Words of wisdom from GE television commercial and our friends at Disney

ideas_general electricAs most of you know, I’ve been traveling A LOT lately and I haven’t had the opportunity to watch a lot of television. However, it seems like every time I have the TV turned on, I’m seeing a television commercial from General Electric (GE) that talks about “ideas”.
Have you ever experienced a commercial that grabs you in such a way that you can’t get it out of your head? If so, then you know what I’ve been experiencing for the last month. There is something about this commercial that just speaks truth to me.
If you receive this blog via an email subscription, then click this link to view the “Ideas Are Scary” commercial. If you are viewing this in your browser, then you can click the video image below:
I think this television commercial speaks to me because I routinely see this play out live and in-person as a non-profit consultant. The following are just a few examples:

  • Strategic planning discussions where ideas are shot down for any number of reasons ranging from lack of resources to lack of leadership
  • Annual campaign planning meetings where volunteers express resistance to sitting down with donors in-person to talk about making a pledge to the campaign (typically rooted in fear)
  • Boardroom discussions where investing in organizational capacity building efforts is met with resistance because it means getting outside of an organizational comfort zone

And if this is a common theme in my life, then I know it something with which many non-profit CEOs and fundraising professionals constantly are confronted.
So, today’s post begs the question . . .

What should non-profit leaders do differently to make ideas less scary and improve their ability to lead change?

There has been a fair amount of writing over the last five years on the DonorDreams blog platform by me and number of guest bloggers on the subject of leading change, and the following are a few of my favorites:

However, I am left with two questions:

  1. How can non-profit leaders build an organizational culture that embraces new ideas, creativity and innovation?
  2. How can non-profit leaders build shared vision among all stakeholders (e.g. staff, board, donors, etc)?

I know the answer to both of these questions includes parts and pieces of the following:

  • writing and refining a powerful “case for support” document
  • getting the right people sitting around the table
  • engaging everyone in the process, hearing their concerns and incorporating their thoughts until everyone has an ownership stake in the idea

imagineeringHowever, there is much, much more to leading change than the simple six step model that some organizational development consulting/training companies teach, and I suspect it has something to do with your organization’s culture. This is where I think all of us can learn from The Walt Disney Company, home of “Imagineering”. (Note: this term is trademarked by Disney)
I always thought Imagineering was a just an idea the folks at Disney embraced and knit into their corporate culture. However, after a little wiki research, I’ve learned this is a full-blown organizational development concept rooted in:

  • org structure
  • processes-procedures-systems
  • people
  • direction setting

If you are a frustrated non-profit leader (either paid staff or volunteer) and want to figure out how to make ideas less scary and more likely to be embraced, my suggestion is to research what works for General Electric (aka the people who “Bring Good Things to Life” and espouse “Imagination at Work”) and The Walt Disney Company (aka home of the imagineer).
You might be surprised by the number of best practices you find and how many you are able to implement at your non-profit organization.
In the meantime, please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences on how you’ve tried to change organizational culture or build shared/common vision. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Culture trumps strategy? Maybe it is more of an alignment issue

culture1It is a basic truism for some organizational development professionals that “Culture trumps strategy“. In the last few months, this expression has been front and center in my mind. I guess the reason it bothers me is because of its implications, which is none of what I bring to the table as a non-profit and fundraising consultant matters unless the organization’s culture is ready to receive it and act upon it.
If the organization’s culture isn’t open to the change they wish to make, then the first order of business needs to be how to evolve culture in such a way that helps people embrace the impending strategies that will emanate from the desired initiative or plan.
So, does culture really trump strategy or that just a bunch of hooey? When I struggle with things, I usually Google it. So It did. And this is what I found:

Confusing? I know. But I really liked what Mike Myatt said on May 29, 2012 in his article appearing in Forbes titled “Culture vs. Strategy – What’s More Important?”

“Put simply, a corporation’s strategy that ignores, or only pays lip service to culture, will be the beneficiary of the toxic environment they deserve.”

I also liked what what I read in the Switch & Shift article when it comes to synergy between many organizational forces:

“Culture, strategy, leadership, branding, innovation, customer orientation and employee centricity must co-exist.”

