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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’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

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

Working with fundraising-phobic non-profit boards


boards on fireOrganizational culture is a difficult dynamic to change. After all, birds of a feather flock together, right? It is for this reason that simply changing the people sitting around your boardroom table is likely a very difficult strategy to employ (albeit not impossible or wrong). While this strategy is the most commonly suggested one by non-profit consultants, I recently found comfort and inspiration from Susan Howlett’s book Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully.

In Howlett’s easy to read paperback book, she recounts a story about working with a board that was resistant to fundraising. After trying everything, she simply asked everyone if they would be willing to call two of their friends and engage in a discussion about:

  • why they decided to serve on the organization’s board of directors
  • what the organization’s mission is and what it does
  • a recent organizational success story

At the end of the phone call or coffee meeting, board members were coached to ask their friend if they would mind receiving periodic updates (e.g. email, phone call or in-person visit) about what is going on.

If the board volunteer’s friend was agreeable, then in the subsequent months board volunteers were provided the following shareable things:

  • short emails with snippets of good news or links to online articles about the organization
  • requests to do something on behalf of the organization (e.g. call legislators or city council representatives)
  • invitations to attend something (e.g. facility tour, reception, etc)

In the end, Howlett’s strategy changed board culture and resulted in what she describes as a “board on fire.”

If you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend adding this book to your summer reading list. I suspect it will be a game changer for you if you’re grappling with the question of “how to inspire and engage your board in fundraising success?

After reading this joyful little book, I was reminded of the following basic truisms:

  • fundraising is a learned skill and not something people are born to do
  • engagement (e.g. cultivation) is important to fundraising volunteers because when it comes time to asking for money it feels like the pre-solicitation groundwork has been laid (e.g. they’ve earned the right to ask for money)
  • cultivation doesn’t happen without significant staff support (e.g. feeding volunteers materials to share, organizing informational house parties, etc)

look in mirrorIf your board is resistant to the idea of fundraising, I encourage you to first take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What boardroom trainings and generative discussions have you helped add to the board meeting agenda and support?
  • What cultivation materials have you provided to board volunteers with instructions on how to share with others? (e.g. stories, videos, articles, advocacy opportunities, newsletters, annual reports, etc)
  • What cultivation events have you organized? (e.g. lunch-n-learns, facility tours, house parties, etc)
  • What individualized coaching have you done with especially resistant board volunteers? (e.g. teaching others how to tell better stories)
  • How many cultivation visits have you gone with board volunteers on to model effective storytelling and information sharing? (e.g. modeling for others how to tell better stories)

I know it might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the reason your board might not be excited about fundraising could be because you aren’t excited about it or you aren’t supporting them effectively.

If you have done these things, you might want to ask yourself a different question, “How could I tweak these strategies to make them more effective?

Have you had success in changing your boardroom culture around the idea of fundraising? If so, what strategies did you employ to create a “board on fire?” Please use the comment box 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

Time to address homophobia in the non-profit sector?


I apologize to the DonorDreams community for not publishing anything in the last two weeks. I’ve been working on this very personal post and it took me quiet a long time to get it all out and written the way I wanted. Today’s post is heavy and serious, but I’m hopeful you will enjoy and appreciate what went into writing it. Here’s to your health! ~Erik


Step into my shoes and see the non-profit world through my eyes

By Erik Anderson
The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

internalized homoRecently, I was approached with a business lead and encouraged to pursue it. In discussing the opportunity with friends, they shared that I’d have a better chance teaching a pig to fly than securing the work in question.

Why?

Because one of the organization’s biggest stakeholders was seriously homophobic. This influential individual wasn’t just politically opposed to the LBGTQ agenda, which has been front and center in our news cycle for the last few years, but they allegedly advocate for not hiring gay people for a number of unfounded and ignorant reasons.

As a gay man in a 13-year married relationship and living openly and out of the closet with my husband, you can imagine some of my initial reactions to this revelation . . . denial, hopelessness, anger, etc. After working through these feelings, I found myself in a familiar place, which was inside my own head fighting against my internalized homophobia.

