Last Thursday I enjoyed gathering at ONEplace with around 50 others to again explore the topic of community alignment. We spent good time hearing aspirations from each person, reviewing some statistics and concepts, and then engaging conversations – both in small groups and large group. At the end of the session, one thing was very clear to me.
We will never achieve community alignment.
I don’t see this as bad news or a negative statement. It’s simply grasping the fact that getting the 75,000 people who live in Kalamazoo or the 250,000 who live in Kalamazoo County to align around a common care may be an unrealistic expectation. And, even if we did agree on something (e.g., education is important), wouldn’t it be so high level, so unspecific as to appear unactionable?
We may never achieve community alignment as long as we define “community” as including thousands of people. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell referred to Dunbar’s Law which says that once you hit 150 people, it’s time to start another community or open another location. Why? No one individual can be in relationship (i.e., in community) with more than 150 people. It’s too overwhelming.
Further, with 150 people we can achieve alignment at a deeper, more specific, more actionable level. A level where people can connect and impact can be felt.
Another relevant fact is that each of us lives within several communities. We have our neighborhood community, our work community, our religious community, our civic communities, our families, our friends, and more. Because we’re part of several communities, these various groups – aligned within themselves – may become interaligned due to our involvement in all of them.
(yes, I made up the word interaligned…don’t look it up)
So, a series of aligned communities may become interaligned as an individual takes part in all of them and carries their messages from one to another and another. This cross-germination may not align the wider community very specifically, but it may get it moving in the same general direction.
I’m still working on this one. It’s all to say that perhaps we’re expecting too much from community alignment and need to encourage a network of action-oriented interaligned communities.
What do you think?
Many nonprofit staff supervise others, manage programs, or both. Acquiring and honing management skills form a continuous process and a cornerstone of organizational effectiveness.
Our ONEplace Essentials program addresses your and your staff’s basic management skill development needs. Every month, we’ll offer at least one Management Track workshop focused on skills critical to your success.
For example, we recently held a video series on event management (July), a workshop on team building (Aug), and our Supervision Series (Sep/Oct). In the coming months, we’ll offer workshops on communication skills (Oct), problem solving (Nov), decision making (Dec), project management (Jan), and more.
Spending valuable time on professional development is essential to your career growth and your organization’s development. By scheduling our Management Track workshops further in advance, you can better plan and coordinate your professional development activities and get dates on your calendar.
Plus, we encourage Management Track workshops as preparation for (and follow-up to) a Leadership Academy experience.
Our goal is to develop Essentials into a menu of workshops that you can count on each year. Of course, we’ll adjust, tweak, and alter based upon your good feedback. Thanks!
[list of Management Track workshops]
Late last month, over twenty participants (mostly executive directors and board members) gathered for a workshop on Attaining Sustainability. After an engaging discussion, we reviewed ten indicators showing that an organization is in a sustainable position. These include:
- Leaders champion cause & purpose
- Clear strategies
- Effective programs & periodic evaluation
- Single, clean, up-to-date patron database
- Fund development plan that realistically projects revenue for three years
- Communications that connect with target audience(s)
- Leaders exercise influence not control, share knowledge and information
- Budget to handle cash flow, build reserve, and meet short-term capital needs
- Succession plans (short-term and long-term) for all key roles
- Leaders are willing to do the right thing and stop doing the wrong thing
The discussion ended with this somewhat surprising insight: all of these indicators reside within the organization’s control. Participants left with the understanding that, over time, they can build – and maintain – a sustainable organization.
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,
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.
For some reason, the summer-to-fall transition seems to be rather momentous. Perhaps it’s the start of school (and all the programming related to schools) that makes this so. In any event, it’s often a time when we take stock of where we are and where we’re headed.
So, this month we’re having (virtual) coffee with you! We invite you to take a moment to explore one or more of the questions that we often pose to our featured guest. Share one of your answers by leaving a comment here or posting it on our LinkedIn group, Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection. (You’ll find one of my answers on LinkedIn!)
Use it as a conversation starter at the upcoming Kalamazoo Nonprofit Connection – LIVE gathering (Sept 3): “Did you answer one of the coffee questions last week?”
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
What hobby or outside interests do you enjoy?
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.
- You want your board to be more engaged…how do we get them to focus?
- You’ve been on a board for years…is this really what we should be doing?
- You’re elected to a nonprofit’s board…now what?
- You’re considering serving on a nonprofit board…what am I getting myself into?
This past year, ONEplace increased its assistance and training with nonprofit boards. One of the insights from working with almost 20 boards is that there often is confusion as to what is and is not the board’s role. We find this is true for experienced board members as well as newer members.
This is not surprising. As the world around us changes, the governance challenges shift as well. Concerns with funding, long-term planning, and public perception lead us into a labyrinth of ideas as well as stories of past successes and failures. As one person put it, “It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.”
To address this fundamental concern, ONEplace will offer a Board Membership 101 workshop three times over the next year. During this 90-minute workshop, participants will:
- Learn the ten basic responsibilities of a board
- Examine proven practices in meeting these responsibilities
- Explore how these interface with your board
- Discover the benefits of serving on a board
The next Board Membership 101 is scheduled for Tuesday, June 24 at 4 pm. Others are slated for October and April. Consider having two or more of your board members attend the upcoming workshop to see how this event may integrate with your onboarding and continuous improvement processes.
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!
P.S. A recent Nonprofit Quarterly featured several articles on the power of networks. Check out their lead article, A Network Way of Working.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S. Improv Effects is featured in the current issue of Encore.