Dani Robbins

Ten Years of Change, Growth and Nonprofit Evolution

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2020 at 10:33 am

Last October marked ten years for my company.  It was a transformational decade for me professionally, for our sector and our work. 

Professionally, I had the opportunity to

  • build a semi successful consulting firm
  • co-write a leadership book (Thank you Maureen Metcalf!)
  • become a nonprofit thought leader (Thank you readers of my book and blog!)
  • teach at the college level (Thank you Rob Greenbaum and OSU’s Glenn College!)
  • Fall in love with teaching (Thank you students!)
  • Get my dream job (Thank you Anne Kugler and John Carroll University!)

I’ve taught over 250 college and graduate students and had the honor to mentor, coach, encourage and support dozens of nonprofit leaders.

Our sector is facing immense opportunities, unprecedented challenges, old issues and emerging threats. We will have to come to consensus on how we respond to:

  • The loss of charitable deductions, and the gifts that go with them
  • The impact of Donor Advised Funds
  • The possible loss of the Johnson Amendment
  • Big philanthropy
  • Immigration
  • Climate change
  • Hate
  • Guns
  • Violence against women
  • Systemic racism
  • #MeToo
  • Voting rights
  • All of the above and much more

There are multiple and competing issues that challenge our democracy, our souls and our future. In honor of each person who reads this blog, and the hundreds of people and myriad issues for which you get up every day ready once again to take up the fight, I offer the most popular and poignant posts from the last decade:

Strong Boards beget strong agencies which beget strong communities. Here’s how to build your board, support them in doing their work and do your own:

An Open Letter to Board Members I Have Known and Loved is the most popular post I have ever written, by thousands.  I wrote it to honor several of my Board members, especially Bud Rogers, officially Bruce W. Rogers of Akron Ohio.  He is, for me, the quintessential board member. He is my ideal. I learned more from his grace, his leadership and his generosity that I can ever explain. May he rest in peace.

The Role of the Board “Every time I speak on issues related to nonprofits, someone asks “What is the role of the Board?” “The Board is responsible for governance, which includes setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Direction; Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director; acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, setting Policy and Raising Money. Everything else is done in concert with the Executive Director or by the Executive Director.” The question that follows or should follow is “What is The Role of the Nonprofit CEO? “Leading an organization is a big job that looks much easier than it is. In fact, like all leadership done well, it looks like nothing.”

While we’re at it, here’s one on Becoming a new Board President, the fist in the series Governance the Work of the Board and the most important, exciting and engaging opportunity for Board leadership: Generative Governance.

“If your Board is not fund raising the way you want them to, I submit you do not have a fund raising issue; you have an engagement issue and possibly a Board Development issue.” Not Fundraising? Not Engaged. Alternatively, or additionally, if they are not fulfilling their role, it may be because you’re doing their work. If you are, stop. Here’s how: Five Thing to Stop Doing Right Now and Three More Things to Stop Doing.

For my students, young people everywhere and all of our daughters:

Advice for Graduating Students Joining the Workforce

An Open Letter to College Bound Daughters, including My Own

Discretion and Discernment: A Call to Action on Behalf of Our Young People

Finally, the three posts that are closest to my philosophy of leadership and what I believe about how we can move forward social justice:

Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance

Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice

Thank you for reading. Thank you for your leadership, advocacy and activism.  May you and may I still be standing, still fighting, and still inspired to change the world throughout this new decade. Lead on!

The Intersection of Mission, Vision and Values

In Community Strategy, Leadership, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on November 4, 2019 at 5:02 pm

I had the privilege to present at John Carroll University’s Community Forum last week on the difference between mission, vision and values. It’s a topic that has come up repeatedly in the last few weeks in a variety of arenas.

My analogy is this: the values are the guardrails, the vision is the destination, and the car is the mission, because it drives everything.

Here’s another way to frame it: In elementary school, we were taught how to write newspaper articles by using the 5 Ws: where, what, why, who and when.  Nonprofit strategy isn’t much different, though we do add how.  In both cases you’re painting a picture and telling a story. 

