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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

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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

Volunteers aren’t responding to your emails?


email inboxI was chatting the other day with a newly elected board president. He was lamenting the fact that his fellow board volunteers don’t respond to his emails very well, and he wanted a little advice on how to change this dynamic. If this is a problem for your organization, then please keep reading.

There are any number of ways to look at this situation:

  1. This could be a “people” issue
  2. This could be an “organization issue
  3. This could be a “process or tools” issue

Let’s take a look at these possibilities one at a time.

People issue

email1Within this broad category, there are many considerations.

  • Are your board volunteers tech savvy?
  • Do board members understand their roles and responsibilities?
  • Do these individuals have the appropriate experiences and skills to deal with whatever is being sent to them in these emails? (aka do you have the right people around the table)
  • Do these people care? Are they mission focused?
  • Does the culture of your organization embrace technology? Or is the way it has always been done more personal and in-person meeting oriented?

In my experience, most of us jump to the conclusion that email unresponsiveness is a people issue (e.g. they don’t care, they’re too busy, etc). However, there might be other issues. Let’s take a look at organization and tools issues in the next two sections.

Organization issue

org structureBelieve it or not, how you are structured can greatly effect how people decide to use email as it relates to your organization.

  • Does your organization cover a large geographic territory? And do board members live far and wide thus making in-person meetings more difficult?
  • How often does the board or committee meet in-person? If it is often, then some individuals may simply put off responding to emails because they see an opportunity to share their thoughts in-person.
  • How many standing committees and work groups exist in your organization? Are these organizational silos? If so, then how do they communicate with each other and with the governing board? Is this spelled out in the bylaws or committee charter? (e.g. they must report at board meetings, etc)
  • From a board governance perspective, has your organization made changes to its bylaws to allow for the use of newer technology to make decisions? (e.g. electronic/email voting)

I know it can be hard to believe, but how we structure our organizations (and even the internal design of our workplaces) and teams can impact our email usage (and even more broadly how we use tech).

Five years ago, I was working for a national non-profit organization on a team that was scattered all over the country and in four different time zones. This organizational dynamic drove all sorts of decisions including monthly conference calls, the need for in-person staff meetings two or three times per year, optimal times for conference calls, use of email to distribute materials and collect feedback, shared document storage/access, etc.

Structure” . . . it is an invisible force that drives human behavior more than any of us think.

Tools issue

communications toolsEmail is simply a communication tool. Here is an inventory of tools/processes/approaches that you may find in your communications toolbox:

  • Telephone (individual one-on-one or conference call)
  • In-person meetings (individual one-on-one or group)
  • Webcam (individual one-on-one or group)
  • Online project management collaboration services (e.g. Basecamp)
  • Private, group messaging and chat tools
  • Social media
  • Online groups and discussion forums

I’m sure that I’ve missed a number of other communications tools. You are welcome to add those in the comment box of this blog post.

Each of these tools is designed to do something very well, but of course they all have their shortcomings. The best question to ask yourself when confronted by a situation that doesn’t seem to be working (e.g. people aren’t responding to email) is . . .

Am I using the right tool for what I want to accomplish?

My final thoughts?

We all have our “points of view” on things. It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily right or wrong. Here is what I believe about email:

  • It is a great information sharing tool (e.g. distribution of agendas, meetings notes, materials, etc)
  • It is a poor discussion tool (e.g. asking for feedback, advice, anything conversational)
  • It is used differently by every generation
  • It is easy to ignore and many people have developed user habits around this tool (e.g. deleting habits, reading habits, etc)

The advice I gave to my board president friend was . . .

Pick-up the phone if they aren’t responding to your email!

I also asked additional questions about which volunteer engagement strategies he was using and which ones were lacking. Each of the nine volunteer engagement strategies (e.g. urgency, accountability, planning, setting expectations, etc) come with a number of tools (e.g. goals, dashboards/scorecards, action item memos / task lists, project management punch lists, written volunteer job descriptions, committee charter, committee work plan, etc).

