thoughts on service, caring, and the power of a collaborative community.

Tell us how you got to where you are today?

I did my undergraduate work in Communications and Theatre at Western State University in Colorado. After playing some basketball, I returned to Kalamazoo and studied Educational Leadership at Western Michigan University. During my years in public school education, I spent 14 years as a varsity basketball coach and held several other positions including Media Specialist, Children’s Librarian, some administrative positions, and Principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. After 22 years in public education, I did economic development work with Southwest Michigan First and then, in July 2013, accepted my current position as Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Giving and caring: these are the two easiest words for me to describe Kalamazoo. The philanthropic and service focus here is unique among other communities. “Service” in Kalamazoo is primarily expressed as caring for those in great need.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Service to others. How can you reach out to someone to help make their life better? Give them a smile and greeting. Offer assistance or a cup of coffee. What can I do to help relieve their stress? It’s something I just do – it’s in my DNA. For others, it may take more intention. I think if we all adopted this type of approach it would transform our community.

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

There have been many in my life who have served as change agents. When I worked in the public schools, Janice Brown (superintendent at that time) saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It was important to me that she saw this at that particular time. As I made the shift from public schools to economic development, Ron Kitchens (Southwest Michigan First) showed me how to apply my skills and abilities in other areas. Together, these two experiences are invaluable.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

When Kalamazoo Central High School entered the competition for President Barack Obama’s first Race to the Top, we were all in learning mode. It took strong community influence to pull this together, and the community stepped up to support the students and the school in a special way. Even those who otherwise might not support Kalamazoo Central offered their support. The experience taught me the power of collaboration and the power of a strong message. We did it.

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

I have very few average days, and that is by design. My goal is to fill each day with learning, and I cannot do that by sitting still. So, I’m on the move, visiting people and learning about their lives. I want to learn all I can about this community, its people, and their stories.

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

In my work I see great need and many problems that are not easily solved. The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship is but one piece in a puzzle that each family must put together. I want to fill the gaps in those puzzles but you can’t do it fast enough. It’s painful to think how long it will take to fully address problems. It’s tough for me.

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

I strive to stay up on social media. It’s a requirement when working with students (and with my own children). At minimum, I hope to stay level with the average young person, but it’s a constant struggle. I do know this: if you want to be grounded, get around young people and ask them what’s going on. Seek out their ideas and suggestions. Their learning environment is ten times different than what I experienced when I was young, so it’s critical for me to keep connected to young people.

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

The nonprofit sector is a great way to go. Many organizations are doing great work in our community, and there is room for you to be part of it. How? Lead with your heart. To make a significant impact, you must lead with your heart. It keeps you real and places your unique and authentic contribution in the mix. Many have said, “If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a single day in your life.” I love what I’m doing, and I wish that for others.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I love watching basketball. We’re a basketball family – my son plays for Western Michigan University and my daughter works with the coaching staff of Michigan State University basketball. I enjoy fishing and boating. I also enjoy the sun and being outdoors.

Anything else?

I offer my vote of support for the work that ONEplace is doing to develop emerging leaders. I enjoy my role as a Leadership Academy mentor and appreciate the community’s support for building our future community leaders.


Getting beyond good enough

It usually starts with big plans and a lot of anticipation. As we move further into it, schedules become crunched and other urgent matters crowd our To Do lists. Reality sets in – hard! – and we just need to get it done. Finally, we deliver the project, and it’s…well…good enough.

I’m tired of good enough.

Good enough finishes the job but doesn’t make an impact.
Good enough meets the need but doesn’t move the needle. 
Good enough satisfies the stakeholders but doesn’t transform the system.

Good enough is another glass ceiling. We look up. We get a glimpse of what could be, of what’s beyond this glass ceiling. We’re drawn to it. Yet, stretched as we are, our efforts lack the momentum and sharp edge to break through.

An emerging goal at ONEplace is to not just help organizations build capacity but to also help them strengthen capacity. I believe that many of our area’s nonprofit organizations can break through the Good Enough Ceiling, and we want to offer some programmatic umph to support those efforts.

Do you share this concern? I look forward to talking with you over the next several weeks about this. I know that some of you have broken through, and I want to hear and share your stories.

Let’s do this!


Just ONEthing - Apr 2015

Earlier this month, executive coach Mary Jo Asmus led a day-long workshop on Coaching for Breakthrough Performance. During this workshop, participants not only learned about coaching but also coached one another on real work-related issues.

Early in the practice sessions, participants commented on the power of deep listening. An undistracted listener, focused solely on the one speaking, gave the speaker space to explore their concern more fully without fear of the conversation being redirected. 

Mary Jo reminded us that this type of listening requires a person to

  • Talk less
  • Be open and receptive
  • Avoid distractions
  • Listen for understanding

The workshop ended with participants pairing up and agreeing to check-in over the next month to see how their coaching practice was progressing. Mary Jo also offered participants a group follow-up session in early April for additional check-in and a look at advancing their practice.

