Are we starting to see year-end solicitation letters v2.0?


direct mail3A few years ago I noticed some of the letters being sent to me by non-profit organizations were getting less wordy. In fact, these next generation donor communications pieces were mostly featuring a big photograph of someone/something that was supposedly mission-focused.

At first, I really didn’t like this new approach to donor communications. Don’t get me wrong . . . I disliked the blah-blah-blah letters. Like most readers, I would read the old solicitation letters like this:

  • Salutation (e.g. did they spell my name right?)
  • First few sentences (e.g. how much do they want and what’s the case for support this time?)
  • Skip to the signature (e.g. do I know the person who signed the letter?)
  • Post script (e.g. don’t know why, but I always read the P.S.)
  • If this five second review hooks me, then I’ll go back to the beginning and start skimming (honestly probably paying more attention to bullets, highlighted text and anything in bold/italics)

I was even worse with gift acknowledgement letters, which I would read like this:

  • Salutation (e.g. did they spell my name right?)
  • Did they get my pledge or gift amount right? (e.g. this is for the IRS and I can’t afford an error)
  • Is there a personal notation on the letter (e.g. did my gift merit a little love or was this just a transaction?)
  • Is the boilerplate IRS verbiage about the value of any goods or services being received by me from the non-profit as part of my contribution correctly listed (e.g. as I said earlier . . . I don’t wanna tangle with the IRS)

The first few times I received what I am describing as “next generation donor communication pieces,” I simply didn’t like it because it represented change. It threw me off my reading routine, which is silly reason to dislike something. Right?

However, the first time one of these letters was used to acknowledge my contribution by a local non-profit organization, I was upset for a few reasons:

  • In their haste to use as few words as possible, they got wrong the boilerplate IRS verbiage about the value of any goods or services being received (this was a technical error)
  • I felt slighted because it was as if “my gift didn’t even rise to the level of deserving a handful of kind words” (by the way, the letter couldn’t have been more than three or four sentences with a giant cute picture of a client)

And then . . . I changed my mind after recently receiving the following year-end solicitation letter from my alma mater

uofi-yearend-letter


Three short paragraphs. One large picture. Lots of wonky ways to give my money.

Here is what appealed to me and changed my mind about this style of donor communications:

  1. The picture took me back to my college years. I know exactly where those four students are standing. I’ve stood there before. I suspect that I felt that same way they appear to be feeling. This picture created an immediate emotional connection for me in a way that words never have.
  2. The logo at the top of the letter also created an immediate emotional connection. It is a picture of the iconic Alma Mater statue. For many students, this artwork at the entrance to the Quad symbolizes many things (e.g. a sense of welcoming, nurturing, school pride, etc). Many students have fond memories attached to this statue.
  3. The shortened fundraising verbiage cut to the bottom line and the three most important things to me and most other donors: a) the university is grateful for my last contribution; b) my gift made a difference in the life of a student; and c) they want me to continue my support. All three of these messages are emotional in natural (e.g. they love me, they flatter me, they want me back).
  4. The multitude of choices is appealing (e.g. cash, credit, EFT/ACH, monthly giving options, gift restriction options). This makes me feel “in charge” and not like I’m giving money to a large, faceless organization that is going to do whatever it pleases with my financial contribution. Again, another emotional message (e.g. providing choice implies trust and respect in our society)

I’ve been a fan of Tom Ahern for years. I think he is one of the smartest donor communications experts in the field. In his videos and e-newsletters he often takes about the the six most powerful emotional triggers that marketers use to get people to do “something” like purchase a product, vote for a candidate, make a charitable contribution, etc.

Just in case you’re wondering, here are those six emotional triggers:

  • anger
  • exclusivity
  • fear
  • flattery
  • greed
  • guilt

Tom also talks about the 13 strongest words used by marketing professionals. Here is a list of those words:

  • discovery
  • results
  • proven
  • early
  • safety
  • free
  • save
  • guarantee
  • new
  • money
  • health
  • YOU

I love Tom, but I do cheat on him from time-to-time by reading other donor communications and direct mail experts like Mal Warwick.  😉

The following are five positive triggers that marketers use to emotionally move us to do something:

  • hope
  • love
  • compassion
  • duty
  • faith

As you review these lists of emotional triggers and powerful words offered by some of the smartest thought-leaders on this topic, can you identify which trigger the University of Illinois wove throughout its letter? Can you see how they did it? If you look really hard, you’ll be surprised at how much more is actually going on in this very short and powerful letter.

Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and observations. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Want to know what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving?


thanksgiving2013A few weeks ago I was reading my friend Jay Love’s Bloomerang blog post titled “Donor Advised Funds: A Wake Up Call For Fundraisers,” and it was at that moment I knew exactly what this Thanksgiving’s “big thing I’m grateful for” would be. Towards the end of Jay’s post, he starts gushing about Vauhini Vara’s New Yorker article “The Wealth Gap in Philanthropy” on October 27, 2016.

Seriously gushing . . . Jay included THREE pullout quotes from Vara’s excellent piece.

