Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘program’

Considering Adopting a Family for the Holidays?

In Leadership on December 4, 2013 at 9:07 am

It’s the Holiday season and agencies across the country, and maybe the world, are putting together programs to make sure their clients don’t go without. They are also fielding calls from donors who want to know how they can help. The world is better because of these programs, those donors and their generosity.

I am hopeful that the ways they can help do not include Adopt a Family programs where the donor family meets the family in need. It’s a lose-lose proposition and I have been advocating against such programs for twenty years.

Adopt a Family programs where the agency acts as a middle-man, and neither side meets the other, is a great way to support a family during the holidays! When the agency doesn’t act as the middle-man things tend to go south.

I can totally see why meeting the family is attractive to both sides. It can be a feel good moment when the family in need can express gratitude and the donor family can feel like they are making a difference they can see in the life of a family in need.

The problem is it doesn’t always go like that.

The family in need may not meet the gratitude expectations of the donor family. They may be embarrassed – or resentful – to have someone of means come to their home which may not have heat, may not have furniture and may not have food. They may not be grateful. They may not be even be pleasant.

That’s why I don’t like the program; it’s not a trip to the zoo. It’s not respectful; it’s exploitative. We don’t get to go to the other side of the tracks to see how the other half lives. We visitors from the other side in our nice clothes get out of our nice cars and go back to our nice homes. It’s someone’s life and someone’s family and we don’t have that right.

It’s not always the client either. It works the other way too. The donor family may be disrespectful, judgmental or just plain disdainful.

Why set up either side to fail?

I have given gifts to kids who didn’t say thank you. I have received large checks from donors who called the kids we served “those black kids.” I have had conversations with donors who have no idea the challenges and the sheer willpower it takes to be poor and conversations with clients who feel they deserve whatever it is someone gives them.

I have also, and thankfully far more often, accepted gifts from donors who are so grateful for the world they were born into or created for themselves that they felt they had an obligation to give back. I have also had multiple conversations with clients who were eternally grateful that someone they didn’t know would care enough to make sure their kids had food, clothes and gifts.

I have one other issue with Adopt a Family programs – they eliminate the recipient parent’s ability to receive their own children’s appreciation and see their joy. When you constantly go without, and your children constantly go without, having a day of plenty is an even larger gift than the food or the gifts. Instead of allowing recipient parents to be the gift givers, even the pretend gift givers, to their own children at the holidays, Adopt a Family programs force parents to be in the position of being the gift recipient. They are, but do we always have to remind them of that?

It’s our job as leaders to set people up to fulfill their capacity as healthy, respected, productive members of our community. We can ask the clients who receive gifts to write thank you notes. We can ask our donors to trust us to choose the right family for their giving. We can make sure that everyone who comes into our programs, regardless of where they come from, feels valued, safe and honored by our polices, programs and processes.  We can, and we should.

What’s your take on Adopt a Family Programs?  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.


Twelve Signs of a Well Run Organization

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on September 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

I go in and out of a lot of organizations.  There are a few things for which I’m always on the lookout and the combination of what I see contributes to the recommendations I offer regarding the organization’s capacity for growth, sustainability and greatness.

I look to see if the mission, vision and values are obvious and if everyone knows them. I look at the policies, permits, organizational documents, job descriptions, resumes, and any and all plans that exist.

Here are the other things I look for, look out for and ask to review:

1. By-laws (Code of Regulations in Ohio) that are appropriate, revised periodically and, most importantly, followed.  I look at how Officers and renewing members are selected and how new members are recruited, oriented and voted upon.  I look at terms and term limits.  I look at Committee structures and purpose, how new committee members are added and if they need to be Board members.

2.  A Board that is well respected in the community who are aware of and fulfilling their role, including setting goals and annually evaluating the Executive Director, and setting metrics by which to assess the organization’s impact. I also look at how the Board is oriented, educated, evaluated and recognized. And if it reflects the diversity of the community.

When I am invited to Board meetings, I pay attention to how much the Exec speaks, how much the other staff speak and how often members of the board speak.  I notice if there are robust discussions and if votes are taken appropriately (appropriately being defined as “as outlined in Roberts Rules of Order” for the organizations that follow that model, which most do).  I notice if all votes are unanimous and if anybody is challenging anything.  I note if the minutes from the last meeting are approved and if financial statements are presented and approved.  I notice if anyone asks questions and if they are perfunctory questions or questions that reflect an understanding of the statements or issue at hand.

Everything flows from a strong Board.

3. Mission, Vision and Values of which everyone is aware, and upholding or moving toward.  Do the programs tie to mission?  Can people recite the mission and the values?  Is there a vision?

4. A Strategic Plan that lays out the path forward. Is there one? Does it include timelines, measurements and assignments? You’ve heard me say it before but a plan that doesn’t have each of the three is really just a list.

5.  Leadership – An Exec who has the passion, judgment, skills, training and experience to lead, and is known and respected in the community.  A recent fortune cookie I received said “if you have no critics you have had no successes.”  The Exec job is hard and not everyone is going to love them, but if the Exec communicates the vision and the path, people will follow.

6. Staff who have a passion for the organization’s mission, the appropriate technical experience, skills, training, and education for your field and their role. They also have to be on the team and moving the organization forward.  It is no longer enough to only be good at your job.  To ensure we  have the right people in the right seats we need staff to be both good at their job and on the team.

7. Organizational Culture that supports and empowers and also holds people accountable.

8. Cultures of Fund Raising or Philanthropy – Which is present and is that the appropriate culture to meet the goals of the organization?

9. Systems including infrastructure, financial processes, policies, plans and procedures that reflect the organization’s values; provide boundaries, training and growth opportunities for all; and reflect best practices and appropriate standards.

 10. An Excellent Program that ties to the mission, meets its goals, measures impact and moves the needle for change in the community. None of the above will matter if the program is mediocre.  The program or service provided must be excellent.

11. A facility that inspires hope, rather than exhaustion. We have all been in organizations that make us tired the minute we walk in the door.  It’s hard to be inspired or inspire others when surrounded by 2nd hand furniture that doesn’t match, stacked boxes, tons of papers and dingy walls.

12. Technology that supports (and doesn’t hinder) the work of the organization. At a minimum, there should be financial software; separate donor software if you receive contributed income; current (less than 3 year old) computers that have appropriate software and virus protection; an informative website and a reasonable email and phone system.  There should also be relevant policies on the use of technology and social media.

Did I leave anything out?  What do you use to gauge the quality, capacity and sustainability of an organization?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

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