Thursday, September 30, 2004

Work at high altitude

At 6,300 feet above sea level, (I'm at Lake Tahoe) I think better, sleep better, and in general, feel like I'm working on all cylinders. Why I live at 560 feet MSL I don't know.

At dinner last night with 6 executives of mid size California nonprofits, one of the key things I heard was living the job, no time to think, learn, take time off, etc. Everyone agreed that taking time was good, but how to do it?

Today I'll be talking about troubling trends....and one of the most troubling to me is the workload of senior staff in nonprofits. Like everywhere else, nonprofits are being forced to do more with less. As I tell people this reduction in staff has been going on for a decade, and has resulted in many admin staff going from 1.0 to 2.5 FTE's living in their bodies. Even with help from tech, this means more work, more time demands, more pressue.

Is it surprising that the Nonprofit Quarterly found that over 40% of Execs would "Never take an ED job again"?

And, if we lose 40% of our experience capital out of our sector, what happens then?

Three thoughts; easy to say, tough to do:

First, delegation is a key for ED retention. The execs at dinner said "Yeah, I should give up stuff, but it's so HARD!" and things like that. This is a management skill, one that needs to be developed to allow other staff to take some of the load, and to grow themselves.

Second, more education for nonprofit employees (and board members) in ways that accomodate their crazy schedules. Funders need to ramp up the perceived value of continuing education for everyone in the sector, fund/reward it wherever and whenever possible.

Third, a greater understanding by board members of the huge job their senior staff take on, and a gentle/steady prodding from the board to make sure that staff do take time off, both on a daily and annual basis. Otherwise we burn out/kill our employees.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Left Coast Thoughts....

Arrived in Sacramento 10 minutes late for the earthquake. Timing is everything....

When I'm on the left coast, I always try to get up at the same real time I would at home--thus I'm up here between 3:30 and 4:00 local time. Which gives me some quiet time to write, think and read. And, of course, to watch stupid news programs...which I waste far, far too much time on.


Why Can't We All just start Paying Attention?: In my book club work, I'm reading tons of management wisdom. The same wisdom (packaged differently) that I read 5 and 10 and 15 and 20 years ago. Different books, different authors, same stuff. This makes me somewhat nutty; we read and read and read and read, but don't appear to take what we're reading to heart. Too bad, but then the business book business would take such a hit if we "got it" the first time. (Apologies to Rodney King for mis-quoting him)

Everything is local: I'm in a hotel in a commercial area, mixed in with residential. A bit scruffy here and there, so I asked the person at the desk if walking down to a set of restaurants about 400 yards away on a major street was a safe walk in the evening. She looked at me like I was a rube, and said "Uh, sure, they're not that far away. It should be fine." This from a person who works in a hotel behind a 8 foot high metal fence. (Actually the fences around every single property is what prompted my question in the first place. So I walked. 400 yards, commuting hours, daylight. No mugging, no driveby shootings, no mayhem at all. No big deal.

I walk back after my meal. Greeted at the hotel gate by a 300 lb security guard who wants to see my room key and tells me I really shouldn't walk around.....perception is really reality. Is it safe or not? Are we in financial trouble or not? It depends.

Off to Lake Tahoe, one of America's iconic places that I've never seen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bright minds, bright eyes

Last night, I taught the first of my fall course in Nonprofit Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. What a delight. A room full of bright eyes, interested in nonprofits, and in doing good works, both here in the US as well as elsewhere in the world.

Last year, our students asked for one thing from the course: "Make it harder". How refreshing THAT was. This year, the room seems full of equally curious, passionate young people. I look forward to their questions, their papers, and to getting to know them better. They give me hope.

Monday, September 27, 2004

At the reception....such good news

So my wife and I are at a wedding reception this weekend, and we sit next to a couple we don't know. The two women start chatting and after a bit, the wife of the other couple asks me who I work for.
"Myself", I reply.
"What do you do?"
"I work with charities on their management."
"Oh. Boy do they need help."

Of course, with music, other people stopping by, and other distractions, I didn't get to ask the logical question: "Why do you say that? Why do you think nonprofits "need help?"

Yet this stereotype is widespread, and, at least in my experience, partly true. Some nonprofits are miserably run, poorly managed and, in general, a disaster. But most are well run, and more than a few are incredibly managed, getting more done with less resources than any for-profit I know.

