Tag Archives: nonprofit

Is Your Board… Bored?

Bored Board

We've all experienced a rut. You fall in and it seems like all you do is spin your wheels in that proverbial ditch. It can happen with the best nonprofit boards as well. 

You know it’s happening when… You've been talking about revisiting your vision, mission, and values statements, for like… forever! When you've gone through several board members in the last year and you suddenly find half your team is gone. When your meetings consist of nothing more than business as usual, or when your query for questions on the Treasurer's report is met with silence. When members are more interested in their mobile devices than the discussion at hand, or when you spend the majority of your board meetings discussing reports or policy rather than the future of the organization.  Yep, you guessed it; these are all signs you're in trouble.

An organization can hit these speed bumps at any stage in their lifecycle.   It's easy to become mired in minutiae, tactical details, or malaise rather than a big picture that creates excitement and enthusiasm. Here are some Hip Tips to get you out of that rut and with a little luck, perseverance, and strategy, steer clear of it!

Raison d'être

Nothing gets a group more excited than a higher purpose, a common goal, or shared vision. As explained by Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, a shared vision is: "the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create" (1990: 9). As such, a shared vision has the power to be uplifting and to encourage experimentation and innovation… It works to transform your nonprofit into a learning organization, which continually evolves and grows.

When a vision is shared, "People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit." (Senge 1990: 13)

Routinely revisit and refresh your vision, mission, and values. Work to get your team excited about a new project, strategy, program, or campaign. Just as important is finding evidence of your impact to the community you serve.  Evaluating and understanding your Triad of Value will guide you to better service and better service creates a sense of purpose, which leads towards personal fulfillment and deeper commitment.

Embrace Opinion and Encourage Debate

Beware when all you encounter is agreement. If your meeting conversations lack strong opinions, passion, or questions and if they are generally measured, or worse, nonexistent, you may have a problem.  These may be signs that your team lacks the enthusiasm to rise beyond the day-to-day agenda and consequently, is just going through the motions. 

Despite what some may think, spirited debate means your members have genuine interest and concern. Difference of opinion creates a pathway to creative solutions, better understanding, evolved thinking and strategy. Remember to remind everyone to do their part and ensure they "understand what the other side is saying."

Also understand that diversity and inclusivity run deeper than you may think. You need to involve each member of your board and other stakeholders at a deeper level. There are demographics beyond race and ethnicity that shape a person's culture; great ideas and understanding can come as a result of a range of experience.

Recognize, Utilize, Reward, & Celebrate

Nothing drives a board member battier than when they offer their expertise only to have their experience and talents rebuked or ignored. More importantly, your organization may falter as a result.  Understand why a member wants to be involved and create a position that provides satisfaction for that member.  People are your MOST valuable asset. Anyone who volunteers and makes your organization a priority should be celebrated and nurtured.

Take note that some individuals may desire to learn something new or perform something different from their day job. As my father used to say, "You never know unless you ask", so ask! If you desire to maximize your team's effectiveness, dig deeper by getting to know each of your members on both a personal and professional level.  Then, encourage the rest of your team to do the same and you'll create a winning atmosphere. 

Look Beyond the Playbook

Often policies and procedures are the focus of board development.  That's because aside from being good governance, they are tangible and much easier to get your hands around than really important issues like strategy, or impact.  A good foundation for your organization is important, so make sure you have a copy of Robert's Rules; apply them during your meetings to give them weight and importance.  Just understand that policies and procedures don't necessarily create an effective organization. People do! Inspire them, employ their talents, and reach for the stars!

 

No Magic Bullets

speeding bullet 2"Nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed." – "Underdeveloped", CompassPoint

Like many of you, I subscribe to several industry groups and newsletters in the interest of staying on top of trends, notable wisdom, and topical conversations of interest to my community. So, a question posed to the Linkedin group, Alliance for Nonprofit Management, which revolved around a development director raising his/her own salary, caught my eye. That's because, I've heard this argument before, most notably from a colleague who led a rather large nonprofit association. At the time of his remark, I remember suddenly getting that cold prickly feeling.

Around that time, I also heard a statistic that proclaimed the average length of employment for a development director to be 18 months and for an executive director, 36 months. That's never sounded like a positive solution for a sustainable organizational future and it certainly doesn't create a positive environment for a team approach to growing relationships with donors.  So, I found the following quote from Compass Point's study: UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising more than simply poignant.

"For years now, there has been widespread concern in the nonprofit sector about premature turnover of development directors, lengthy vacancies in the role, and the seemingly thin pool of qualified candidates from which organizations can choose. The development director is commonly labeled a “revolving door” position, and “the hardest to fill and retain” by executives, board members, funders, and capacity builders alike."