It was the last of the three pullout quotes that left me feeling thankful for the non-profit sector and grateful to people like you (DonorDreams’ readership which is composed of nonprofit professionals, board members, volunteers, donors, and other consultants).

Here is that quote that I’m hanging my hat on this Thanksgiving:

He said that philanthropy is only partly about raising funds—what’s more important, he said, is its capacity to mobilize communities around important issues. He pointed to the role of nonprofits, and the individuals involved with them, in changing societal perceptions about issues like civil rights, the role of girls in sports, and drunk driving. “Real social change happens when millions of people get involved, average donors get involved, and work collectively on big issues,” he said.”

Thanks to all of you for what you do. Happy Thanksgiving!

(And I think I want to add a second “big thing foe which I’m grateful” . . . the Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series. WooHoo!)

With lots of gratitude . . . Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

How you can stop the vicious cycle of trading donations with your friends


reciprocity2Just the other day, I found myself in a boardroom facilitating a training on how to make a textbook-perfect, face-to-face solicitation. Discussion topics focused on all the usual suspects including fears, begging, best practices for getting on someone’s calendar, the 12-step process for making the actual ask, etc etc etc. However, at the end of the training and facilitated discussion, one board volunteer asked the following question:

If you ask friends to contribute to this organization, then how can you stop them from coming back and asking for reciprocity for their favorite charities?

I get this question all of the time, but I’ve never blogged about it. So, I thought I’d tackle this issue today by providing a few simple solicitation tips/tricks/suggestions that I’ve seen work.

Stop worrying about it!!!!

Does “quid pro quo solicitation” occur? Sure it does. Does it happen often? Well, it depends on how you solicit other people. However, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you think it does. This is a classic example of how fear manifests itself and makes things seem bigger than what they actually are.

I titled this section “Stop worrying about it” because control is an illusion. There is nothing you can do that will stop your friends from doing anything in this world, which includes asking you to make a pledge, buy some cookies or volunteer a little time.

This is a mindset issue, which is why I encourage you to start with changing how you look at this.

Of course, there are other things you can do to minimize how often you get asked for charitable reciprocity. So, please keep reading . . .

Stop asking for “favors”

reciprocityOver the years, I’ve heard volunteers say all of the following things when trying to fundraise:

  • Hey, I need a favor. Can you find some time in your busy calendar to sit down with me to talk about [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity]
  • Thanks for agreeing to sit down with me. You know I wouldn’t be here asking for a contribution if I wasn’t an expectation for board members to do fundraising. I would consider it a favor if you’d make a pledge to support [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity]. Anything you can do would be appreciated.”
  • Do you remember the time when you asked me to make a pledge to [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity]? I need to call in that favor because I’m raising money for [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity].”

If you stop asking for “favors” during the solicitation process, the number of “return favor” requests will go down. It really is that simple.

Don’t beg for money. Frame your ask as a social investment in the community.

Make your passions known

When soliciting friends to make a contribution to your favorite non-profit organization, make sure to share your commitment and passion right before making the official ask for support. It might sound something like this:

  • As you know, my non-profit passions are 100% all about [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity], which is why much of our household’s charitable giving is dedicated to this organization. I wouldn’t be asking for your consideration today if I wasn’t all in.”
  • I believe so strongly in [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity] that this is only one of a very small number of charities we support and focus our philanthropy on. We wouldn’t be asking other people to invest if it wasn’t something we believed strongly in.

Sharing your commitment during the solicitation call does two important things from a psychological perspective:

  1. It is a reminder to yourself that you’re personally invested and not begging for money and definitely not asking for favors
  2. It is a direct message to the person you’re soliciting that your philanthropic priorities are set, which is a subtle message about what you may or may not consider in the future if they choose to solicit you on behalf of other charities

Be prepared to say NO

Saying NO is a difficult thing for most people. It usually comes with a number of fears. However, if you are afraid of friends coming back to you to leverage their contribution to your favorite organization for your contribution to their favorite organization, then you need to start practicing the art of saying NO.

Of course, the challenge is saying NO the right way.

The following are key messages you’ll deliver during that quid pro quo solicitation call with your friend:

  • You’ll remind them of what you said during your solicitation visit with them about your philanthropic portfolio (e.g. priorities, preferences and household charitable giving budget)
  • You’ll remind them that you asked them to support your charity of choice because you felt like it was a good fit with their philanthropic passions.
  • You’ll gently tell them that you didn’t ask them for “a favor,” but rather offered them an opportunity to invest in a great organization with a great mission and community impact.
  • You’ll appreciate them for their passion for their organization. You’ll ask them to share their stories and ask questions along the way.
  • If you end up saying NO to a financial contribution to your friend’s charity of choice, hopefully you’re willing/able to engage in a brainstorming session about who else in your shared social circle might be willing to consider involvement or financial contribution.

Saying NO involves an explanation, compassion, and gentleness; but it isn’t as hard as you think. While this might sound silly, I suggest practicing this conversation in the mirror or in your head in order to become comfortable. If you need more advice on saying NO, I suggest clicking through to Alexandra Franzen’s blog post — How to Say No to Anyone (Even a Good Friend).

