Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘values’

Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on May 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

The two questions I repeat the most, in both my classes and in my practice, are these: What’s the goal?  Who decides?

What’s the goal?

Is your agency’s goal to be the best food pantry (or any other service providing/safety net charity)? Or is it to address the underlying issues related to food scarcity (or any other complicated, multi-layered critical issue)?  If it’s the former, that’s charity.  If it’s the latter, that’s social justice.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs.  As anyone who has ever taken my class or worked in our field will tell you, we need both.  We’re not going to ignore the hungry child in front of us to work for social justice. Yet, we can’t only get food for those who are hungry, because the root causes are what’s causing food scarcity.

Every person who serves a nonprofit has to decide where to plug in. Every staff member. Every researcher. Every leader. Every volunteer. Every donor.

What’s the goal?

Do we keep fishing cats out of the river, or look upstream and deal with whatever or whoever is causing the cats to be in the river? What’s the goal? (It’s a handy question.)

Nonprofit Boards, in concert with their CEO, set the goal. The goal sets the path. (This could be a great generative conversation for a future Board meeting.)

If the goal is to be the best food pantry, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best food pantry –  unless your goal is social justice, and then you’re on the wrong path. The path supports the work toward the goal.

Maybe you want both?  I always did. I wanted to run the best agency I could, doing good work, meeting our mission, with a well trained, dedicated and talented Board and staff, serving our clients with dignity AND I want to work with my community partners to eliminate the need for my agency.

That means dual goals with dual paths. You can be the best food pantry and also work with community partners to eliminate food scarcity.  Food scarcity, and all systemic issues, is a big scary multi layered bucket of issues that include privilege, implicit bias, legal and policy challenges, poverty elimination, racism, sexism, classism, housing, school funding imbalances, and lots of other things that are hard to tease out and even harder to solve.

Being the best is a go it alone, we have the answers, and we’ll get it done model. It’s a bit more territorial and a lot less collaborative, but it’s not ineffective and sometimes the circumstances call for it.

Am I competing against my partner agencies for funding?  Sometimes I am. Does that mean I can’t also work with them to address the underlying issues in our community. Some will tell you it does.  I’m here to tell you it doesn’t.  Where you sit always determines where you stand.

It’s why your values have to match your agency’s policies and its aspirations?  As I mentioned in Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice “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.”

Who Decides?

You do, collectively and individually. You decide at the agency level.  You decide at the community level. You decide at your leadership level- on your team, in your neighborhood.  Every day.  With every decision. Every donation. Every allocation. Every choice.

There was a great piece on NPR this morning  In Some Rural Counties, Hunger Is Rising, But Food Donations Aren’t looking at just this issue. It’s not just SW Virginia.  There are communities across the country that are discussing systemic issues and setting goals for change in their community.  I’m proud to tell you that several of those cities are in Ohio; Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus have been and continue to have these conversations.

I’m hoping it’s a national trend. Even if it’s not yet a trend that has come to your community, you can still move toward social justice.

We each get to decide if we run our agencies to be the best organization alone or if we work together to eliminate the need for all of our agencies, because we addressed the systemic issue requiring our agencies.  How?

By deciding to be less territorial and more collaborative. Call your partners and other leaders in your community who work on like issues and invite them to discuss the options. Are you ready to set a Theory of Change for your community?  If so, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a great manual on how.

Before you do, you might have to stop being afraid of scarcity and start embracing abundance.  If you’re currently looking at the world and your ability to impact change as a zero sum game –  and it’s how many of us have been trained to think –  I invite you to read Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance.

We can change our corner of the world alone at our desks or we can do it together.  If our goal is social justice, together will get us farther, faster.

What’s your experience standing in the breech between social justice and charity.  Where did you elect to stand? 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.

Teachable Moments

In Advocacy, Leadership, Resource Development on April 6, 2016 at 9:21 am

This month’s blog carnival is hosted by my friend and colleague Erik Anderson. Its theme: “advice to your younger fund raising self.” As such, and because you know I find most (non-grant related) directions optional, here is both advice I wish someone had given me, and also advice I’d like to give to my students, blog followers and those that I’m privileged to mentor. Please reach out and let me know if any speak to you.

Money is not Dough; It Will Not Raise Itself

If you want to be successful in this field, as either a leader or at any level of a development team, get comfortable asking for things for your organization that you would never request for yourself.

You may be one of those people that other people just give stuff too. I certainly am. Do I want an upgrade on my rental car? “Yes, please.” Would I like an extra scoop of ice cream? “That would be great. Thank you.” If you routinely have people offering you things that you didn’t ask for, or even consider asking for, awesome! This will be a snap!