Fundraising/development is by and large a sales function. You need someone who will get out there and sing your praises, but it's not that simple. With years of experience as a sales manager and development director, I understand the pressures associated with these positions as much as anyone. And, with over 25 years of marketing, business, and organizational development expertise, I know there is a simple solution to this turnover problem: fundraising is not a singular position. You can't expect one individual to arrive with a box of magic bullets, or a Rolodex full of donors interested in your mission. Here are some hip tips to help you reframe your expectations about this important organizational function:

  1. Stop looking at fundraising as a burden. If you are convinced of the importance of your work, that you are performing your best, and if you believe the world is a better place because of your impact, then asking donors to invest in your mission should be the easiest thing in the world. Everyone should want to participate. 
  2. Resist the urge to hire someone with the goal of placing fundraising soley in their court. Rather, give this person the responsibility of rallying the troops and giving all your stakeholders the opportunity to sing your praises.  Your development director is your quarterback, not your running back. Don't hand him/her the ball and hope he/she crosses the goal line.  Everyone on the team should be focused upon tearing down the goal posts.
  3. Think holistically, understand that your entire organization is a system, with each functional area reliant upon the other.  Program drives impact, impact attracts funding, marketing spurs interest.  It is circular not linear.

By applying a holistic strategy to your organizational development you'll automatically create a team environment where everyone wants to win. 

 

Lessons From a Trust Fall

We build trust through positive actions and then use marketing channels to promote that trust.  The best nonprofits understand effective marketing communications is critical to their success. So why is there so little emphasis on measurement in so many marketing campaigns?

I saw this video the other day and it really made me laugh and then it got me to thinking. Communicating exactly what you want your audience to understand is a tough business!  How effective are you in your communications?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPOgvzVOQig&w=560&h=315]

What we have here… is a failure to communicate!

How often have you presented a simple message only to encounter an undesired reaction?  As nonprofit professionals, we understand the value of effective communications.  But, do we really know whether our message rings true and if so, to what extent?

How often do you find yourself stating and restating your directives? Are your presentations, or "asks", falling flat?  Has attendance at your events become lackluster? Do you find yourself wondering why the phone is not ringing after implementing a great new fundraising appeal?

The answer may be found in our innate inability to hear ourselves. It always sounds better in your head! We think our message is clear, but we often fail to adequately express our value in ways in which our audience will connect and understand.  Often we use too many, too few, or the wrong words, or we promote our significance in areas where our audience is not listening.

If what we are striving for is to get our great mission understood by as many in our target population as possible, it's important to first craft a great message, but then we need to know if it really is a great message.  Has it been heard, comprehended, and most importantly did it resonate? Here are five Hip Tips to get your message off and running and then humming along like a well-oiled machine.

  1. Understand your target audience.  Know what they read, listen to, watch, like, and think. Remember you can have multiple audiences for your message, so make sure your tailor your communications to each group.
  2. Test, test, test and then test some more.  In every good marketing campaign the message is test marketed and then tested some more during implementation.  Set up specific measurement tools, which will allow you to gauge your success.
  3. Find out what works and keep doing it until it doesn't.  That's how you create and maintain a consistent voice and a develop a real brand.
  4. Remember that multiple touch points reinforce the effectiveness of your message.
  5. And, don't forget the old sales adage: Tell them what you're gonna' tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.

Employ these Hip Tips in all your communications efforts and your audience's hearing will improve dramatically.

Core Strength

Seals Training - crop1The very best companies and organizations realize that marketing is a core component for success and they place its importance at a high level within their operation. So why do so many smaller organizations only consider marketing efforts as secondary, or as an after-thought?

Risk is inherent in all business and it's those businesses and organizations who minimize their risk that find themselves opposite (or, separated) from the unsuccessful. Minimizing your risk means being smart with your marketing budget. You need to focus on what is working and keep doing that until it doesn’t work anymore.

An effective marketing strategy should be at the core of your fundraising activities. While sometimes a great idea may appear from out of the blue, effective strategies are typically developed only after a great deal of research.  Understanding your "market" and separating yourself from your 'competitors" with a unique value proposition is the first step in developing your strategy. Armed with this positioning, your next step is to create a blueprint designed to inform your target audience(s) as to why you're so awesome.

And, that’s where a marketing plan comes in. Those organizations without clear marketing plans find that their marketing tends to be reactive, unstructured, and usually ineffective.

Marketing Process"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you do not know what you are doing."
W. Edwards Deming

The trouble with the marketing efforts at many organizations is they are typically only implemented when their backs are against the wall.  An effective marketing plan is on-going and dynamic; it expands and contracts as you learn from your measurement activities.  It's these metrics, which help you understand if your message is effective.  It's a process that should evolve as you and your audience progress.

