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.





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’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?





Hey! Why’d you cut me off?

17 03 2010

Cheating the Meeting Reaper : Avoiding Death by Meeting IV

Let’s see…right place, right time, right people, few topics, timed agenda…what else do you need for a good meeting?

Aha! Control! Yes, all the good intentions in the world aren’t going to keep your meeting on track. This is the job of [pause for effect] Super Leader!

All kidding aside, the meeting chair is responsible for keeping the meeting on track. In a board meeting, that’s the President. In a committee meeting, it’s the committee Chair. Make no mistake, though, someone has to be in charge, and that someone has to make it known that he or she is in charge.

Start on time. This simple step sets the stage, and lets the attendees know you mean business. Don’t wait until everyone gets here. It’s discourteous to the people who came on time, and encourages everyone to dawdle. A corollary to this rule is: Don’t go over what’s already been covered in order to bring people up to speed. It takes up time, and rewards the dawdlers. Eventually, attendees will learn that they have to get to the meetings on time.

Assign a Queue Keeper. When discussions ensue, this is a way to keep order among the many people who want to speak. We all know committee members who dominate discussions. Those who rarely speak up may find their voices trampled by the dominant speakers. The solution is to have a designated Queue Keeper. Each attendee who wants to speak raises a hand and the QK puts his/her name on the list; each person has an opportunity to speak in turn. This method serves several purposes.

  1. Each person is assured of an opportunity to speak.
  2. People no longer have to spend their attention and energy getting noticed. Instead, they spend their time actually listening to the other participants in the discussion.
  3. Because there is time between wanting to speak and when that thought will be spoken, people jot down their ideas so they won’t forget them. This means that when they do speak their minds, their contributions are more concise and precise.

Using a Queue Keeper may feel awkward the first few times, but the benefits will soon be apparent to everyone.

Stick to the timed agenda. Periodically reference the agenda and the time, so attendees are also aware of its status. If you’ve slightly misjudged the amount of time it will take to get through a subject, there may be some slack elsewhere. But if a topic starts getting very lengthy, act appropriately. There are four main possibilities.

  1. The subject warrants more serious discussion than originally thought. In that case, table the topic until the next meeting, when you can give it the attention it deserves.
  2. Attendees are repeating previously made points. Here, the Chair has to stop the discussion by saying, “does anyone have anything new to contribute? If not, will someone call the question?”
  3. There isn’t enough information to really come to a conclusion, and the discussion is spinning its wheels. In this case, the Chair has to stop the discussion and put it back to committee – either the originating committee or an ad hoc committee for this particular topic.
  4. Rarely, you may have a fourth situation. You may encounter an urgent question for which a lot of discussion still needs to take place.  In this case, you can decide to drop a later agenda item, or conclude that a specially called meeting for this particular topic should happen very soon.

The important thing to keep in mind is to give each agenda item the appropriate attention. Big items should be given enough time for productive, substantive thought and discussion.

Of course, in the case of committee reports, an agenda item may take too much time because the speaker is running over. Then the Chair should politely, but firmly, ask how much longer this will be since “we have many items to cover,” and request only the highlights.  As a committee report, the information should have been sent out in advance anyway, and the speaker should only be hitting highlights unless a vote is needed.

Finally, end on time! Meeting management is not rocket science, but it does take control. It means the Chair should be firm and consistent. There may be an occasional grumble the first few times you stop a discussion. But when your meeting ends in 90 minutes, instead of 2 and a half hours, your attendees will thank you!

Only one more topic left in Cheating the Meeting Reaper! Follow-up. Stay tuned.

My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I are presenting more detail on meeting management at the International Association of Fundraising Professionals meeting in Baltimore, on April 12, 2010. Join us, and then meet us at the Bloom Metz Consulting exhibit!





Anyone Know Why We’re Meeting?

7 02 2010

Cheating the Meeting Reaper: Avoiding Death by Meeting III

Congratulations! You’ve limited your meeting attendees to those who need to be there.

Now, how are you going to keep from wasting their time?

Your valuable volunteers are smart. They can come up with great ideas and engage in really substantive conversations that result in good policy. That only works though, if they’ve been given time to think about the subject. If your attendees have advance time to think about the subject, they come up with more in-depth questions and analyses that will help you come up with a better decision.

So, the best way is to prep for the meeting by:

  1. Limiting the meeting focus to no more than 1-3 topics
  2. Making sure that everyone has all the materials they’ll need in advance.
  3. Creating a timed agenda

Declare in advance the purpose of the meeting and the subjects that will be dealt with. Your volunteers should know that if the topic is not on the agenda, it will not be entertained. Harsh? Not as harsh as seeing 15 people around a table spending time on subjects they’re unprepared for, and which are really not their purview.

