Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Consultants Must Coordinate Efforts

I have recently been writing about the need for departments within a nonprofit organization to work together as a single team, and for organizations to work with other community entities in true partnership. I’ve been hearing a lot of “Amen,” which leads me to believe that people see the advantages of such holistic approaches and are willing to work toward them. But, there is another area in which this philosophy should be encouraged, yet few organizations even consider it. That is in the use of consultants.

When an organization’s leadership turns to consultants it is typically because that leadership has determined that it requires help with a discrete task such as facilitating a fund raising campaign or a board retreat. The leadership does its due diligence and brings in a person or firm that the group feels has the expertise to move it forward in this arena. The only problem with this is that fund raising, for instance – successful fund raising – cannot occur in a vacuum. It relies on the existence of an infrastructure with policies and procedures, on a board that understands how it can contribute to the fund development process, on the integration of a PR/marketing plan, on research, and so on. The same concept holds true regardless of the identified task. Trying to take one element alone and move the organization forward by committing time and money to just that one element is almost always less than optimal.

Many consultants understand this and try to help the organization see the light. Fine. The only problem with this is if they try to pass themselves off as a Jack-of-all-trades. Such Jacks are often the master of none. Today, as never before, consultants cannot rely on offering up bromides. They really have to understand the trends and nuances of the area(s) in which they consult in order to be of real use to their clients.

This probably means the organization must work with a number of specialists in order to move forward. But, actual damage can occur when the leadership identifies multiple needs and hires an array of different consultants to help the organization achieve its various goals. Why? Too often, while each of the consultants hired may be the best in their individual fields, each is taking direction and offering solutions in a vacuum. The result is that the organization can be pulled in different, if not opposing, directions.

Nonprofits would do well to take lessons from the field of medicine. In the last 15 years it has become the gold standard to go to a Mayo or Cleveland Clinic where the doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, etc. act as a coordinated team, discussing as a team each patient’s needs, treatment plans and physical and mental reactions to the plan. Our sector must start demanding that the specialists they hire work together, creating intervention and accountability plans that are integrated.

Today’s technology, with its ability to promote and enhance communication between far-flung parties, certainly makes this feasible. But, it makes the job of hiring consultants that much more difficult because the organization’s leadership has to ensure that the consultants understand that coming into the organization, doing one’s thing and leaving is no longer sufficient or acceptable. The leadership has to ensure that everyone it hires is committed to the team approach. It has to determine that the chemistry is not only right between the leadership team and the consultants, but among the various consultants as well.

Unless the organization can hire a consulting firm that has the appropriate talent and is built around these principles, the task is daunting. But, it is not impossible. And, the potential for positive impact is huge.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Values as Visuals

My new post at PhilanTopic, the Philanthropy News Digest blog, explores the use of new tools for articulating values, vision, and mission.

Imagine using Dialoogle and Picture Your Legacy with non-profit and philanthropic leaders, helping them to articulate their passion for the organizations for which they work or volunteer, and uncovering stories that could be shared when soliciting donations and other forms of organizational support. Imagine using the cards and iPhone app to commence group discussions, and to move into collaborative problem solving.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Build A Hive

What if you gathered the best brainpower for your nonprofits success?

In recent weeks, we’ve all heard hundreds of news reports about BP’s response to the Gulf Crisis. One set of reports has particular interest to nonprofit organizations. These contain information about how BP created The Hive as its “Apollo 13 Brain Center”. Do you have a challenge you want to tackle? What if you created a Hive to collect the best thinking about your nonprofit and your challenge? Here is how to build one based on the reports.

  • Set aside a creative, thinking space. The Hive is a repurposed research center and “houses a dozen video screens…” You need space where a group can work undisturbed. Make it large enough so everyone can be seated comfortably and see each other. Add computers with Internet access so information can be gathered and checked on the spot. Include space for ideas to be captured, posted and viewed by all with easel pads or white boards.