After working through some of these emotions, I decided to blog about my non-profit journey as it pertains to my sexual orientation. I promise you that this will be a very factual blog post. My intention is to simply share experiences and not editorialize. If I choose to offer a few suggestions, I will do so in a subsequent post.

My time with the Boy Scouts

bsa homoI know what you’re thinking, and I did know about the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) membership policy restrictions before I applied. I loved this organization so much (e.g. being a member since 7-years-old, Eagle Scout, summer camp staff, etc), I actually convinced myself that I could be celibate and never need to worry about being caught.

At the time of the job offer, very few people knew that I was gay. I had recently gone through a divorce and had only recently started grappling with sexual orientation questions. Interestingly, it was the BSA’s job offer that prompted me to come out of the closet to my Mom (she was the first family member I had told).

Why?

Because there were scout professionals and volunteer leaders who were being fired for being gay, and it common for those events to make their way into newspaper stories. When I thought about the possibility (albeit unlikely) of my family learning about my secret from a newspaper article, it broke my heart and prompted me to take action. I drove from the council parking lot to my Mom’s place of employment, which is where I tearfully confessed my secrets and asked for her help in making an employment decision.

I loved my time working for my local BSA council. I was back in the youth development sector working with volunteers and learning new skills (e.g. fundraising). For my career, things were sunny. For my personal life, things were dark. The LBGTQ question was top of mind for the organization, and I can honestly say it was a topic of conversation among employees and volunteers at least a handful of times every month.

Here are a few examples of conversations I vividly recall:

  • Volunteers pointing at phrases in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to justifying the ban on LGBTQ kids and adults. Phrases such as “morally straight”  or “A scout is clean” or “A scout is reverent
  • What to do about a group of teenage scouts who were doing inappropriate and seemingly somewhat sexually experimental things on camping trips and whether or not those activities should be considered “gay” and a violation of the BSA membership policies.
  • The day after Matthew Shepard was attacked, tied to a fence and stoned to death for being gay, every scout professional in the country received a media notice from the national office. The alert informed us of the incident, identified one of the murderers as an Eagle Scout, and provided scout professionals with instructions for what to do if contacted by a member of the news media.
  • A colleague and friend expressing concern that I wasn’t dating anyone after a few years of being divorced, and he humorously suggesting I should be careful because “people might start talking and assume that I was gay.”
  • Of course, the Supreme Court case — Boy Scouts of America v. Dale — was still in the media spotlight and everyone loved speculating and chattering about hypotheticals (e.g. the Mormon church would disaffiliate if the ruling went against the BSA, membership would fall, councils/camps would close, etc)
  • My favorite conversations (sarcasm intended) were with adult leaders who saw gay men as a perversion and outright said or strongly implied that gay men were pedophiles.

It was an uncomfortable few years, which is why I was so excited to receive a job offer to become the executive of a local Boys & Girls Club organization.

My time with Boys & Girls Club (local)

bgce homoWhile I was coming out of the closet to more family and friends by this time, I strategically made the decision to professionally remain in the closet. The following is a myriad of reasons (aka fears) that ruled my life at the time and provided me with the excuses to remain closeted:

  • Our organization had strong support among the African American community and was seen by some as the main after-school provider for that community. When you juxtapose this reality with the news reports and studies about homophobia within the African American community, it was enough to give me pause.
  • I had local religious leaders serving on my board of directors and helping with fundraising efforts, and none of those congregations were LGBTQ friendly.
  • There were socially conservative individuals who were donors to the organization, and the idea of someone pulling their support, because they didn’t like the executive director’s sexual orientation, was a risk I didn’t feel comfortable taking.
  • The State of Illinois had not yet passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation, and I asked the board to change the organization’s EEOC policy to include “sexual orientation” protections. I wasn’t motivated by my circumstances, but some foundations at the time were making their funding contingent on making these changes. Needless to say, that was an uncomfortable boardroom discussion.