Similarly, if you want to have a focused meeting, attendees should be given the courtesy of having their materials in advance. No more sending out last month’s minutes the same day as this month’s meeting. No more handing out financial statements at the start of the finance committee’s report. No more handing out background on new policies at the moment the discussion begins. There’s no reason for meeting time to be spent on clarifications; with advance notice, all the initial questions for clarification can be asked of the committee chair before the meeting.

Be fair to your volunteers — and fair to your organization. Your smart, enthusiastic volunteers deserve to be given the tools to do what needs to be done. Hampering their efforts only hinders your organization.

Finally, once you know that all the materials will be in the hands of attendees in advance, you can create an agenda that shepherds the meeting towards focused discussion. That’s the timed agenda. [See Sample Meeting Agenda.]

Think about your own time management. Consider the effect of having an appointment you have to get to. When you’re at your desk, knowing that you have an appointment coming up focuses your mind and helps you avoid distractions. The same thing happens when you have a timed agenda.

If committee reports should only take 10 minutes, these reports will be brief and on topic. Details are in the written, advance reports. There is more compliance when the Board President says, “We have a lot to cover, let’s send that topic back to committee.”  Do emergent situations happen? Of course. But they should be the exception, not the rule. The timed agenda makes sure that the 90 minute meeting spends 60 minutes on important, policy-making decisions, instead of having those decisions left for the last 15 minutes.

The result?  Your attendees know what to expect when they come to the meeting. They know they’ll be able to engage in substantive discussions about important topics.

Most importantly, you end up with satisfied, productive volunteers, eager to tackle the big challenges.

Next: Keeping the Meeting on Track

My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I are presenting more detail on meeting management at the International Association of Fundraising Professionals meeting in Baltimore, on April 11, 2010. Join us!






Is This Meeting Really Necessary?

23 10 2009

Cheating the Meeting Reaper: Avoiding Death by Meeting I

It’s a universal experience: sitting in a meeting, wondering when it will end, and too polite to just leave. Of course, that’s just putting it mildly. For most of us, there comes a time when we are mentally screaming, “Get me out of here!”

If we’ve all had this experience, why are there still meetings like that? I contend it’s because nobody has taught the leaders how to run a meeting, and participants how to participate.  It’s not their fault if they’ve never been given the right tools! So herewith I start a quick overview of meeting management. Feel free to add your own thoughts. Subsequent posts will include input from several sources, including my own experience on both sides of the gavel.

So let’s cover:

  • Do you need a meeting?
  • Who should be at the meeting?
  • Building and timing an agenda.
  • Prepping the participants.
  • Managing the meeting.
  • After the Meeting.

First of all, do you really need a meeting? That’s right, meeting management implies that you’re having a meeting. So the very first question should be, ‘is this meeting necessary?’ Every meeting should have some purpose that will move your organization forward in some way. Make sure you are clear on the purpose of the meeting, and make sure that every participant knows that purpose. Otherwise, why take your staff away from other work?

There are 3 main reasons for calling a meeting:

  • Inform
  • Discuss
  • Decide

Inform: Many people say meetings should not be held just to keep people informed. I disagree. If important information has to be internalized, emails are just not enough. Paradoxically, this is particularly true in an information rich environment. When everyone receives 60+ emails a day ‘just FYI,’ something has to be done to make truly important information stand out. If there is information that you need everyone to hear and understand, a quick meeting is a good way to convey its importance.

Discuss: If you have an issue that needs the input and reactions of several people, it’s most efficient to get everyone together. Distribute the data and concerns via email, then follow it up with a working meeting. We each have our own best ways of taking in information and processing an issue.  Straight email correspondence just doesn’t convey the nuances of people’s reactions. We’ll cover how to follow up this meeting at a later time, but right now, let’s just say that this is a good reason to have a meeting.

Decide: If several people have to buy-in to a decision, then it’s important that they have the opportunity to participate in the process. This is a good time for a meeting. Decisionmaking meetings should follow information and/or discussion meetings, and may sometimes be conducted in the same session. However, it’s important there be enough time for everyone to digest the information before being asked to make a decision.

Add up the hourly rate of everyone at a meeting, and consider what you’ve spent by bringing them together.  Now consider how much you’ve lost if it wasn’t necessary. If you don’t have a concrete reason that is important to the organization, don’t meet!

Note – My colleague, Susan Sherk, and I will be presenting Cheating the Meeting Reaper at the 47th annual international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, April 2010. Join us!