Have you had experience with charitable reciprocity and your friends? How have you dealt with it? Please us the comment box to share your experiences, thoughts and practices. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

When you have to say “I’m sorry” to donors, volunteers or anyone


sorryLet me start by being transparent. The idea for this post grew out of the fact that I haven’t posted a new blog for a few weeks.

I recognize there are many readers and subscribers to this blog who enjoy reading my musings. I know this because of how many people tell me they keep an eye on this space and thank me for putting time into sharing my experiences, thoughts and best practices. You’ve shared this with me at conferences, while visiting my exhibitor booth, during conference calls and site visits, and even in kind emails and handwritten notes. Please know that I appreciate your gratitude. It is what has kept this little blog going for more than five years. Really!

So, when my work and travel schedule get a little hairy and I let my blogging slip, I feel a little guilty and know the right thing to do is apologize. So . . .

I’m sorry for becoming undisciplined and distracted when it comes to keeping up with writing for the DonorDreams audience. This was wrong because I made a commitment to keeping this site current with content, and over-promising and under-delivering is never acceptable. In the future, I will do a better job of juggling my commitments or finding guest bloggers to fill-in for me. Will you forgive me?

The truth is that none of us are perfect, and all of us have had to apologize for things throughout the years. However, I believe non-profit professionals are more carefully scrutinized because we work with other people’s money.

In my experience, I think I did more apologizing than any other time in my life when I was an executive director working on the front line. Sometimes, those apologies were because I goofed up in major ways. (Let’s face it. We’ve all been there. Right?) And other times, the mistakes were small but magnified by circumstances, egos and the simple fact the buck stops with you.

So, if you’re going to pursue a career in non-profit work, I suggest you learn how to apologize in a heartfelt and sincere manner.

Since I’ve had to do so much apologizing in my 20-year non-profit career, I think I might have some credibility on this subject and thought I’d share a few tips that have worked for me.

Channel Brenda Lee

In the 1960s, Brenda Lee recorded the song “I’m Sorry” and it climbed the record charts. If you can’t recall her catchy lyrics, then click on the YouTube graphic below to jog your memory.

brenda-lee-im-sorry

I’ve always found it helpful to dig this song out of my long term memory and start humming it while I contemplate what I’m really truly sorry for. I don’t know why it helps. It just does. Maybe it puts me in a humble and reflective mood.

Tell them why you’re sorry

I believe it is important for volunteers and donors (and anyone else you’ve wronged) to hear you say the words “I’m sorry” followed by exactly what you are sorry for.

In my experience, apologies are more likely accepted when the person you’re apologizing to can see/hear that you understand why you are apologizing. Failing to do this has oftentimes escalated the conflict because the person I was apologizing to thought I was just trying to move past the situation.

In recent year’s, I’ve even found there is another step beyond apologizing and naming the offense. If you are able to demonstrate why the offense was something needing an apology, then you are well on your way to having your apology accepted.

And after all, isn’t that really what this is all about?

Avoid the pitfall of explanation

Ugh! This is hard for me, and I fail at it more often than I succeed. (I just did it again the other day and wanted to kick myself)

There are always reasons for what went wrong. However, listing off those reasons sounds like excuse making, which is akin to throwing gasoline on a burning fire.

One thing that helps me avoid this is simply jotting down the four or five things I want to say on a piece of paper. I’m not talking about writing a speech. Just a few short bullet points to help keep me focused. It works great if you’re apologizing on a phone call. When doing so in-person, it can look and feel awkward, but you can work through that by telling the person that you made a few notes because you didn’t want to goof up what needed to be said.

Make the ask

If you are a good non-profit professional, you know there is nothing worse than the “non-ask ask.” What I mean by this is when you make your case and then imply you’d like the donor or volunteer to do something. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve seen a rookie fundraising volunteer or professional forget to ask for the money, I’d be a wealthy man.

Well, the same is true when it comes to apologies.

Verbalize what you want from the person to whom you’re apologizing . Simply ask “Will you please forgive me?” or “Is this something we can get past?

You better get used to this

Let’s face me. Leadership is hard and good leaders make tough decisions. On top of all this, everyone makes mistakes. And even if it isn’t a mistake, edgy difficult decisions can result in hurt feelings and bruised egos.

It comes with the territory. And so does learning how to becoming an expert apologizer.

Do you have additional tips to share from your experiences? If so, please do so in the comment box located below. We can all learn from each other!

My promise to DonorDreams readers

The next few months are going to be very busy for me. While posting two and three times a week might not be possible, I will make it a priority to get something new up every week (probably on Wednesdays). And in weeks when I can do two and three posts, I will definitely do that. I promise! I hope you can forgive me.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

You need to dance with the person who brought you – Part 2


leadershipLast week in a post titled “You need to dance with the person who brought you,” I wrote about the difference between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences and specifically what combination of these go into making effective non-profit board leaders. Today, I I’m looking at the same thing, but I want to turn this lens on the non-profit executive director position.

To recap . . .

