Category Archives: Organizational Development

Bring the Rain

If you saw my last post, a humorous look at starting a movement, (if not, check out the 3 minute video under "Leadership & the Courage to Follow", it's worth your time) you may be thinking a bit about your leadership style. Perhaps you're shifting towards a better understanding of what makes followers (the critical sauce for success), well… follow!  If so, here is the question that is probably uppermost in your mind: "Is there a formula for how leadership develops a strong following?"

The answer is yes!  You can think about this process as you do with most things you build, step by step, layer by layer.  An overarching fundamental is an understanding that is best expressed by Daniel H. Pink in his book: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, "The secret to high performance and satisfaction – at work, at school, and at home – is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world".  So, here are the basics…

  1. Organizations don't have needs… People Have Needs.  Remember to embrace your followers and recognize their needs, desires, and participation. Keep this in the back of your mind as you build your programs and campaigns and you'll find your recruitment and retention efforts to be much more productive.
  2. There is one leadership fundamental that has inspired organizations for thousands of years and it’s the capacity for all involved to envision a desirable picture of the future. Building Shared Vision, illuminated by Peter Senge in his book "The Fifth Discipline", is a vision that is shared by all stakeholders that creates a rallying point, which fires up the base and gets the sauce to simmering. Shared vision is what we hope to accomplish, it's how we see the world, and it's our raison d'etre.  Shaping your vision is critical.  In order to become followers, individuals need to relate and understand; often at a primal level and for that you need to carefully build your case.
  3. Understand the Need: In order to build an effective case for gathering support, you need to develop a thorough understanding of the problem. This shouldn't be based upon a hunch, or a personal opinion.  It takes research into what the community perceives, what already exists in the environment, and an awareness of best practices.
  4. Once you have this knowledge under your belt, the next step is to: Develop an Exciting Plan, which serves to fill the need, or which solves, or alleviates the problem.  But listen closely, because here is a CRITICAL COMPONENT… Your plan needs to be both easy to understand and exciting, so as to build enthusiasm and to acquire and retain interest.
  5. Share Your Victories: Your constituents need to know, but always keep in mind that different audiences will respond to different messages and they respond best when they are moved by powerful stories of how your work affects the lives of those you serve. Remember that a brand is what people think when they hear your name. Message consistency across many touch points and lots of it are the keys to building an effective, accurate brand. A brand that lives on in the mind of donors and constituents must be developed through years of message layering. Creating campaigns designed to inform, motivate, and educate through many touch points, from web, to collateral, to white papers, which build relationships, is essential to success.

Finally, my father often used to say: "You never know unless you ask."  I never connected the dots until it was brought into focus just yesterday, while listening to an interview with former President, Bill Clinton. Essentially, he said: "People are dying to help; they just need to be asked." Click!

The key is to ask in a way that presents the community need, your vision, and your exciting plan in a way that allows each individual to see themselves as part of the solution.  That means providing a rallying point, which includes a compelling and detailed rationale for how they can participate.  You can't simply just talk about generalities.  While a vision: "World peace", or "ending homelessness" is a fundamental goal post, simply talking about your vision without a road map, will not create excitement, or commitment.

Nurture your community with personal details that help them understand and engage and you will see your followers multiply.

Building Bridges

Understand these basics of building strategic partnerships and you'll see your organization blossom. Get off in the weeds and you'll spin your wheels in the ditch.

More often than not, many organizations lack a thorough understanding of what their strategy should be in building collaborative partnerships. They know they need to have them, but they're often unsure of where strength might live.   Strategies for developing good partnerships always revolve around each organization’s goals’, a common interest, and a good relationship.

Therefore, the best partnerships always offer mutual benefit, where all parties bring something to the table and all parties receive a return from their investment.  Arrangements structured in this way create synergy, longevity, and satisfaction.

To facilitate clear goals, the best nonprofit organizations commonly break their partnerships into at least into two categories and understand the difference. The first are complimentary organizations; those whose missions, visions, and values resonate within your area of service.  These types of partnerships are typically collaborations and the kinds of cooperative activities might include any of the following: combined fundraising events, program exchanges, or causal activities like advocacy initiatives, or public benefit activities.

