Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice

In Advocacy, Leadership, Organizational Development on June 24, 2015 at 11:31 am

I’ve been working in nonprofits my whole career. Most of that time, I was an executive director. After working as a victim “counselor” for a couple of years, which I put in quotes because I was given zero training on how to counsel victims, I realized I wanted to be an exec. I went to grad school specifically because I didn’t think anyone would let me run an agency as young as I was, but they might if I had a Masters. Perhaps shockingly, they did.

The world looks different from the exec chair than it did from the program chair. It looks different from a board seat. It even looks different from the consultant’s perch. As such, and in honor of the two decades I’ve been out of grad school, and the almost 25 years I have spent in the pursuit of social justice, I thought this would be a good time to look back and take stock of what I’ve learned.

Perfect and great are not synonymous. We can’t settle for good when great is possible. Yet, there are many cases when good is enough and there is an opportunity cost to perfect.

Our mission can’t be at the expense of our team members’ families. There are lots of jobs that require staff to be away from their families during dinner, over the weekend, over night. That’s the job. Yet, and still, we as leaders must challenge the expectation that our teams will work long hours for low pay. We have to honor the labor laws and the values we hold. We can’t fight for a fair wage for our clients but maintain the status quo for our staff. Our teams should not be there on a regular basis longer than a typical work week. They should not be volunteering in the same jobs they do every day. They should not have to choose between the good of the community and their own or their family’s good. It’s not reasonable, nor is it sustainable and the cost of replacing good people is too high.

We cannot expect our staff to do things we would not be willing to do, with the understanding that it may not always be a good use of our time to do them. I counsel the leaders I coach to ask themselves “is this a good use of my time?” before doing tasks that may not be. Yet, we each have to model what we expect.

We cannot allow things that are unacceptable to us. When we do, unacceptable becomes the status quo. As such, you will have to address things each time they come up and every time they come up. Gruenter and Whitaker said it best “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” Addressing such things is how cultures change; it’s how expectations are communicated; it’s how differences are made. Inch by inch, time by time, moment by moment, culture change is 80% emotional fortitude. It’s exhausting yet critical.

You will teach people how to treat you every day and in a variety of situations. Never forget that. Everything you accept. Everything you celebrate. Everything you do is sending a message.

Please, thank you and some grace will get you pretty far. The busier we get the more people think it’s reasonable for good manners to go out the door, but they’re wrong. We serve. Some of us serve at the pleasure of our boards. Some of us are protected by labor laws or contracts or unions, but each of us serve our community. Service requires respecting our clients, our teams, our leaders and perhaps most importantly our selves.

I have been teasing out the idea for the last few months that what people call a personality conflict is actually a conflict in values. If what is important to me is not important to you then we are going to clash at some point. You may like me fine. We can hang out but we won’t work well together, because we value different things. It doesn’t make me bad and you good or the opposite. What it does is provide insight to how we hire, where we elect to serve and what kind of culture will make us happy.

I’ve been turning over the article Guess Who Doesn’t Fit in at Work? since I finished reading it. I routinely recommend agencies hire for cultural fit, and now I add an explanation on what that means. Fit is not who you want to hang out with. It’s not about whom you’d want to get stuck at an airport. It’s definitely not who about looks like you or has a similar background. Organizational fit is someone whose own values are aligned with the organization’s values and whose passions are aligned with its mission.

Who can be successful in your culture? Organizational fit by itself is not enough. It has to be matched with competency, experience, education and judgment. The right employee has to have it all. It is not enough to be nice; it’s not even enough to be good at your job. You have to be on the team and moving the organization forward. If you aren’t, much as I may love you, you can’t stay.

Agency systems have to reflect organizational values. Saying you value one thing but actually doing another sends a very inconsistent and confusing message. If we want our teams to live our values, then we have to live them and our policies and systems have to reflect them.

Give people the benefit of the doubt, even and especially when you don’t have it. This goes back to my earlier point on grace. We’re not always going to be right. Giving people the benefit of the doubt builds trust and acknowledges that the perch on which we sit may not offer the only view.

Wear your power lightly but don’t give it away. You will never have to remind a member of your team that you are in charge. They know. You may have to remind yourself. If you have the authority to make the decision, make it. If someone for whom you work tells you to do something, own it. Don’t then say to your team “Mary said we need to do this.” Say “We need to do this.”