How do we fight the stereotype? By letting people know we CAN run organizations well, and then doing it. By being transparent, by opening our doors and our books, and by saying "NO, we're not poorly run when we are accused of poor operations.

Time to take back the night.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Bad news from Brookings Institution

During election season, all we seem to get is surveys about who is ahead (in addition to shady data about who did what 30 years ago). I get to the point where I don't pay attention to the surveys, since it's the one on election day that matters....uh oh, I sound like a candidate...

Anyway, a survey you should pay attention to is the annual Brookings Institution survey of American public opinion about charitable organizations. The survey shows that opinions about charities have not rebounded significantly, and that many citizens are very skeptical about charities' ability to spend money wisely, and about their management competence. The paper is called "The Continued Crisis in Charitable Confidence"

I've been harping here, and in my books and training about the need for organizational transparency, and more outcome measurement. The latter is good, but without the former, no one knows how good a job we're doing!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Back on the Road

A lot of my time, particularly in the September-December and March-June timeframes, is spent on the road speaking to groups of nonprofits about their operations, management, or marketing. I always find these sessions a mix of invigorating, as I get to talk to people who are "in the trenches" and doing an amazing job with far too few resources, and depressing, since the organizations have to make do with those paltry resources.

But tomorrow, I talk about Mission-Based Marketing, a topic that I really love, and one that can affect the entire organization. I'll be speaking to the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast in Houston, and then going to central Missouri to do a private presentation on Leadership for the Deaconness Foundation.

One of my original hopes with this blog was to give you immediate feedback about great organizations that I see on the road. Now, finally, after a month of blogging, I get to do that!

Next week's trip: Chicago to start my fall teaching at Kellogg School of Management, and a presentation in Lake Tahoe!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Go Fish

I run a set of book clubs for managers of community rehabilitation organizations around the country. Each month we read a book, and then discuss it on a conference call, and through a listserve. I have two books to read each month, one for an "Advanced Leader" section and one for mid-managers that we call "Emerging Leaders". And, I read a lot of other management books to see what we can add to our list.

One that I just finished (it takes about three whole hours to read) is the book many of you may have read called "Fish!" the motivational book about the Pike Street Fish Market in Seattle. The book is short, a fast read, and well done. Duh on me. That's why it's a best seller!

Anyway, it reminded me yet again that we all make choices every day. I make the choice about what attitude to bring to work (a major theme of the book). I make the choice about what attitude to have with my family. I make the choice about whether or not to stick to my diet. (As a friend who has struggled with her weight once told me: "No one ever put anything in my mouth but me.")

Are there outside influences on our choices? Sure. The traffic is backed up, our boss in a jerk, I got wet in the rainstorm. But if we choose to take those influences out on our family, friends, and co-workers, guess what? They didn't cause the traffic or the rain, so why should they bear the brunt of our attitude. We punish the people who are most important to us for something they not only didn't do, but may not even know about.

Enough. I will struggle harder to make better choices. Hope you will too.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Good idea from a teen near you....

I am amazed by teenagers. They work hard, achieve lots, and more and more, buy their clothes at Goodwill. That's right, at a thift shop. Now, my fashion un-conscious sons have shopped at thrift stores for years, both for the savings and for the retro look. My daughter, while much more fashion aware, also gets cheap clothes off the rack from our local Goodwill store now and then.

Now, according to today's show on PRI'S "Marketplace" the Goodwill store is holding its own against Abercrombie, Structure, et. al. for "coolest place to shop".

Boy, does this make me happy. And you can shop there too, and be just stylin. Here are two links:

Goodwill stores near you.
Goodwill Auctions online.

Happy Shopping!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

A mission-based for-profit

Just back from three days in the New Hampshire Woods. Ahhhhhh. No laptop (fried motherboard), no cell phones (well, almost) no newspapers. Just some very important work on the board of a place I truly love: a family camp called Rockywold-Deephaven (RDC for short) ; a for-profit that is mission-based.

RDC is a closely held stockholding corporation where mission and money mix very closely. As a board member, it is almost surreal to hear people talking about how important mission is at this for-profit, but that we have to make money too. Our mission is (somewhat paraphrased): to protect our environment, serve our guests, provide value to our shareholders, provide a respectful and growing environment for our employees, and to help our community.

Sound familiar? If you change one word: "Shareholder", to "stakeholder", this could be the mission statement of lots of nonprofits. Perhaps you would change "guest" to "client", or "patient", or " student", but it still is pretty close.