Marketing without a plan is a risky gamble; marketing with a dynamic plan can minimize your risk and potentially pay off big.  Here are the core components: 1) Research your "market", 2) develop a strategy, 3) set a budget, 4) identify best tactics, 5) implement the plan, 6) measure your effectiveness, 7) research, refine, & refresh, 8) stir and continue.

One last thing, a marketing plan can have several campaigns.  Campaigns are well thought out methods of attracting donors, constituents, new stakeholders, or informing the general public.  All campaigns have a goal and they clearly state what happens next. This is important because it keeps all your stakeholders on the same page delivering a consistent message and persistent experience. This reinforces and solidifies your brand in the minds of your community.

Running an organization can be a risky business, but nonprofits can mitigate their risk with knowledge. Don’t risk everything on the roll of the dice, or the toss of a coin.  Improve your core strength by planning for success.

Social Media Matters

While for many, how to best use social media to promote and publicize their organization appears to be an amorphous creature that continues to escape their grasp, it's really fairly straightforward, and it's time to join the conversation.

social-networks-V2 crop

And, that is pretty much what social media is all about; it's a conversation between you and others, via the Internet, primarily with your network of constituents, but also with the outside world.  Think of it as a cocktail party, a business meeting, or networking event where you share what's new, your interests, and things you think would be valuable to those with whom you are talking.

Just as when you are in these other social settings; you do the same for your social media network.  Your goal is to create a conversation around mutual interests. So, in this dialog, you share your successes, your exciting new plan to make the world a better place, your shiny new program, or your impressive new hire.  But, you also want to talk about the community to which you both belong and you want to provide valuable information to that community.  When you think about it, it's pretty basic public relations; there are just some basic guidelines that you need to keep in mind to remain relevant (so you're not tuned out by your audience).

Mashable, a leading online news community, lists 21 rules of engagement for using social media to your advantage, here are my top 3 picks from their list:

  1. Become a true participant in each community you wish to activate.
  2. Establish and nurture beneficial relationships online and in the real world as long as doing so is important to your business.
  3. Give back, reciprocate, and recognize notable contributions from participants in your communities.

And, here are my hip tips:

  1. Start today; jump in and get your feet wet, you just need to participate. But, be careful about what you post; set up some guidelines that fit with your brand ideal and work to promote that message.
  2. Post regularly, but not constantly; keep the conversation going, but try not to dominate the conversation.
  3. Remember your audience, rather than simply entertain like you might at a cocktail party, think about your conversation as a luncheon meeting.  It's casual, but on point and message; talk about something you both find interesting.
  4. Operate outside your immediate sphere of influence, in other like arenas where interaction can be beneficial.

If you want to keep someone engaged, have a meaningful conversation that you both enjoy. If you're still stuck about where to start, give me a call, I'd be happy to help you get the conversation going.

Spin Cycle

Spin Cycle crop 800x224You never really know when negative press may hit your organization and switch your communication efforts to the spin cycle. It can easily hit the best organizations; just consider the disparaging developments at organizations like LiveSTRONG, Central Asia Institute, and Susan G. Komen.  Preparing in advance for these speed bumps, can minimize your risk and save you some pretty big headaches.

This issue was recently brought into focus by a friend who posted the following image on Facebook with the comment: "Wow, I had no idea…"

PETA imageI thought it was pretty incredible and a little shocking, so did my friend, who happens to be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). That's because, while many may consider PETA a bit extreme on some issues, I think everyone agrees they hold the rights of animals first and foremost.  So, my red flag went up on this one and I decided to dig a bit deeper.

The first thing I looked for was a values statement from PETA that might provide some guidance and insight into their organizational foundation. Throughout my search, I learned that PETA has strong and deep-seated position statements that identify their views on just about everything.

"PETA's "Uncompromising Stands on Animal Rights" is an overview of what sets PETA apart. Our positions may be controversial, but they are always true to our driving mission: to stop animal abuse worldwide."

True to form, I found a list of positions on animal rights, including euthanasia:

"Euthanasia is a sad reality caused by people who abandon animals, refuse to sterilize their animals, and patronize pet shops and breeders instead of adopting stray animals or animals from animal shelters." Read the rest of their position here.

So, that pretty much answered my question.  At the ready, PETA had provided a reasoned and pragmatic position on an important and unpleasant issue they have thoughtfully considered and then decidedly presented as their stance on the problem.  Most importantly, their preemptive strike rendered the aforementioned attack pointless and that is exactly the result you want to achieve.

So, let's briefly take a look at some of the important take-a ways on spin; it's a double-edged sword that can work to present a reasonable alternative, but it can also be used to incite and provoke.

