Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Convert to Graphic Facilitation

I am a word person. Words are my key to understanding concepts and the world around me. While intellectually I understand that people process information differently, I’m still not sure I believe that approximately 65% are visual learners, who focus on the pictures, graphs and charts that I just skip over. After all, I’m the type of person who has to make a conscious effort to conjure up a visual image of the main character in a book – though if the author revealed it, I can tell you the color of his hair and eyes or what his height and body type are. You can only imagine my shock when I learned that some people actually see a movie unfolding in their head as they read.

A year ago I was introduced to graphic facilitation. This is a process of capturing the ideas that come out of meetings, not as bulleted lists, but pictorially in a way that additionally shows the relationship of the ideas. The concept was intriguing, particularly when I learned that people tend to turn to watch the evolving “picture” whenever they begin to “space out,” as they are wont to do at some point in meetings or planning sessions. The graphic actually keeps their attention focused on the topic, increasing both their involvement in the moment and their take-away learning/understanding. The process won me over, though, when I experienced, as Christine Valenza relates in her article “Understanding Visual Thinking: The History and Future of Graphic Facilitation” (Interactions, July/August 2009), “In a lively meeting, the big paper demands collaboration, correction, controversy. Its value is in the moment it crystallizes and in the connections it makes. It becomes a member of the meeting in its own right.”

So, in a move truly outside my comfort zone, I recently took a class on graphic facilitation. I am so glad that I did. While I am not an artist – I’ve had people laugh at my attempts to draw stick figures – in a mere couple of hours I did learn to draw credible figures and I gained the confidence to take a stab at representing whatever concepts were thrown at me. (I admit I also relaxed a bit more when I read the line in Valenza’s article, “The imperfect nature of my strokes makes the big paper human and touchable.”) Most importantly, I walked out of the class realizing that while I may never go much beyond adding an illustration here or there to my flipchart pages, I have a new arrow in my quiver for generating engagement and helping my clients see their problems and possible solutions in a different way.

If you are interested in learning a little more about using simple drawings in your work, check out Dan Roam’s book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures (2008).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Seismic Shift: The Changing Nonprofit Landscape

We live in interesting times. Concurrently, two large events are interacting and impacting nonprofits. The first is the economic recession. The second event is a seismic shift that involves fundamental changes in the nonprofit landscape. With my binoculars, looking beyond the recession, here is what I see in the emerging landscape.

1.Fewer Nonprofits—perhaps 10 percent or more. Most of the closures involve “paper and dream nonprofits”—that is, people who formed nonprofits around a dream, but lacked viability. Others will fold who provide essential services. To continue to meet your mission, consider if you need to add some of these services to your nonprofit’s portfolio.

2.A Dual Focus on Outcomes and Savvy Communications. The outcome focus is not new, what is new is the understanding that outcomes alone are inadequate. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there, it doesn’t help your cause. Those who thrive will provide outcomes plus have the public relations savvy to successfully communicate why these outcomes are important in the noisy market.

3.Earned Income. While not new, the recognition of the importance of this revenue source is growing. In the post-shift landscape, successful nonprofits will create several sources of earned income from their services or related business activities, i.e., thrift stores, concession stands or armbands. To compete, as a nonprofit leader you need expertise in running both types of operations.

4.New Ways of Creating Communities. Your new community can include your donors and everyone interested in your effort. Facebook, Meetup and similar Internet opportunities are the large portals of new communities. Smaller portals include short-term work groups where participants from across the world meet three or four times by telephone to create work products. Instead of joining large neighborhood animal clubs, people join communities around very specific interests. You can create a community of people interested in puppet shows for the hard of hearing and smaller even more obscure communities.

5.Money Based Partnership. Related to the above and also stimulated by recession, people are creating information-based partnerships to produce outcomes at less cost. Many of these money partnerships will be tried and institutionalized with a handshake. Others will be tried out and abandoned. Partnership conversations begin with questions like, “What are you paying for this service?” “Can we save money by joining together?” “If we do this together, what are the financial benefits?”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Making your case in 20 minutes or less

I had lunch recently with a long-time friend whose participation as a Rotarian brought out an impassioned plea.

In case you've never attended, the Rotary meeting format usually affords approximately 20 minutes for a speaker of interest at each weekly meeting. Rotary also requires regular attendance of its members, so much so that they are encouraged to attend other chapter meetings when schedules prevent them from attending their own club's weekly gathering.

I've always admired Rotarians for this level of dedication to the organization. There are few meetings I'll attend weekly without fail outside of worship and faith-related small groups. As a result, many Rotary members can count on one hand the number of meetings they miss each year, putting their attendance close to 50 meetings, which also means 50 or so presentations.

Back to the impassioned plea. My friend, a city bank executive, strongly encouraged me to create a forum for non-profit executives and leaders to help them with their presenting skills. Apparently, such skills are sorely lacking for half or more of those who come through my friend's club.