Our story is about how we change the world. 

Where are we going?  How are we going to conduct ourselves along the way? Who do we serve?  What are we doing? Why?

If you subscribe to the Simon Sinek theory of why – and I do – you know that no one cares about the what or the how, they care about the why.  In his amazing and highly recommended Ted Talk, How great leaders inspire action, he says “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Which begs the question:  What is it that you believe?

Nonprofit strategy is born from what you believe.

Why:

Your mission statement is the why. It’s why your organization exists.

JCU’s mission is “As a Jesuit Catholic university, John Carroll inspires individuals to excel in learning, leadership, and service in the region and in the world.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s mission is to “enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Local Matters’ mission, which I was honored to be in the room when it was drafted, is “to create healthy communities through food education, access and advocacy.”

You may have noticed none of the mission statements above, or most in the field, talk about programs. Mission statements are not about what you do, they’re about why you exist. We exist to do X. Programs are how you get there; programs are your theory of change. But they’re not why you exist.

You may also have noticed that I put in quotations the mission statements. Anytime you copy in a mission or a vision statement, it should be in quotations. Both statements are precise and exact. They should not be paraphrased. 

You exist to inspire, to enable, to educate, to lead…to do something.  Programs are not something; programs are the path to get to your something.  Programs are how you test your theory of change. 

How:

Values are the how.  How do you conduct yourself?  How do you talk to and about your clients, students or staff? What do you value as an organization? How does that play out?

Values, when used in the field, primarily refer to organizational values. I usually explain them as the ideas that are valued by the staff and Board of an organization. That could be communication, collaboration or individual accomplishments (not usually both), honesty, high ethical standards, or a whole host of other things. Organizational values are not necessarily things you’d include when listing your personal values, though of course they might be. This is not to say that your personal values do not need to be aligned with your organization’s values, because they do. It is intended to mean that we all might not list the same things that our organizational values include. (Ethics, Values and Integrity) When I was interviewing at JCU, I went through their (now our) values one by one, out loud and confirmed that I could and wanted to honor each one. In fact, I remember saying “I can get behind that!”

Core values are the way you conduct yourself on the path.

Where:

The vision statement is the direction you are going. It’s time-limited or utopian, and aspirational.

Local Matters illustrated for me the need to have both a utopian vision and a three-year vision.  As they explained to me, and as I now explain to others, “The utopian vision is the reason you get up every morning.”  It’s the impact you aspire make.

BGCA’s vision is to “Provide a world-class Club Experience that assures success is within reach of every young person who enters our doors, with all members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle.”

The three-year vision is also the where. It answers where you are going, now.  It sets the path for your future.

Local Matters’ where: “By 2020 we will have created systemic, food-related change across diverse populations and community settings.”

Local Matters’ long term utopian where: “Equitable access to a sustainable food system and a world free of food- related chronic disease.”

You may have noticed neither of the vision statements above, or most in the field, talk about programs. Vision statements are where you are going.

What:

Programs are the what. What is the path? What will you do to get to the where and address the why?

In the nonprofit world, your theory of change is the path to your goal. What is the desired goal? What path will get you to it? Strategy is the selected theory of change; it’s the high-level plan to meet a goal. Anne E Casey defines it in their manual, which if you haven’t read I highly recommend: “A theory of change (TOC) outlines how to create that change. It is an essential part of a successful community transformation effort. This manual, created for the Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative, defines theory of change using Casey’s impact, influence and leverage platform, and shows community advocates how to create their own TOC by showing the relationships between outcomes, assumptions, strategies and results.”

Who:

Who? It seems like such an easy question. Who do we serve? As I learned the hard way when I facilitated the Franklin County Opportunity Youth Initiative, setting the who is not easy at all. In case you are not aware, Opportunity Youth are 16-24 year olds who are not in school and are not working. And just to be clear, we’re not talking about your friend’s kid who’s backpacking across Europe. We’re talking about the kids who got thrown out, aged out, opted out, or who were left out. It’s an enormous number of kids and you’d think that deciding who belongs in that group would be easy, but it’s not.