The differences between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences (in my opinion) are:

  • A trait is something someone inherits or is born with
  • A characteristic (e.g. quality) is something that describes someone
  • A skill is something that someone has learned
  • An experience is something someone has experienced

With regards to traits and innate abilities, I started writing about this topic a few year ago in a post titled “Non-profit executive directors take the heat every day.” I shared with readers the following talents that Joe Lehr once shared in with non-profit professionals in an article he wrote. The following is a list of those talents:

  • Belief — passion, fire, and strength of conviction all stemming from organizational mission, vision and purpose.
  • Vision — an ability to see the organization’s future and getting others to see and believe in it, too.
  • Focus & clarity —  sorting through a lot of information, knowing what is most important, and getting others to see clearly see it.
  • Maximizer — a burning desire for greatness and an ability to act as a catalyst for all other stakeholders to reach for greatness (via accountability, transparency, urgency, etc).
  • Empathy — self-awareness, emotional intelligence, along with the intuition and ability to sense what others are feeling and thinking and use that to effectively communicate with others.

I generally agree with Joe and won’t spend more time and space discussing traits, and . . .

If you are a believer in the science of personality testing, there is much written on what inherent personality traits a great non-profit executive director should possess.

From a Myers-Briggs perspective, Paul Sohn speculated in his post titled “The Best Jobs For All 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types In One Infographic” that ENFJ’s and ENTJ’s might be well-positioned for success.

In a study published by Dewey & Kaye titled “Nonprofit Leadership Development: A model for identifying and growing leaders within the nonprofit sector,” they found many non-profit leaders are rated highly as “High D’s.” This personality aspect is described as:

Direct and Decisive. D’s are strong-willed, strong-minded people who like accepting challenges, taking action, and getting immediate results. People with a high D component like to take charge and are typically found in positions or power and authority.”

While the jury is out and the science isn’t precise (in my humble opinion), the fact is that boards can really stumble when hiring an executive director if they don’t try to wrap their collective heads around what a successful candidate innately needs to bring to the table.

As it relates to characteristics, I’ve seen successful executive directors features/qualities:

  • well-networked with a large circle of influence
  • organized and focused
  • an understanding of the complexities associated with organizational development
  • hard working and strong work ethic
  • unfazed by long work hours
  • servant leader at heart and joyful warrior
  • high integrity
  • role model who is a mentor to others
  • self-starter who works well in fuzzy supervisory environments
  • connection and personal story that connects them to the organization’s mission

Skills are learned as a result of life experiences, and the good execs seem to have honed the following skill sets:

  • resource development/fundraising
  • board development and supportive of board governance
  • great communicator
  • collaboration and partnership development
  • leadership
  • financial management
  • human resources
  • planning
  • volunteer management and engagement

From an experience perspective, non-profit executive directors who thrive seem to have:

  • worked at various levels of a non-profit (e.g. front line operations, fundraising and management)
  • had success at all levels of resource development and not just one aspect (e.g. individual giving, corporate philanthropy, grant writing, government funding, etc)
  • successfully provided guidance and leadership to teams of people
  • excelled in environments where they had limited real authority and succeeded because of their ability to influence outcomes

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with these categories and lists, the reality is that non-profit boards have a handful of roles/responsibilities they cannot shirk. One of those responsibilities is hiring and managing the organization’s executive director. Failure to take this seriously is a recipe for disaster.

How does your organization integrate the aforementioned traits, characteristics, skills and experiences into its executive director search process? What specific tools have you used that you found helpful? Are their any specific traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that I missed that you would add to the list?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

You need to dance with the person who brought you


board of directors3There is an old expression that says, “You need to dance with the person who brought you to the prom.” It essentially means you need to work with the person who got you where you’re at today in spite of the circumstances. When I think of this in terms of volunteer management (e.g. your board members and fundraising volunteers), it means you need to get the job done with those who you recruited.

The implication of this interpretation is that your organization is only as effective as those who you recruited to do the work that needs to be accomplished (e.g. raising the necessary funds, governing the organization, etc). So, you need to be very careful at the beginning of any recruitment process and pay special attention during the identification and recruitment process to the traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that an effective volunteer will need for the organization to be successful in whatever it is trying to accomplish.

This begs the question . . . what is the difference between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences?

  • A trait is something someone inherits or is born with
  • A characteristic (e.g. quality) is something that describes someone
  • A skill is something that someone has learned
  • An experience is something someone has experienced

When I think of traits I’ve seen effective non-profit board members exhibit, I think of things such as:

  • Detailed-oriented
  • Focus
  • Collaborative / Team-oriented
  • Confident
  • Communicator
  • Decision-oriented
  • Optimistic
  • Accountable

Characteristics of effective board members in my opinion include someone who is:

  • Mission-focused and passionate about what you do
  • Eager to participate and ask questions
  • A life-long learner
  • Willing to contribute their time, talent and financial resources to your organization
  • Socially engaged in the community with a large circle of friends and influence

When I think about skill sets, there are are many different ones that need to be present around your boardroom table, which is why diversity is so important. In other words, you won’t find people who possess ALL of the skills you need. The following are some of the skills you need to make sure find their way into your boardroom:

  • Accounting & financial management
  • Marketing & promotion
  • Planning
  • Sales, resource development, fundraising
  • Insurance & risk management
  • Facility management
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Human resources
  • Organizational development
  • Management

Experience is a tricky consideration because you should be looking for individuals who have had successful experiences not just any experience. When I was in the business of identifying board volunteers, I looked for people who had successfully:

  • Served on other boards
  • Participated in fundraising activities
  • Worked well with other people in team environments
  • Managed other people
  • Thrived in situations with deadlines and urgency
  • Managed their time
  • Been entrepreneurial and grown their own business

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it often where non-profit volunteers look at their social networks and asked others to get involved based on the likelihood of getting a YES regardless of whether that person possessed many of the traits, characteristics, skills and experiences necessary for success.