I'd always heard that such clubs are bombarded mostly with poor presenters or people only there to ask for money and that such occurrences comprise the majority of the meetings. That creates suffering and hardship as members, week after week, sit as hostages through needlessly poor presentations.

There are more options than I can count for resources on improving one's presentation skills. I would also count such skill as near paramount for a non-profit executive these days, especially when the economy tightens and those executives get out and about seeking community support and funding.

Here are several tips:
1. Get the basics on presenting skills - I always recommend the basic Dale Carnegie Course. There's likely one closer to you than you think. It's a great investment and you can usually repeat the course at no charge if you'd like extra practice.
2. Craft your 20-minute presentation for use at any time - It's more than likely that you can have an evergreen presentation that tells a bit about your organization, its value to the community and cites one to three examples of local individuals or organizations which have benefited from your work. Then you can update and customize it to fit special occasions or seasons, such as the homeless shelter providing warm meals over the holidays.
3. Create it so that you can present with or without technology aids - Yes, Murphy shows up at Rotary meetings and you're bound to have a technology/projector/computer failure when there's no time to replace the equipment. Your ability to present a cogent, concise and compelling 20 minutes with little else than your outline in front of you will reflect your professionalism and appreciation of the time you've been given to an often highly influential audience. I also strongly recommend that if the PowerPoint adds nothing but the words you'll already be delivering verbally, try going without it. Reasons to consider this include maintaining attention on you and your presentation and less on the screen. I like the flip chart or white board to illustrate a particular point in a way that forces me to move and add energy to a particular point.
4. Practice your presentation before staff and board - Before you head out for prime time, make sure key people inside your organization have the opportunity to hear and see what you're saying. The practice and repetition is valuable in and of itself and you'll likely get some positive feedback that will help you improve the presentation.
5. Get out the video camera - I've recommended that a surgeon general's warning be placed on any video that requires someone to watch herself/himself in action. "Warning: viewing yourself on video can provoke nausea and drooping self-esteem. Proceed with caution." There's no better feedback, however, than seeing for yourself what others are seeing and hearing.
6.Bring a co-worker or board member to every presentation - Ask that person ahead of time to be ready to provide feedback following the event, good and bad, giving you a resource for continuous improvement.
7. Ask your host for feedback - Even if it's a day or two later and you're communicating by phone or e-mail, get a sense of how your host and the group felt about your presentation. While it's less than ideal to catch a bad review after the fact, it beats going out and stumbling again due to ignorance that the prior presentation was lacking in some easily improved element. It also improves your chances of being invited back next year.

Do yourself and your local civic clubs a favor by taking your presentation skills and quality up one or two levels. It will only strengthen your case later when the time comes to invite community support for your organization and its mission.

John Carroll is an award-winning columnist, author, executive coach, consultant and president of Unlimited Performance, Inc. in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. You can reach him directly at jcarroll@uperform.com or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/johnearlcarroll

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the dangers of stakeholder segmentation

Your “young leaders” grow up to be “leaders”, who then grow up to be “visionaries”, or some other categorical definition. Stop inventing new categories and further segmenting your donors, staff, and other stakeholders. Approach your people seamlessly, or you risk loosing them in the valleys between defined categories.

One of my clients has a “young leaders” donors group, modeled after the New York Public Library’s well-known Young Lions program. Two women, college roommates, joined at the same time. One woman, unmarried and non-parenting, remains in the group, quite active. The other, married, homeowner, with two small children, feels she no longer fits the membership profile and has left. Neither does she share the financial or professional profile of the organization’s formal Board of Directors. Her engagement with the organization is threatened by her lack of fitting into one of their tightly defined subgroups.

Continue reading at http://neurocooking.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Summer Nonprofit Reading, Three Cups of Tea

This is a great book to read if you’re involved in the nonprofit sector. First, it will make you feel like your work is not all that difficult compared to Greg Mortenson, who decides to build a school in a rural village in Pakistan. About half way through, as Mortenson begins to develop a series of schools and a nonprofit organization, you will want to go back in time to hand Mortenson your favorite nonprofit fundraising materials and suggest he study it on one of his many long flights to the Orient. Instead, he sends out 500 letters to famous people he does not know and looks for Mr. Wealthy. Finally, you’ll learn how Mortenson and his idea of building many schools for girls in Pakistan comes to life through his perseverance, ethics, hard work and by the good luck he makes by staying in the game. This is a book that affirms that you, too, can achieve your nonprofit mission—even if you wisely avoid Mortenson’s specific techniques

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Non Profit Reading, Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, via a NGO, plants millions of trees in Kenya and, at the same time, helps maintain democracy in her country –the more challenging, life-threatening, braver of the two feats.

For the non profit reader, what is the take away?

Her financial model: Women, who stand to benefit the most from trees, are encouraged to create nurseries with gathered native saplings. When these saplings are successfully planted and tended for six months, the women receive the equivalent of 4 cents per tree-- enough cash in poor rural areas to motivate the planting of 30 million trees in Kenya.