26 06 2009

I just read a thought provoking blog post by my friend and colleague, Jeff Metz of Bloom Consulting. He writes about the impact it had on him to really understand the philanthropic service his daughter had done went she went to Peru. 

It made me think about how we portray our nonprofit work to our friends, our relatives, our spouses, and especially, to our children. What do they hear us talk about? The difficulties working with board members? The ‘needy’ donors? The number of calls we have to make? The staff cuts we have to endure? The grants we didn’t get? 

When we’re at home, do we talk about the good that we are doing? Do we focus on the impact that we are having on the world? We’re careful to do that when we’re around donors, but what about when we let our hair down en famille?  Are we helping or hindering their passion for service when we talk about our work? 

Jeff’s post has made me consider more carefully how I portray the work I do with nonprofits. After all, something made me want to make this my life’s work. It’s important that our families – our children – also understand that no matter the challenges, it is work that is vital to the world; it is work that it is our privilege to do.

Along with talking to our own kids, we can also make a point of helping others find ways they can inspire children and youth to give back to the world. The Foundation Center has a great site for youth philanthropy,  with links to many opportunities and resources. This page is a list of great resources worldwide. 

Here’s to the next generation of philanthropists and nonprofit leaders.



18 06 2009

I spent today in a motivational seminar, and couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing. It was a simulcast of a live seminar being run about 20 miles away. At our remote location, I was easily one of about 1000 people, with 3 huge video screens and plenty of happy staff ready to help you fill out forms.  

But we could see on the screen that the live location had live music, fireworks, sparklers, and a real connection between the emcee and the audience. When the emcee called for people to stand up and cheer the next speaker, you could see and hear that the audience was doing just that. Not so at our location. At first, about 10% got up and cheered, but that number slowly diminished. When a speaker asked for volunteers from the audience to receive free gifts, we were totally out of luck. When another speaker yelled, “Hello, Philadelphia!” we were in Wilmington, unacknowledged.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m generally a very positive person and enjoy motivational talks. Some of the speakers were quite good; I learned several useful techniques and stories; I’ll probably even buy one of the books. But it was obvious that I wasn’t the only person that was not connecting. And so the most emphatic lesson I’m taking away is that there has to be evidence of a human touch in order to make a connection.

What does this mean as we expand our reach using so many new tools that were never before available to us?

In our rush to embrace digital media, are we considering that we need a human connection beyond the tweets, facebook, linkedin, or blogs? I’m not denying that it’s a great thing for our donors to follow us using social sites. But that ability to speak rapidly and digitally to our followers should only enhance our connection, not be a substitute.

What about our connections with co-workers? If we only communicate via email or IM, we cannot see body language or hear tone of voice and know that our staff is tired or energetic, stressed or joyful. This empathic connection is lost in electronic words and abbreviations. The occasional telephone call, same-room meeting or one-to-one video conference should be required for employee morale.

And, since this was prompted by this particular instance, I think about what could have been done differently to make the seminar connect with us despite the remote location. Could the organizers have placed an emcee in the remote location as well, and just channel in the speakers? Could they have acknowledged us with a mention during the presentations? Could there have been someone at our site that also picked people from the audience at strategic times of the morning?  Could there have been cheerleaders in the audience encouraging us to participate in the cheering and energy?

Perhaps the universal lesson isn’t specific ways to alleviate the problem. Perhaps the lesson is that we should use this experience to make us stop and consider the need for a human connection. Now, when all around us digital media abounds, we should make sure to consider the human connection as we communicate with a donor, a co-worker, or a group of people. Use social media as a tool to deepen connections, not as a substitute for them.

A research study from Bank of America and the Center on Philanthropy of Indiana University tells that major donors stop giving when they lose connection. It would be a shame to jeopardize the relationship in the rush to new media.

To read about the implications of losing connections with donors, check out this report,  The 2008 Bank of America Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy. 


10 06 2009

The role of an Executive Director is to acquire and husband all the resources of an organization, so those resources can best serve the mission. These resources may be dollars, good will, facilities or, most importantly, the people who are making a difference.  

In the past few years, I’ve been asked several times what an executive director does. At Hillel, students and parents can see the Program Director in action; but what did I do? At Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, people can see the work of the veterinarians and technicians; but what did I do?

If a job can have a mission statement, then I believe the mission of an Executive Director is to acquire and husband all the resources of an organization, so those resources can best serve the organization’s mission.

Like other good mission statements, this one is simple and can be phrased in one sentence. But dissecting it shows that its very simplicity holds a myriad of ramifications. 

First, defining resources. Resources may be dollars, good will, facilities, leaders, or the important people who make the mission a success. An Executive Director needs to recognize that all of these are part of what makes the organization work. Focusing solely on dollars to the exclusion of the people, or focusing only on the building to the exclusion of community relations is unbalanced. You end up fighting fires if you ignore one of the resources while focusing solely on another.

Next, acquiring resources means building relationships with others who can give you the resources you need. Donor relations and foundation relationships are part of resource acquisition – to get funds. Developing job descriptions is part of resource acquisition – hire the best people. Reviewing new facilities and engaging a good real estate broker is part of resource acquisition – find the best location. Being visible and participating in community functions is part of resource acquisition – acquiring good will and willing board members. Acquiring resources is a key part of the job of an Executive Director – it’s important to remember that it doesn’t just mean dollars.

What about husbanding resources? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of the verb ‘husband’ is to use, spend, or apply economically; to make the most of. Applied to the role of Executive Director, it means making wise decisions on how to use the resources at hand. It means knowing when to spend more in order to achieve great things, when to spend less in order to preserve assets. It means creating a budget that balances the needs of the organization and understanding the impact on the mission when cuts have to be made. It means knowing when to spend on air fare in order to meet with a major donor, and knowing when to expend good will in order to save the organization from mission creep.

The Executive Director is the Board’s partner in driving and fulfilling the Mission and Vision of the organization. It is up to the Executive Director to acquire the resources necessary to fulfill the mission, and use them wisely.

PS….When you don’t have an Executive Director, you should consider an Interim. See this post for more about Interims.