In other words, the choice of communication tool might not be the problem. It could be the organization isn’t using best practices associated with volunteer engagement, which is resulting in email unresponsiveness.

The morale to today’s post?

Simple problems may not be as simple as they seem, especially when we’re talking about groups of people under one organizational umbrella. So, my advice is . . .

Don’t jump to conclusions. Do the hard work in thinking it through!

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

What RULES do you live by when it comes to fundraising?


rules1Have you ever stopped whatever you doing, took a deep breath, and observed the world around you? (And I mean really take a deep look.) I did this just the other day, and what I saw kind of surprised me. Everywhere I looked I saw R-U-L-E-S. There were formal rules such as stop signs, registration forms and sales taxes. There were also informal rules such as people walking on the right side of the sidewalk.

As I pondered this revelation, it dawned on me how complex and layered this practice has become for humans. Consider the following:

  • There are rules that govern our international interactions (e.g. diplomacy, war crimes, etc)
  • In the United States, there are federal rules, state rules, and a myriad of local rules (e.g. municipal, county, township, etc)
  • Every profession operates within a set of rules (e.g. ethics, accreditation, operational norms, etc)
  • Individually speaking, there are informal rules many of us follow in public spaces (e.g. opening doors for others, smiling and shaking hands when introduced, not purposely passing gas, etc)
  • Also, individually speaking, many of us create a set of rules for ourselves when we’re not in public (e.g. wake-up at 7 am THEN start the coffee THEN let out the dog THEN feed the pets; brush teeth before leaving the house; make the bed)
  • I haven’t even mentioned . . . a) the rules of physics, b) the rules of biology, c) the rules of chemistry (all of which govern our ability to exist)
  • And don’t even get me started about the rules of God and our world’s major religious institutions

kindergartenMy mind was completely blown! (yes, I was completely sober)

It almost became overwhelming to think about how many rules existed in my little life. Many of which I don’t even think as I go about living my day-to-day life.

Of course, every once in a while, we are reminded about this phenomenon by authors such as Robert Fulghum, who authored “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”

Sometimes, we even enjoy a rebellious rock-n-roll song bemoaning all of the rules that exist in our world. One of my personal favorites is the Five Man Electric Band’s 1971 song “Signs.” I just love how the lyrics start off with “And the sign said, long hair freaky people need not apply.

All of this deep thinking got me wondering about RULES that govern resource development and fundraising practices.

While there is obviously the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Code of Ethical Standards, my curiosity goes deeper. I am wondering what policies and practices (e.g. rules) you’ve put in place in your local organizations. And more importantly, I’m wondering why you feel these rules are important.

I looked at some of the resource development practices I put in place at my last organization. The following are just a few examples:

  • Gift acknowledgement letters must be in the mail within 24 hours of receiving a pledge/gift
  • All pledges/contributions must be entered into the donor database even if it meant double entry from other sources (e.g. duck race software, financial management software, etc)
  • All board volunteers were asked to hand write at least five thank you notes at the end of every board meeting to donors who made a pledge/gift in the last 30 days
  • Annual reports were produced and distributed in time for the annual dinner fundraising event held at the end of January
  • Every gift acknowledgement letter included IRS language in the footer of the letter indicating whether or not any goods/services were received by the donor in lieu of their contribution and the value of those goods/services

In addition to looking at my own experiences, I went back to an old training curriculum titled “Stewardship” to see if I could identify more “rules.” This was what I found on a PowerPoint slide titled “Stewardship Activities & Functions:”

  • State Registration — Before you begin to solicit, be sure you are in compliance with all state laws (State registration is usually done through the Secretary of State)
  • AcknowledgementOfficial thank you letters or receipts that include information required by IRS
  • RecognitionGiving clubs, named gift opportunities, special events, individual activities
  • CommunicationThe information stream that reinforces appreciation of gift and tells about its impact
  • AdministrationBack office activities in resource development and finance ensure gifts are accounted for and invested properly
  • ImplementationThe work of executive director and program staff to see that gift is used according to stated purposes

Obviously, stewardship goes well-beyond simply thanking donors for their contribution.