When I do strategic planning with agencies we start with mission, vision and values, move to high level goals to get to the vision, set strategies to meet to the goals and metrics, assignments and due dates to make sure it gets done. All good strategies have metrics. Any plan that does not have metrics, assignments and due dates is a wish list.

What do you think of my analogy? How do you talk about the intersection of values, mission and vision? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.


Payroll Pain Points for Nonprofit Leaders

In Leadership, nonprofit executives, Organizational Development on August 14, 2019 at 7:24 pm

There are three payroll-related issues, really labor-related issues, that get nonprofits in trouble. They are: managing interns, exempt versus non-exempt, and contract services versus employees.

Let’s start with contract services. The financial difference between contract services and an employee is whether you pay payroll taxes or not. That’s not the only difference, but that tends to be the primary difference nonprofit leaders consider. It’s cheaper to hire contract service employees because the agency doesn’t have to pay the payroll taxes.

The challenge is that it’s not always legal to hire contract services employees. If you want someone to do direct service, if you want to control where they work, how they work, or the actual (not number of) hours that they work, you’re going to have to put them on the payroll. Contract services staff cannot be controlled in any of those matters. They can’t have a desk, they can’t have office hours (as defined as hours you expect them to be in the office), and you can’t control the work that they do.

You can give them a goal, and let them work towards the goal, but if you want to control how they get that work done, you’re going to have to pay them as an employee. This is also how nonprofits get into trouble with interns.

Nonprofits – and for-profits- primarily get into trouble with interns when trying to use interns to displace actual workers, inaccurately distinguishing unpaid interns from volunteers, or inappropriately classifying paid interns as contract services.  Here is the Department of Labor’s updated fact sheet.

Interns working for nonprofits can either be paid or unpaid, but they can’t be contract services. See the work requirements listed above for why. When you get this wrong, the Department of Labor can come in and require you to pay back taxes for every intern (employee) that was incorrectly classified.

Exempt and Non-Exempt actually means the exact opposite of what you think it’s going to mean. Exempt means exempt from the overtime law. Non-exempt means not exempt from the overtime law.

The laws are about job responsibilities and overtime- how people work, the roles they fill, how much control they have over that work (how independently they work) and their minimum salary and supervisory responsibilities. Leaders often confuse this with salary and hourly, and while that’s usually close enough to right, it’s not precisely right. You can still be salary and a non-exempt employee. You can still be hourly and an exempt employee. That’s not generally material to the issue, but it’s true.

The material difference, which is why and how nonprofits confuse it, is whether you’re responsible for paying overtime or not. Overtime is required to be paid for hours that are worked over 40 hours for an hourly non-exempt employee. In other words, vacation, sick time and holidays don’t count. You have to work more than 40 hours in one week to get overtime, but only if you’re non-exempt. As long as I’ve been in the field, nonprofit leaders have been confusing exempt and non-exempt staff and who can serve as which.

The Obama administration’s goal of raising the salary of exempt staff to the lower $50ks further complicated the issue but that didn’t pass and it’s not the law right now. The current law requires a minimum of $455 per week (which is $23,660 and appallingly low, even for us) for exempt staff and still requires you to meet a set of criteria and have independent control over your work. This is scheduled to change on January 1, 2020 when it will go up to $684 per week and $35,568 per year. Direct service program staff, other than some supervisors, generally do not meet the threshold of non-exempt.

Here’s a fact sheet which includes the invitation to “see other fact sheets in this series for more information on the exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, computer and outside sales employees, and for more information on the salary basis requirement.”

When you get non exempt wrong, the Department of Labor can come in and require you to provide back pay for overtime for every employee classified incorrectly.

There are many lessons we have to learn the hard way, but this is not one of them. Do your homework, review your team, assess if people are in the right spots and if they’re not, move them. Better you do it now, than pay the price of doing it later.

What other payroll issues do you see? What have you gotten wrong? Please use the comment box or hit the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

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