  • Best minds. Gather the best minds to talk about what your organization might do to respond to the challenge. Who might you invite to your Hive? Consider board members, former board members, staff of local foundations and civic leaders.

Hundreds of engineers from universities, rival oil companies and the federal government immediately went back to work, in shifts lasting 13 hours or more.

  • Dream team. Okay, you drafted a list of the best minds. Now, imagine who would be on your dream team. How about leaders in the community known for their creative approaches, even if they now do little in the nonprofit world? Academics? How about a leader from a foundation that specializes in your work from across the county? These team members may not be available, but unless you ask them, you will never know.

Then came the "dream team" that President Barack Obama had ordered his Nobel-winning energy secretary, Steven Chu, to assemble: out-of-the-box thinkers including a nuclear physicist, a pioneer on Mars drilling techniques, an MIT professor whose research interests include "going faster on my snowboard," an expert on the hydrogen bomb, and a controversial astrophysicist…

As a Gulf resident agonizing over the oil spill despoiling our beautiful gulf, I remain hopeful that soon the leak will be plugged so that full recovery can begin. One good thing to come of out this disaster is that nonprofits can also learn how to build hives to call forth and capture great thinking to solve their challenges.

For some Hive tools, see How to Be More Successful With Your Brainstorming and see this article on building trust.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Time To Breathe Deeply

Happy first day of summer! Breathe deeply and relax.

In summer, many nonprofits leaders have more flexibility in their schedule. One nonprofit takes the whole month of August to learn and plan. If you would like things to be less hectic this fall, consider investing time this summer the same way. We have a beach bag full of new resources to help you improve your time management and strategy planning. They include:

Mission Brilliant Podcasts

Added Value Newsletters

Time Management Workshop (in conjunction with the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay)

Raising the Bar on Strategic Planning in Your Organization Teleconference

Time Management for Nonprofit Leaders Booklet
To start you off, here is one tip:

27. Block Islands. For large tasks, set aside a two-hour block of time. Repeat over several days or weeks, as needed, to make progress on key activities. Prioritize these time islands just like you would appointments with key donors.

As you learn and plan this summer, you will be able to breathe even more deeply knowing that you and your organization will be in a stronger and better place this fall.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How Does Time Management Relate To Nonprofit Strategy?

Good time management impacts not only how you do great strategy planning. It also helps you to achieve more of the strategy you select.

Good Meeting Time Management during planning sessions will help you to have the time to do the strategy thinking you need to do to be effective. Here is a tip about how to run strategy and other meetings:

72. Plan the Flow. Include a time estimate for each agenda item, i.e., “Special event opportunity -15 minutes.” During your meetings, as you approach the time limit, bring this to the group’s attention. State: “We have just spent 10 minutes on this topic. Would you like to come to a conclusion and move on in the next 5 minutes or schedule it for a future meeting?” Stated time estimates help groups move forward and balance the needs of the current topic against other agenda items.

Good Time Management and Strategy. Even the best strategies in the world are only effective if people have time to implement them. Here are two bonus tips to help you with strategy implementation.

128: Resist the Temptation to Just Do, Do, Do
like digging in the sandbox to China. Instead take time to ask: 1) Must this task be done? Does this mesh with our strategy? 2) Might someone else do it? If so, who? 3) Is it best to do the task now or to schedule it for later?

129: Set Your Intentions. Before a meeting or other event, decide two things. 1) What is the minimum you want to get done? 2) What is the maximum you to hope to achieve? Armed with these clear parameters you are in the position to benefit from your activities.

