Dani Robbins

What if 2015 is the Year of Excellence?

In Leadership, Organizational Development, Resource Development on January 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

People always ask me about my values. When you talk about values as often as I do, you’d better have thought about your own. My company’s values are responsive, accurate, reflective of best practices, honest and flexible. My personal and professional values are honesty, integrity, respect, and professionalism. I believe they align. If you’ve been reading for a while -and if you have, thank you! – then you know I think it’s critical that a leader’s values align with their organization’s values.

My friend and colleague Maureen Metcalf’s work on Integrative Leadership recommends that each of us list out our values and then drill down to the one that is most center to our being. For me, that is excellence. It encompasses all my other values and also gives me something to work toward every day in all that I do.

I’m quite confident that I am not alone in that. My fellow nonprofit leaders do the same thing, within their own set of values. Still, I always wonder if the values of our leaders and in their organizations are reflected enough in our work in the field.

Too often things are allowed that make no sense. Things that are baffling, or silly, or dangerous or too expensive to justify, yet there they are anyway.

What if we stopped doing that?

Slate published a fascinating and quite disturbing article a few years back called Can the Cans: Why Food Drives Are Terrible Idea. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title, it’s about why food drives are expensive for the food banks they support, ineffective for the families they serve and not the best use of anyone’s time or resources. Yet, food drives happen all the time in communities across the country.

Here’s a quote that pretty much says it all: “Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost you $2 per pound retail. You’d be doing dramatically more good, in basic dollars and cents terms, by eating that tuna yourself and forking over a check for half the price of a single can of Chicken of the Sea.”

Let’s do some math. Assuming the article is right, food providers pay 5% of whatever it costs you to purchase food that will later be donated to a food provider. That same food cost you 20 times what it would cost them to buy. They (food providers) then have to have someone accept the food, sort it, check it against recall lists and expiration dates, stack it and disseminate it. Your cost plus their staff and volunteer time, and the opportunity cost of what else could be being done, equals a lot of money! Food providers could better spend that money.

What if we stopped doing that? What if we as a field said “we are so grateful for your interest in our agency: would you consider donating a different way?” Or what if we accepted the food donation and educated the donor about the cost vs. benefit and also the economies of scale?

Please don’t get me wrong. I want all of the people who have food drives to continue to work to support their favorite food providers. I just want them to support them in a way that adds to the agency’s feeling of abundance, rather than contributes to their scarcity. Every drive reminds people that there are those who are hungry in our midst. We cannot lose that. We can be smarter about how and what we donate, and how our agencies disseminate information and accept donations.

Just because something is right for a donor, doesn’t make it right for an organization. We have all turned down gifts. Many agencies have (or should have) gift acceptance policies that list what they accept and also what they do not accept. Broken TV? No. Stained clothing? No. Property that has had hazardous materials stored on it? No. Donation from someone or some entity we – for whatever reason – don’t want associated with our agency? No.

We say no to gifts all the time. We can find – and most of us have- a way to retain a donor and redirect a gift. What if this was the year we started doing just that?

We also do or allow a lot of other things as a field that make no sense. As mentioned in Raising Our Collective Standards “There are a small amount of great agencies out there doing great work. More often there are agencies that are great at one thing, and mediocre at others. So perhaps the program is strong but the board is weak. Or the grant writing is strong, but the books are un-auditable. Or the executive is well trained but the staff is not. It happens all the time in every community, yet we all know that when any non profit anywhere does something unethical, illegal or inappropriate we are all painted with that same brush.”

I am quite tired of that brush. I want 2015 to be the year we get a new brush, new expectations and new plans to get to excellent.

What if we:

  • helped, trained or allowed our boards to fulfill their governance responsibilities?
  • allowed our teams to fulfill the boundaries of their role and gave them the resources to do so?
  • stopped allowing mediocre programming and dangerous policies?
  • made decisions on what was best rather than what was safe or easy?

What if we figured out the least effective process, program or person in each of our agencies and put together a plan to address it?

What if we held our selves, our teams and our partners accountable? What if we demanded excellence? What if we embraced the theory of abundance? What if we upheld our values and insisted others uphold theirs? What could we accomplish then?

What would you address or change about our field? Do you agree that canned food drives are ineffective? 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.

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