Strike three . . . You’re OUT! Because you swung for the non-profit fences.

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “My Last At Bat“. In that post, he talks about his last Little League game as a child. As a baseball fan, I immediately fell in love with this blog post. As a fan of the non-profit sector and organizational development, my mind has been spinning for almost a week about how many different ways¬†John’s post applies to non-profit agencies.

I don’t want to give anything away (you really need to go read his post for yourself), but the story is about how John approached his last Little League game with an understanding of what he was “good at doing” and tried to play within his capabilities. His friend took a very different approach and got very different results.

Looking back over the last 15 years, I’ve seen this dynamic play out in many different ways. Here are a few examples:

  • A non-profit board needs to fill an executive director vacancy. Rather than looking at competencies, skill sets and past experiences, the search committee gets WOWed by a charming big personality. Or they hire the internal candidate who has been a great front line program staffer, but doesn’t have any past experience with fundraising, board development, or financial management.
  • An executive director needs to hire a development director to provide thoughtful leadership and direction to the agency’s comprehensive resource development program. Rather than identifying what competencies, skill sets and past experiences are necessary for this person to excel and succeed, they interview a hodgepodge of fundraising people including direct mail professionals, grant writers, special event coordinators, and marketing people. Again, they end up hiring a special event person and ask them to do something that they don’t have a track record of doing.
  • The board development committee needs to recruit a new class of board volunteers. Rather than complete a gap analysis to determine what skill sets and experiences incoming board volunteers need in order to help move the agency forward, the committee puts together a list of “friends” who they know will likely say YES if asked. In the end, the wrong people are sitting around the table. They are all well-intentioned, but the boardroom feels dysfunctional and engagement is lacking.

Why do so many of us in the non-profit sector ask people to do things that are outside of their immediate capabilities?

I know that you can hit a single, but I need you to hit a home run today!

The silly thing is that stringing together a few singles puts a few runs on the scoreboard in the same way that hitting a home run will do. Translated into “non-profit speak” . . . asking people (employees and volunteers) to do what they do well will advance your cause as much or more than asking them to do something that they haven’t done before.

Here are just a few suggestions to get our conversation going:

  • Don’t ask a volunteer who hasn’t done any fundraising to join your board.
  • Don’t hire an executive director who hasn’t been an executive director before.
  • Don’t ask a volunteer solicitor to ask a donor for a significant contribution unless they’ve also given significantly.
  • Don’t hire a special event person to write grants unless they’ve been successful at doing it somewhere else.

I am sure that some of you are bristling at these suggestions and have good examples of when you might want to do one of these things. Please know that these suggestions are not meant to be “absolutes”. However, if you plan on asking someone to do something that they don’t have much experience doing, then you must adjust your expectations. You need to expect failure at first. You need to view it as a “project” and invest in training and professional development, accordingly.

Do you ask your employees and volunteers to “play within their abilities”? Or are you someone who is always encouraging them to hit home runs for your agency? How do you guarantee that you’re hiring and recruiting the right people for the right jobs? What would you add to the list I started a few paragraphs ago around Do’s and Don’ts? How have you managed your employees’ and volunteers’ disappointment when they fail to hit the home run that you asked them to hit?

If you haven’t done so yet, please go read John Greco’s post “My Last At Bat“. When you’re done, circle back to this post and share your comments, thoughts and answers to some of the questions I’ve posed using the comment box below.¬† Let’s learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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