Monday, August 30, 2010

Summer Reading: Jumping Hurdles

The History of the Schoenbaum Human Service Center of Sarasota

In my hunt for books that tell nonprofit stories, I found this booklet. Dr. Kay Glasser, who died early this year, tells about her magnificent obsession to create a human service center. At the Center she created, nonprofits receive “free rent” and those in need receive multiple services.

The booklet’s biggest lesson is to remind nonprofit leaders of the importance of creating by-laws that serve your organization. The Center’s first by-laws called for a board of directors composed solely of representatives of the agencies housed in the Center. This resulted in two challenges. First, board members had the natural tendency to vote in their own agencies interests. Second, according to Dr. Glasser, she had to do the fundraising without board help because they were busy fundraising for their own organizations. Would the Center have been better served by creating a board of influential citizens with agency representatives serving an advisory role?

Dr. Glasser also shares the many other hurdles she overcame in the eight years or so it took to move from concept to grand opening and serving 15+ agencies. Here you can read stories of trying and trying again and finding people willing to help, especially in banks and in city government. Besides the by-laws lesson, the nonprofit leader, in this short read, will be reminded about the value of perseverance, asking for help and asking for money . . .from people who have it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who Should Facilitate the Exit Interview?

The other day a respected colleague and good friend, Carol Weisman, sent a copy of her latest blog post entitled, “Don’t Just Whack’em and Plaque’em: Exit Interviews for Retiring Board Members.” As all of Carol’s writings, it dealt with an important subject, was informative and had me in stitches – Carol is one of the smartest and funniest people I know. She spoke to the value of doing an exit interview and shared five excellent questions to use in such a situation. My only quarrel was that she put the responsibility for doing the exit interview on the executive director. I have always believed an exit interview should be conducted by the board, in the person of the chair or a member of the governance/board development committee.

She and I went back and forth with our arguments. She felt that the executive director is the constant – the one who will be there after the entire board turns over. I reasoned that there is no guarantee that the executive director will be there tomorrow, let alone years down the road. I know too many organizations that make that position a revolving door. But even in the most stable organizations, a lot of long-time executive directors are reaching the point where retirement is starting to look pretty good. We’re also starting to see a number of less fortunate dying with their boots on.

Carol asked me to honestly examine how many boards step up to the plate and take on this responsibility. While I concede that the job often defaults to the executive director, by accepting that role, the executive director makes it that much easier for the board to abdicate its responsibility in the future. It is the board that benefits most from learning what it could/should be doing differently to maximize, or at least improve, its directors’ experiences. The interviewer should be taking notes that can be kept in a board book for easy referral by future boards. Carol argued that future boards won’t bother to look back. I of the “you get what you expect school” retorted that debriefing should be an expected part of the job. After heating up cyber-space for a couple of days, we agreed to disagree.

However, I was like the store clerk who gets in an argument with a customer. Long after the customer leaves, the clerk is whining about that customer to everyone else she comes in contact with that day. I ran the arguments by another colleague, Jane Garthson. Jane said definitively that it was the board’s job to conduct exit interviews. However – sneaky devil! – she said she understood if an executive director wanted to conduct his or her own exit interview to learn what he or she might do differently in the future. So, this brings me to the question of the day. What, if any, are the arguments that we are all missing? If you even agree that exit interviews for departing board members are valuable, who do you want to see facilitating them? Why?

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Than A Pat On The Back Low Cost-Low Work Employee Rewards

You don’t have a lot of money or other resources, but you do want to your staff to know how much you appreciate them. Listen to this new podcast. In it, Laura Mikuska and I share a dozen inexpensive and effective ways to help you show employees your gratitude.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quality of Your Mission: A Cautionary Tale

Amongst the many items in the storage unit from my parent’s house was a letter from 1945 from the Buffalo Evening News. It thanked my mother for helping to raise $506.43 for the “News Smoke Fund.” The letter went on to thank her and her friends for their efforts to “keep ‘em smoking”. It offered thanks on behalf of “every solider, sailor, marine, coast guardsman and others from Buffalo and Western New York.”

My mother never smoked. She was careful to provide an ongoing education to make sure her four children never smoked. Yet in 1945 before any of us existed, she helped to raise funds for cigarettes to support the war effort and those in the service during World War II.

Why is this a cautionary tale? It reminds us that:

1. Missions need to be reexamined to make sure they are current.

2. Missions need to go deep. Over sixty-five years, “Let them know we care about them” would have served better than “keep ‘em smoking”. The latter has not aged well—in fact its rather horrifying. Missions built on core values will age better.

3. Mission activities need careful planning. What else might the people of Western New York done besides “keep ‘em smoking”? Likewise, what else might you do besides your current programs?

For a related article on writing mission statements see How to Develop a Great Mission Statement.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Doors in Your Castle

Picture yourself in the large castle your organization has developed over the ages. It is well built and solid. Today, you discover a new part of the castle. A hallway leads you into an expansive room filled with doors. Each door represents a different future you might pursue. Perhaps, you would like to go to the garden outside, because it is lovely and full of fruit. Or, perhaps you would like to climb high to the turret and see the countryside around you. Or, it might be time to clean out the dungeon.

Finding all of the doors and identifying where they lead is critical to future planning. Finding all the doors in advance helps you to find all the great possibilities. Finding all doors allows you to compare and to contrast different futures—before you follow them. You don’t do this alone. You ask others for their help. Finding all the doors invites others to bring you ideas that may intrigue and entice you.

Finding all of your possible doors the first step of future planning for nonprofit organizations, the “D” in the four-step DOOR process. Read more about D.O.O.R. in this month’s Added Value.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer Reading: Whatever It Takes

Cheryl Pollock recommended this book at a collaboration presentation sponsored by the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay late last year. In the presentation, Pollock shared the success of the Y’s Community Learning Center program at Sulfur Springs Elementary School. Before starting the program, after a year of research, the Y selected the Harlem Children's Zone, discussed in this book, as a model for the Sulfur Springs program. The Harlem Children's Zone is a community-based program that serves 17,000 children in a 100-block area of Harlem in New York City.

Except for the concept of finding board members with extremely deep pockets, you will not find any answers here about how to fund your programs. However, if you seek moral support for solving an enduring, multifaceted, challenging problem, which many nonprofits do, or if you wish to help end “the cycle of generational poverty”, Paul Tough’s book will give you insight into the thinking and actions of the Zone’s leader Geoffrey Canada. Along with sharing five years of investigation, the author who is the former editor of the New York Time Magazine, shares history, related research and the background story on recent efforts to end poverty.