As I bring this post to conclusion, I am first struck by how many formal and informal resource development and fundraising rules exist in the average non-profit. However, I’m also left wondering if all of these varied rules can be rolled up into more global truisms similar to the ones found in Fulghum’s book about the values we all learned in kindergarten.

Maybe one of those simple, comprehensive rules can be summed up as: “Treat your donors like your BFF.” (e.g. do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

What rules do you operate your resource development shop under? And why have you instituted those rules? 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

Are values at the center of your your fundraising program?


values1Anyone watching television or engaged in community conversations in recent months knows that our communities are entering into another period of time punctuated by values. Some people are talking about life, liberty and happiness. Others of us are focused on equality versus freedom (which are two values that are somewhat mutually exclusive). Perhaps, this elevated values debate is because our country is heading into a divisive Presidential election year. Or maybe it is because big policy debates are underway about LGBTQ and gun rights issues. Regardless, all of this talk has me thinking about the role of values and your non-profit organization’s resource development program.

Whenever I facilitate a strategic planning process for a client, regardless of which planning model I use, the process typically starts off with assessment of the current state and quickly rolls into facilitated discussions about mission, vision and organizational values. I always find it interesting that board volunteers find it easy to talk about mission and vision, but they generally seem to struggle with the values piece.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all, values discussions can be emotional. Consider the following famous expressions about values:

  • Give me liberty or give me death!” ~Patrick Henry
  • Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ~Albert Einstein
  • Only men would think of cutting themselves to determine who the packleader is. Idiots.” ~Christopher Paolini

So, a values discussion can be emotional. Got it! And then a planning facilitator like me comes along and tells your organization it is important to come up with a list of “shared values.” I guess when I look at it from this perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to punt on this exercise.

Regardless of how difficult this might be, it is still important.

Why? Well, I think Roy Disney probably put it best when he said:

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

values2All of this gets me thinking about the countless discussions I’ve been a part of throughout the years with non-profit staff, boards and fundraising volunteers where difficult fundraising decisions were being made. The following are just a few examples:

  • Should a gift from Big Tobacco be accepted when the organization runs anti-smoking and healthy life skills programming with its youth clients?
  • Should a named gifts contract be signed with a donor who wants to put a Bible quote on the outside of the building when the organization is secular and committed to serving everyone in the community?
  • Should a pledge be booked to one campaign versus another fundraising activity when a donor is clear about the benefits they desire and fuzzy about their intent; all of which is juxtaposed against staff wishing to achieve the goals laid out in their individual performance plans?

UGH!

Of course, the easy answer is always . . . “What do your organizational policies say about this issue?

However, weren’t those policies shaped and developed in a crucible of shared organizational values? I hope so.

Moreover, how many times have you dusted off those policy binders only to find they don’t speak clearly or directly to your issue? When this happens, then you’re right back where you started . . . stuck and left with your organization’s shared values.

There seem to be a number of different schools of thought on the question of fundraising values.

  1. Some people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values (hopefully found in your strategic planning document)
  2. Other people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values, but it should also have a set of supplemental values focused specifically on the unique activities stemming from resource development activities
  3. Still others believe that fundraising staff come with a set of values that bind them together as a profession

The Association of Fundraising Professionals subscribe to the third school of thought and have this to say about values:

An ethical fundraiser aspires to: Observe and adhere to the AFP Code and all relevant laws and regulations;  Build personal confidence and public support by being trustworthy in all circumstances; Practice honesty in relationships; Be accountable for professional, organizational and public behavior; Be transparent and forthcoming in all dealings; and, Be courageous in serving the public trust.”

To be honest, I’ve never  operated under any one of these schools of thought. I guess my career has been guided and shaped by a hybrid (aka mishmash) of these ideas.

values3I’ve always taken the AFP ethics/values statement to heart, embraced my organization’s set of shared values, and superimposed my own set of individual values. As an Eagle Scout, my individual values have always been rooted in the 12-points of the Scout Law (e.g. trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent).

