Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘values’

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.

The Trifecta Triangle: Ethics, Values and Integrity in Nonprofits

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on March 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

I just read a great post called How Did they Get my Name? about agencies selling donor information. It got me thinking about ethics in our field and also the differences between words we often use interchangeably. Those words are ethics, integrity and values.

Values, when used in the field, primarily refer to organizational values. I usually explain them as the ideas that are valued by the staff and board of an organization. That could be communication, collaboration or individual accomplishments (not usually both), honesty, high ethical standards, or a whole host of other things. Organizational values are not necessarily things you’d include when listing your personal values, though of course they might be. This is not to say that your personal values do not need to be aligned with your organization’s values, because they do. It is intended to mean that we all might not list the same things that our organizational values include.

Integrity in our field – and everywhere else – means doing what you say you’re going to do.

Ethics is a moral code of conduct or principles by which you make decisions, which should also be made in concert with your values.

Anytime you’re talking about ethics, you’re also to talking about values and integrity. They are the 3 sides of a nonprofit’s top three triangle of consideration – the trifecta triangle. There are a few buckets where the triangle consistently comes into play in the nonprofit arena. The first is donor interaction.

You have to appropriately steward your donors and part of appropriately stewarding is doing what you say you’re going to do with their gift (integrity) and also their information (ethics). The above post is about nonprofits selling donor information. It is allowable by AFP’s Ethical Principles.  The author’s position and mine too, is that it is unethical and that if agencies are going to do it, donors should be given a way to either opt out or, preferably, opt in. I’d take it a bit further.

I challenge AFP to reconsider their position. Nonprofits should not be selling donor information. To me, the idea flies in the face of our standards. It also seems to be contrary to our goals. If we want to retain a donor, selling their information so another agency can attract them as a donor is counterproductive. I’ve said it before: any process that goes against our goal is a bad process.

While we’re on the topic of ethics in fund raising, let me take this opportunity to encourage you to avoid any practitioner who offers you a fund raising model based on commission. AFP’s code prohibits commission based fund raising. Good for them. Commission based fund raising is unconscionable. You should never hire someone on a commission basis to raise contributed income for your organization – that includes grants, special events, major gifts and every other type of resource development. Consultants should offer you a price based on the project at hand or at an hourly rate. Fundraising should not be done on commission.

Finally, and before I move on, development directors can maintain the relationships they cultivate and it is perfectly acceptable for them to continue a relationship created at one agency when they move on to a new agency. It is very hard to un-know someone and no one would expect you to.  However, it is not acceptable – or ethical – to take lists of donors with you when you leave, nor is it acceptable for you to use that list to prospect new donors for your new agency.

Our trifecta triangle also comes into play in other ways related to income, and not just contributed income. Ethics are critical to how you manage and spend your agency’s resources, which should be in accordance with GAAP standards. There should be a finance policy that you follow. It should include how and what gets bid out and how decisions are made once it does. Finally, there should be a salary compensation plan to ensure you are paying a fair wage relative to your expectations, the position, your community and your field.

There are additional considerations related to staff remuneration, specifically ones that are or should be in line with your organizational values. Staff should get paid the same amount for the same job, based experience and education, regardless of their race or gender.

Nonprofits serve to change the world and, often, to move forward a social justice agenda. We need to start with ourselves, which means that we need to ensure gender and racial parity in all of our compensation planning.

I recommend you have a diversity policy and that you go out of your way to ensure diversity of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, orientation, age and experience, all of which will contribute to diversity of thought on your staff and also your board. Different experiences around the table contribute to better generative discussions and better decision making.

Ethics, values and integrity should be first and foremost in social service agencies when considering client interaction. Many of our agencies are seeing people at their worst; when they are scared or hungry or in need of something that far exceeds their reach. How we enter into and manage that relationship is critical.

How are you training your people to deal with clients outside and inside the building?  How does your staff handle it when they run into clients in the community? What about in the waiting room?  Do you train your team to look people in the eye while walking through the room or to avert their gaze?  Do you lock up client files?  Who has access?  When and under what circumstances do you release information?  How do your agency’s values ensure your clients are dealt with in an ethical manner, and with integrity?

The triangle isn’t just operational. It’s also impactful at the board level. Organizations should have a conflict of interest policy and form that each board member signs annually. They should also have a whistle blower or ethics policy. Board members will occasionally come up with things that are wacky (read dangerous) or off mission. Our job as staff (and fellow board members) is to reel them in and make sure that we uphold the ethics of our organization. Unethical or illegal actions have to be addressed, regardless of the position of the actor.