These types of partnerships can work to leverage public relations actions, which can lead to greater awareness, promoting membership, volunteer commitments, or individual donations.  They can also work to promote our second category, corporate partnerships.

For the most part, corporations are all about making money and returning it to their shareholders.  Except for those with a triple bottom line strategy, they are not typically in the business of giving their money away.  Therefore, corporate partnerships are characteristically sponsorships, which work to brand the corporation or business as favorable to a segment of the community to which they wish to promote themselves.  In many ways, there is no limit to where leverage may exist in your community and synergy may be found among any number of companies.

It's always more important to understand the why of building bridges, rather than the how of building bridges.  The key to a successful corporate partnership then, is in finding an angle that will lead to crafting a mutually beneficial campaign.  So, the critical questions to ask and answer are: “what does your organization have to offer a partnership, why would a prospect’s management be interested, and then, who might be interested?

Finally, always remember that each bridge is built on a relationship and if that relationship falters, so will your bridge building.  You never know where each relationship will lead and you should know that sometimes a bridge can appear from out of thin air as a result of an unassuming relationship.

Practice these principles and you'll build a bridge to greater awareness, powerful partnerships, and subsequent sustainability.

Cultivating Strategy through Crowdsourcing

I've long been a proponent of adopting best practices and successful strategies from other businesses and organizations.  It's a great way to stimulate your organizational thinking and leverage growth without re-inventing the wheel.

So when, my good friend and sometime collaborator and co-conspirator Rachel Emmer sent me an article recently from the McKinsey Quarterly, "The Social Side of Strategy" it led me to think about its application in the nonprofit world. The article highlights several corporate efforts to enhance strategic planning through crowdsourcing strategies. Crowdsourcing is an effort to create a virtual crowd of people around a particular shared interest in order to leverage their synergy. A fundamental principle in crowdsourcing is it needs to be an open call to a largely undefined group of people (you never know where a good idea will come from) and typically it is delivered through the Internet.

Crowdsourcing is relatively new and remains largely untested, so there is no conclusive data that illustrates how it can be successfully applied, especially in a nonprofit environment. Many benefits and pitfalls remain in the shadows. However, one potential benefit found by the authors, which I find encouraging is: "it helped to build enthusiasm and alignment behind a company’s strategic direction.” That's what really got my brain spinning.

As we all know, two of the best ways to create momentum and commitment is through engagement and inclusion.  These practices create "buy-in" and they are the cornerstones of a shared vision.  However, all too often when working to develop strategic direction, only a few at the top, perhaps only an executive committee, are or become involved in setting this critical direction.

In support of this concept, the article went on to state that a common problem with strategic thinking is: "strategy setting sometimes suffers from insufficient diversity and expertise, with leaders far removed from the implications of their decisions and hampered by experience-based biases." Essentially, many at the top are too often, too close to the problem. Prior experience and the day-to-day details divert our thinking away from the larger picture and a focused vision.

More often than not, in developing our strategic efforts, we forget to seek the advice and counsel of those at ground level, those who are affected by our actions. That’s for many reasons, one of which is that marketing research consumes valuable resources; something most nonprofits find in short supply. Crowdsourcing may offer an inexpensive alternative for your organization to control costs and garner valuable insight regarding need and effectiveness, which in turn may allow you to develop new and ground-breaking strategies.

By employing crowdsourcing techniques, you have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of issues, problems, success, and solutions from those to whom it matters most.  Crowdsourcing presents a natural next step in the evolution of traditional marketing research and a way for nonprofits to engage and include stakeholders in important decisions and directional efforts.


Thanks to my good friend and mentor Dick Zellner; he clued me in on a simple premise and fundamental principle in fundraising… "Donors want to be investors in a well-managed organization that has an exciting plan for the future that benefits the community."

2 things to place high on your list:

1) Detail your program and identify outcomes for measurement. Funders like tightly controlled programs that yield data that identifies success.  No numbers without stories and no stories without numbers.

2) Develop a case for funding that describes the community need, how you plan to fill that need, and how funders can participate.  Your plan should allow prospective donors to share in your journey.  "If you ask for money you get advice, if you ask for advice, you get money." – DZ

And, remember the best way to improve your brand is by simply being remarkable in the work you perform.