Category Archives: leadership

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

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

Executive coaching is for non-profit leaders


fishbowlA few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Why are non-profits adverse to executive coaching?” after a conference where I couldn’t give away executive coaching services. With a few more years under my belt, things haven’t gotten any easier. In fact, I still find it challenging to sell executive coaching services to non-profit leaders. However, I’ve changed my mind since writing that last blog post about the reasons why this is the case.

After a heart-to-heart with a few non-profit friends, I’ve come to believe executive coaching is seen by some (and perhaps many) as a service for professionals who are failing. One person even compared it to counseling.

When put into this context, people who see coaching as a remedy for failure also see asking their board or their supervisor to pay for coaching as an admission of weakness or being unable to do their job.

The ironic thing here is that some of the for-profit sector’s greatest leaders have worked with executive coaches. It wasn’t because they were failing, but it was because they needed to maximize their performance.

Executive coaching is not like coaching in athletics. They don’t call the plays in from the sidelines. In fact, they don’t even tell you what to do. A good executive coach will ask powerful questions, facilitate discussions, help you with goal setting and be an accountability agent in your professional life.

Executive coaches are not therapists, but hiring one can have the impact of bringing greater work-life balance and fulfillment to your professional life.

The reality is that executive coaches are hired for any number of reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Help with succession planning
  • Developing young leaders
  • Improving performance / Maximizing performance
  • Serving as a thought-partner during important projects (e.g. strategic planning)
  • On-boarding new CEOs and key leaders (both staff and volunteer)
  • Surviving and thriving during executive search and transition

I could go on and on with this list, but the bottom line is that there are any number of projects and situation where non-profit organizations can benefit from executive coaching services.

Has your organization every hired an executive coach for staff or board volunteer? If not, then what is stopping you? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box.  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

Illinois budget crisis impacting non-profit organizations — Part 3


illinois budgetEarlier this week and last week, I started writing about the State of Illinois’ budget crisis and how it is impacting non-profit organizations. In Part 1 of this series, I shared survey results provided by United Way of Illinois along with other insights and perspectives . In Part 2, I talked to a non-profit executive director whose organization lost significant funding as a result of Illinois’ budget impasse and shared some surprising developments. Today, I have a suggestion for Illinois non-profit leaders to mull over as the crisis deepens (and there is lots here for non-profit leaders from other states to chew on, too).

Frog in boiling water

We’ve all heard the story about frogs and boiling pots of water. Right?

Assuming that some of you haven’t any clue of what I’m talking about, here is a nice summary from Wikipedia:

“The boiling frog is an anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that occur gradually.”

I have no clue what the origins of this old story are, but I do know this . . .

IT IS A MYTH!

boiling frog1Don’t want to take my word for it because you might have heard it from your grandfather or another beloved family member. No problem … I completely understand. Let me provide you with scientific proof. Simply click here, click here for more, and click here if you are in deep denial.  If you clicked all three links, I’m guessing you probably also believe a number of other grossly inaccurate things about other animals and suggest you the Snopes.com article titled “Critter Country: Wild Inaccuracies

So, what does any of this silliness have to do with non-profits and the Illinois budget impasse?

Your organization is like a frog!

In other words, your non-profit should (and likely will) jump out of the boiling waters of government funding if things get too hot. It is a simple matter of survival.

Question #1: When?

I’ve lamented too often — right here on this blog — that too many non-profit boards operate poorly. They don’t understand (and sometimes reject) their legally defined fiduciary responsibilities, focus their meetings obsessively on monitoring rather than governance, micromanage the organization and its staff, rubber stamp things (oftentimes very important things) that staff put in front of them, and my list can go on and on.

If anything in the last paragraph describes your organization’s board of directors, please hear me clearly . . .

You’re at risk!

In other words, you might just be on the road to proving all of the scientists, who said in the last section that “the boiling frog story is an urban legend,” are liars.

boiling frog2Your board is likely made up of smart people. If they aren’t being used (at a minimum) as a “sounding board” on the issue of government funding and what to do about it, then my suggestions are:

  • Stop business as usual in your boardroom
  • Start adding a 45 minute “generative discussion” agenda item to every one of your monthly meetings for the foreseeable future
  • Focus your discussions around various aspects of your government funding situation
  • Bring in guest speakers who know more than you do about state funding and your grants
  • Pose open ended questions and facilitate an engaging dialog where everyone is encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings
  • Don’t just have theoretical conversations … also pose action oriented questions (e.g. what are our options? what should we be doing?)

If you and your board can make this adjustment in non-profit governance, I guarantee you that . . .

It will be clear when it is time to jump out of the boiling pot!