Take advantage of every teachable moment. Issues, questions, mistakes, problems and even crises offer opportunities to learn. My goal for myself and with each of my team members, as well as the women and children we have been privileged to serve, has always been to teach and to learn. We’re not always going to get it right, but we can always learn from our experiences. Life is about making new mistakes.

Spinning wheels only look like forward movement. If the work of your agency is not aligned, people may be running on a lot of different habitrails but, as we all know, habitrails don’t move, they just go around. A good strategic, board development or fund raising plan can be the difference between moving forward or just moving.

Any day might be the day you quit or get fired. There’s still work to do. Knowing that’s a possibility is helpful; letting it paralyze you is not. Leadership is hard. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

Vulnerability is power. I learned that from Brene Brown’s TED Talk, and she’s totally right. It takes courage to be vulnerable. You can surrender into vulnerability or you can battle it but it may be the only way forward. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we are powerful.

You are more likely to get what you want when you can communicate what you want. This is a lesson that took a few times to stick for me. When I can communicate what I want, I often get it. It’s astonishing and also not.

You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to be strong all the time. You, and we, can ask for help. We can let our team see our weaknesses (and stop assuming that they don’t already.) We are all stronger when we play to our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses. We are the strongest when we work together.

This work is hard. It’s hard and it’s exhausting and sometime seeing the fruit of our labors is elusive. Yet, we all have an obligation to make the world a better place. How we chose to do that may evolve over our lives. We may serve in the field. We may lead an agency. We may advocate for changes in public policy. We may sit on a board. We may write checks, or give clothes, or hand out food. We may raise or help to raise healthy, happy children. We may work to build capacity in leaders, or agencies or systems. It doesn’t matter how we do it, it only matters that we do it. The world is not what it could be. There are people who are hurting, or scared, or hungry. There are those who don’t know the way forward. There are diseases to eradicate and people to house and children to protect. We have work to do. It doesn’t matter how we do it, it only matters that we do it.

What’s your passion? What are you doing to make the world better? What have you learned in the process? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share 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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The Words We Choose

In Advocacy, Leadership on January 19, 2015 at 7:17 pm

One Easter many years ago as I was training my replacement, we were walking through the building and a child asked me my favorite part of Easter. I replied I didn’t celebrate Easter. The new exec, shocked, asked me why I didn’t just say the eggs. I replied “that wasn’t the point.” It also wasn’t the truth. We need to teach our children that not everybody believes what they believe. It’s one small way that we can each contribute to building a pluralistic society.

I’m reading Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel. I’ve only just begun and I already know that if you work in youth development, or in an agency that serves multiple faiths or races or people with diverse thoughts, it’s a must read. In it, he quotes to W.E.B. Du Bois as saying “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” Mr. Patel believes the “question of the 21st century will be shaped by the question of the faith line.”

I am a member of a minority faith. Most of my adult life I have been the only Jew in the room, being expected to serve as the sole representative of my faith to people who know nothing about it. I am not alone. My experience is shared by most people who identify as a member of a minority group. I cannot explain the decisions of Israel or of a Jewish leader any more than an African American man or woman can explain the actions of President Obama or any other African American leader or non leader for that matter.

Some of us “pass” in a larger world that assumes we’re something we’re not; some of us don’t, because of our skin or our features gives us away. Some of us choose to out ourselves, which to some degree is what I’m doing today in this intellectual pursuit I am undertaking trying to figure out how it all connects. How we can look at all the levels of our society and build some bridges between so that we can all understand that one decision in one place has a pebble effect and creates implications in places we’d never expect?

I’ll be the first to tell you it takes a certain amount of courage to out yourself. It’s scary to stand up and say I’m different; I don’t believe what you believe. In fact, I’m a bit scared to publish this piece. Yet I know if we want to affect change, courage is required.

Studies again and again have proven that kids that are engaged in an after school program, extracurricular activity or sports are less likely to get involved in dangerous behaviors like drugs, crime or premature sexual activity, to build bombs in the basement or move to the Middle East and become a jihadist. Those are each varying levels of terrifying with varying levels of impact on the larger society, and they have all happened and continue to happen.

And yet, with that as a backdrop, the small development in which I live is having a debate – and a vote in February – on if our holiday party, as the association board has elected to call it, should instead be called a Christmas Party.