Today we had the shareholder meeting. Most of our shareholders are also long-term guests, some who have been coming for more than 40 summers. They marvel at how we mix mission and money, and I want to scream from the back of the room---so should your charities at home!

Anyway, after 4 days offline, I'm back on, and better for the being gone!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Fundraising Online

I hope that every reader's nonprofit accepts donations online, either through credit card or PayPal, or both. If you aren't, you are almost certainly turning away funds, especially from anyone who regularly uses the net to pay bills or make purchases. And, of course, just about anyone under 30.

That's the first level. Here are some resources for you.
An Article from the Nonprofit FAQ
Another article on online fundraising in general

Then you move to the second level-active fundraising online. While there are lots of people to help you, I like the materials from They offer classes, and other support in this growing area. Check them out and think through your tech improvement plan to include using the net as a fundraising tool.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Is there an Elvis in your house?

Last weekend, our family visited our eldest son Ben in his new home of Seattle. Ben started working for Microsoft in July as a programmer. As we walked around his office area, I noticed a lot of Elvis pictures, cutouts, etc. "What's with the Elvis?", I asked.

Ben told me that Microsoft decided a while ago that a customer focus was key, but too impersonal. So, each product group (Ben works in the Visual Studio C# product group) has a target customer or "persona". This customer is described in detail (in relation to his uses of the product, affinity to and experience with computers, education level, etc) to the employees, and named. In Ben's group's case, the customer is "Elvis". Elvis is referred to by name in meetings as in "What would Elvis say about this feature?", or "I don't think Elvis would like this....."

I LOVE this idea. It personalizes the customer from being a nameless, well, customer, to being a more real, more personable, ummmm, person.

Question: Do we take the time in our organizations to really think about the many markets we serve and describe them? Nonprofits have funder markets, service markets, employee and volunteer markets. All of them need to be viewed as a collection of people, not just as a soul-less title. Elvis has wants that need to be met. So do your markets.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Red Cross needs us....

Truth in advertising, Part 1 : I provided CPR training for our Red Cross Chapter here in Springfield for years.

Truth in advertising, Part 2: I was a loud and long critic of the Red Cross after the terrorist attacks in 2001. They screwed up, and screwed up badly.

But, like all good organizations, they were self-critical, learned from their mistakes and fixed what was broken. And now, the Red Cross, and the people in Florida, Grenada, Jamaica need some help. If you have not already donated time, money or goods through your place of worship, local disaster relief organization, or other charity, consider donating to the Red Cross. You can target your donation for disaster relief.

It's been a long month of hurricanes, and the next week bodes ill for everyone in need. Help where you can.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Addicted to (Dependent on) Technology

Sooooo, I found out last night that my 4-year-old road warrior Dell laptop most likely has a fried mother board. I am in mourning for my old friend and travel partner, trying to do the math about getting it fixed versus getting a replacement, which is a question of speed of fix as much as of cost, and considering my near panic at not having a laptop on the road the next few weeks if I go for the fix. Imagine. I might have to be without email every 3-6 hours for two or three days at a time....gads.

Every summer, our family goes to a family camp in rural New Hampshire where we are offline for at least a week and sometimes two. No TV's, no papers. And its all good. This year, however, some idiot put in a wireless network, and we could check our email in our cabin. I grieved.

So why am I so worked up about being partially offline now? Will the world stop if I am offline? Are my clients so dependent on me, and are their problems life or death crises? Will my business fold if I don't answer an email in an hour? No, No, No, No, and no.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

A good training resource....

This morning's email brought the most recent issue of The Sophist, the regular newsletter from the Isoph Institute. The newsletter is good and the site is terrific. Lots of good online learning opportunities. Check it out- remember that life-long learning means just that....every day something new should cross your neural net.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Conflict of Interest?

I got a question the other day from a board member of an organization that supports people with disabilities. They have a board made up of business people, community members, and family members of people who are served by the organization. The board member was concerned that a potential new board member was employed by the organization's bank. "Isn't that a conflict of interest?", she aske me.

Well, yes and no. Certainly the banker COULD have a conflict. But, so could the family members. So could a community member if, for example, the organization were building a new center down the street that would affect their home's property value.

The issue with board recruits is to ask them: Are you here to represent your organization/employer/family member, or are you here for the best interests of our not-for-profit?