If you’re not, you will have to cultivate the ability to ask for money and donations to move forward your mission. It’s for the kids, or the dogs, or whom/whatever your agency exists to impact. People who care about your mission will want to be engaged in its success; they may just need the vehicle to get involved. You can offer that entree.

For the CEOs out there: grant writing, event planning and individual giving are different skills sets. You have to know how to do or hire all three. If you go with hire, you will then have to do what the person you hire recommends. Really.

Where to Start is Where You Are

There is no perfect place to start. The first step is just that, one step forward.  Figure out where you want to go. Figure out what it will take to get there.  Plan backwards from your end goal. And start.

Charm is Not Enough, and Neither is Talent

You can be charming for 15 minutes; after that you’d better know something. I love charming people. I also love effective people!  Charm alone is not enough, especially on the development team. Talent alone is not enough for any of our teams. We need both to make our teams work and our organizations successful.

It is not enough to be good, or even great, at your job. You also have to be on the team and moving the organization forward. If you aren’t, I can’t hire you. I can’t train you and you certainly can’t stay.

We are All only as Good as the Stupid Thing we did Yesterday

I’d love to tell you that your life’s work will be a sum total of your accomplishments, but it’s just not true. You can build something great, bring in tons of money and save the day, but if you did something really stupid yesterday, none of those will save you.

Only Write a Policy when you Need One, which will Never be to Avoid a Conversation

I love teachable moments. Tell me a story when something, anything, goes wrong and I’ll ask you the lesson. Teachable moments make us all better and have the added benefit of helping organizations avoid crises. They teach each member of a team to assess every stupid thing that goes wrong, in an effort to not have it repeated.

Crises are where most policies originate. Show me a policy and I can tell you the crisis that created it. Show me a job description and I can sometimes tell you what happened to the person who held that job last. We are all, myself included, much more transparent than we would like to be and when you’re paying attention you can often read what’s not said.

Most polices get written because there wasn’t a policy and that gap either left the agency or its clients open for something bad to happen. That is the perfect time for a new policy!

Having a problem with a staff member? That may be the time for a hard conversation but may not rise to the level of a policy. Never write a policy to avoid having a conversation.

Crisis Management is not Leadership

One my favorite Warren Buffett quotes is “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

It reminds me to be strategic in how I spend my time. There are a lot of leadership lessons that can be taken from this one statement.

Maybe it applies to staff, in which case the message would be to not spend a majority of your time trying to make a bad hire into a good employee. You should try certainly, but at some point, should your efforts prove fruitless, cut your losses, review your process, learn your lessons, and hire better.

Maybe it applies to how you spend your time. Do you spend your day patching leaks or changing vessels? Most leaders I know spend their days patching leaks, and they stare in wonder at those leaders that spend their energy changing vessels.

It’s a paradox. We have to patch the leaks and put out the fires, yet we also have to carve out the time to think strategically…even while the boat is leaking. And it may be leaking. In nonprofit speak that may mean there’s a grant due, a crisis in the program, a problem staff, a disengaged board member, an alienated donor or an angry parent.  Some of those things may very well be happening, and happening simultaneously. There’s also an agency that you are responsible to steward and a mission that you are entrusted to move forward.

Even though it feels like it, You Are Not Alone

You are not alone. For those of us who have spent our lives in social services, it’s a phrase we have each repeated hundreds if not thousands of times. We say it to our clients all the time, but apparently the leaders of our agencies don’t hear the answer for themselves.

The way you feel today, right now, every nonprofit leader feels or has felt. I promise. Every CEO at one time or another has wondered how they’re going to make payroll, keep their job, or keep their sanity. Knowing you’re not alone won’t answer any of those questions but it will remind you that the CEO down the street of that agency you wish yours was as together as, feels the same way sometimes. You just don’t see it.

It All Comes Down to Values

Every day I have conversations with leaders and every day, at least once, I utter the phrase “it all comes down to values” and it does. If you can tell me what you value, I can tell you in what circumstances you’ll be successful, and in what circumstances you’ll be frustrated.

Where you sit determines where you stand. What you value determines how you lead, where you feel comfortable, where you’ll thrive, and where you’re likely to be the odd one out.

Your values have to match your organization’s values, which have to be reflected in their policies. When the three are not aligned, you will struggle. When they are, you will thrive!

We do not, in fact, all bloom where we’re planted. We bloom where we’re cultivated.