I think I like this last quotation because it provides me with an idea of how organizational culture can be changed. In other words, you need to work intentionally with all of these organizational threads to weave your organization’s tapestry we call “organizational culture“. I think this idea is best fleshed out in Steve Denning’s Forbes article titled “How Do You Change An Organizational Culture“.
culture2I’ll stop Googling now. Because I think I get it now.
If your non-profit organization wants to raise money by implementing private sector philanthropy strategies, then you better have a “Culture of Philanthropy” in place first. If you don’t, then there will be a ton of resistance from every corner of your organization.
Sorry for such an egg-headed post today. I’m obviously struggling with something in my professional life and it spilled out into the blog this morning.
Do you have a good handle on your non-profit organization’s:

  • culture
  • leadership
  • strategies
  • employees
  • donors
  • clients
  • brand

If so, how do you know that you do? And more importantly, how are you aligning all of these things as your organization’s leader?
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Changing your agency's culture means double loop learning

Management by Walking Around . . . in a Loop

By John Greco
Originally published on March 17, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
single loop1A CEO who had begun to practice his own form of “management-by-walking-around” learned from his employees that the company inhibited innovation by subjecting every new idea to more than 275 separate checks and sign-offs.  He promptly appointed a task force to look at this situation, and it eliminated 200 of the obstacles.  The result was a higher innovation rate.
— Chris Argyris, Good Communication That Blocks Learning

Finally, a success story in one of these posts!

Not so fast.
This may sound like a success story, but, is it?   It certainly is; the CEO uncovers a flawed process and, with his team, drives a dramatic improvement.
What’s not to like?
Chris Argyris would call the CEO’s work above a great example of “single-loop learning;” addressing an issue but leaving the more fundamental problem unexamined and unsolved.
A double-loop approach would have the CEO asking some tougher questions; questions about — yes, you guessed it — the company culture.
Good:  “How long have you known about the 275 required sign-offs?”
Better:  “What goes on in this company that prevented you from questioning these practices and getting them corrected or eliminated?”
Best:  “What beliefs do my leaders hold, and what behaviors do they exhibit, that lead them to support and embed a process that requires 275 sign-offs and approvals?
single loop2Phenomenal!:  “What assumptions am I making and what biases do I hold that are manifesting themselves in the culture of this organization, leading to an approval process with 275 signoffs and associates that are reticent to challenge that process?
Double-loop learning asks questions to understand what’s underneath the visible, presenting problem.  It seeks the fundamental cause and effect.
I often get accused of asking too many questions.  In fact, a couple of years ago, after a quarterly meeting, I was approached by a peer and admonished: “John, you are asking too many tough questions.  You are putting people on the defensive.  You need to fit in more, go with the flow of the presentations.”
I feel compelled to help others (and myself) break out of the single loop!   Interestingly, though, most managers are thrilled when they successfully walk the single loop.  In fact, don’t most organizations reward managers that are effective in walking the single loop?  They are always solving problems, right?
So why incessantly ask questions that seem to deny the good work that they’ve just done and that everybody else recognizes?
Besides; who has time?  I mean, there’s so many other pressing problems to solve!
I keep asking because one successful double loop walk is worth many, many; yes, many single loop walks…
Management by walking around… in a double loop.  Make a difference.john greco sig

To which theory of change does your non-profit subscribe?

Burn the Boats

By John Greco
Originally published on May 3, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
boats1A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision which insured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, “You see the boats going up in smoke. That means that we cannot leave these shores alive unless we win! We now have no choice—we win, or we perish! They won.
— Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich

This story is likely familiar; it is often attributed, incorrectly, to Cortez, and it is usually used to compellingly explore the topic of motivation.
You will probably not be surprised to learn that I’m going to go somewhere else with it.  I want to talk about change, and what my profession curiously calls change management.
There are two basic theories of change.  One of them is flawed.
One holds that change begins with our knowledge and attitudes.  Leaders who hold this theory of change implement initiatives that are training intensive, zeroing in on changing our attitudes.  The more we know, the more we understand, the more we will adjust our attitudes.  Attitudinal change, then, leads us to change our behavior, and as we all change, the organization changes.
Behind door number two we have the theory that says just the opposite — we change our attitudes in response to a change in our behaviors; and we change our behaviors in response to changes in our environment.
I would like to believe that I change my behavior based on different perspectives that I’ve received through learning new and different things.  I would like to believe that I don’t need to be “forced” into changing.
boats2What do you think?
I’ll bet you, like me, would like to think the first theory of change is right, but, in fact, it is exactly backward.
Initiatives based on the first theory of change will take forever to produce meaningful change, if at all.  Odds are, it won’t produce a tipping point for the organization before it crosses the frustration threshold of its leaders.
Burning the boats is way more effective.
We change our behaviors because we have to; and we have to because something around us, outside of us, has changed.
I liked hamburgers as a kid, but good gosh no cheese; I wouldn’t eat cheeseburgers, period.  Until one day, when I didn’t have an option.  I love cheeseburgers now …
What do you think was more responsible for a reduction in smoking: the public service announcements and surgeon general’s warning or the banning of smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public places?
The surprising truth is that we don’t change when we have control and can make choices; we change when we don’t have control and we have limited choices.
Effective leaders don’t try and change their people. They know that they simply do not control their people… And the more they try and directly change our attitudes, the more we push back, dig in, and resist.
Instead, they burn the boats!  They redesign the structure; rewrite organizational policies; reengineer processes, integrate technology and tools, update the incentives, clarify the measurements…
Instead of changing us, they change what carries us, what affects us; they change what we depend on; they change what is all around us.
They burn the boats.

