Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Unexpected customer service...

So I woke up this morning at the Allen Center on the Northwestern University campus. I try to stay there when I can....it's a wonderful facility--set up for Exec Education. Lots of workspace, great food, and best of all, high speed net connections in your room and NO televisions. A place to work, think, work out, and teach.

The staff are always extremely friendly and helpful, but this morning, I was blown away by what happened when I checked out.

Setting: The Allen Center has a large parking lot out front. After my class last night, I parked out in front, and was told by the person at the registration counter that I would have to move it by 8:00 am since the lot is not reserved for Allen Center guests. He said he could get me paking in a visitors' lot about 5 minutes away. I had a 9:00 meeting with some students and then an 11:00 meeting with a potential client, so that seemed like it would work.

I went to bed, got up, worked out, showered, changed, packed up and checked out at 7:58 am or so, and told a different registration desk person that I needed a place to park my car. There were two women behind the counter, and as soon as I said that I needed a parking pass, one walked out around the counter and headed for the door while the other smiled and said, "No problem, we'll put you in the visitors' lot." I asked if this was the lot past the student union, on the southern edge of campus. She said, yes, that was the one.

She gave me a mirror-hanger with the date onit and said: "Follow Fuschia", which I gathered was the name of the other woman who had gone out the door. When I got outside, Fuschia was in a van waiting for me. She asked me where my car was, and waited as I backed out. She led me through the maze of campus roads to the parking lot, waited while I got out, and drove me to a different building where my meeting was scheduled. She was pleasant, professional....and it was a "wow" event.

Obviously, since I knew more or less where I was going, they could have let me go on my own, and I would not have complained, or felt slighted. But they went beyond the norm, beyond customer service to customer satisfaction. It was great.......and now I've told you! Good news travels.

Do people leave your organization with stories of staff going above and beyond? Worth considering.

Monday, November 29, 2004

FINALLY, a funder who purchases outcomes

Tonight was my last class (sob!) for this fall at Kellogg We were talking about performance, metrics, and outcome measures. Our case/guest speakers were from the United Way of Metro Chicago, who are going through an amazing set of changes to all outcomes based funding, using logic models, community input, and all kinds of other great things. Janet Froetscher, the President and CEO told us how and why the changes are being made and then she said the magic words, word I have been waiting to hear from a funder for over 20 years:

"At United Way, we buy outcomes, we don't fund programs."

I nearly fainted. I need to have Janet come speak to about 10,000 other funders who don't get this.

Talk about hope on the near horizon. If United Way suceeds, and I expect that they will, it could change the landscape for funders in the U.S. for the next 50 years.

If you are in the metro Chicago area, get involved with these people. They are the wave of the future, right now!

A shoutout to Janet and her board and staff!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Business Development for Nonprofits

I continue to be amused and concerned by the debate over whether not-for-profits should be businesslike.

Well of course they should. IF, and only IF the mission remains the main thing....and that is not a contradictory statement. Operating efficiently, reviewing your financial and social bottom line, measuring outcomes, all those things are good mission...as well as being good business. Or is it good business and good mission? See what I mean?

Being more business oriented does not need to reduce the passion you have for your mission. It just means adding more tools, more resources, to the things you bring to bear as you try to get the most, best mission out the door. For example, using marketing techniques can both attract more people to serve, as well as more donors and volunteers to contribute of their time, talent and treasure. Using good HR techniques can reduce the likelihood that you will wind up in court from an unhappy employee.

But what about the oldest quest in the business arena - a new business to bolster your income and your mission? I have worked with hundreds of organizations on such expansions, and have developed a great, free Business Development Tool to help you evaluate new service/business opportunities.

It's free, and it's the most visited part of my website. Check it out. And stay focused on your mission.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Tech to the rescue, but at what a cost....

OK, so here we are after the day we should be thankful (which I am, for many, many, MANY things), and the news is always full of stories of people in need, and people helping and all that feel good/bad stuff.

As regular readers know, I worry about the nonprofit sector and the people it serves a lot. How to meet the needs, how to pay for the needs, how to be fair to those REALLY in need versus the slackers who try to spoil it for everyone.....all that stuff rattles around in my bitty brain.

So this morning's news brought a combination of "Cool!" and "Ugh!" from the same story headline.