However, after some thoughtful consideration, I’m left worried that this approach could result in conflict. After all, what happens when an organizational value is in conflict with an individual value?

My best advice to those of you who care about values and the impact these potential conflicts might have on your organization is as follows:

  • Invest time in developing your organization’s list of shared values
  • Incorporate these values into your various systems (e.g. recognition, compensation, recruitment, etc)
  • Integrate these shared values into your supplemental planning documents (e.g. resource development plan, baord development plan, marketing plan, individual performance plans, etc)
  • Start every policy development exercise with a discussion about values
  • Find a way to talk about your organization’s shared values in every board meeting (e.g. generative discussions, CEO report, committee reports, etc)
  • Most importantly, build an organizational culture where it is safe for people to talk about their values in the context of shared organizational values (keeping in mind that your board is in a constant state of flux with volunteers coming and going)

To those of you who don’t care about this topic, I encourage you to turn on your television and watch some of the news coverage focused on what’s happening in Congress in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. If you don’t want your non-profit board room to look like that, then I suggest you start caring about the power of values.

Has your organization had to deal with a difficult decision recently? Did values play a role in fueling the conflict or solving the problem? If so, 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

What can your non-profit learn from the U.S. presidential primary elections?


huckabeeFor me, sometimes people speak the truth and it hits me in such a way that I have a hard time getting it out of my head. It rolls around like a pinball in my brain, and the only way for me to stop the experience is to write about it. Well, this happened again on January 28, 2016 at approximately 10:15 pm while I was watching a Special Edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews. It occurred during an interview with Mike Huckabee, when the former presidential candidate said something close to the following (and if memory serves me correctly, I think it was in response to a question about the primary election system):

“Nothing changes. The train is being driven by the donors.”

(Disclaimer: I scribbled this down within 30 seconds of hearing it. I might have the quotation slightly wrong, but I’m really darn close. I went looking for the transcripts of the show, but couldn’t find anything online.)

(Another disclaimer: I plan on exercising tremendous restraint today. I won’t share political thoughts on topics such as campaign finance reform, Citizens United, Super PACs, etc. So, please feel free to continue reading if you are interested in how this ends up being a (hopefully) thought-provoking blog post on non-profits.)

The first thought that ran through my brain after hearing Huckabee’s commentary about the influence of donors was . . . “Wow! I can’t believe he just said that. How incredibly honest of him.

The second thought that ran through my brain was . . . “Ugh! Shouldn’t it be voters and not donors who are driving this train?

My next thought surprised me . . . “I wonder how many non-profit organizations are being driven by donors?

I know how easy this question is to dismiss. If I’ve heard a non-profit soapbox speech once, I’ve heard it hundred of times about how someone’s organization is sooooooo mission-focused or veeeeeeeery cleint-focused. While I am not casting doubt on these claims, Huckabee’s utterance got me thinking.

Have I seen individual donors come to the table with their checkbook and an idea they want funded? Yes, I sure have.

Have I seen individual donors place strange restrictions on their charitable giving in an effort to drive an agenda (sometimes a political or religious agenda that has little to do with the actual organization they are giving money to)? Yes, I sure have.

What about private and corporate foundations and their published “giving guidelines“? Is this sometimes an exercise in control? Agenda setting? Managing corporate liability? I think it could be viewed that way by some people.

What about the United Way’s Community Impact model? While I see it as generally positive, isn’t the desired effect to align charitable giving around a community’s top socials needs and gaps in order to solve those problems? That’s the way this United Way donor views it.

Before any of you overreact, let me say the following:

  • I am not suggesting donors are evil people with bad intentions
  • I am not saying foundations shouldn’t have giving guidelines
  • I am definitely NOT attacking the United Way

However . . .

I do see some non-profit organizations starved for money and engaged in what I would characterize as “chasing dollars“. I’ve even seen some organizations go so far as changing their mission statement, broadening it to a point of being all encompassing, and resigned to asking and applying for funding they have no business doing. I’ve also seen “scope creep” bankrupt an organization and drive it out-of-business.