Question #2: What?

boiling frog3Of course, the more difficult question for most non-profit organizations is “What to do about it?

If your organization isn’t reliant on government funding, the answer is easy . . . carry on and try not to gloat too much around your non-profit friends. For those of you who rely on modest (or perhaps significant) government money, then you want to keep reading.

If you and your board have decided the water is getting a little too hot, then here are a few suggestions:

  • Re-exam your non-profit revenue model
  • Explore other models (refer to previous section about generative discussions in the boardroom)
  • Make a group decision about which model (or hybrid model) is best for your organization at this time
  • Don’t try to turn the battleship all at once … choose one (or a few) things to “try on for size” and experiment with small aspects of your new revenue model (e.g. write a private sector foundation grant, engage a corporate partner, identify prospective individual donors and start a conversation with them; write a business plan for a potential social enterprise, etc)
  • Invest time, energy and effort in evaluation of every new thing you undertake and commit to nurturing a culture of improvement and excellence
  • Celebrate every success from top-to-bottom and side-to-side of your organization (no matter how big or small it may be)

If you got this far and still find yourself scratching your head over the idea of different non-profit revenue models, then you need to click-through and read a Bridgespan white paper titled “Ten Nonprofit Funding Models“. I also highly suggest clicking on and reading every hyperlink embedded in the white paper.

If you don’t believe your organization can do this without help, then I have some good news. There are countless non-profit consultants (myself included) who are available for hire.

Stop listening to stupid people

boiling frog4I’ve heard state funders (e.g. foundations, United Ways, etc) say loudly and clearly, “The state cannot expect funders to fill the gap created by the State“.

I do NOT believe foundation leaders and United Way professionals are “stupid people“. However . . .

I have heard some people (in fact some are even dear friends of mine), amplify the cautionary words of foundations and United Ways and then twist them by concluding “private sector philanthropy” cannot fill the gap. It is these folks to whom I urge you to please stop listening.

The reality is that foundations, corporations and United Ways only account for 20% of the $358 billion of charitable giving. The remainder of the pie (a huge whopping 80%) comes from individuals either directly or through bequests.

Moreover, charitable giving is only 2% of our country’s GDP.

The pie can be increased. There is room to expand and grow. Foundation leaders and United Way professionals never said private sector philanthropy couldn’t be the solution (or at least a big part of the solution). They were simply say that politicians need to stop telling voters their organizations will fill the gap.

Are you a doubting Thomas? If so, then I have a proposition for you . . .

Add this topic to your board agenda. I think it makes for an awesome generative discussion. If you’re an Illinois non-profit organization and you’re looking for someone to speak in your boardroom on this subject and facilitate a generative discussion, then please contact me because I would be willing to consider it.

Next up in this blog series?

I’ve sent emails to a handful of politicians and policymakers who I trust and respect. I’ve invited them to share their thoughts on this subject. If any of them respond, then I’ll publish those next week.

In the meantime, please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences on the Illinois budget impasse, the impact you’re seeing on the non-profit sector, your thoughts on what organizations should be doing about it, or anything else that is top of mind regarding the state of government funding (federal, state or local) and those trends. 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

Dealing with your non-profit organization’s cash flow crisis


A few times every year I get a phone call from a non-profit friend who is experiencing a cash flow issue. The conversation always starts off with a tinge of embarrassment and then quickly morphs into finger pointing and finally ends with a sense of resignation and desperation. I received another one of these phone calls the other day, which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about this subject for quiet some time. The following are a few quick tips on how to handle your non-profit organization’s cash flow crisis.

Remain calm and confident

kevin baconOne of my favorite movie scenes is at the end of Animal House when Kevin Bacon’s character is trying to keep the peace in the middle of the parade-turned-riot when he is shouting, “Remain calm! All is well.”

During a cash flow crunch, it is important for you to remain calm and encourage everyone else in the organization (e.g. board volunteers, staff, donors, etc) to do the same.

Why? Simply because . . .

  • People don’t follow leaders who aren’t confident and composed
  • Panic and fear spread quicker than the flu
  • People don’t typically make good decisions when they are panicked and fearful

Develop a 90 day plan

planningYou have lots of short-term options that will help bridge your organization through a cash flow crisis. The following is a short list of some of those options:

  • Secure a loan (this can be a traditional short-term loan from the bank or a promissory note from a donor)
  • Search your donor database for LYBUNTs (e.g. lapsed, former donors) and ask them to renew their support
  • Meet with your largest donors and ask them to make another contribution
  • Look at your accounts receivable list and ask those donors if they would consider making a pledge payment sooner than they had indicated on their pledge card
  • Ask board members to make another contribution
  • Prioritize which outstanding invoices need to be paid now and which ones can wait
  • Work with your Finance Committee (or key board volunteers) to develop a new budget plan for your new realities (or develop multiple budgets for a variety of revenue scenarios)
  • Use unpaid furlough days with some staff to temporarily reduce payroll expenses (be cognizant of what this will do to morale and possible employee turnover)

I wrote a blog post titled “So, your non-profit cannot make its payroll obligation” a few years ago about some of these options. You might want to click-through to read more.