 

Do you have advice for your younger self, or for others in our field? Will you share?  Did you find any of my advice instructive? 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.

 

Wishes for 2016 for the Nonprofit Field

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on December 31, 2015 at 12:49 pm

If you’ve been reading for a while – and if you have, thank you – you know that there are a few things that I find continually, unnecessarily, and routinely crazy making. As such, here are my wishes for our field for this New Year, in the hopes that next year, we can stop doing this stuff and dedicate more time to moving forward our missions and improving our communities.

  1. I wish people would have higher expectations of us. There is an underlying sentiment, usually accompanied by a shrug, of “It’s just a nonprofit.” “Just nonprofits” serve the most disadvantaged among us. I wish, want and need the community to have higher expectations. Not silly jump through hoops expectations that make us crazy but don’t make us stronger. I want real and serious high expectations that our leaders will rise to meet and our field will be stronger for their doing so.
  1. I wish people would stop professing that businesses are better run. Jim Collins said “Social sector leaders are not less decisive than business leaders; they only appear that way to those who fail to grasp the complex governance and diffuse power structure.” In a business the leader can make a unilateral decision and everyone gets in line. Nonprofit leaders don’t have that luxury. In the nonprofit world we have to create buy in and take our Boards, senior staff and sometimes funders along with us on our journey toward greatness. As such, it’s harder. Please, the next time you find yourself about to tell a nonprofit leader why businesses are better run, resist the temptation and remember: different isn’t necessarily better and, more accurately, it’s likely not true.
  1. I wish agencies would spend more time and resources developing their people and their organizations. It’s critical to address our communities’ issues, yet it’s much easier when you have the right people in the right jobs with the right infrastructure, and the right plans under the right leadership. Imagine what you could accomplish if you had clear goals. Imagine if you had Human Resource systems that supported your organizational values, which were set in your strategic plan and are upheld at every level of your organization. Imagine if that plan was supported by a Board Development plan, another plan for raising contributed income and one for developing each member of your team, all of which is coupled with excellent operational policies and processes that protect your agency, serve your clients and impact your community. The combination of each will help you accomplish your true potential. The absence of most or all may mean you’re not only not meeting that potential you may be hurting the people you exist to help.
  1. I wish the people that start a new organization would learn everything they need to know about running one, before they introduce it. I wish they would learn the law as it pertains to their agency, our field and the requirements of both. I wish they would learn everything they can about the issue they hope to impact, the community and its leaders. I wish they would learn how to build a board and attract and keep donors and staff. We all learn as we go, yet and still, I wish the founders of new nonprofits would learn enough to start strong.
  1. I wish each nonprofit executive could see the benefits of collaboration and also the cost of territorialism. If my goal is to make our communities stronger – and it is – then you not sharing information or best practices is at cross purposes with that goal. Now your goal may not be aligned with my goal, but it should be, because your mission certainly is. I believe any process that is in conflict with our goal is a bad process. I once modeled in a vintage fashion show for the local Goodwill. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who said to me some version of “Why are you helping another agency?!” I also routinely took (and still take) phone calls from the leadership of sister agencies who needed capacity building assistance and other leaders took my calls when I needed it. My agency will be stronger when yours is stronger, and we, together, will be that much closer to impacting our collective issues. The opposite is also true, if I only serve to move forward my agency, I am negatively impacting the field I purport to serve.

This list is just a start. I have many more aspirations for our field and the important work we each do to make our world a better place. If we were more strategic, if our goals were better formulated and our systems were better developed, our field would be stronger, and in turn, our communities and our world would be as well.

I believe that anytime you present a problem it is also imperative to present a solution. Since every New Year provides the opportunity to make resolutions, I resolve to continue to work to make our field stronger. I will also – and this is new for me and has the added benefit of making my husband happy to no longer have to listen to how much I miss social justice work – stop turning down interviews and consider going back in the field so I can practice what I have been preaching. Until then (then being defined as the perfect job for me), I will continue to speak, write, teach, train and coach and join with colleagues around the nation and the world to make our field stronger and our reach farther.

What are your wishes for our field and also your resolutions to make them happen? 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.

Thank you!

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on December 15, 2015 at 7:38 am

2015 has been a fabulous year for me and for Non Profit Evolution. Thank you for being a part of it!

I had the chance to do one big project and one small one for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I have never once regretted drinking the blue BGCA Kool-Aid in 2002. I am honored to continue to work in the movement.

Scott Caine and I introduced Board Builder and together were invited to present its inaugural session at the Columbus Foundation, and in response to overwhelming interest, were invited back to do it again! 188 leaders from over 50 agencies attended. It was awesome!

