Teams Can’t Innovate If They’re Too Comfortable

18 08 2014

“If we are going to create new outcomes, and be truly innovative, let’s design for it.”

Where are you?

28 10 2011

Before 1973, no one ever had to ask “where are you?” when they reached you on the telephone.

Of course they knew where you were – you were within 3 feet of the telephone they had called. Now, because of mobile phones, one of the first things we ask when we call someone is, “where are you?”

Where are you? An innocuous question when asked casually, but quite profound when you ask it of your organization. If, in 30 years, the world has changed so we now call individuals instead of a place, what does that say about your nonprofit? Do you still ask your constituents to come to your place, or do your meet them where they are? Have your programs evolved to meet the new mobility of society? Has your mission changed?

Society’s rate of change has accelerated. How often does your board of directors evaluate whether your programs are still relevant, much less whether your mission is? Once every 10 years isn’t enough (and maybe it never was). But certainly ‘never’ shouldn’t be the answer.

How about ‘now?’

Is Relationship-Building a False God?

1 10 2011

Challenging the Relationship Model of Fundraising

Received wisdom now says that relationship building is the way to raise more money from donors. It’s why we changed the name from Fundraising to Development; we expect to develop relationships with people, with the ultimate goal of getting them to make a big gift (or two, or three).

This may still be true, but a study from Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson challenges the notion that relationship building causes higher sales in the for-profit environment. What this means for the nonprofit sector is up for debate.

Dixon is Managing Director of the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales and Service Practice. Adamson is Senior Director of the Sales Executive Council, a division of the Sales and Service Practice. Their new book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, is the result of studying 6,000 sales representatives across more than 100 companies around the world. Detailing their work habits, their motivation and their results, they classified the reps into 5 groups:

  • Relationship builder
  • Lone wolf
  • Hard worker
  • Reactive problem solver
  • Challenger

These groups are described in the HBR Blog, but suffice it to say that the Relationship builder was NOT the best performer.

Surprisingly, Challenger, who did not acquiesce to every client whim, who did not work to smooth over any tension, and in fact made a point of asking penetrating questions about client assumptions, outperformed the others in complex and challenging situations.

Now, if these economic times aren’t challenging for nonprofits, I don’t know what would be. Perhaps it’s time to (ahem) challenge our assumptions of how to deal with donors in these times.

More study is definitely needed.

Mission Before Money

28 12 2010

This post was originally on Ingrid Zacharias’ excellent blog, Envisioning the Future.

Capital Campaigns Require Deep Foundations

Ever notice how ancient buildings have deep foundations? Visiting France last year, we took a guided tour of the breathtaking Notre Dame de Chartres – a millennium old church built on the same spot as many churches that came before.  Much of theNotre Dame de Chartres - spires foundation of this church was put into place during Roman times!

It’s the same thing with a capital campaign. A strong campaign needs a strong foundation. You may be sure you need a new building or renovated space, but fundraising will be a long hard slog with a lot of surprises if you don’t build your foundation first.

The absolute first pillar in that foundation is Mission.

For those of us in the nonprofit world, it’s a given that Mission is the essential that drives our entire enterprise. Who are we serving, what are we trying to achieve, what outcome are we working toward?

It’s the same thing with a special campaign. The need for that new building, or renovation, or endowment, starts with how it’s going to serve your mission. If you don’t have a clear mission, easily articulated by each of your constituents, then your campaign is starting with a handicap.

Your school doesn’t need 5 new classrooms; it needs to help 30 more special needs students achieve independence. Your library doesn’t need a new building to house the books and computers; your community needs a safe and free space for the unemployed to seek information about new jobs and get the training they need to pursue them. Your zoo doesn’t need a veterinary clinic to retain accreditation; your community needs to show its children that we are obligated to care for the animals in our world the best way we know how. Your soccer fields don’t need lights for night games; you need to provide an opportunity for people to come together in the evening, building family and community unity.

Mission, then, is the first pillar in your foundation. Is it clear? Compelling? Articulated? Is your potential new project clearly in support of your mission? Most importantly, can everyone associated with your organization recite and support your mission?

Yes? Great! You have the first foundation of a great organization and an excellent campaign. Now build the next pillar: Governance.

Stay tuned!

Vision is overrated.

1 09 2010

Vision. Vision. Vision.

Everyone talks about making sure your board has a vision. To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady — words, words, words, I’m so sick of words…don’t talk of Vision, Show me!

Whatever happened to implementation???

Look, I’m not saying the first step isn’t important – it is! Without vision, you stagnate. If you don’t know where you’re going, you waste time spinning wheels.

But once you know what you want to become, it takes decisions and details; process and payments; learning the laws and following them; checks and balances; good management and good manners. And all the while, staying focused on the vision.

But JUST having a vision isn’t enough. Nonprofit leadership is fostering that vision, planning to make it reality, inspiring everyone to get on board, and then, well, making it happen.

Vision AND Implementation. It takes both. As consultants, we do our clients a disservice if we stop at the first step.

I read it in the NY Times

25 08 2010

When I was growing up, any time I wanted to prove that the fact I had just spouted was true, all I needed to tell my Dad was that I’d read it in the New York Times. I’m pretty sure he knew that sometimes I just said that to get him off my back, but there’s no doubt that a trusted outside source can still go a long way toward bolstering your case.

Take, for instance, dealing with a board of directors that’s reluctant to try something new, or when a director or volunteer questions your wise counsel.

For example, I’ve advised several smaller nonprofits to accept online donations. There’s the usual grumbling about security concerns and that credit cards take too much out of the donation.  But pointing to studies that show the advances in credit card and online donations go a long way to convincing the nay-sayers.

This study by Blackbaud (The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving) is a good one to show your reluctant boards. It’s particularly good to show to small and medium-sized nonprofits, whose peers had their online contributions increase by an average of 7%, year -over-year.

Personal experience, industry knowledge and good research is a hard combination to refute.

I’m not saying please, I’m not being reasonable, I’m making the decision

13 08 2010

Ever read or hear a statement that just begs to be quoted? When it happens to me, I may not know when I’ll use it, but it’s just so appropriate to something that I have to write it down. I may be watching TV or a movie with my husband, or reading a novel. It may be in a nonfiction book or a random sentence in a magazine.

This time, it was a line in an early episode of the FOX drama, Bones. Dr. Walker, head of the fictitious Jeffersonian Institute, was finally fed up. He had already explained, many times, the priorities of a case to his extremely intelligent and all-too-eager-to-argue staff.  He had other constituents to serve; he knew what had to be done, and he had to ensure their completion.

“I’m not saying please, I’m not being reasonable, I’m making the decision,” he declared, and walked out of the room.

Harsh. However, in a situation when someone has to stop the wheels from spinning, the executive makes that decision. Definitely, concretely, and in no uncertain terms. There may be fallout, but the job of the executive is to make the hard decisions and anticipate and mitigate any negative effects.

It’s not fun to be the dictator, but as Dr. Walker (or the show’s writers) illustrated, it is sometimes part of the job.

What hard decisions have you had to make on behalf of your organization? What might have happened if you hadn’t stepped up and taken charge?