Understand what caused the problem

assessmentIf I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a number of times . . . board volunteers want to hold someone accountable after the crisis passes. In my opinion, the best way to survive this dynamic is to be able to point to:

  1. Your calm leadership during the crisis
  2. Your role in developing the short-term plan
  3. Your understanding of what caused the problem
  4. Your commitment to fixing the things that cause the problem

There is a fine line between assessment and finger pointing in these situations. Whatever you do, avoid finger pointing because your board of directors will interpret it as “not taking responsibility“.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to undertake an assessment, but my suggestion is that you do it with many people sitting around the table. The more eyes you have looking at this situation, the more likely you will be to see all sides of the problem. Consider involving staff who play some role in financial management, board volunteers with a background in finance, and possibly even an external consultant who can come at this with fresh eyes.

Develop a long-term plan

planningNow that you’ve made it through the crisis and have a firm understanding of what caused it, it is important have a new long-term plan that keeps you from ending up back from where you just came.

As with the last section, I strongly suggest you don’t do this alone. Your plan will have more credibility if many participated in its creation. Remember, the board will look skeptically at any plan that is developed by the same people who they perceive as having played a role in creating the original crisis. Involving fresh faces with lots of credibility helps address this dynamic.

Your plan will be unique to your organization and your situation; however, the following are just a few “fixes” I’ve personally seen embraced more often than not:

  • Making revisions to the resource development plan (e.g. adding more to the fundraising plan)
  • Making process changes to the budget construction process
  • Making process changes to billing/invoicing donors and grant providers
  • Changing how the board monitors/oversees the finances
  • Undertaking a re-organization of the company focused on staff/payroll reduction

Well, good luck with your cash flow crisis. Hopefully, these big picture suggestions are helpful and get you pointed in the right direction. If you have any ideas or experiences that you wish to share, please do so in the comment box below. 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

New year starts with a little assessment work


assessmentWelcome to a new year everyone, which for many people typically means making resolutions and goals. For me, I’ve been telling friends and family for the last few months that I plan on taking the first quarter of 2016 do a little soul searching. I anticipate a few personal and business decisions stemming from my assessment efforts.

When I started looking at how I wanted to go about doing some “assessment work,” I found that the business assessment ideas were the easiest.

  • Review revenue trends and sources of income
  • Look at types of contracts
  • Explore different business models
  • Talk with friends and colleagues about what seems to provide a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment

Easy-peasy! One week into 2016, and I feel really comfortable with the business assessment aspects of my soul searching journey.

But what I’ve found more challenging is the the personal assessment component of this exercise (e.g. what are my strengths, what jobs align with my personality type, etc).

In the final weeks of 2015, I struggled with (and procrastinated on) figuring out what I was going to do with regard to a personal assessment. I simply wanted this process to point me in the direction of greater work-life balance, mindfulness and health.

As most things in life, the answers came when I least expected.

While I was standing around at O’Hare airport waiting for my plane to arrive, I decided to browse around a book store near my gate. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I wasn’t even planning to make a purchase, but I ended up walking out with the following two purchases:

My first book purchase is aimed at helping me determine where I lack in emotional intelligence and what I can do to strengthen those areas of deficiency. My suspicion is that strengthening my emotional intelligence will help me become an even better non-profit consultant by becoming more empathetic and building stronger, more meaningful relationships.

As for the second book, I thought getting a better handle on my strengths might help me focus my consulting practice.

I’ve taken the online assessments associated with these books and started reading.

I will use my next two blog posts to share with you some of the results from these online assessments, what I’m learning, and what sense I’m making of it all.

This personal journey has me thinking about YOU and your non-profit organization.

  • What assessment tools have you used to assess your organization?
  • What tools have you used to assess YOU? Your personality? Your leadership style? Your strengths and skills?
  • Have you used these tools with your workplace team? If so, has it help you develop a better team?

When I was an executive director of a small non-profit organization many years ago, I engaged a consultant to help us bring Myers-Briggs (MBTI) personality testing into our workplace. After some employee turnover, this initiative lost steam and ultimately faded. However, I’ve subsequently read the book Type Talk at Work and now realize how valuable those efforts could’ve been for our little team if we had stayed the course.

