Monday, November 30, 2009

Mission Creep: A Good Thing

We have been taught to avoid mission creep like it was HINI. However, for some organizations, mission creep is a good thing. Case 1: When the market perceives your current services as having declining value--mission creep is one way to explore new services. If they have appeal, than you learn a good lesson. Case 2: If you begin to serve adjacent markets to provide financial stability to your whole organization, mission creep is a good thing.

Don’t throw out it out altogether; keep mission creep as a tool for the right time and place in your organization’s life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There’s a New “Normal” in Town

I’ve been hearing it for awhile, now… we cannot hope to hang on until things return to “normal.” “Normal” has gone for good. There’s a "new normal” in town and it only promises to keep morphing. Regulations will become tighter. Technologies will continue to change the way we do business. Upcoming generations will want to mold projects and processes in their image. The community will demand increasing levels of participation, accountability and impact. Collaboration will emerge as something necessary, something real, something more than a “front” to satisfy funders. Creativity will rule. The sharing of knowledge will become the norm. And, so the list grows.

How can we deal with these shifting sands? People a lot smarter than I have failed to come up with a definitive answer. However, I do have some thoughts. We cannot look backwards with longing. We, like Lot’s wife, will be buried in that sand.

We must realize, as my friend and colleague Hildy Gottlieb says, that we are creating the future now, whether consciously or not, with everything we do or say. So, we need to define our desired future, claim responsibility for our actions, see the elements dropped in our laps as constructive and utilize them, moving quite deliberatively in the direction that will take us where we want to go.

We must have faith in the community – the combined intelligence and experience sets of diverse individuals, all with skin in the game – and embrace what it has to offer. This might mean flattening our organizations’ hierarchies, or at least encouraging people to build the networks they feel would be most effective without regard to reporting lines.

We need to stop viewing our organizations as turf that must be protected from trespassers and poachers at all cost. Psychologically, thinking about the value easements on personal property offer to the owners of the property, as well as to the greater community, might help here. As a first step to breaking down the walls between “us” and “them” we could encourage that those in our organizations start talking to and working with individuals at all levels in other organizations, even other communities. And, we should start looking at how to leverage resources between organizations, as well.

We must encourage out-of-the-box thinking. In fact, we should be encouraging people to burn that damn box for once and for all! This might mean that we take a lesson from some Fortune 100 companies and give people time each week to work on projects unrelated to their jobs that are of personal interest to them. Incredible ideas have come out of such policies in the for-profit sector. Why aren’t we encouraging people to dream, then share what they are developing? My guess is that we’ll find things in these projects that will move organizations closer to not only their own visions, but to healthier, more vibrant communities.

It won’t be easy. Real change rarely is. However, there is a saying that “change is inevitable, only the struggle is optional.” Let’s embrace the "new normal” and together clean up Dodge.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Karen’s Tips: Ending the Year On An Up Note

1. Capture at least one story that happened this year- of someone you served, a life you changed and a donor who made a difference.

2. Apply for any one-time per year grants.

3. Prepare and send thank-you notes, holiday notes and an end of the year appeal.

4. Create an overall big picture plan for next year.

5. Set your vacations in your calendar for the upcoming year.

6. Develop your top dozen strategy questions for the next year. What issues do you need to think about with your board?

7. Help your board to reflect on the past year and set both progress (what we will achieve) and process (how we will achieve it) goals.

8. Establish new learning goals. Help everyone-- your board, staff, volunteers and yourself to identify three areas where they want to learn more in the next twelve months. While classes and workshops are great, don’t overlook low cost print and Internet materials, like books and articles.

8. Start on any project you resolved to begin this year.

9. Set your goals for the next year, both personally and for your organization.

10. Adopt at least one new efficiency standard. For instance, our standard meetings will be one hour or less. Or, to keep focused on our major objectives, staff will write bi-monthly reports in fifteen minutes to be read in five minutes.

11. As funds allow, order standard supplies, so that you are ready for a fast-start after the holiday break.

12. Check with your accountant, printer, webmaster and insurance agent, etc. What improvements should you consider? What if anything will save you money, make you more effective and enhance your brand or your competitiveness?

13. Take time to review your many achievements during the year. Share this list, with those who helped you achieve them, with thanks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

If Foundations Want to be Heard & Understood, They Must Share Stories

My latest essay, on how foundations can cease being confounded by storytelling and start being heard, is now up at PhilanTopic, the Philanthropy News Digest blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Secret

In the parking lot after a meeting, I asked him for the secret to his long success at running his prosperous and innovative nonprofit organization. With his 30 years of leadership the nonprofit grew from a fitness organization with budget struggles to a leader in social programming and fitness with a budget of 90 million dollars.

What was his secret?

After looking carefully around us, perhaps to confirm that we were alone, he whispered, “Control the nominating committee.”

Dear Executive Director: Think twice about taking a job that doesn’t offer you this opportunity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Volunteer?

During a recent conversation, with other writers on this blog, we discussed why we volunteer. Here is our list of reasons. Check the ones that motivate you:

1. To give back

2. To be part of the community

3. To learn important information to help other organizations

4. To gain visibility and create useful connections

5. To redeem or collect favors

6. To stay grounded

7. To have fun

8. To gain skills or expertise

9. To create results and impact

10. (For leadership roles) To lead the effort, because it’s more comfortable than participating (i.e., If I run the meetings, we will end on time.)

11. So the work will be taken seriously

12. To respond to our passion for the mission

Now that you have a better idea about why you volunteer, go to Volunteering As a Nonprofit Leader to discover a tool to help you rate your different volunteer opportunities. It will help you to select opportunities that will provide you the most value.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Enhancing Nonprofit Accountability

Lately, I’ve been thinking about lot about how to increase nonprofit accountability, since it is so crucial to creating outcomes. In addition to dedicating the Fall Issue of Added Value to the topic, I’ve also developed a dozen other tips to grow it

Here is one additional tip:

Create Checklists for Routine Tasks.
Reduce the need for repetitive (and boring) thinking about regular tasks. Develop checklists. You might already use these for emergency closings. Add them for board meeting preparations, posting website updates, the end of the day lock-up and similar routines.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Business of Changing Lives

This is a great read if you’re trying to create nonprofit programming that will appeal to businesses or employ business concepts for sustainability. Author Allan Weis, Internet Pioneer, shares the story of how profits from Advanced Network and Services (ANS), were used to create ThinkQuest, a learning platform that helps students across the globe. Weiss calls it the “Olympics of Web Programming,” see The text also provides insight into the intent of other ANS grant making and replicable, sustainable program ideas.

This book was a gift from Laura Breeze from the Sarasota Education Foundation. The Foundation supports the TeXellence Program, a recipient of ANS funding. TeXellence provides computers to over 1,000 fourth graders and their low-income families each year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered in the book, that Ron Zimmerman was its founder. At the time, I was taking one of his MAC classes. It is “a small world after all” and we’re all in the business of changing lives.