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?


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!

WELCOMING YOUR INTERIM EXECUTIVE: 6 critical steps toward making it work

26 07 2009

Interim Executive, Acting Exec, Temporary Exec…whatever you call us, we have this in common. We’re not expected to be here very long, and we have a lot to do in that time. If all you need is a placeholder, you wouldn’t spend the dollars for a professional. So it’s on the Interim Executive’s shoulders to make a difference quickly.

Your mileage may vary, but I find there are a few initial steps that have to happen to launch a successful interim situation. Read the rest of this entry »


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. 

Books for Switching from Private to Nonprofit Sector

18 05 2009

One of the great things about the nonprofit sector is how collegial it is. After the last post about Finding That Nonprofit Career, I turned to colleagues on LinkedIn and asked them what books they would recommend to people contemplating the switch from the private sector. Especially helpful were colleagues in the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Chronicles of Philanthropy groups. I recommend that if this is a field you are interested in, you start watching the discussions on these two particular groups on LinkedIn.

One of the first to respond was my own business colleague, Jeff Metz of Bloom Consulting. Others were Andrew Brant, Sandra Larson, Ann Gwinn and Jeff Kern, all with experience in the nonprofit field, and almost all with prior experience in the private sector. Thanks to all for your assistance. Here’s the list developed from their contributions, and my own thoughts.

Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices from Peter Drucker is my own personal favorite. Several others also mentioned Drucker, who took his expertise researching and consulting to private firms into the nonprofit world. Other books originally written for the private sector are also important to the nonprofit world.  Two that others suggested are:

Managing as a Performance Art by Peter Vaill
Made to Stick by Heath & Heath

And I would add:
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell as a way of viewing the social dynamics in your organization.

Recommended books specific to nonprofits are:
Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations by John Bryson
Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff by Carter McNamara
Forces for Good by Crutchfield & Grant
The Executive Director’s Survival Guide by Carlson and Donohoe

Recommended publications specific to finding nonprofit careers:
The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers
The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seeker
s Both from idealist.org  

In the fundraising field – and so many positions in nonprofit work require some fundraising skills:
The Zen of Fundraising by Ken Burnett
Asking – A 59 minute guide by Jerold Panas
The Ask by Laura Fredricks
Major Gifts by Julia Ingraham Walker
Securing Your Organization’s Future by Michael Seltzer
Donor Centered Fundraising by Burke

And there was one textbook in the bunch:
Nature of the Nonprofit Sector by Ott

Thanks to everyone for being so helpful! And good luck to those making the switch.

Finding That Nonprofit Career

13 05 2009

Congratulations! After much soul searching, you’ve decided to seek a career in the nonprofit world. You have experience. You’ve managed people. You have credentials in your field. You want to use them to make the world a better place. 

Good for you! My own experience, and that of others who have made the switch, point to a few things that may help you get that new job. First of all, make sure you have a good sense of what kind of nonprofit you want to work for. Similar to advice for getting on a board of directors, you should research the different causes that interest you. Working for a nonprofit is hard work. What makes it worthwhile is knowing that you really care about the mission.

To get a good feel for nonprofit work and the people involved, pick up the phone and set up informational interviews. When I made the switch from market research consultant to nonprofit agency executive, I spent several months taking my resume to people in different positions, asking them about their work, their preparation for the job, and what they saw in my resume that would be useful to a nonprofit. And, of course, I asked for referrals. Their advice was invaluable. 

As with the private sector, whom you know is at least as important as what you know. If you have a connection to a nonprofit consulting firm, you may wish to let them know that you’re looking. For example, in the course of a year, Bloom Consulting works with many different nonprofits. As we work with them, we hear of positions that are going vacant, new positions that are being developed, and short-term needs for professional talent. There are also few jobs boards — Idealist, Chronicle of Philanthropy, for example — that specialize in the nonprofit world, as well as executive search firms within the sector. 