Please scroll down to the comment box and share your thoughts and experiences with either organizational or personal assessment processes, workplace initiatives or tools. We can all learn from each other.

[Note: I’ve had a few close friends ask me if my first quarter assessment efforts are a sign of imminent changes. I’ve assured them that it does not mean that I’m closing my consulting practice or running off to join the circus. I simply believe assessment — both personal and business — is a natural part of life and something everyone should do from time-to-time.]

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

Nominating committee versus board development committee?


recruitmentI belong to a professional association and recently agreed to join their nominating committee to help the board of directors fill a few expiring board terms. This volunteer experience has made “board recruitment” top of mind for me over the last few weeks. I also can’t stop thinking about the various organizational structures and strategies/approaches to board recruitment. When this happens to me, I know there must be a blog post brewing.

Nominating committee approach

This method of undertaking board recruitment was what I was first exposed to as a young non-profit professional working for the Boy Scouts of America back in the 1990s.

A nominating committee is:

  • typically an ad hoc committee
  • pulled together a few months before existing board terms expire
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for identifying board prospects
  • responsible for pulling together a slate of volunteers for a larger body of membership to consider

There are variations on this approach.

I’ve been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • identifying and evaluating prospects
  • ranking prospects
  • building a slate of prospects
  • presenting a slate of prospects to the membership (where the slate is exactly equal to the number of vacancies that need to be filled)
  • asking the at-large membership to approve the slate or send the nominating committee back to the drawing board to re-develop a different slate

I’ve also been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • sifting through nominations from the field
  • interviewing applicants (based on board gap assessment and what the board needs with regards to skill sets and experiences)
  • constructing a ballot of vetted prospects without regard for how many vacancies need to be filled
  • asking the at-large membership to vote for a smaller subset of what appears on their ballot

Board Development / Board Governance Committee

The alternative to an ad hoc Nominating Committee is a Board Development (or board governance) standing committee. In the last 15 years of my non-profit career, I’ve become more familiar with this approach to board recruitment.

A board development committee is:

  • standing committee that meets throughout the calendar year
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for gap assessment
  • responsible for identifying and evaluating board prospects
  • responsible for recruiting board prospects
  • responsible for onboarding and orientation of new board volunteers
  • responsible for developing and implementing a board training calendar (e.g. external conferences as well as boardroom trainings)
  • responsible for annual review/evaluation of individual board volunteers
  • sometimes a resource to the board president on governance issues (e.g. assistance with committee structure, meeting design, annual board retreat, etc)

My two cents

I personally like the board development/board governance standing committee option over the old fashion Nominating Committee approach for the following reasons:

  • It feels more comprehensive in its approach to building/sustaining an organization
  • It feels more strategic with regards to aligning skills/experiences of volunteers with organizational talent gaps
  • It feels focused and more permanent (rather than “it’s that time of the year again” mentality)

In a perfect world, I believe your organization is best served when you can align your board development practices with approaches that are intentional, mindful and strategic.

While I recognize that membership-based organizations might struggle with this approach, I still think a board development committee can work in those environments and accommodate practices such as a “call for nominations” from the at-large membership.  In these situations, if there needs to be voting from the membership, then I obviously favor the practice of putting a slate of prospects in front of the membership for a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.

Your thoughts? What does your organization do to be intentional, mindful and strategic with its board recruitment, development and governance? Please scroll down and provide your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. After all, 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

May 2015 Nonprofit Blog Carnival — You Are the Future of Philanthropy


I am so honored and privileged to be hosting my third Nonprofit Blog Carnival. On May 4th, I published a “call for submissions” aimed at non-profit and fundraising bloggers that piggybacked on Katherine Fulton’s 2007 TED Talks presentation titled “You Are the future of philanthropy“. You are invited to click-through to view that presentation before checking out what this month’s bloggers submitted (this would be like going to the cotton candy stand before getting on the roller coaster at your local carnival. LOL).

Katherine Fulton

 

If you didn’t have time to watch Katherine Fulton’s video (and you’re trying to skip through to the “good stuff”), then just know that she covered lots and lots of ground with regard to the future of philanthropy including:

  • A new generation of citizen leaders
  • The democratization of philanthropy
  • Mass collaboration
  • Online Philanthropy Marketplaces
  • Aggregated Giving
  • Innovation Competitions
  • Social Investing
  • The Social Singularity

With such a diversity of topics to tackle, submissions to this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival covered lots of ground. The following 14 bloggers all paint an interesting vision of the future, and they put a resounding exclamation mark on Katherine Fulton’s point that we’re all the future of philanthropy albeit in a multitude of ways.