Rob Greenbaum, Associate Dean at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University was in the audience at one of the Foundation sessions. He and Jozef C. Raadschelders invited me to teach Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations, which allowed me to fulfill a long time goal to teach at the college level. I absolutely love teaching! I knew I would but it is even more fun and more challenging than I thought it would be. The students are smart and interesting, bold and funny. I hope to continue to teach at the Glenn College for many years to come. To have been given this opportunity is an honor and a privilege.

Steven Fields of Huntington Bank invited us to give the keynote at Seeds for Growth and, later, to train some of Huntington’s leaders that serve on community Boards. JobsOhio invited us to do the same.

The Central Ohio’s Association of Fund Raising Professionals invited me to moderate a session on Working with Influential Volunteers and a lunch discussion on small shops.

Community Shares of Mid Ohio invited me to present to their members not once, not twice but three times; I presented Board Development, Engaging the Board you Have as well as Fund Raising is an Art, not a Science. They have agencies from all walks of life, working all over the state. I always enjoy my time in their midst. Community Shares also manages the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network who invited me to present the “So, You Want to Be A Nonprofit Executive?” at their inaugural meeting.

DonorPath’s reach and services exploded and I now have the opportunity to serve a breadth and depth of clients that I could have never reach alone. It has been so much fun to help agencies across the country reach their fund raising goals and to be part of a group that provides low cost solutions to fund raising challenges.

The Executives I coach continue to amaze me with their insight, leadership, bravery and courage. They stand and fight every day to move their missions forward. I am delighted to stand with each one of them.

I’m also so grateful to the Boards who have invited me in to help them strengthen their processes and meet their goals of building stronger and more aligned agencies. 12-20 volunteers at 10-30 agencies that work for free and lean in and lead forward to make our communities stronger. I salute you!

My writing has reached more people than ever. My blog has been viewed over 57,000 times by more than 37,000 leaders in dozens of countries. LinkedIn offered the opportunity to write posts, and my book, co-authored with Maureen Metcalf, Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives has sold more books than ever. I couldn’t be happier and I am so grateful!

Thank you for joining me on my path! I hope we can continue to partner in 2016 to make our field stronger and our communities healthier.

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.

Decisions and Duplications (of Service)

In Advocacy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards on April 25, 2015 at 9:39 am

The first time I was kicked under a table was in 1993 by my Associate Director at a meeting of United Way food providers. She was warning me to be quiet. It was a meeting of firsts: the first time (though certainly not the last) I was warned to be quiet; my first supervisory role; and the first time that I heard the term duplication of services.

The attendees were discussing how many times a family should be allowed to go back to a food pantry; how the city should create a master list of food providers across the city and the clients each serves to ensure people didn’t go back more than the allotted amount. In those days food pantries gave you three days worth of food.

The consensus around the table, myself excluded, was it is a duplication of services if too many food pantries gave too much food to the same people. As if it’s such a terrible thing that people would have more than enough food to eat – you know like the people sitting around that table. Or that people who go to food pantries have so much extra time in between worrying and working two jobs and making sure their kids are safe and scurrying between social service and government agencies that they could even get to a variety of pantries to overstock their shelves. It was absurd – and it also wasn’t a duplication of services.

I was 24 and it was the first time I attended this meeting so it’s possible (and I can only hope this is the case) that the meeting that proceed it discussed a dearth of food donations and the fear that if some families came back too often others would get nothing. Still, in the early 90s when computers were rare, the idea that community leaders would dedicate time and resources to map out food pantries and their clients to ensure families in crisis didn’t get more than their share would have been a complete waste of both time and resources. Plus, it was mean spirited.

There will always be people who will try to take advantage and each of us as leaders have to decide how we live our values and spend our resources. I have never felt that taking resources away from meeting our mission to ensure that no one gets more than their share is a good use of those resources. Moreover, I believe it creates a culture of distrust and I want people to feel respected. Finally, I do not believe it is, in fact, a duplication of services.

Duplication of services is when you have two agencies doing the same thing for the same population in the same area, which is usually a neighborhood but depending on the mission could be a city, county or region. For example, there aren’t usually two domestic violence shelters. There’s usually one per county or in rural counties, one per a multi-county area. There are often several child care centers and after school programs. That’s still not necessarily a duplication of services, unless they are in the same location, offering similar programming, upholding similar values and – and this is a big and- both standing half empty. If they are both half empty, it may be duplication of services. If kids are registered at both and go to each every other day, it is totally a duplication of services. If that is not happening and each is filled with different kids, they are fulfilling the needs of the neighborhood.