 When the time comes to interview for a position, be prepared to discuss your commitment at least as much as your skill sets. People who have lived and breathed nonprofits their entire lives are used to dealing with others like themselves. They will want to hear about your commitment to the mission, as much as – or perhaps more than – the skills you can bring. Society talks about ‘the bottom line’ and usually means a financial profit. When a nonprofit talks about the bottom line, they are talking about people served, meals delivered, children vaccinated, animals rescued. It is a shift from a solely dollars and cents mentality to one in which the social product is the bottom line.

Be aware of the constraints nonprofits work under.  Nonprofit executives are well aware they need marketing, HR, planning, accounting, whatever skills. They know it…they just don’t know if they can afford it. More than one job seeker said that he sees many nonprofits that don’t know how to promote themselves; why don’t they hire a marketing professional? Indeed, many nonprofits know they need marketing help. But if the question is whether to spend money on promotion or spend money on food for orphans, the first instinct is to feed the orphans. It may not be the best use of the money in the long run – increased promotion may be the key to greatly increased donations – but it’s a hard choice to make.

Some of the best advice I ever received came from the very generous people who gave of their time and knowledge to help me make the switch. The informational interviews in Ohio, Indiana, New York, and DC gave me tremendous help as I worked through my own process of transition. Despite their crowded schedules, these generous nonprofit professionals gave of their time and knowledge — and their contacts. Through them, many doors opened for me. More recently, I asked colleagues for recommendations to pass on. The Association of Fundraising Professionals group in LinkedIn was particularly generous. Trying a professional internship is one suggestion that I heard several times. If an internship isn’t available, consider a short-term engagement to fulfill a particular project.

Nonprofit professionals are particularly generous with their experiences.  I hope their advice helps you, as well.

Nonprofit professionals ARE different….

8 05 2009

What you should know when making the switch from private sector to nonprofit professional.

It’s certainly not a secret that there are a lot of unemployed private sector professionals. Combine that with projections of 23,000 senior management positions going unfilled in the nonprofit sector, and it’s no wonder that management professionals of all kinds are taking a look at the nonprofit world.

 The last post about engagement brought many of them out of the woodwork, asking how to make that switch. Having moved from for-profit to nonprofit seven years ago, and having had conversations with colleagues making similar changes, I can propose a few guidelines to the uninitiated. 

 First of all, the nonprofit world is different from the private sector. The mind set is often different, with a strong focus on commitment to the mission and doing more with less. Frequently the atmosphere is more team oriented in order to ensure the services are delivered, and more people take on jobs that are technically outside of their own bailiwick, just to make sure they get done.

 Less cutthroat? I wouldn’t necessarily put it that way, but I would say that there are fewer Type A personalities.  The nonprofit world is populated by many people for whom success is measured less by high salaries than by how much they can achieve in furthering the mission.  The extra hours they put in – and they certainly do put in a lot of hours! — is to further the mission. The good vibes are incredible, but the work is intense.

Often, to the detriment of their personal lives, nonprofit professionals don’t have the time to volunteer outside their own organization; the extra 20-30 hours per week becomes their volunteer time. Family life may suffer because their board meetings and meetings with volunteers occur in the evenings and weekends, when the volunteers are free from their day jobs. Yet the professionals don’t feel free to start work any later because of the night meetings; they just lengthen their days.

Even in good times, the dollars are just not there to do what needs to be done. When times are tough, administration becomes even leaner. Long term projects are frequently put on hold because it’s hard to get the money to pursue them. Relying on government or foundation grants and private donors makes cash flow unreliable. Donors must be wooed, and can be fickle; many are willing to give for special projects, but not ongoing administrative costs. Yet the light bill must still be paid.

Good ideas are recognized….but not always acted upon. Cost-benefit analysis is a nice idea, but if it means not feeding an orphan because you’re spending for a long-term goal, well, you may be hard pressed to convince the powers that be that the long-term goal is more important. Even if that long-term goal will ultimately make it possible to feed even more orphans.

Yet for all the challenges, there are many, many people for whom the nonprofit world holds a life they wouldn’t trade for any other. Working through the difficulties, and still making a difference in the world is a special reward. 

After reading all this, if you’re still interested in looking at the nonprofit world for a new start, I’m collecting some tips on the process for the next post. Keep reading!