This is usually a recipe for disaster because “you need to dance with the person who brought you.” Essentially, if you recruit the people lacking what you need to help govern your organization or raise money to operationalize your mission, it is next to impossible to make quick wholesale changes, which likely locks you into an undesirable outcome.

How does your organization integrate the aforementioned traits, characteristics, skills and experiences into a prospect identification, evaluation and recruitment process? What specific tools have you used that you found helpful? Are their any specific traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that I missed that you would add to the list?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Non-profit storytelling and what stories shouldn’t be told?


innovative leadership bookLately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’m about halfway through Amy Cuddy’s book “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.” I just purchased Tim Wolfred’s book “Managing Executive Transitions: A Guide for Nonprofits.” And I just finished Maureen Metcalf and Dani Robbin’s “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives.” I love reading because it always gets me thinking, and this last workbook by Metcalf and Robbins has my head spinning (in a good way).

Metcalf’s “innovative leadership” model is really good. One thing I like most about the workbook is the journaling exercises. Your journal work is designed to help you think through and discover intentions, actions, organizational culture and systems/processes questions prior to developing your individual developmental plan. If you are in the market for a leadership development process, I suggest you check this out.

With the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference looming on the horizon, the idea of storytelling has been on my mind. A lot lately! My mind has been swimming with questions like:

  • What are storytelling best practices?
  • How have I seen organizations place donors in the roll of being the “hero” when telling a story?
  • What emotional triggers are best for fundraising professionals to use when telling a story aimed at raising money?

These questions are all focused on what stories to tell; however, one of the journaling questions I came across in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives was really good because it got me thinking in the reverse direction:

What stories of the past do we need to stop telling because they no longer support our success?

Wow! This is such a great question.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen brand new non-profit CEO’s in their first or second year telling stories about how bad (or dysfunctional) the organization was when they first started.

By going down this road, they are essentially telling donors and volunteers their contribution of time/money might not have been used appropriately. The impact, of course, may very well be increasing suspicion and concern and raising the bar for future support.

I’ve also seen new non-profit CEO’s inadvertently do the same thing in front of staff, and what kind of message does that send to employees? (e.g. You were wrong to support the previous CEO? Or worse yet, you were part of the problem?

While identifying your organization’s stories have you identified what stories shouldn’t be told? Or have you identified stories that might have served a purpose in the past, but have outlived their usefulness, and need to stop being told? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Addressing tyranny of the urgent at your non-profit organization


culture3Let’s pick-up where we left off a few days ago from my post titled “Does your non-profit culture suffer from tyranny of the urgent?” In that post, I talked about an idea some experts have named the “tyranny of the urgent,” which is simply when you prioritize urgent tasks over important tasks. I extrapolated this idea to an organization-wide scale and talked about how this could become part of your organizational culture and the consequences of it occurring. Today, I will share a few suggestions on how to start addressing this organizational cancer.

Hmmmm? So, where was I? Oh right, I ended the last post by quoting Forbes’ Steve Denning who once wrote:

“… an organization’s culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions.”

In other words, organizational culture is complicated in and of itself.

Now you add the idea of “CHANGE” into the equation and the degree of difficulty goes up exponentially. I can confidently say this based on the following two facts:

Fact #1: If you Google the search words “how to change organizational culture,” you are showered with lots of links to stories with people talking about how they successfully changed their organization’s culture. As you start reading, you find lots of stories with lots of different approaches and very few common threads.

Fact #2: If you Google the search words “change initiative failure rate,” you will find the same thing being said over and over again. Everyone seems to agree that on average 70% of workplace change initiatives “FAIL.”

What am I trying to say here?

Simply, all of this is complicated, layered and unique. With this out in the open, I’m just going to confess that I do not have a one-size-fits-all blogosphere easy solution for you. Sorry! However . . .

I will share some of what I’ve seen help reduce/eliminate the tyranny of the urgent from my former workplaces. Hopefully, by doing so, this blog post will get you moving in the right direction or at the very least stimulate productive conversations with co-workers and volunteers on your end.