Working for the Boys & Girls Club was a significant improvement from the toxic anti-LBGTQ Boy Scout culture; however, I met someone in 2003 and started secretly dating him. After integrating him into my professional life by introducing him as a “fundraising volunteer,” it became clear this strategy only would work for a short period of time. It was obviously not sustainable.

In December 2006, I dropped to one knee and asked the love of my life to spend the rest of his life with me. This was prior to civil unions and marriage equality. Within 60 seconds of proposing, I asked for the largest favor that I had ever asked anyone in my life. I asked my husband-to-be if he could give me up to 12 months to find a new job before we move in together and plan a reception/party for family and friends where we could proclaim our love for each other and intentions to spend the rest of our lives together.

What should’ve been one of the happiest moments of my life, instead felt conflicted and complicated because of my internalized homophobia.

Boys & Girls Club (national staff)

bgca homoIt didn’t take a year for me to find a new job. I hooked on with the national organization, and I naively thought my professional life in the closet might be coming to an end. However, it was just a few days into my new job that a very dear friend, who also worked for the organization, spelled out the “rules of being gay.”

He explained that many of my co-workers would be generally accepting. He even suggested some professionals and volunteers working for local affiliates (which were the clients I would be working with as an internal consultant) might also be very accepting. However, there would likely be many local affiliates located in smaller communities ,who wouldn’t take kindly to an openly gay individual coming into their boardrooms and communities to work with them on fundraising and organizational development.

So, the bottom line was . . . “Be careful and use your common sense.”

Yet, it was the final few sentences of this conversation I found chilling and a cold splash of reality. He said:

Erik, if local organizations choose to lock you out because of your decision to be open about your sexual orientation, your employer won’t be firing you because you are gay. They will simply be firing you because you are ineffective in getting your job done.

While truer words have never been spoken on this subject to me, the result was more time in my professional closet and continued “game playing.”

Some of you are probably wondering what I mean by “game playing.” Let me try to explain . . .

It was very common for the organizations with which I worked to ask all sorts of personal questions during the course of our work. The following are just a few examples:

  • Where do you live? Grow up?
  • What is your background? (both personally and professionally)
  • Why did you leave your Boys & Girls Club to work for the national office?
  • Are you married? For how long?
  • Do you have kids? Do you want kids?

I never viewed these questions as something stemming from nosiness or inappropriateness. I understood that consultants (regardless of whether they are internal or external) and their clients must develop a foundation of trust. Without trust and a great rapport, it is impossible to achieve goals and grow the organization.

So, the following are a few examples of the “games” I would play:

  • become silent and only answer direct questions
  • answer a benign question or two before changing the subject
  • play the pronoun game (e.g. only refer to my husband as “my spouse” or “they”)

My time at Boys & Girls Clubs of America was a time of tremendous personal and professional growth. I love the people there, and there isn’t a day that passes when I don’t think about how grateful I am. (Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back one day if the timing and situation are right.)

Shortly after turning 40-years-old, I found myself in a difficult place of conflict. I suspect many people might call this a “mid-life crisis.” While there were many things playing into this emotionally tumultuously time in my life, I’m confident my continual practice of “lies of omission” in my work life helped this situation germinate.

The idea of spinning off my own non-profit consulting practice started making a lot of sense to me.

  • I could choose my own clients
  • I could develop my own toolkit, approaches and points of view
  • I could cut back on my travel schedule based on who I decided to take on as clients
  • I could stop living my life completely out of the closet professionally speaking

The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

THN homoIn May 2011, I registered my new non-profit consulting practice with the Illinois Secretary of State. The Healthy Non-Profit LLC was born.

If you’ve gotten this far, then you probably can see what is coming, and it can all be summed up in an old expression: “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

I get many phone calls from organizations wanting to hire me, and I immediately wonder how open would they be to hiring me if they knew I was gay. While this was a concern when I was an internal consultant working for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, it is even more acute now that I am an external consultant.

Why? Because external consultants don’t get paid if they don’t sell work, which means there can be a financial incentive to bend on your values/principles from time-to-time.