The intersection of religion, race and academic studies operate at the macro level in a society. The party is at the micro level. Both answer the quintessential question of who gets included and who does not. Who’s us and who’s other? Who’s the majority and who’s the minority? Who’s in and who’s out?

The answers have the power to determine who joins a team and who joins a gang.

All of those questions and their answers roll up into the larger question of how can we protect our own children and our community’s children? How can we keep them safe? How can we raise them to be self reliant, self sustaining, healthy, happy and contributing members of our society?

There are a million ways kids – especially kids who belong to minority races or minority religions or who for whatever reason are perceived as “other” – get excluded.

If the goal is belonging and community – and we’re people, so at some level that’s always the goal – there’s another million ways to save a kid. The first step is to create somewhere for them to belong.

We, as a society, have to decide how and to what degree we can engage all kids, and especially those who are more likely to be excluded, to become productive and engaged.

While we are deciding that, some members of my community are advocating excluding those who don’t celebrate the holidays they themselves celebrate. Now the truth is, no matter what we call it, it’s going to have a Christmas theme. There’s going to be a tree and sleigh rides and a Santa. There isn’t going to be any reference to Chanukah, or Kwanza or any other religious or community holiday. So to some extent, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck, even if you call it by its broader name of bird.

Yet, there is a small amount of kindness in calling it bird, or in this case holiday. It says “we know that many, maybe be even most, but not all, of our community celebrates our holiday yet some celebrate their own holiday. Our goal is fellowship. Join us.”

Join us. Maybe we’ll save a kid. Maybe we’ll save ourselves.

Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance

In Leadership, Organizational Development on September 13, 2014 at 8:28 am

Many nonprofits operate on a model of scarcity. There’s often not enough money, staff or stuff and many decisions get made through the lens of cost.

What if there was another way?

Maureen Metcalf, leadership guru and author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and workbook series, which includes our book the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives, recently invited me to a Vibrancy Workshop facilitated by Jim Ritchie-Dunham from the Institute for Strategic Clarity. Maureen only invites me to transformational trainings so I was delighted to accept!

Jim started out talking about environments that are difficult, which the group defined as situations in which we don’t feel valued, in workplaces that don’t allow us to be our full selves, working for or with people that don’t allow us to thrive, or even think for ourselves. He contrasted (I just had a flash back to my HS English class) that with environments that do; workplaces where we’re excited to be, doing work that we find meaningful, surrounded by people who value our input.

How do you feel when thinking about those two environments?

Put your hands out. Using your hands as a scale, I want you to consider your left hand the difficult situations and your right hands to be the supportive environments. Raise the hand that reflects how you spend much of your time.

Is your left hand higher than your right? Jim would tell you that is because of agreements you, consciously or unconsciously, made. If you change the agreements, you change the experience, which changes the outcome.

I can hear you out there shaking your head and saying, “I didn’t agree to that.” Some of us agree with our feet, which stay firmly planted where they are, despite our unhappiness. Some of us agree with our words. Some of us with our work, that is disengaged and below what we could do if we were made to feel valued. And some of us take our marbles and find another, more vibrant place to be.

Jim said that places in which we can thrive and people with whom we do thrive are described in words of light: Vibrant. Brilliant. Sunny.

Lack of Vibrancy is the price of not bringing out the best in everyone. When we do that, everyone loses. Vibrant is a long way away from the situation you were thinking about when you raised your left hand. How do we get to vibrant from darkness?

First question: Is the situation you’re in what you believe is the best situation for you?

No?

What does the next level look like?

First stop: find people and situations that are positive deviants, which means exactly what you think: people who are succeeding (positive) despite not following the rules (deviants).

None of us want to be average, right? We know someone in some organization somewhere who is breaking all the rules and, somehow, still excelling at everything they do.

Jim then said something that I loved. He said if you can see it – figuratively or actually – you can become it. You have to step into the potential.

Abundance is the idea that if they can, you can, and we all can. It’s creative collaboration. Change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.

Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. I don’t have to lose for you to win. You’re not competing against me, anyway. You’re competing against yourself, or you should be.

We are all responsible for our own work. If we agree to that, hold people to those agreements and set up our organizations accordingly, we would be vibrant and our organizations and our world would be abundant!