Investing in a culture of planning

franklin plannerWhen I worked for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in the late-1990s, there was a focused effort to stave off the tyranny of the urgent through the following strategies:

  • Every scout professional was required to use a Franklin Planner system (of which the council underwrote the cost)
  • Woven into my new employee orientation was a training on how to use the planner (e.g. setting expectations)
  • Use of the planner was integrated into staff meetings (e.g. using the tool became procedural and habitual)
  • Annual staff planning retreats were the norm (e.g. planning was structurally built into the calendar)
  • It was an expectation that every employee develop what was called a “backdating plan” for every district event (in fact, every employee was issued a tool that looked like a wheel to help with the math of backdating)
  • Employees were strongly encouraged to take an entire workday once a month, which was called a “day of planning,” to do activities like setting up next month’s meetings, tying up loose ends (e.g. catching up on writing meeting notes, completing expense reports, reviewing your performance plan and calendarizing strategic action to achieve goals, etc)
  • Employees who were not good about taking their day of planning once a month, ended up with this added to next year’s annual performance plan
  • In addition to a monthly “day of planning,” employees were encouraged to spend one hour at the start of the week (or at the end of the previous week) to review upcoming appointments, break apart big projects into smaller tasks, prioritize every task in relationship to each other, etc
  • As if all this wasn’t enough, employees were encouraged to end every day with a short exercise whereby incomplete tasks were moved forward to the next day (and subsequently re-prioritized in relation to one another)

I’ve heard some people call this experience insane. I go back and forth on it. However, I can confidently say it helped address the issue of the “tyranny of the urgent.

Yep, you heard me right . . . I didn’t say the BSA’s “culture of planning” single-handedly solved anything. (Again, I refer you back to the beginning of the post where I qualified everything up the ying-yang by saying this is complicated stuff.)

I still saw periods of time at my Boy Scout council when “tyranny of the urgent” reigned. This was usually around an annual campaign deadline, the start of camping season, or year-end membership pushes.

People, systems, plans & structural alignment

culture4Changing your organizational culture (or at the very least rooting out tyranny of the urgent) will also likely require some combination of the following:

  • modeling behavior by senior leadership (and possibly flexing leadership styles)
  • creating positive/negative reward systems
  • hiring people with skills and experiences aligned with the desired culture shift
  • redistributing financial resources into whatever is deemed transformative activities (e.g. training costs, purchasing new tools, increased pay grades to attract different people to your applicant pool, etc)
  • aligning every single plan throughout the organization with a single, shared vision and shared values
  • creating or revising certain policies or procedures
  • developing new monitoring/reporting tools and using these tools to be transparent with everyone who is connected together by organizational culture

Choosing & using a change model

Creating a plan for change is not enough. If it were, then the success rate of change initiatives in the workplace would be a lot higher than 30%.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen lots of different change leadership models out there. My best suggestion is to:

  • choose a model and stick with it
  • empower your change team to run with it
  • invest in helping your team learn the model and all of the tools that come with it (e.g. workshops, materials, etc)

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around what I mean by a change leadership model, then you might want to check out Mitchell Nash’s blog post for Linkage Inc, which is titled “12 Steps to Organizational Change: A Checklist.”

Behind each of the 12 steps, there are tools to assist with successfully achievement. Of course, those tools aren’t in Nash’s blog. You need to pay for that training with Linkage. Having been through Linkage’s Change Leadership workshop twice while working for a former employer, I assure you that your experience will be punctuated with many “AH-HA” moments.

Have you ever worked for a non-profit where the tyranny of the urgent was part of the organization’s culture? If so, how did they try to address it? Did it work? If they did nothing, what were the consequences (or were there none)? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Does your non-profit culture suffer from tyranny of the urgent?


There has been lots of talk in recent years in resource development circles about whether or not your organization has a culture of philanthropy. Recently, I’ve started looking at something very different in my work with non-profits. I’ve been looking at a concept described by some experts as the “Tyranny of the Urgent,” which is what many faith-based experts seem to be discussing. While I’m not very religious, I must admit the more I learn, the more I’m concluding this idea describes many organizations’ culture. It also has me wondering if “Tyranny of the Urgent” is the enemy of a “Culture of Philanthropy.

What is “tyranny of the urgent?

urgent1Simply, this idea is rooted in the idea that urgent tasks trump important things, which results in consequences for individuals and organizations.

Charles Hummel, author of Tyranny of the Urgent, describes this phenomenon succinctly in the following passage from a 1994 whitepaper of the same title:

“When we stop long enough to think about it, we realize that our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. Hard work doesn’t hurt us. We all know what it is to go full speed for long hours, totally involved in an important task. The resulting weariness is matched by a sense of achievement and joy. Not hard work, but doubt and misgiving produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks. We sense uneasily our failure to do what was really important. The winds of other people’s demands, and our own inner compulsions, have driven us onto a reef of frustration. We confess, quite apart from our sins, ‘We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done’.”

Can organizations suffer from this?

I’ve seen this first hand in the organizations for which I’ve worked , the organizations I’ve run and many of the organizations that I’ve worked with as a consultant.

And doesn’t it just make sense?

After all, if leadership is one of the big cogs in the big machine we call “organizational development,” then doesn’t it stand to reason … if our leaders suffer from tyranny of the urgent, then they could easily instill it in their organization’s culture through their actions (e.g. hiring, management, direction-setting, governance and procedural practices)?

I’ve seen it . . . so I believe it to be true. I’ll let you judge for yourself.