I dunno. At first, I thought, well good for them. I have a lot of nonprofit clients who sell donated goods on Ebay and do pretty well, but a city? A city known for its wonderful culture and arts? Can't fund it so it's auctioning off the good will of its people? Huh.

Then I remembered that Chicago, icon of the arts, has provided neither art nor music education in its public schools for years. How lame.

Well, if you like the arts, and want to support them in the Windy City, Ebay is your next stop.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Philanthropic Revival...and pdf

Two great resources showed up this morning. The more esoteric is this excellent and very interesting article by William Schambra that is going to appear in the Nonprofit Quarterly soon. It's about the need for grass roots activism and the changes in the nonprofit sector. Good reading, worth your 20 minutes.

That's for the higher end of your mind.

On the more mundane, but very practical end, all of us see .pdf formatted files all the time, and we read them with Adobe Reader, which is free. But what about saving Word, or WordPerfect, or Excel files in .pdf format? That takes Adobe software which is expensive.

Until now. Virtual PDF Printer is free software that converts the files, and allows others to read them with a .pdf reader.

A great resource if you don't need the other features and benefits of Adobe software.

So, download the Printer, and then read the article.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Debt and Deficits

Here's a fun thought. Our national debt has now topped 7.7 trillion dollars. This is money that we owe our banks, our financial institutions, some of our citizens (if you own savings bonds or treasury bills), etc. but a lot of it is owed to foreigners who see the U.S. as a safe investment haven.

So what, you say? Well, let me pose an issue for you to consider. I do this because, when I do training sessions, people regularly ask when we'll have federal budget surpluses again and things will be better for those nonprofits funded by government. My answer is: it doesn't matter.

Let's say (ha!) that the deficits (the annual national government folly of spending more than we take in) are instantly vaporized and we "break even" from now on. Or perhaps we even have some surpluses, as we did in the 90's for a few years. What about that?

Well, there is the deficit, and there is the debt. Deficits come and go, but you gotta pay back the debt. Much smarter people than I argue all the time that the debt is no big deal, and others just as smart argue that it is the antichrist....whatever.

My point for nonprofits is this: the national debt is so huge and the cost of maintaining it (just paying the interest) is so high that more help from the government for normal nonprofit issues is highly unlikely during the rest of our lifetime.

Here's the math: Debt $7.7 trillion. Average interest cost 4.1%. Multiply $7.7 trillion by .041, and then divide the result by 365, and again by 24. (Hint: this is easier to do if you lop off 6 zeros when you start and add them back at the end--otherwise your calculator can't handle it.)

What do you get. The stunning realization that the United States Government spends a bit over $36 million per HOUR on interest. Not on debt reduction, just on interest.

Compare that to your organization's annual budget. How many minutes of interest costs does it represent?

So those of you who, like me, were first working in the 1970's when government coffers were available to us, stop waiting for a return of the cavalry to save us. The horses have been sold, and the saddles have been hocked.

We have what we have, and we ain't gettin' no more.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Customer service in Ann Arbor

Back on another university campus (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) for my son's parent's weekend, and I've been given another amazing dose of quality customer service. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) connected with this university is "on" all the time. Cheerful, pleasant, willing to go the extra mile to help a moderately lost parent (me) yesterday. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, everyone.

So I was thinking about which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Does UMich train and train and train its employees - - - and then the "be nice" but rubs off on the students, or do they recruit amazing kids and those kids are the example for the staff....or is it some of both?

Certainly, one reinforces the other.

Now, most nonprofits don't carefully select their customers (as the university can with its students), but if the atmosphere those customers enter is always friendly, helpful, and caring, what a great place that is to come for service, and to come to work....

Anyway, just an observation. Heading home today I'll probably think more about this.....And tomorrow I get to privilege of teaching again at Kellogg! I'm excited.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Back - and with stories to tell.

Been gone a week or so. And I return with a story of customer service gone bad, and then good. It's week of story, but I'll give you the condensed version - and trust me, there is a moral here for nonprofits.

The beginning: After months of working on my laptop, replacing the motherboard, ramping up our home wireless network, updating a couple of pieces of creaky software, I was really happy with how it was running. I decided (silly me) to get the last 10% out of it, and upgrade from XP home to XP Pro. More stable, better access, etc.

Had a bad install. Crap. Called Microsoft tech help. Got a very polite, not very smart person in India (We'll call him Tech 1).