Adapted from Managing Change: Cases and Concepts.  Todd Jick.john greco sig

Organizational Development Fridays are back!

Fridays at DonorDreams blog used to be called “Organizational Development Fridays” (aka OD Fridays). I would read a blog post from my favorite OD professional and blogger in the world — John Greco — and apply his message to something I’ve seen or experienced in the non-profit sector.
At the end of October, John announced to the world that he needed to take a break from blogging at “johnponders~ about life at work, mostly” because there is too much going on in his life right now. Fridays haven’t been the same around here since that announcement.
However, in the spirit of capacity building and organizational development, John recently agreed to let me re-blog the best of the best of his original posts. We decided that this wouldn’t be too repetitive based on WordPress analytics. Apparently, most DonorDreams readers only read my Friday posts and didn’t click-through to John’s originals. So, re-blogging John’s posts should be new and refreshing to many of you.
Organizational development is equally applicable to for-profits and non-profits alike. I encourage you to tune in every Friday, read John’s OD post, and think about how it applies to your non-profit agency. As always, I encourage you to then use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences because we can all learn from each other. Enjoy!

Don’t Climb That Pole!

By John Greco
Re-posted with permission from http://johnponders.com/
Originally published on February 26, 2012

Four monkeys were put into a room.   In the center of the room was a tall pole with a bunch of bananas suspended from the top.  
monkey2One particularly hungry monkey eagerly scampered up the pole, intent on retrieving a banana.  Just as he reached out to grasp the banana, he was hit with a torrent of cold water from an overhead shower.  With a squeal, the monkey abandoned its quest and retreated down the pole. 
Each monkey attempted, in turn, to secure a banana.  Each received an equally chilly shower, and each scampered down without the prize. After repeated drenchings, the monkeys finally gave up on the bananas. 
With the primates thus conditioned, one of the original four was removed from the experiment and a new monkey added.  No sooner had this new, innocent monkey started up the pole his companions reached up and yanked the surprised creature back down.
After a few such aborted attempts, but without ever having received the cold shower, the new monkey stopped trying to get the bananas. He got the message: don’t climb that pole!
One by one, each of the original monkeys was replaced.  Each new monkey learned the same lesson: don’t climb that pole; none even got so far as a cold shower.  
Despite not experiencing the cold shower, and therefore not understanding precisely why pole climbing was discouraged, they all respected the well-established precedent. 
Even after the shower was removed, no monkey ventured up the pole …
[Author unknown, but greatly appreciated!  If you or anyone you know has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as appropriate.]

When we speak of a company’s culture, what do we mean?  To me culture refers to the values, norms, and patterns of behavior that groups of people adopt and/or develop as they work.  Or, more simply: “the way we do things around here.”
Where does culture come from?  I try to keep it simple: culture comes from what we learn and understand as being “normal” and/or important …
A more elaborate exploration would talk about the influence of the leader(s), how the values, biases, and preferences of influential leaders get translated into company or departmental policies and management practices, and how eventually they become commonplace in the fabric of the interactions of all employees.
monkey1We, like our monkey friends, become conditioned.  Don’t climb that pole! we learn, when we see what happens to those that do … Then we teach don’t climb that pole! to the newcomers we welcome into the organization, telling the story of what happened to our ambitious co-worker Moe when he climbed that pole it was like a cold shower stopped him right in his tracks! … We learn that we don’t need to climb the pole; we are growing sales and driving profits without climbing the pole; it over time becomes an afterthought, except of course to orient the new talent; and there comes a time when a newbie asks“Why don’t we climb the pole?”and we’re all kind of stumped “dunno; it’s just the way we do things around here!”
Culture is a curious thing; early on, it develops into a strong positive force, uniting people in the pursuit of common goals with normalized behaviors.  Frequently, however, this strength morphs into a weakness — changes in policies, processes, and practices become necessary as leaders push for increased results C’mon, people, we really need to climb that pole to make our revenue and profit goals this year!  but the culture pushes back Don’t climb that pole! insisting on preserving the current way of doing things “Geez, boss, we haven’t climbed that pole for 15 years and haven’t we been wildly successful?”
Of course you are now way ahead of me and considering the quite major implication of all of this … What if the monkeys we need to climb the pole to survive?  Would they we be able to overcome the conditioning?  Would they we change?  Would there be one brave monkey associate who would climb that pole?
So: are your customers increasing their expectations?  Are your competitors getting stronger, more aggressive?  As our government regulations get reformed and our vendors adopt different practices and the younger labor force holds different expectations and … and … to what extent do we need to change; to re-engineer processes and adapt existing practices; to learn new behaviors; to climb that pole!
john greco sig