Multiple programs serving similar but not the same population is not duplication of services. That is meeting the needs of a community. Could those programs be run by one large agency operating in multiple locations? Maybe. Maybe not.

There is absolutely an economy of scale for large agencies and something to be said for consolidating back room functions. There is also something to be said for family choice, organizational values and different offerings.

Duplication of services is always a big discussion in any community yet it only applies when that community is financially supporting the service. No one cares if there are multiple businesses providing the same product; they’re self sufficient. We only care when the service is or is perceived to be a drain on the community’s resources. Then the question becomes if one of something is enough. One food pantry in a city would rarely be able to provide for the needs of everyone that is hungry in that city.

How many of any type of agency do we really need? Do we need faith based and non faith based agencies? I would argue that we do. Others would argue that we don’t. Choices are not a terrible thing for a family, especially a family without means.

Who decides what is and is not duplication of services? Similar to who decides what is and is not a best practice, the answer is everyone and also no one. Each donor and funder decides what they will support; each board decides the future of their organization.

That’s why it’s so important that nonprofits build their boards appropriately; that those boards understand and fulfill their roles and appropriately govern their organizations. Because it’s up to them! And we need them to be making strategic decisions on behalf of our organizations and our organizations to be making strategic decisions our behalf of communities.

What do you think? 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.

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.

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.

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.

Making the World a Better Place

In Leadership on June 18, 2014 at 11:08 am

My mother died 23 years ago this month, right before I graduated from college. She taught us that we each had an obligation make the world a better place. That has been my inspiration ever since.

My first real job was in a nonprofit. Before applying, I didn’t even know you could get paid to work in a nonprofit. Ever since accepting that job, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about leadership, the issues I care about, and what it takes to move an organization toward excellence.

It’s been a long and circuitous journey through women’s rights, youth development and now to consulting for advocacy, education and social service agencies. Each experience I’ve had has been gratifying, sometimes frustrating, occasionally terrifying and always inspirational.

I have worked with a variety of nonprofit boards and executive leaders to implement stronger and better aligned organizations. I’ve had the privilege to advocate for women’s rights, stand up for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and impact the lives of young people.

I have stood by women as they faced their abusers; held their hands after they were assaulted; and walked a man who had just threatened a child down a long, empty hallway and out of my building. I have faced a room full of angry parents and also rooms full of grateful parents. I have taught kids to believe in themselves and helped communities to believe in their kids. I have turned around agencies that were about to close, helped leaders steer their agencies and helped boards fulfill their roles. I have been threatened and hugged and vilified and honored.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to do this work and I am grateful for the opportunity. It has been an honor and a privilege.

This month’s blog carnival is about innovation and inspiration. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend my friend and colleague Erik Anderson’s post about his journey. It inspired me to finish this piece, which even though I started it a few weeks ago, felt too personal to continue.

Erik’s post also reminded me that when changing the world we each have to work on issues we’re committed to rectifying. These jobs we hold require us to live and breathe our organization’s mission, uphold its values and serve its clients. That means we have to believe in the mission and respect the people that mission impacts. It means we have to want to spend our days, and sometimes our nights, changing our corners of the world. We have to agree with the values of our organization, or find another organization. We have to be clear about our own values, what we care about and how we want to make the world better.

What do you care about?

I care about our field as a whole and believe that when nonprofits are stronger, communities are stronger. I care about leadership and believe that organizations improve or dissolve because of their leaders.

I care about women’s rights; GLBT rights; the disadvantaged and underserved in general and youth, including and in particular those aging out of foster care, urban, rural and GLBT youth.

I want equal rights, equal access, fair laws, good schools, safe communities, the right to control my body and my own medical decisions. I want all kids everywhere, and especially those aging out of foster care, GLBT, urban and rural youth to understand that they have the right and the obligation to become who they are meant to be.

(To any young person who is struggling: Even if your parents or your community doesn’t support you, find someone who will, even if it has to be the person looking back in the mirror. Please….hold on and slog through until you can breathe different air and find a different space to be the amazing, talented and productive person you will become.)

I want excellent nonprofits that impact their clients and move the needle on their issues, with screened, trained and accountable staff, excellent leadership, and boards that understand and fulfill their role, govern their agencies and support their executives.

I want to fulfill my obligation to make the world a better place and I want you to fulfill yours. I also want to make my mother proud.

What do you want? What inspires you? How do you work to make the world a better place? 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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