I hope you enjoy this month’s carnival!


NPBlogCarnivalBanner

Move over Baby Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y donors, here comes Gen Z.  Beth Kanter highlights this school-aged generation in Beth’s Blog and challenges some assumptions that this generation is decades away from being philanthropically engaged. I especially love some of the examples of “PhilanthroKids” and their crowdfunding projects.

Jay Love is the co-founder and CEO at Bloomerang as well as the chairman of the AFP Ethics Committee. He blogs about “5 Reasons Why Nonprofits Need Incubators Too,” which speaks to the of democratization of philanthropy and mass collaboration at an organizational level (Many thought-leaders approach this topic from a donor perspective, but Jay adds an interesting angle on this subject by coming at it from an organizational perspective. Very thought provoking!)

Ve Le is the blogger at Nonprofit With Balls and his post “Winter is coming, and the donor-centric fundraising model must evolve” will get people talking this month. He opines that the donor-centric model is great, but there is a danger in focusing too much on donors. We risk underestimating our donors, elevating them and our individual non-profits at the cost of focusing on the community as a whole. The non-profit sector must move from the donor-centric model to the community-centric model unless it wants to freeze and starve to death.

Ever since the #IceBucketChallenge, many donors and non-profits are now trying to integrate social media into their fundraising plans (need we even mention #RedNoseDay?!?). The CauseVox Blog‘s Kat Kuehl provides tips on developing the perfect hashtag for your crowdfunding campaign because you aren’t going viral without an awesome-catchy-unique hashtag. It only feels appropriate to end this summary by saying #AwesomeSauce.

Randy Hawthorne explains to us over at Nonprofit Hub that what’s new in the world of philanthropy is what was once considered old. It’s what we always should be doing for donors—building our tribes (A special thanks to Seth Godin for re-introducing many of us to a tribal way of thinking).

On the Wild Apricot Blog, Lori Halley tells us that philanthropy is changing and change can be hard. But she believes there is a willingness to change and is hopeful that “the new generation of citizen leaders” can optimize the “convergence of forces” to ensure a bright future for philanthropy.

Tony Martignetti, host of Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio, interviewed Maria Semple of The Prospect Finder on the growing popularity and value of giving circles and how to tap into them in your community.

Nonprofit Evolution‘s Dani Robbins writes that we are each the future of philanthropy and can all be philanthropists. New technology brings new opportunities, yet relationship building still rules the day.  Engage. Ask. Receive. Repeat.

In the digital age, with the pace of change accelerated, Claire Axelrad at Clairification tell us that leadership is about embracing creativity and partnering to solve problems that can’t be solved in silos. This means inspiring others to take a chance with you and, sometimes, transforming your modus operandi.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This quotation is what Ken Goldstein at The Nonprofit Consultant Blog wrestles with as he dissects Katherine Fulton’s TED Talks presentation. At the end of his post, Ken shares four interesting predictions about the future.

It’s tempting for nonprofit organizations to latch on to the latest craze. But sometimes we need to take a step back. Ann Green reports in Ann Green’s Nonprofit Blog that you can find success by giving your donors the personal touch and good old-fashioned relationship building. The future of philanthropy is already here and it is found in how you build your relationships.

American City Bureau (ACB) is one of the country’s oldest fundraising firms, and Daniel Mollsen’s interview with Bob Hotz  at “Take Five” reminds fundraising professionals the more that changes (e.g. smart phones, emails, voicemails, virtual meetings, etc) in our field of work, the more we need to work at striving for balance.

Arroyo Fundraising Fluency‘s Kathie Kramer Ryan shares her vision of the future which is focused on major donors and major gifts.

Per my promise to DonorDreams blog subscribers, I focused all of our posts in May on this carnival topic. We videotaped fundraising professionals and donors talking about Katherine Fulton’s vision of the future. Some participants even took part in the “empty picture frame exercise” at the end of Katherine’s presentation. If you have a few additional minutes, I encourage you to click-through and see/hear these touching “from the heart” testimonials:

I need to thank Marissa Garza for videotaping these individuals, and I especially appreciate those who took time out of their busy schedules to work with Marissa on this project. Thank you!!!

Lori Halley at Wild Apricot blog will be next month’s host of the next Nonprofit Blog Carnival. The theme will be “Motivation for the Nonprofit Nation“. She’ll be looking for any posts from bloggers with ideas, stories or tips for motivating non-profit donors, supporters, boards, volunteers, or staff. Click here for more details and how to submit your blog entry for consideration.

As I say at the end of all my blog posts . . .

Here’s to your health! (and try not to eat too much funnel cake at this month’s carnival)

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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