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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!


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.”


3 Easy & Effective Twitter Hacks

When the Twitter Time for Kzoo Nonprofits workshop was announced, I received several iterations of the same question: will you teach me how to use it? My answer has both good and bad news. The good news is that Twitter.com is a fairly intuitive, user-friendly platform. The bad news is that using Twitter patiently and strategically is much more difficult, so that's what this workshop will cover. We hope to answer the questions: “should my organization be on Twitter?” and, “why is my organization on Twitter?”

"Maze" by "Seongbin Im" is lincensed under CC 2.0

ONEplace plans to develop further workshops on Twitter, including one that focuses on the operational aspects. In the meantime, experience is often the best teacher, and you will gain great insights by poking around on the website. Here are some "hacks" that I picked up; they could help you take advantage of Twitter's capabilities and reach your strategic goals.

Free Analytics: Use analytics.twitter.com to get a nice overview of your Twitter activity, broken down month by month. The analyses include how many followers you've gained, which tweets had the most impressions, and even how many times your profile has been visited. Some sites will charge you for this kind of analysis, so definitely take advantage.

Easy Visual Marketing: Tweets with pictures attached get more clicks, tweets, and replies, so if you want to increase user engagement, add photos whenever possible. I use Flickr.com to find nice, high-quality photos that are free to use under the Creative Commons license--with proper attribution, of course.

Tweet Templates: If you're tweeting to funnel visitors elsewhere, like your organization's blog or Facebook, use an eye-catching headline to get them to click. Nonprofit Marketing Guide has a free worksheet with 50 fill-in-the-blank headlines.

These are just a few of the resources I’ve picked up over the past few months. Visit the following websites for more in-depth articles and guides on Twitter: www.hubspot.com, www.nten.org, and www.blackbaud.com.  


Strategic strategies

Is your strategy in need of a strategy? Before your eyes roll completely out of your head, let me elaborate just a bit. Martin Reeves, Claire Love, and Philipp Tillmanns of The Boston Consulting Group propose that we need to take a strategic approach to our strategic planning. In short, no one size fits all.

Their insight rests on two issues: the predictability and malleability. Or, to put it in question form: How predictable is the environment in which our organization operates? How much power do we have to change that environment?

Based upon your answers to those questions, you choose your strategic approach:

 

  • Classical = High Predictability and Low Malleability
  • Adaptive = Low Predictability and Low Malleability
  • Shaping = Low Predictability and High Malleability
  • Visionary = High Predictability and High Malleability

 

Of course, there’s much more to it. I can’t say that I’m sold, but it’s an intriguing approach. First published in an HBR article in 2012, their book is due out later this year. If you want more information you may watch Martin Reeves’ TED talk or read their article.

Best,

Thom


Direct Assistance from ONEplace

Direct Assistance forms one of the cornerstones of ONEplace. Available to all nonprofit staff, board members and other volunteers, our Direct Assistance services help you get a grip on new or uncommon challenges and concerns. 

Whether by phone, email or personal meeting, we’ll work directly with you to improve your situation, whatever it may be. These confidential conversations help pinpoint problem areas, identify underlying issues, and determine the best course(s) of action.

Should you desire someone to come alongside your organization to help for a period of time, we will provide recommendations from our endorsed consultant directory. These consultants bring high levels of expertise and considerable nonprofit experience to your organization, often at a discounted rate. Further, they come highly recommended from past clients.

Every month, ONEplace handles around 120 Direct Assistance requests and makes about 10 consultant recommendations. It’s a primary reason ONEplace was founded, and, like all ONEplace services, it’s provided to you free of charge. [learn more]


What's your point?

Have you ever watched a debate, read a series of comments, or participated in a discussion and wondered if the various voices were even discussing the same issue? You may shake your head and wonder,

What’s your point?

For many of us, our attention swirls around a small set of fixed points from which all other things take their meaning. Be it a matter of value, belief or assumption, the fixed points ground our thinking, guide our notice, and color our interpretation.

Sometimes we formalize these points as mission statements or statements of purpose. More often, however, they remain hidden. Given sufficient reflection, awareness rises of our less intentional yet more influential guideposts – those that focus our leadership and anchor our organizations.

Our vulnerability rests at the level of these assumptions. Here also reside our reasons, justifications, and inclinations toward collaboration and staff support. So, consider:

What are your fixed points? What does this awareness tell you?

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Steve Springsdorf

This month we visit with Steve Springsdorf, Executive Director of the YMCA, as he tells of capitalizing on opportunities, staying focused, and prioritizing relationship-building.

Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)

Mine is partially a story of being in the right place at the right time. I graduated from MSU with a degree in Environmental Education. I couldn’t find a teaching job, but I student taught in Saginaw and the Y Exec Dir. was on the school board, saw my resume and offered me a job. I took it until I could find a teaching job. I became the Asst. Camp Director the next year until the Camp Director quit two weeks into the season. After 9 years as the Camp Director, the CEO retired. I applied and became one of the youngest YMCA CEO’s in the country. I directed the Saginaw Y for 14 years when I was invited to apply to become the CEO of the State YMCA in Central Lake, MI. It was a very different experience for me, no main building, primarily residence camps, a unit in Petoskey and a state wide Youth in Government program. The camps served families not only across the country but also internationally. This job gave me a much broader perspective of how we can influence youth. After 8 years I was invited to be the CEO at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo in 2008 where I continue to serve.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I love the pride that people have in the community, I love the diversity of people and thought, I love vibrant downtown in Kalamazoo and the strong shopping area in Portage, I love the variety of restaurants and brewery’s; finally I love how there is so much energy to make our community better.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Basically, if you keep doing the right thing, good things will happen and treat people as you would want to be treated.

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

My first boss was a huge influence in my career. He was a man of strong conviction, he held people accountable, but he also was a strong advocate and supporter of staff development, both in training and in challenging you to be better. He felt that being a nonprofit didn't mean you were less responsible or business minded than for-profit businesses.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

If you have someone working for you that is either not performing or doesn’t fit with the organization then make a change sooner than later. Attempting to be nice only prolongs the inevitable and isn’t helpful to the staff or the organization.

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

I wish I had an average day. I begin with reading two newspapers, handle emails, check in with staff to see if there are areas I can help with; communicate with my board and other partners; building relationships is a big part of what I do. Finally, I have projects I am working on in the areas of organizational improvement, fundraising, and program directions.

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

We are in the midst of a capital campaign so concerns about donors and volunteers are on my mind. The other area is motivating and managing my staff; these are the people who make our Y successful.

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

I read two newspapers a day, I visit our professions websites, but most importantly, I network and talk with my peers on a regular basis. I try to stay involved on state and national levels.

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

Stay fresh, stay challenged, and stay focused on what is important – the mission of your organization, how are you impacting the lives of the people your organization touches. Keep your eye open for opportunities, but build your career on results.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I am an avid reader and enjoy a good game of golf, wish I had one. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling and camping around Michigan.


What's in your locket?

I have a professional question for you: What’s in your locket?

A locket is a small pendant that includes a space for storing a small keepsake, e.g., a photo of a loved one. Worn on a necklace or bracelet, this charm holds a cherished item, and the wearer often opens it to be reminded of one so near to their heart.

So, what’s in your locket (real or imaginary)? Besides being a twist on a popular ad campaign (thanks, Capital One), it’s a relevant question for anyone who wants to enjoy their work. Job satisfaction – and effectiveness – is directly related to the laser-like alignment of your deeply held values, personal passions (loves), and outward actions and abilities.

Jim Collins calls it a Hedgehog Concept. Simon Sinek calls it his Golden Circle. Steven Covey calls them habits. Patrick Lencioni has a pyramid. And Peter Drucker posed them as six critical questions. While each of these authors (and several others) adds his own contribution to the discussion, they all build off of this place of inner-outer alignment.

Yet, while many write about it, few of us are so aligned. Like an aching back, painful barbs shoot through our activities and discourse. And we’re left feeling out of sorts.

This chiropractic conundrum of misalignment is often more intrapersonal than interpersonal. Few of us take the time to listen to our true selves (our inner voice) and understand our deeply held values and personal passions. Instead, many align with an external set of expectations packaged and presented as an appealing alternative to our dissatisfaction.

One of Simon Sinek’s (Start with Why) contributions to this discussion is the idea that people align with others who believe what they believe. He says it this way: “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”

So, we need to open our lockets and peer inside to that which we hold dear and then find the words to speak it clearly to ourselves, our families, our organizations and community. Take some time – quiet, reflective time – to listen and learn from yourself.

My guess is this: once we align ourselves to the most important things in our lives, we’ll find that interpersonal (also intergenerational, interracial, intercultural) alignment comes much easier.

Best,

Thom


Didn't see that coming

It’s not uncommon to be surprised by people and events. When you least expect it, a situation arises, a problem occurs, or a discussion ensues that throws you for a loop. It’s not something you’ve ever dealt with before, and you’re not sure what to make of it…what to do about it.

You’re not alone.

Everyone – even a seasoned executive – encounters a baffling challenge from time to time. Try as we might, we can’t seem to figure it out. We need to get some distance, some perspective on the matter.

That’s why ONEplace offers direct assistance services.

We’re prepared to listen, inquire, and help you come to grips with your new challenge or concern. Depending on the nature of the concern, we may have suggestions, resources, or recommendations of actions to take or people to consult.

Don’t let a festering issue hold you back. We’re here to be at your service. 

Best,

Thom