How to diagnose an organizational culture of urgency?

foxworthyI looked around for diagnostic and evaluation tools failed to find anything. Perhaps, I’m using the wrong internet search words or maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. If anyone has seen anything, please share using the comment box on this blog. I’m very interested.

After striking out, I decided to reverse engineer the question by looking at behaviors I’ve witnessed in non-profit workplaces that seem to fit the definition. The way to use the following checklist is a little bit like Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy sketch “You Might Be A Redneck If

In other words, start off by saying, “My organization might suffer from a culture of urgency if …” and then read one of the following bullets:

  • … staff keep coming to your office and asking you to stop what you’re doing and help them with their issue (Some people have described this phenomenon as stop-drop-roll. It has also been characterized as the flavor of the month.)
  • … board members keep calling/emailing about something upsetting that they just learned about
  • … your to-do-list and your staff’s task lists are not prioritized and appear to be never-ending (you might also have a sinking feeling that the organization is spinning its wheels and getting nowhere fast)
  • … your organization’s employee turnover rate is high
  • … your donor retention rate is low
  • … staff constantly talk about workplace stress or even worse the organization’s work doesn’t seem to be fulfilling to them as individuals
  • … senior leadership talks about being unable to sleep at night and keep waking up to panic stricken thoughts that they forgot to do something at work
  • … people are constantly checking their smart phones throughout the work day and at home as well as responding to phone/email late at night and on weekends
  • … fundraising staff and volunteers appear to frantically run from one event/campaign to the next without taking time to evaluate and celebrate
  • … donors are telling you, your staff and volunteers something like: “every time I see you, you’re asking me for money
  • … fundraising staff are making lots of errors (e.g. incomplete/inaccurate donor database records, issues with gift acknowledgement letters, etc)
  • … board meeting and committee agendas/materials are going out a day or two before the meeting (or perhaps just being handed out at the meeting)
  • … organizational policies don’t seem to match up with organizational practices (e.g. fundraising policy may say gift acknowledgement letters are mailed within 24 hours but the practice is actually that letters are mailed at various intervals depending on workload)

Hmmm … it only took me five minutes to assemble this list. I suspect there are MANY more examples. If you want to add to this list, please do so by using the comment box.

So, what’s the big deal?

urgent2Again, I go back to what Hummel tells us in his writings. The consequence is simple … “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done.

When this happens for individuals, the result is typically stress, sleeplessness, lack of fulfillment, sense of loss, anger, frustration, helplessness, etc.

When this dynamic is ingrained in an organization’s culture, results can vary, but I’ve personally seen the following:

  • poor staff morale
  • unfulfilled strategic plans (in fact any plans)
  • disengaged boards
  • falling revenue
  • bankruptcy and dissolution

I’m not making this list up. I’ve seen all of these things happen and the common thread has been an organizational culture with “tyranny of the urgent” at its core.

So, how do we change culture?

Well, this is where the announcer comes on and says, “Stay tuned for our next episode.”  ;-)

My next post in a few days will attempt to offer a few suggestions, but in the meantime I will leave you to think about this quote from Steve Denning who wrote in a 2011 article for Forbes:

“… an organization’s culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions.”

Hmmmm, sounds like a complicated fix to me. Stay tuned and let’s see where this goes.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Alice in Wonderland as an allegory for a newly hired non-profit CEO


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the non-profit CEO hiring and on-boarding process because a former client of mine is starting to go down this path. So, I decided to get creative and use Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to talk about what many new non-profit CEO’s go through during and immediately after they’re hired.

For those of you who are wondering, I did pull from my personal experiences; however, I did embellish a little for entertainment purposes.

You might also be wondering what I ate or drank to come up with such a crazy idea? Well, I did play the role of the Dormouse in my high school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. And this awesome story has stuck with me ever since.  ;-)

Enjoy!


alice aliceOnce upon a time, there was a young girl by the name of Alice.

Alice worked for a non-profit organization as a front line staff person. Her organization’s mission was inspirational. She worked with volunteers every day to operationalize that mission in a variety of ways. She helped train volunteers. She engaged donors to financially support the organization’s work. She planned a variety of events both programmatic and fundraising in nature. She sometimes even got to roll up her sleeves and get involved with program implementation.

Alice was successful, and the path in front of her was full of hope and opportunity.

One day while skipping down this path, Alice was approached by a White Rabbit. This nervous rabbit recognized Alice’s raw talents and suggested “she has what it takes” to provide leadership to another organization. In short order, Alice had reviewed a vacancy notice, done what she thought was appropriate due diligence, applied for the non-profit CEO position, and gone through a series of interviews with the rabbit and his search committee.

alice rabbitUpon signing an offer sheet, Alice found herself tumbling down a rabbit hole. At the bottom of this hole, Alice was disoriented but determined. As she turned to the White Rabbit for advice and her next steps, she saw him running away and heard him saying over his shoulder, “Hello, Goodbye. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.

As Alice tried calling after the rabbit, she was interrupted by a smiling Cheshire Cat. Startled and disoriented, she asked the cat what she should do first.