Have you embraced vibrancy and the theory of abundance? Can you share your experience? 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.

Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on June 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm

There is $300 billion dollars, on average, given to charities each year in this country.  The vast majority of that money is given by individuals. Not corporations. Not foundations. Individuals. Individual gifts and bequests, on average, equal slightly more than 80% of the charitable donations given in this country each year. Just less than 20% is given by corporations and foundations.

Do organizations take advantage of that knowledge? Some do better than others.

I serve on a committee that just this week was discussing the difference between having a culture of philanthropy and a culture of fund raising.  The two are pretty different, even as most people use the words synonymously.

Fund raising is about raising money. Philanthropy, or what I usually refer to as resource development, is about ensuring resources. They’ll both raise money and require time but the latter will raise more money in less time.

Cultures of fund raising raise money through membership fees, grants or sponsorships, direct mail, and multiple small events that generally raise less than $30,000 (often less than $5,000), all of which is usually viewed as “begging for money.”  You often hear board members and volunteers say “I give my time” or “I’ll serve on the committee but I don’t want to ask my friends for money.” That philosophy is pervasive: staff don’t generally support the agency financially and a portion of the board doesn’t either. There is not usually a fund raising plan or an expectation of board giving; donors are not usually asked for specific dollar amounts and everyone is a little ashamed of having to raise money at all, even as they fiercely believe in their organization and the work it does in the community.

According to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) special events, on average, cost 50% of the amount they raise.  That is way too much!  I recommend my clients do not run any event that cost more than 25% of what it nets, and that organizations include staff time in the count.  As you might imagine, multiple small events cost much more than 25% to run and they take an enormous amount of time. That time could be better spent.

Grant writing generally costs 20% of what is awarded. You should never pay a grant writer a percentage of the amount requested; it is unethical and against the fund raising principles as advocated by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, but that’s not why it costs 20%. Organizations only get a percentage of the grants they write. That means they spend a lot of time writing grants they are never awarded. We all do. I recommend you do not write foundation or corporate grants without checking the published funding priorities and – if there is a match – speaking to a program officer about your project and getting the go-ahead to submit.  You’re never going to get all the grants you write, but you can at least avoid totally wasting your time.

There are, for any organization, a finite number of grants that can be written.  There are an infinitive number of individuals to be cultivated.

Individual giving offers the highest rate on return for the lowest cost (5-10%) to the organization. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated – and later stewarded – and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.

Cultures of philanthropy raise money through individual giving, one (maybe two) signature event that raises upwards of 10% of the organization budget, and also write grants, and may have membership fees as well. You often hear board members and volunteers talk about returns on investment, impact and sustaining their organization. There is usually a resource development plan, a board process that includes the expectation that board members will significantly (to their circumstances) financially support the organization and also assist in raising additional resources.  They operate on the premise that their organization fills a critical need in the community and are proud to introduce their circle of influence to the organizations’ mission.

As mentioned in The Role of the Nonprofit CEO “Resource development functions most effectively in a culture of servant leadership and philanthropy among the board and leadership team, as well as an agency-wide commitment.  A community cannot and will not invest in an agency without the investment of the board and staff.  Development staff cannot raise money without the support of the CEO. CEOs cannot raise money without the support of the board. Resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.”

Cultures of Philanthropy have a Director of Development who coordinate the asks, manage the information and the event, write the grants and work with the board and senior staff to ensure the resource development plan is implemented, the money is raised and the organization is sustained.

Cultures of fund raising have a Director of Development who is expected to do it all alone in an environment where fund raising is a dirty word. It’s why they end up with so many special events and grants and so few individual donors.  Those are the pieces they can impact and they try to do just that.

It’s up to the Board and leadership to change the equation, expand the reach and change the culture. How?

Start with the board and create expectations – to which everyone commits – to financially give and also to ask, as appropriate. Move to the staff. Do the same.  Take a look at your events and see what they really cost your organization to run, including staff time, and decide if it’s worth it. Take a look at your infrastructure and see if it can take you forward.  Are there things you need to add or delete? Can you current staff accomplish your goals or do you need to make some changes?

Get your best fund raisers and your most engaged board members and volunteers in a room and start putting the pieces down to create a resource development plan.

80% of all giving in this country is from individuals. Unless your income reflects that percentage, you have opportunity knocking. Get the door!

As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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