I’m going to end this blog post here because my intention wasn’t to get on a soapbox today. My intent was to give you a mental poke and get you thinking about some of the following questions:

  • As Mike Huckabee framed the question, “Who is driving your organizational train?” And how confident are you in your answer?
  • What percentage of your revenue streams come from government funding? If it is greater than 50%, then can you honestly say your funder(s) don’t have a significant impact on the direction of your organization along with countless other things? (e.g. staffing ratios, program offering, outcomes measurement, etc)
  • Are you client-driven? Community impact focused? Mission-focused? What facts can you point to that affirm this belief? If I asked your board the same question what answer would they give? And would it match your answer?
  • What processes or organizational structures do you have in place to assure you aren’t simply “chasing dollars“?
  • Can you think of the last time you were faced with making a decision about a contribution being driven by a donor’s agenda rather than your agenda? If so, what happened? How did you handle it? Who did you consult?
  • Generally speaking, how much INFLUENCE do your donors have with you, your board, and your overall organization? Regardless of your answer, how do you feel about your answer?

As I always say, we can all learn from each other. Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box.

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

Making the case for periodic assessment of your non-profit organization


assessmentA few weeks ago I received a call from a friend who asked me (aka The Healthy Non-Profit LLC) to submit a proposal to conduct an organizational assessment for a regional non-profit organization. He recently joined the board of directors of this organization, and during his first few meetings he concluded that his fellow board members might need a little “perspective”. As we spent a little time on the phone framing the proposal, he made a very specific request of me . . .

Please go into great detail about why it is a best practice for non-profit organizations to invest in an organizational assessment facilitated by an external consultant.”

In the space below, I attempt to elaborate on this question by sharing two personal non-organizational stories that I consider analogies for non-profit organizations. I also end this post by sharing the actual one-page of text I included in my proposal and ask DonorDreams readers to please use the comment box to help me add/subtract to this case for support (for the benefit of future proposals).

Story #1: Mom & Dad aren’t on the same page

Mom_DadI am a lucky son because both my Mom and Dad are still married and living in the same community and same subdivision where I grew up (except they moved across the street when I went away to college). A few years ago, both of my parents retired and have been trying to figure out what to do with their new found time.

Just the other day while visiting Mom and Dad, the conversation turned to the subject of “To Infinity and Beyond“. To clarify what I mean by this, here are a list of questions that were being asked and not really answered:

  • How long do you plan on staying in your current house?
  • Have you given any thought to what you want to do when staying where you’re at doesn’t make any more sense?
  • Oh? You want to move to Florida? When were you thinking you might do that?
  • Where in Florida do you see yourself living?
  • Are you keeping the house in Illinois and planning to live like “snowbird retirees“? Or are you selling the house? And when are you planning to do that? And when do you plan on thinning out all of your STUFF?

UGH!

If you’ve ever gone down this road with your parents, you know how frustrating this discussion can become.

In my instance, it became clear that these two people, who spend approximately 75% of their lives no more than 100 feet from each other, were NOT on the same page. I’ll spare you the details (and protect their privacy), but suffice it to say one of my parents has a two-year plan in mind and the other was taking the long view with a 10-year plan. And this was just the beginning of their differences.

So, what does this have anything to do with your non-profit organization and the best practice of periodic organizational assessment?

Simple . . .

Next time you are in your boardroom, I encourage you to stop whatever you’re doing, look around the room at each of your board volunteers and imagine how each one of them would answer the following questions:

  • Who are we as an organization? Why do we exist?
  • Where are we going as an organization?
  • Where should we be going as an organization?
  • What is currently working well for us?
  • What are we challenged by?
  • What opportunities exist outside of our four walls that we should be trying to take advantage of?
  • What storms are brewing on the horizon that we need to better position the organization for?

I guarantee that if you do this exercise honestly, you will probably find the same thing I found with my parents which is . . .

You will see awesome people, who are engaged around shared values and a mission, BUT who all have a slightly different view on things that are very important to your organization.