When you put yourself out there as the change agent in a community, you have to be above reproach. The trifecta of ethics, values and integrity can ensure that your agency is deserving of the resources of your community and up to facing its challenges.

When do you think values, integrity and ethics come together to impact our sector?  What is your opinion of agencies selling donor information?  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.

Aligning Values and Decisions

In Leadership, Organizational Development on February 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

For a long time now, whenever I say “No, I can’t do that” I’ve taken to following it up with “and I don’t want to.” It’s the distinction between what’s not possible and what’s not acceptable to me. Both are usually true yet the second piece is more important for me to illustrate. We each communicate our values every day, some of us more intentionally than others.

The most obvious sign of a leader is their ability to engage and inspire. The second most obvious sign is their ability to say no. (Leaders also need the ability to say yes, which is a post for another day.)

When I was younger, I sometimes said yes when I wanted to say no, or meant to say no, or even sometimes when I thought I had said no but not in a way or a manner than people heard as no. Resentment is the emotion that I now know is about my having allowed something that was unacceptable to me. I used to think of it as my being taken advantage of … until I realized it was me. It happened whenever I said yes, but meant no. It happened until I learn to be more intentional about a lot of things, my values included.

I had to learn to be more clear in my mind about what my values were and how those values got infused in my work. I had to be more deliberate about communicating those values to my team. I also had to make sure I worked at an organization whose values were aligned with my own. Once I got all that, I became a lot less resentful. Life is about making new mistakes.

I learned that lesson the hard way, a long time ago when discussing a pregnant teen and if she should continue to be allowed to come to the program (and the father too if he came, which we didn’t know at the time). If she was allowed, what message might the other kids receive? If she wasn’t allowed, what message would we be sending to her? What were our organizational values? Were they aligned with our personal values?

We went round and round with the staff, with the program committee and with ourselves. The committee came down to the idea that no, she couldn’t come to our program because it’s not who we were as an agency and that I needed to stand up in the community and say that. At that minute, I realized that “No, that wasn’t who I was and that I couldn’t and wasn’t willing to defend that position.”

Somehow, that was enough. The teen continued to come to the program and we worked with her and created systems to ensure we didn’t glorify her pregnancy but instead demonstrated how difficult it was going to be, and also how we could help.

Leaders say no. No, you can’t serve on our board because your heart isn’t in it. (This is said by board leadership, not the executive.) No, you can’t continue to serve on my team, because you’re not moving our goals forward. No, we can’t continue to partner with your agency because our values aren’t aligned. No, that donation will not be in my agency’s best interest. No, we cannot go down that path; it’s not who we are.

That means you have to know who you are, who you want to be and what values are important to you, your organization and its future. You have to have look through that lens every day in myriad situations. What you allow sends a message as to what you value.

My school district allows kids to play sports with a D average. Studies have repeatedly shown that kids who play sports or are engaged in quality after school or extracurricular activities are less likely to do illegal or unsafe things. While that’s true, would it be so much to ask for a C average? And what’s the message that this policy (from a district that is consistently among highest rated in the state) sends to the athletes?

We, as leaders, need to consider every decision we make against the lens of our values, who we want to be and in consideration of the message that decision will send. Allowing kids to play sports with a D average sends the message that mediocrity is fine, and that sports are more important than grades.

Do I honestly think that was their intended message? No, I don’t. I think they didn’t think about the message.

Not calling your kids out (students, client kids or actual kids) when they do something that is unacceptable to you, your values or the rules of your program or house, reinforces that it’s ok, which then teaches that rule following is optional – and also that your authority is questionable.

There will always be rules we want to break but we need to be clear about why we are breaking them and teach our kids how to discern those rules from other rules.

It’s not any different with staff. For all the new managers out there: address something that’s unacceptable to you when you see it, and every time you see it. If you don’t, what is unacceptable to you will become the status quo.

Every decision leaders make sends a message about what they value and what they believe to be true, whether they intend it or not. How much more could we accomplish if we were intentional about our values and our goals, how they are implemented, and what is and is not acceptable to us?

What’s been your experience in aligning values and decisions? 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.

Values, Stories and Moving the Needle for your Organization

In Leadership on February 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm

When I was in graduate school, as part of a leadership class, I had to read the book Managing by Storying Around , which I loved.  The idea of it, at least my recollection 18 years later of the idea of it, is that you can paint a picture with a story that is better the anything you can describe.   In the book, the leader of a company collected stories that illustrated their organizational culture and then showed it to anyone who they were considering hiring, both to engage and to weed out candidates.  I have told stories ever since and encouraged my clients to do the same.