NOTE: I have NO problem with outsourcing tech help, and I know that US tech help is often inept, but please, God, give me someone with good English proficiency, no matter where he or she is from.

He told me some things to try, I did, and after an hour or two was no better off.

I called back, got India again, smarter person (Tech 2) this time. We worked for about two hours, and he told me we could do some things that would give me a perfectly working computer for a while, but I would need to offload data and start again with a reformatting and reinstallation of all my software. Double crap. But, if I could limp along for a couple of weeks, OK.

I did what he said, the computer finally completely booted (which it hadn't been) and I happily hung up.

A mistake.

None of my programs would work. Now, Tech 2 had said I would have a "fully functioning computer". Not true.

I called Microsoft to complain, and was given a "VIP" number to call for "really good tech help" I called the number, found myself on the same tech line as before, in India with the "least smart" person yet with absolutely unintelligible English (Tech 3), who told me that, basically, I was screwed. "You need to save your data, reformat, and reinstall your sofware." When I complained that I didn't HAVE some of the software that came installed on the computer, his answer was "Call Dell (the manufacturer)" and then he said this:

"Perhaps you are using an install disk that was used by someone else?"

Understand my attitude at this point was frustration and near panic about losing my data, and then this guy accuses me of pirating software. I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not, and never do, that, and that I wanted to talk to his supervisor.

He hung up.

ARGHHHHHHHHH! All this was last Friday.

I backed away slowly, again talked to a contact I have at Microsoft, and put the computer away while I thought the problem through. Tuesday, I went out an bought an external hard drive, and thought some more. Thursday, I moved all my data, and then the best possible thing happened.

A techie (tech4) from Microsoft called me, and wanted to help. He was AMAZING. We worked for 4 hours, tried lots of options, and wound up reformatting the drive and reinstalling the OS. BUT, Cliff (the techie) stayed with me, called me back, and today he offered to help me get my laptop back on our home network. I had complete confidence that I wasn't going to trash my system. Cliff was terrific, the perfect tech support. He and I are scheduled to talk again today to finish things up.....ahhhhhhh.

I still have lots of reinstallation to do, but I have Cliff's phone and email, and can use it if I need to.

OK, what are the lessons for nonprofits? First, everyone is on the marketing team every minute. Techs 1-2 were polite, helpful, willing, but unintelligible for the most part. I spent a lot of time saying "Sorry, I don't understand you). An already frustrated and worried customer doesn't need that.

Tech 3 insulted me and accused me of fraud. A poor idea.

Tech 4 - Cliff, was and is amazing. I am happyhappyhappy even though Microsoft's initial product messed with my laptop, I've spent a week dealing with this, and at least 8 hours on the phone. Why am I happy after all that? Because I finally got good, understandable, competent help.

Second, doing things cheap can cost more in the end. Again, I don't care about who does the work, as long as they a: do it well, and b: offer help in my language...the lesson here is that you need to pay attention to your markets, whether they are English speaking or Spanish speaking, or Korean, or Thai, or Lithuanian.

Here endeth the story.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

What now?

OK, election over. What do we need to do now as nonprofit managers? What does the election mean for nonprofits?

I see three things to prepare for, all of which can be bundled into four words: "MORE OF THE SAME."

First, the federal deficit will continue to grow, at least for the next four years. Thus no more help for most nonprofits from that end, and a decay in social security which will lead to more trouble down the road.

Second, PROBABLY a renewed focus on faith - based groups, at least from the federal level.

Third, the Senate MAY really come at us hard when it convenes in January. So pay attention.

If you supported Bush/Cheney, congratulations. If you didn't, I urge you to do what I am trying to do: move on. Let's do our part to end the bitter partisanship.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Another great Kellogg class

I had such a great time at Kellogg last night. Our class was on "Leadership" and we compared the tenets of good leadership in for-profits and nonprofits. It's wonderful to see the students really getting the differences and similarities. We talked about "Good to Great", "Leading Without Power", and "Execution: The Art of Getting Things Done" as well as the students' own ideas on good leadership.

At the end of the evening a consensus appeared: nonprofit leaders need to have a passion for mission, a superior ability to allocate resources, and, most importantly, personal integrity.

Sounds like a good set to me.

Then we talked about the U.S. Election. A vast majority of the class feel Bush will win, and that we won't know the results for at least a week.

Well, it will be interesting.