Here are just a few examples of difficult situations in which I’ve found myself over the last five years:

  • I was in a client’s boardroom getting ready for my portion of the agenda while board volunteers argued over revisions to their bylaws pertaining to LGBTQ questions
  • I was verbally pinned down by a board volunteer, who didn’t have much patience for the pronoun game I was playing, and I flat out lied by turning my husband into my wife
  • After mustering a little courage and referencing my husband in a conversation with staff (who you could tell were shocked and confused by what I was saying), I was a coward and reverted back to the pronoun game
  • I periodically get requests for proposals from faith-based organizations, which a majority of the time I will refer to other consultants because I’m convinced they wouldn’t want to work with me if they knew the truth

And this is where I am at today.

However, before I wrap up this long blog post, I want to go back to the very beginning, which is where I should’ve started but didn’t have the courage to do so.

And in the beginning . . .

endaAs a recent college graduate, I accepted a unit director position working at a new Boys & Girls Club in a very small rural town. I only stayed one year because I couldn’t pay the bills on that salary. The person who they hired to replace me didn’t last very long. I was asked by the advisory board to sit down with the search committee to help them build a candidate profile and brainstorm ways to build a better applicant pool.

What happened in that meeting was of no consequence to today’s blog post, but what happened after that meeting left an indelible mark on my heart.

Here is how the post-meeting dialog went down (names are changed to protect the not-so-innocent):

Joe: “Before we all leave, there is one other thing I want to discuss with the group.”
Mark: “Sure, please tell everyone what you and I discussed before the meeting.
Joe: “Well, I don’t know if everyone knows, but the organization’s executive director recently had a roommate move in with him. This male friend was his former roommate from the last community where he worked, and he just moved halfway across the country to join him up here.
Mark: “Can you be a little more specific for those who may not understand what you’re getting at, Joe?
Joe: “Well, I’m saying this guy is much more than his ‘friend’. They are a couple. With what we’re trying to teach the youth of our community, I don’t think the corporate board is sending the right message by putting this guy as the face the entire organization.
Mark: “So, what are you suggesting we do about it?
Joe: “I think we need to call a few members of the corporate board, talk with them about the situation, and get it figured out.

The messages I heard and internalized were loud and clear:

  • Gay people need not apply
  • If you do get the job, then you better hide because we’re watching closely
  • If you don’t hide well enough, then we’re going to “talk it over, figure it out, and then come for you

A Call To Action?

closetI promised you in the very beginning of this post that I would refrain from editorializing; but I will end with two calls to action (one of which is for me and other is for you).

While I am not religious person, I cannot get this Bible verse from the Book of Genesis out of my head:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

For too long, I have not let light into my professional life. As you can imagine, the closet is a very dark place. While I cracked the door on this closet many years ago and shared the truth with some of my non-profit friends and colleagues  (e.g. introducing them to my husband, talking about my life truthfully, etc), many people still don’t know and every new client that comes into my life doesn’t have any idea.

So, today’s long blog post represents “. . . the first day” in a new professional life. The truth is that I don’t have a clue how I will go about achieving this bold proclamation, but I do know that my personal call to action is dedicating every fiber of my being towards figuring it out. Enough is enough!

This, of course, brings me to my second call to action, which involves you.

If you are a DonorDreams blog reader or subscriber who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me on LGBTQ issues, let’s just simply agree to disagree. My hope is that you can try to see the non-profit community through my eyes and maybe you can see our values are more similar than dissimilar. More importantly, I hope you see that we have similar goals around making your organization bigger, better and stronger, which has nothing to do with what happens in my personal life.

However, if this isn’t possible, then please know that I accept you. Thank you for all of the good things you do every day for other people. Best wishes!

If you are a DonorDreams blog reader or subscriber who does see eye-to-eye with me (or perhaps this blog post helped you see things from a different perspective), then I have a favor to ask of you. If you think other people in your social networks might benefit from stepping into my shoes and seeing the non-profit world through my eyes, then please electronically share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc and ask your connections to share it with their networks and so on and so on forth.