Imagine my delight when Ruth Milligan of Articulation, Inc  offered to provide an Influential Storytelling workshop for my clients!  Of course, I immediately said yes – and thank you; the session was last week.

Ruth started by telling us the story of how she became the coordinator of TEDx Columbus.  She then asked if we believed she was credible to facilitate our workshop.  It was the first time that I understood that when I introduce myself,  I’m not just establishing my credibility so people will believe the information I’m presenting, but that I am establishing if I am credible enough to be standing in front of them leading a session.  Huge difference!

Ruth defines a story as the bridge between what I know and care about and what I don’t yet know or care about.

That changes everything!

She said something else that I found particularly poignant.  (For those of you who are also my clients get ready for this point to be incorporated into a future session.)   She said if you want to know about an organization’s culture, have people tell you stories that tie back to values.

Values are at the heart of what I know and care about and what I don’t yet know or care about.

We learned how stories fit into larger presentations, and how to use metaphors to make complex points more easily understood by your audience.   One of the thanks yous I received afterward referenced that point as a favorite.

Ruth showed me that when I can tell a story that taps into emotion, facts and is tied to values and if I can present that story in is a way that has an obviously beginning with a hook that grabs the audience, a middle with stories and reasons that support my core idea, and an ending that includes a call to action, I could be unstoppable.

And so can you!

What’s your story? What are your values?  What is the impact of your organization? How are you communicating that information?

We have a world to change.  Stop presenting and start telling Influential Stories!

As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

Names Withheld to Protect the Guilty

In Leadership, Organizational Development on November 1, 2012 at 8:27 am

The first Executive Director I ever worked for got mad at her boyfriend for getting a haircut when her mom was coming to town. She also had us fill out two time sheets each week; one that said 9-5 every day and one that listed the hours we actually worked. She offered some vague explanation on why that was reasonable. She wouldn’t let me read the grant that I was hired to implement.

I was 22, fresh out of college and didn’t know how completely and utterly wrong each of those was. (It was a victim services agency; I knew the haircut thing was a problem.) I received very little training, absolutely no feedback, and no explanation of what my job was or how my performance would be evaluated.

As you might imagine, this was not the most helpful way to learn how to lead. Most of what I have learned, I’ve learned the hard way, by trial and error and baptism by fire. I fear it is how most nonprofit professionals learn.

Worse than that even is that most of us have at one time or another worked for someone who follows the model illustrated above: the command and control model. I know that because it is how most leaders lead – regardless of field or tax status. It’s not the best way, but it’s the way most us have seen modeled and it’s the easiest. It’s also the least effective as it reduces employee engagement, which consequently reduces productivity.

The problem with command and control is this: one person gives the command and holds the control. That means everyone else does what they’re told. They don’t question; they just do. And what do they do when they’re done? They come back!

Command and control leadership looks like this: (Let me know if any of this starts to sound familiar.)
• There’s a line out your door, and not just of the people that report to you, but of all the staff. Because the culture says that even though people may report to someone else, you have the answers, and the decision making power and you use it.
• People don’t question your instructions, even when they know the instructions are wrong, even when they conflict with something you said yesterday, even when the instructions are stupid, or worse, dangerous. Because the culture says they can’t.
• People don’t actually know what their jobs are, what your expectations are, how you are going to evaluate them and what that evaluation might be based on; they are trying to do what you want, but they don’t really know what that is and they can’t read your mind.

To be fair, there are times when command and control is the right style, but more often a more innovative approach will be more successful. “Do what I say” and “think for your selves” are mutually exclusive goals. If you want people to think for themselves, consider moving towards a more innovative leadership style.

As most of us have not had the opportunity to see a variety of styles modeled, each of us has seen multiple lessons of what not to do and plenty of opportunities to learn things the hard way. The lessons we learn the hard way tend to be the lessons we never forgot. Here are two lessons that took me too long to learn but once I understood and could articulate them, the world – and my capacity for leadership – changed:

• HR systems must match organizational values.
• Being good at your job isn’t enough. You have to be on the team and moving the organization forward.

Just because it’s what we’ve seen doesn’t mean it’s who we have to be. Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives offers another choice and path to develop your leadership style. There are many leadership books out there. Pick ours up. Pick another one up. Choose the type of leader you wish to be: Find a model that works for you; find a coach, friend or colleague who can assist, champion and challenge you; and start! You and your team will be glad you did!

Lead on!

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