We’ll be talking more about good time management at the workshop, Time Management for Nonprofit Leaders on July 30 in Tampa. Register today to get a free copy of Time Management for Nonprofit Leaders- 121 Time-Tastic Tips for Your Most Important Resource –-just a few seat available with this special offer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fund-raising Discourse is Story-Deficient, Research Finds

Kathy Hanson, Ph.D., explores storytelling in the nonprofit sector in her most post at A Storied Career. Frank Dickerson, Ph.D., has uncovered “a dysfunctional pattern in the way fund raisers communicate", documenting that most “fund-raising discourse” fails to create “interpersonal involvement.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Program Evaluation and Narrative

My most recent post at the Philanthropy News Digest blog, PhilanTopic, explores how narrative can work alongside evaluation to determine organizational strategy. Here are some excerpts:

• Theories of Change should be accompanied by Stories of Change! Not simply an expository description of your Theory of Change, but an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end, conflict, and resolution. What is the future aspirational end toward which your organization is working? Where, and in what ways, have you already told that story?

• Narrative evaluation can support more seemingly rigorous methods of quantitative evaluation. In fact, narrative evaluation can uncover truths that may be difficult to surface in other ways.

• Grantees must be provided with a safe context in which they can share stories about their failures and unresolved challenges, as well as their successes. Self-reflection is critical to program and organizational development. Space can be provided for sense-making activities that explore the characters, challenges, settings, and other elements that contribute to success or failure. What are the emergent themes?

• Encouraging the sharing of stories among program officers often leads to insight, innovation, and more effective targeting of resources. And helping program officers become better listeners -- and better story sharers themselves -- is likely to result in more story sharing by grantees. True narrative leadership means prompting stories through the sharing of stories; asking for stories and then fully listening to the stories that are shared; recognizing and exploring commonalities among the stories one hears; and acting on the knowledge gleaned through those stories.

• Evaluators should spend more time thinking about how they can present their findings through narrative: Do their findings lend themselves to a presentation with a clear beginning, middle, and end? Why did the organization decide to measure the things it did? What were the barriers it encountered along the way? Was it successful? What, if anything, has changed as a result of gathering that data?

• When approached thoughtfully, the knowledge gleaned through story sharing and narrative analysis can contribute considerable value to the strategic focus and programmatic effectiveness of any organization.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Looking at the Grown Up Side of You

I just received a new magazine from Disney World –not unusual for a Florida household. This one caught my eye. Along with the recognizable Disney logo on the masthead was the phrase, “the Grown-Up Side of Disney.” While I think of Disney parks as ideal for the 8-25 crowd, Disney also offers many grown-up opportunities, like culinary events, adult classes and garden festivals.

Its time to play, Non-profit What If. . .that is, take a successful concept used elsewhere. Consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement.

Taking the Disney approach, if your organization offers children services, what is your grown-up side? Can you strengthen your children’s services with some adult services? Perhaps opportunities like parenting classes and then also, opportunities to approach donors with interests in family welfare.

On the other hand, if you offer services for seniors, what is your young adult or child side? Perhaps support for caregivers or programs for grandchildren and also, perhaps a place for donors who have interests in serving children.

Take this beyond age related ideas. If you are a very serious organization, like a disease eradication entity, consider your other side. Is it playful? Proud of your progress? And vice versa. If you are playful entity, like a children’s hands-on museum, what is your serious side?

Continue to play “Nonprofit What If” with additional pairs of opposites. Where are you missing an audience or donor because you have yet to share a hidden or less apparent side? Where do you shine below other’s radar screens?

For more creative thinking about your mission, message and programming, see
Your Future. At What Are You Really, Really Good?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Do You Need Board Members?

At a community training session, a development director shared her organization’s challenges finding board members. They had tried to the nonprofit board bank. They had interviewed several people. The mission of the organization was difficult...helping children who had been sex offenders. I asked about her mailing list--about their list of people who had a passion for their cause with whom they communicated regularly. None existed.

At this point, our conversation was interrupted. What I wanted to tell her, I share here: Great Board members are an end product not a starting one.

To find board members for a difficult cause or even popular causes:

1. Figure out who in the community cares about your mission.

2. Find and connect with as many of these people as possible.

3. Nurture them and ask them for their help--as donors, task force and committee members.

4. In this crowd of supporters, you will find your board members.