And, of course, you do need to have, and to discuss conflict of interest policies. Here's a great article from Thompson & Thompson about Avoiding Conflict of Interest. Here's some good info and a sample from the Nonprofit FAQ, and some good stuff on the issue from BoardSource.

Conflict of interest is an important issue to get your board and staff focused on. It is one of those things that is almost totally manageable in advance, but if you don't do some work to prevent problems, the problems that result are HUGE.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

There is hope.....

I spent a delightful lunch Friday with my son Adam and three of his college peers in Ann Arbor. During my conversations with them, I was reminded how much these young people volunteer in their communities. It was the same for my son Ben and his friends at WashU in St. Louis, and also for my daughter Caitlin and her high school friends. We ARE growing a new generation of volunteers and nonprofit activists.

But we have to keep them interested once they graduate from high school and/or college. And put simply, this means being online. I've ranted about this before, but if your organization does not have everything a potential volunteer would want to know available on your website--you are losing volunteers.

These young people are a tremendous resource for us, if we can tap into ways to use them. Think about it, and think about it hard. An upcoming issue of my newsletter will deal with this generational topic.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Finally, some good news on nonprofits

At last. We get good press. Over the past couple of days, I've seen stories in a number of papers with headlines such as "Nonprofits Put Lessons Learned to Good Use", and "Charities get it Right". What a breath of fresh air. The stories are all about the incredibly agile and prompt response that various relief agencies had in helping the people affected by Hurricane Charley in Florida three weeks ago. It's nice to see the press notice when people do stuff right. Here's an example.

Now another storm is bearing down on Florida. News stories? Yep, and pretty good. Here's one.

The moral of the story? Remember to help the media with stories about what you do right. Don't just shut them out. Reach out and show them human interest stories about how your organization is doing good works in your community.

Here's some great stuff on Media and Public Relations from Putnam Barber's Free Management Library

Have a good weekend. I will. Family reunion in Seattle!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Using ALL your resources for mission...

It happened again. Today. In 2004, not 1977 or 1983. A nonprofit board member said to me: "Oh, we don't feel that business planning for new grants is appropriate. We're a charity." I bit my tongue and asked him, "So you don't feel that things that are created or intended for business should be used by a charities?"
"Absolutely not. It's not appropriate." he answered. I has SO hoped we were beyond this....

I thought about being nice, and decided, for the benefit of the underprivileged children his organization serves, I would be rude. "Soooo..." I started off, "Then you don't use phones, or computers, or staplers, or copiers, or faxes? Those were all designed for for-profit businesses....."

"Well", he huffed, "those are different. You just don't get it."

Perhaps not. But I do know this. NOT using an available and helpful resource in pursuit of mission is bad stewardship. The business planning resource is one of those that many charitable groups ignore, sometimes because they don't know how to use it, sometimes because it slows down their enthusiastic pursuit of mission.

You can use a business plan for a new service, a big expansion of service or an expansion of a service to a new group of people or new location. Check out my free business planning template. While you are at the FreeStuff part of my website, you can also see other free tools.

And remember, just because business invented it, doesn't mean it's bad.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Importance of Community

My son Adam and I went to a Braves-Phillies baseball game last night. We arrived early, watched batting practice, and as the daylight waned, we watched the stadium fill up. I am always struck by the feeling of community that develops at these games (we go to one or two a year here and there around the country). Here are 30,000 people, mostly strangers, coming together peacefully for an evening's common experience. We almost always wind up chatting with people around us, or having some kind of very, very positive community experience. It's renewing for me, every time.

Earlier in the day, we spent some time on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. I have only been back twice since I graduated, but have spent a lot of time on college campuses the past 5 or 6 years, for college visits for my sons when they were looking for schools, and for college visits to my sons at their chosen universities. As we wandered around Penn was struck by that intangible sense of community that is so important, so prevalent on many campuses, and so absent from so much of our hurry, hurry, isolated life.

On the way home, I compared my reactions to the campuses and the ball game to that other world of strangers I so often occupy - airports. A completely different feel. Strangers, closely packed, together for a bit, but none of the camaraderie that I experienced on campus or at the ball game.

Made me can we do better to develop a sense of community around our not-for-profits; for our employees, our volunteers, the people we serve. We so often talk about being a community, but would outsiders agree?

I wonder.

Mundane item. My September newsletter is out--the topic is Political Activity and Advocacy.