  • What are the organization’s priorities?
  • Is there a 90 day plan waiting for her?
  • Can she please see the organization’s strategic plan?

Instead of helping, the cat simply smiled and remarked that she must be stark, raving mad. “Everyone here is mad. I’m mad. You’re mad. It’s only by chance n’ careful planning if you’re not!” In a blink of an eye, the cat fades away and wishes her luck on her new adventure.

In her first few days, with little to no direction, Alice was hungry for a challenge. She knew that her new organization needs her. After all, the rabbit and his search committee shared with her some of the organization’s challenges throughout the search process. They also assured her every step of the way that she was perfect for the job. This must be the truth because in the end, they did choose her over a number of other applicants.

Without any hesitation, Alice decided to dig in. She ate a project, and promptly grew ten times bigger. She drank another challenge and shrank smaller than she ever thought possible. As she looked around for evidence that this was indeed strange and bizarre, no one seemed to validate her feelings. There was no feedback, and there was definitely no help.

alice catapillerOne of the first characters Alice encounters, after the White Rabbit ran away, was a hookah smoking caterpillar. As it turned out, the caterpillar worked at the organization. Needless to say, this encounter didn’t go well. My friend Lewis Carroll does a better job recalling the conversation:

‘Who are you?’ asked the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’
‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’
‘I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
‘I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
‘It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.

Shaken by this meeting, Alice decided to leave the office to explore the new community of which she was now an important member. Perhaps, other stakeholders — board members, volunteers, community leaders, collaborative partners, and donors — could help her get oriented and pointed in the right direction.

Alice hatter hare mouseWithout much effort, Alice came across a Tea Party with a wide range of characters. There was a Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse. These three donors couldn’t seem to get along, nor did they seem to agree on why people supported the organization. When Alice weighed into the conversation by saying she had a good guess as to why the average donor supported the organization, the following weird discussion ensued:

The March Hare: You mean you think you know the answer?
Alice: Yes.
The March Hare: Well, then, you should say what you mean.
Alice: Well, I do. At-at least, at least I mean what I say, that-that is the same thing.
Mad Hatter: It’s not the same thing at all. You might as well say “I eat what I see” is the same thing as “I see what I eat!”
The March Hare: You might as well say “I like what I get” is the same as “I get what I like!”
The Dormouse: [talking in his sleep, then suddenly awake] Aah! You-you, or you might as well say “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe.” [he quickly noded off again]
Mad Hatter: Well, it is the same thing with you.

Frustrated with the idea that her organization’s case for support was perceived differently by so many different donors, Alice decided to leave the tea party. Taking notice, the Mad Hatter yelled after her a few final words of advice, “[This] is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter.

Alice pulls out a piece of paper she had taken a few notes on and started checking off stakeholders’ names. Perhaps, visiting with other non-profit CEOs in the community would help put her feet on the ground.

alice tweedledeeAt a gathering of her peers, Alice was approached by two identical looking individuals. She attempted to strike up a conversation about resource development, asking about which families are part of the community’s core philanthropic circle. She prattled on about the importance of individual giving and even tried to impress them with her knowledge about private sector fundraising trends. Instead of finding comrades-in-arms, Tweedledee and Tweedledum bark back at her and said, “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

Having lost her words, Alice paused but quickly recoiled when the gathering of her peers started staring at her and eerily began reciting the following poem:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrave.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum gree,
And stood awhile in thought
And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrave.

Of course, it didn’t make sense, but in this place of nonsense, it made all the sense in the world. Her peers were trying to warn her about her organization’s board of directors. In fact, it wasn’t just Alice’s board they were chanting about. They were talking about all of their boards.

Without hesitation, Alice left the gathering of her peers and started running off in the direction of her board president — The Queen of Hearts — and the rest of the board, which was made up of a deck of cards.

alice queenIn her first encounter with The Queen of Hearts, Alice had lots of questions to ask.

  • Is there a plan (or at least a direction set by the board) that she could put her hands on?
  • If not, then does the queen have any thoughts on where Alice should roll up her sleeves and start?
  • Should she immediately turn her attention to building organizational capacity around resource develop and fundraising? Programming and operations? Board development and board governance?

Without hesitation or any thought, the queen snapped off a response. She explained that the organization was in perfect shape. There was no need to do any of that work, and doing so would simply be a diversion in her opinion. The queen proclaimed that Alice needs to only set her sights on running a multi-million capital campaign.

After giving this a few moments of consideration, Alice decided she must not have been clear in explaining some of what she had witnessed after her tumble down the rabbit hole. So, she started all over again only to be abruptly interrupted by the queen. She said, “I warn you, child… if I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?


This is the start of Alice’s non-profit CEO tenure. While the adventure continued for many years and she had many successes (and learning opportunities), this is a good place to pause the story and ask . . .

  • What was your experience with your organization’s CEO search process?
  • What was different with your orientation?
  • Was there as on-boarding plan in place? What did it look like?
  • Did you receive a 90-day plan?
  • Were there organizational scan worksheets to help guide you through your first three months?

Please use the comment box below to share your answers or any other experiences/thoughts you might have. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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