 

 

  1. Remember that even the most innocuous statement can get spun in a different direction than intended. We see this every day on the 24 hour news programs, as they digest, regurgitate, and spin every single statement made by politicians and celebrities into something often unrecognizable from the original.
  2. You never know who is going to take a pot-shot at your work. The smart organizations are pro-active in their communications.  They develop comprehensive values statements, stick to them, clearly think through all their positions, and post them front and center.
  3. An active PR campaign with a comprehensive media contingency plan, available at the ready, can save you a great deal of heartburn, especially if they are developed in advance to a potential attack or misunderstanding.
  4. Remember that not everyone's red flag will pop up when they see something that may stray from the truth, popular belief, or reality.

I never found a values statement for PETA, but they probably don't need one, that's because they are true to their values and clear in their vision, which they share widely.  Being true to yourself and confident in your beliefs will take you a long way, just don't let them become your little secret. Make sure you let the rest of the world know.

30,000 Foot Strategies

flight_dispatcher_training-cropAs we are propelled head long into a new year full of uncertainty, but rich with promise, consider these 30,000' strategies to jump-start your 2013…

1. Identify your strengths and align your responsibilities.  In his book, "Let My People Go Surfing," Entrepreneur, climber, and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard professed this simple truth: "Managers have short-term vision, implement strategic plans, and keep things running as they always have. Leaders take risks, have long-term vision, create the strategic plans, and instigate change."

Most board development resources agree that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors is to set the organization’s mission and overall strategy, and to modify both as needed.  Yet, I often see boards placing their attention on tactical issues (like laboring over a new logo) instead of pursuing broad strategies for a sustainable future.  In order to make the most of 2013, use Chouinard's common sense observation to your advantage.  Get your board to take a step back and focus on the big picture, while you let your staff do their job of handling operations and implementing your strategic plan.

2. Focus on building your "business". Dan Pallotta, the author of  “Uncharitable,” exposed the unfair rules imposed upon charitable organizations, including the biased view of overhead (investment in infrastructure) as something sinful. Rather than simply asking, “How much of donations will go to programs?” you should consider expanding to a broader discussion about investment and capacity building to achieve more meaningful outcomes and greater impact.

Every successful business takes risks, they invest in themselves, and leverage their vision by investing in people, capital equipment, advertising, and product development. Your organization would do well to do more than spend on program, but to consider how to better solve problems for those you serve, re-evaluate your outcome measurement infrastructure, examine how you reach out to a greater audience and who that audience may be, and to invest in your people.

3. Renew & widely promote your "Theory of Change". Your "Theory of Change" is that set of building blocks that when all lined up lead to a long term goal, desired outcome, or community impact. When a donor clearly understands your process, it becomes a critical link that works to convert a donation into an investment in your organization. When donors become investors, they are consigned to your mission and their personal fulfillment leads to greater funding.

Recently reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "More than four out of five donors conduct research before they give. And many of those donors are looking at your organization's website for information about how their money will support your mission."  In a related Chronicle article: "More nonprofits have shown that data collection and analysis can change the way an organization operates and improve its results in fundraising and carrying out its mission…"  Refine your process for greater and greater impact and efficiencies in order to maximize every dollar you earn.

Finally, don't leave the public's understanding of your "Theory of Change" to chance.  Test market how you explain your process, first among insiders, and then to a larger and larger audience.  When people "get-it" and appreciate your theory, it paves the way to a greater recognition of the importance of your work.  This, then becomes the value proposition from which you implement tactical marketing initiatives to grow mission and achieve vision.

All the best in 2013!

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.

Leadership and the Courage to Follow

Yesterday, just for fun, I Google'd leadership and received a response of 506 million articles. Among these replies, I found a range of topics on leadership; they crossed areas covering a broad spectrum of styles, concepts, models, and characteristics.  There were also articles which covered strategies, tactics, mentoring, and visioning; a lifetime of self-improvement reading material!

I've always considered myself a student of leadership principles and process.  As a business owner, board member, nonprofit executive, and especially as a twelve-year field-active member of a mountain search and rescue team, I've learned a thing or two on the subject.  With any luck, some of it may have actually stuck with me.

By far, my biggest lesson was learned when I read a very simple quote by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lau Tse. Paraphrased, he said: "When the greatest leader's work is done, the people say they did it themselves."

Simple, profound, and true.  While we all strive to be leaders, as leaders, we all know it's not about us, it's about the vision, the movement, the cause.  But more importantly, without followers, there is no movement and sometimes following takes as much, or perhaps more courage than leading.  That's why the following humorous 3 minute video is nearly as profound as what Lau Tse proclaimed over 800 years ago.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO8MwBZl-Vc?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

I hope this serves to remind that while leadership is important, followers are the critical component of getting a movement started, and keeping it growing and persistent.  It takes guts to follow, so nurturing your followers is a fundamental key to leadership.  Viewed from this vantage point, I might catch myself in the camp that finds leadership in and of itself, just a bit over-glorified as well.

Perhaps we should all strive to be better students of following.

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.