If enough people start looking at homophobia in the non-profit sector differently, then maybe more non-profit professionals, volunteers and clients might have the courage to burn down their closets like I am attempting to do. At which time, we can all start having honest discussions with each other. I suspect those discussion threads could be endless (e.g. programs, services, policies, procedures, bylaws, recruitment practices, marketing, resource development and fundraising, etc).

If you have strong thoughts on this subject, please feel free to share in the comment box below. I will approve all comments unless they are violent, extraordinarily hateful, or too far off topic. As I typically say at the end of my posts, we can all learn from each other.

I also usually sign-off by saying, “Here’s to your health,” but today I think I’ll change it up for the first time in five years by saying . . .

Here’s to your health (and my health, too)!

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

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 as an assessment tool for growth and team building


EQ1As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been on an assessment binge as of late that is leading up to some work around visioning, goal setting, and strategy and tactics development. The assessment work has been both personal and business related. You can read more about my motivations and thoughts in a post I published last week titled “New year starts with a little assessment work“.

A few days ago I confessed to struggling with the personal assessment side of this exercise until I purchased two books:

My last post — “StandOut 2.0 as an assessment tool for growth, team building and direction setting” — I talked all about:

  • the nine strength roles identified by Marcus Buckingham
  • the assessment tool that helped me identify my top two strengths
  • the importance of focusing on and leveraging your top two strengths
  • how to use this tool to assist with questions related to organizational development and team building

In this post, I’m focusing on my second book purchase — “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” — and what I’m learning and why I think it is relevant to your work.

EQ2Some of you might be wondering, “What is the world is emotional intelligence?” and the answer is somewhat complex because it involves brain science.

Here is how Google explains it:

the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

Here is what the authors of the book say:

The communication between your emotional and rational ‘brains’ is the physical source of emotional intelligence.

If you are a science-geek, then I encourage you to read the book where you can learn more about your spinal cord, limbic system and frontal lobe. In all honesty, it really is fascinating stuff.

I chose to incorporate the idea of emotional intelligence (EQ) into my New Years personal and professional assessment exercise in addition to the strength roles evaluation work found in the StandOut 2.o book because experts are learning it plays a large role in our professional life and our successes. Don’t believe me? Here are a few factoid that I’m quoting from the book:

  • EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs.
  • The link between EQ and earnings is so direct that every point increase in EQ adds $1,300 to an annual salary.

What I’m banking on is that I can grow my non-profit practice, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC, by improving my EQ and aligning my work better with my strengths.  I suspect you can do the same thing when it comes to your non-profit organization.

Back to the book . . .

There are four emotional intelligence skills, and they pair up as follows:

eq5

The book does far more explaining of these skills that I simply can’t and won’t get into today. I encourage you to purchase and read the book if this subject interests you.

What I will say for the purposes of this blog post is there is an online EQ assessment that people who purchase the book can access. It scores you in each of these four EQ skills areas and produces exercises designed to help you improve your EQ scores.

Unlike your IQ, which is not something you can change, your EQ can be developed and improved.

I was debating whether or not to share my scores with the blogosphere, and I decided not to. Needless to say, assessment is a humbling experience and my scores are a little lower that I would like. However, I will share that my assessment results convinced me to start working on my “listening skills” (which is social awareness strategy #11 spelled out on pages 160-161).

After I get this habit established, I will probably add an “empathy” exercise into the mix where I’ll try to pay attention to other people’s feelings more.

So, you are probably wondering how this assessment tool might benefit you and your organization. Here are a few thoughts:

  • If you are sometimes concerned that you don’t have a good handle on where you team is at or what it is feeling, then you might want to assess and work on your EQ
  • If a member of your team likes to push other teammates’ buttons, then incorporating a few self-management exercises into that person’s individual development plan (IDP) might make sense
  • If a member of your team is someone who constantly “speaks their mind” and everyone else reacts poorly, then you may need to help them develop their social awareness skills (additionally, you may need to teach the team to speak directly to this teammate’s feelings and not just what they are saying)

In short, improving your EQ could:

  • make you a more effective and productive person in the workplace
  • help you become a better coach to your team

Have you used this tool or others like it? If so, please scroll down to the comment box and 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

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