It is for this reason that periodic assessments are necessary. If done by someone external to your organization (possessing a fresh set of eyes and ears), then you can learn a lot about what isn’t being said and then incorporate it into the next step — a planning process (of some sort).

Story #2: My trip to the doctor

doctorI’ll keep this story short and sweet since this post is getting too long. Yesterday, I went to my doctor for my annual physical.

Why did I go?

  • A bump recently appeared on my finger
  • I’ve been fatigued more than usual lately
  • I’ve had the same cold virus going on five weeks now
  • And a variety of other little reasons that I shouldn’t go into on the internet LOL

You’ve probably heard that an annual physical examination by your doctor is a best practice. In fact, it is  strongly encouraged by most insurance companies that typically don’t even charge you a co-pay for such a visit.

Why is this form of annual assessment of your health considered so important by health practitioners?

Simple . . .  there are things you cannot see and do not have knowledge of that this assessment will help diagnose and lead you to act upon. The same logic holds true for your non-profit organization.

editAsking a small favor of you . . .

As I explained at the beginning of this post, the following is approximately one page of text that I included in my recent proposal. Would you please do me the small favor of reading it and provide your two cents on what you would add or subtract from this written case for support? You can also simply tell me what is missing (or what you really like) in the comment box below. My plan is to incorporate your feedback into the next proposal I’m asked to write like this one. Thank you in advance for your help.  🙂

Why is periodic assessment a best practice?

In layman’s terms, periodic organizational assessment is akin to a physical exam that people periodically engage in with their physicians.

While assessments take many different shapes, almost all attempt to answer the following questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?

Answers to these questions typically become a precursor to board activities such as creating an organizational:

  • Long term plan
  • Strategic Plan
  • Business Plan
  • Short-term tactical plan

While looking carefully at the question of “Who are we” might seem silly to some people, it is important because organizations morph and change over time. Moreover, the “need(s)” that an organization was initially created to address may no longer exist or may have evolved.

The question of “Where are we now” is oftentimes difficult to ascertain without the help of an external consultant. The reason for this is the same reason people pay therapists / counselors to help assess what is going on inside of ourselves. The simple truth is that it is hard to get outside of our own bodies to see what is really going on. What makes this even more difficult with non-profit organizations is the fact that there are many different people sitting around the boardroom table oftentimes with various opinions and perspectives.

The question of “Where do we want to go” is more of a planning discussion than it is an assessment question. However, good organizational assessments have the ability to access what various stakeholders are thinking about the future. Being able to see all of these different viewpoints can help the board frame productive discussions at the start of a planning process focused on vision and goal setting.

As it is illustrated on the previous page, organizations go through a predictable lifecycle, and an organizational assessment can help board volunteers see where they are at in that cycle and have productive discussions about what to do about it.


 

Thanks for indulging me today. I appreciate being able to share a few stories and a portion of a business proposal with the smart readers of the DonorDreams blog. I truly believe that we can all learn from each other (as I’ve stated hundreds of times over the last five years of blog posts). Today, I am doubling down on this believe by asking for your feedback. I appreciate your willingness to participate in such an exercise.

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

Happy New Year and here’s to new beginnings


new yearAs the curtain falls on 2015 and a new year bursts onto the stage, I can’t help getting excited for countless non-profit organizations across this great land of ours. As many of you know, I am a planner by training with both a BAUP and MUP from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Embedded in every planner’s soul are ideas such as:

  • vision casting
  • goal setting
  • strategy development
  • tactical action planning

You can boil it all down into two words . . .

Direction Setting

In my opinion, New Years Eve is all about direction setting both individually and organizationally. Some of us make resolutions about weight loss, health, career path, etc. Sometimes organizational leaders set goals around revenue, programming or culture change.

My new years wish for all DonorDreams blog readers is that regardless of how many plans (e.g. strategic plan, RD Plan, board development plan, etc) your organization may operate with, you take a moment on this special day and decide what one or two things you plan on really changing in 2016.

I suspect this laser focus on one or two things will bring you great results in the new year!

What organizational change do you plan on making in 2016? Please share your thoughts and plans using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health (and happy new year)!

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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