For more information on Mary Jo and to access her fantastic blog, visit aspire-cs.com


Face-to-face

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?

Best,

Thom

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.”


Fund marketing

There it was again. Originally, it surprised me…even confused me. My background colored my perception. Today, I’ve seen it so often, it no longer surprises me. And now, I find a reputable post placing it plainly before me.

Fund Marketing strategically merges fundraising and marketing strategies.

Coming from arts marketing, I often experienced marketing as quite distinct from fundraising, focusing on event advertising, subscriptions and ticket sales. Over the past five years or so, I’ve come to see much more overlap in these two areas. So has Gail Perry.

In her recent blog on Fund Marketing, she points out that, thanks to recent marketing research, we know: how to increase response to our newsletters, what type of images work best, and how to shape a call to action. Successful fundraising centers on relationships, and it also includes “a working knowledge of messaging, copyrighting, good design and layout.”

Few areas change as often, or as quickly, as marketing. So as we prepare for our annual Marketing & Communications Series (April 29, May 6 & 13), we’re pulling together the most recent research, practices, and tools to help you with your marketing challenges.

Keeping a sharp, focused, relevant message helps you cut through the noise and clutter to be heard and to motivate response…and, to raise more money!

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Ellen Stone

This month we sat down with Ellen Stone, Executive Director at The Arc Community Advocates.

Tell us how you got to where you are today?

While in college, I started working at a camp for people with disabilities as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor. I fell in love with the people and the work. After graduation from Michigan State, I spent 13 years working at camps in Iowa, Texas, Michigan, and finally Washington where I directed all camping and respite programs for Easter Seals. Eventually, with the camp schedule of working most weekends and 3 months of 100-hour weeks all summer, I wanted to find a job with a more regular schedule. Seeing the struggle faced by individuals with disabilities and their families as they sought to access services, I was determined to help improve the systems. I also had a desire to return to Michigan. In February 2012, I began my work with The Arc Community Advocates and spend my days in client and policy advocacy.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Kalamazoo is the perfect blend of small town and urban center. As a smaller city, it’s easy to get around, connect with people, and get things accomplished rather quickly. As an urban center, you find good restaurants, theatre, and other entertainment and services. It’s also a very supportive and caring community.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

My primary guiding principle is to always assume positive intent. I assume that people want things to work out well, even if I disagree with their approach. This keeps me from getting overly aggravated or angry, and it helps focus our discussion on the desired outcome that we all share.

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

My mentor was Jeanne from Camp Courageous in Iowa. She had a philosophy of abilities that I continue to use as a second guiding principle: approach people and events from a strengths and abilities perspective. This means that I not only work with people with disabilities from this perspective but also with myself, my staff, volunteers, community members, everyone. I look to engage an individual’s passion, utilize and extend their strengths, and then help them build upon those strengths.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

During my first year at The Arc, we had to evacuate Rib Fest (our big fundraiser for the year) due to inclement weather. Unfortunately, we ended up losing money rather than raising money. As a new Executive Director, it was a disaster. Yet, because of this disaster, I came to know the caring support of our base as well as the Kalamazoo community. Individuals and foundations worked with us to weather this storm and demonstrated their deep commitment to the organization.

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

There are no average days. Some days I run from meeting to meeting – in town or throughout the state – while other days I’m in the office, answering client calls or grant writing. Every day is different. We don’t even have a strong seasonal pattern to our work.

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

I don’t let problems overcome me. They tend to work themselves out as we address them. The things that keep my brain spinning are the opportunities. For example, we recently were exploring a post-secondary education option for people with disabilities – a true college option. The impact on quality of life, especially employment opportunities, could be huge. Those are the things I like to dwell on.

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

This is a broad field with a lot going on, so I need to keep up on legislation, regulations, positions, and opinions. This translates into several policy alerts, briefings, and meetings every month. It’s a lot of reading, a lot of listening, and a lot of discussing. For example, social safety net programs are always under attack, so I need to follow the trends and positions of key influencers. It’s a big part of my job, and it’s all very exciting.

What advice do you have for those wishing to secure a leadership position in the nonprofit sector?

Find an area of passion and be willing to go wherever it takes you. Most nonprofits don’t have advancement opportunities within their organizations, especially at the supervisory level, so to move up you often have to move on. You must be flexible. I lived in four states since graduating from college, always moving to take advantage of the next opportunity.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I enjoy cooking, knitting, and sewing. I absolutely hate shopping, so I make gifts rather than buy them. I also enjoy a good cup of tea.

What else?

Over the past two years, we’ve been in the Imperial Beverage building along with two other small nonprofits – Volunteer Kalamazoo and Parent to Parent. Our former office building was not connected to other non-profits and didn’t meet the needs of our clients. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the advantages of this space: feeling less isolated, a large pool of colleagues, collaboration opportunities, and the ability to bounce questions and ideas around with other executive directors. We’re working together in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Space is available and we’d enjoy more neighbors!