Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nonprofit Innovation

I'm involved with a very cool project on nonprofit innovation through the Kellogg Action Lab. I'll be posting in the coming months on what our work produces so that as many people as possible can share and benefit from it.

Our rules are pretty straightforward. First, we want to build a set of innovation engines that are replicable, scalable and usable in a variety of environments.

Second, none of the ideas (or innovation engines) that come through our project will need attribution--they will be open source and free to everyone.

Third, we're going to use the best in crowdsourcing to generate more innovation. This, to us, means at the local organization, community and national level.

Fourth, we don't care where the ideas come from: from the nonprofit world, the business community, students, private citizens. It doesn't matter.

The problems nonprofits face are hard ones to solve, so we need as many neurons as possible on the job to come up with new ideas and new approaches.

In related information, take a look at this article from on Lessons from Nonprofits on Innovation, then spend some time reading this article on crowdsourcing high end solutions from Wired. The first makes me happy to see someone acknowledge the innovation in our field, and has some good rules for all of us to follow. The second is flat awesome, with LOTS of lessons on the wisdom of crowds.

Expect more on innovation here soon, and often.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lest we forget

It's a beautiful morning here at Smith Mountain Lake in rural Virginia, quiet, a bit cloudy and I'm watching the lake "wake up" as the fishermen give way to the jet skis and runabouts on a busy holiday weekend.

It's easy to just go on with our lives and forget those who do, and who have, served us so well. And we should never forget. So, two things.

First, today's highlighted nonprofit is the Wounded Warrior Project. A terrific program started a few years back to fill the (inexcusable) holes in care for our vets. Great, great stuff and worth your support.

Second, if you don't already, start doing this, and not just today: when you see someone in uniform, walk up and say thanks. They appreciate it more than you know.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

If you only have time to read two books this summer...

Traditionally in May I see lots of lists of summer reading in Newsweek, Business Week, Wired, the New York Times, etc. It seems that many serial authors (as in authors who release one book a year) do it either for the summer or during the holiday shopping period in the fall. So, I'll browse through the lists, see if there's new stuff from authors I know, or highly lauded new authors that I might want to try.

This includes, for me, fiction and non-fiction, since I try to read both in about equal amounts. Regular readers know I ran a book club for CEO's and one for Emerging Leaders for years and recommend such clubs highly as methods of personal growth as well as organizational leadership development and improvement.

We all know that, of all the summers of the past few years, nonprofit staff have less time than ever to read; we've cut back employees and are scrambling to fill funding holes. But even in a financial crisis, we need to be thinking about new ways of doing things, of methods to improve employee morale, of how to grow our next generation of leaders.

So, of the more than 50 management/leadership books I've read in the past three years I want to give you a short summer reading list. One book is for you, and one for your organization. They are both from proven authors who have a long, long reading list if you like the book listed here.

For Your Organization: The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, by Pat Lencioni
This book is a business fable (like all of Lencioni's work) and thus an easy read, even for people on your team who don't like books, or are severely time limited. There is more organizational improvement wisdom here in than in most other books ten times the length. Actually, if you only read one book this summer, make this the one.

For You: If you are a Senior Leader (CEO/COO, VP): Developing the Leaders Around You
If you are an Emerging Leader: Developing the Leader Within You
both by John Maxwell. All of Maxwell's books are excellent, with good writing, well thought out examples and diagrams, and good solid leadership philosophy behind them.

Enjoy your reading, and if you have other books you'd like to share with nonprofit leaders here, post a comment.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mission-Based Management 3.0

In early March, I sent the text for the third edition of Mission-Based Management to John Wiley & Sons. If all goes well, the new edition will be out in the fall. I'm really pleased about the new content. In addition to updated stories, examples, and bringing the book up to speed for 2009 and beyond, I made two major changes in the theory of the book.

The first change was to add a tenth criterion to my Characteristics of Successful Nonprofits. Readers of either of the first two editions will remember that these characteristics laid the foundation for the rest of the book. The new characteristic, listed second after "A Viable Mission" is "Ethical, Accountable and Transparent". In the chapter on this subject I talk about not only the expectation for transparency and high values, but also how ethics, accountability and transparency begin inside the organization, between staff, between volunteers and between staff and volunteers. Placing this second after Mission, and before characteristics dealing with board, staff, marketing, technology, controls, strategy or finance, is intended to emphasize the importance of these issues in today's nonprofits. As I say in the book,

"The mission is why you do what you do. Your values are how you do it."

The second change is to ramp up the chapter on technology, and not just the content to catch up to changes since the Second Edition. Rather, I try to convey my deeply held belief that the future of philanthropy is in the successful merging of technology and mission. Thus, instead of just getting better at tech, instead of accepting that tech is here to stay, I labeled this characteristic

"Embracing Technology for Mission." And, that's what its going to take.

More on both of these issues in future posts, and I'll be previewing the entire book in posts starting around Labor Day.

Speaking of holidays, if you are here in the US, enjoy yours and remember those who have, and do, serve us so well.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A great idea worth our support

It's been far, far too long since my last post, but I've been on the road, making up for 3 weeks in Australia and New Zealand. Since the end of March, I've been in Texas, Montana, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia doing presentations on Marketing, Generation change and, predictably, Mission-Based Management in Difficult Financial Times.

I read people's attitude about the recession and their nonprofit as very concerned but not terrified, as they were in January. I can't tell if this is because the talking heads on TV are working so hard to find a light at the end of the tunnel, or simply because the severe downward spiral seems to have slowed.

What nonprofit managers are in constant need of, however, is good people, for their boards, their staff and their volunteers. I'm going to start a series on finding and retaining good people here over the next few weeks, interspersed with other postings, as I get back on a more regular schedule.

Let's start with a biggie. Jobs for Change "seeks to spark a nationwide movement toward careers in the nonprofit, government, and social enterprise sectors." This is a project of, and no matter what your political affiliation, deserves a look and careful consideration. There are hundreds of job listings in the nonprofit sector, some good advice for people who are interested in working in our sector, and the cost of listing a job is currently free and will eventually be less than

The site is currently in beta, so check it out and post any ideas you might have on how to make it better. Having a place where the best and brightest can find a way to work for the common good is awesome, and I wish them huge success.