Will you know when it is your time to leave and how to do so gracefully?

the end1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. For the last few years, we’ve looked at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applied his organizational development messages to the non-profit community. For the foreseeable future, John is taking a break from blogging and our Friday organizational development blog series will morph into something else. Stay tuned!

In this week’s post titled “Your Stage Now,” John announces to the world that he needs a break from blogging. He simply tells us that he is going on hiatus, and he isn’t sure if and when he will start-up again. In the meantime, he invites everyone to use his blog platform to share their organizational development stories.

After shaking off the suddenness of this announcement, John’s post reminded me of a time when I was an executive director working for a local non-profit organization. During that time, it wasn’t uncommon for the following three questions to visit me like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future:

  1. Will this board meeting be my last? Is this the meeting when my board will ask me to leave?
  2. Will I know when it is time for me to go? Will I be able to leave or will I be asked to leave?
  3. When it is my time to go, will I be able to fade from the stage with grace?

Yes, those six years of my life were filled with anxiety and stress. No, I was not fired. In fact, I like to think I did a nice job. I did leave on my terms, and I think I left gracefully.

John’s post this morning brought all of those memories flooding back mostly because he exited the stage with class, dignity and grace. His post also reminded me of how many non-profit professionals (and even board volunteers) I’ve seen throughout the years who are completely and utterly unprepared for this moment. It is as if they never contemplated the possibility and it crept up on them like a stealthy cat.

the end2Here are just a few examples of what those situations looked like:

  • The board terminating their executive director due to performance issues.
  • The non-profit professional deciding it was time for a change, which usually meant they were leaving for greener pastures (or so they thought).
  • The executive director resigning because a BIG issue was about to bite them in the butt, and they would rather pull the pin on the grenade instead of being shot by the board.
  • The fundraising professional being squeezed out as a result of a new boss being hired with new priorities in the middle of a re-org and shake-up.
  • A non-profit professional suddenly realizing that it is time to retire and move into their golden years.
  • A board president quitting suddenly because their child is no longer involved in the agency.

Upon leaving the stage, I’ve seen lots of good and lots of bad. I’m sure you have, too, Sometimes people just run away and hide. Other times, I’ve seen the big hook used to pull that person off of the stage. The following are just a few things that I’ve seen and heard that make me cringe:

  • I’ve heard executive directors and fundraising professionals assuring donors, volunteers and board members that everything will be OK after they leave. (This feels pretentious and always leaves me wondering if they have doubts that everything is going to actually be OK.)
  • I’ve heard bad mouthing and airing of grievances. (This looks cowardly and spiteful.)
  • I’ve seen people simply take their hands off of the wheel in their final days and weeks on the job. (This looks reckless.)

You’re probably thinking that in these situations those were “bad people“. The reality is that I’ve seen both poor professionals and iconic professionals do things like this. I’ve also seen volunteers who I revere accidentally step into some of these pitfalls.

the end3The definition of the word “grace” according to a Google search is: “simple elegance or refinement of movement“.

The previous bullet points are not good examples of “grace“. However, when I think about myself, I know that I am not a naturally graceful person, which is probably why I obsessed about “the end” and felt the need to think through and plan my exit. (Yes, I recognize that I have control issues and I am working with my counselor to address this. LOL!)

While I encourage you to not obsess (like I did) over what the end will look like, I think it is healthy to contemplate it from time-to-time. And when the end does finally come, I think it is responsible to put a thoughtful plan in place to ensure a graceful exit with a smooth transition.

The following are just a variety of different links and resource that I think you might find useful:

Do you have any tips or tricks for how to exit the big stage with grace? Do you have a story about a fellow co-worker or board volunteer who left in a less than perfect way? If so, what could they have done differently to make it a better departure? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

On a personal note, I want to thank John Greco for providing the DonorDreams blog readers with countless “Organizational Development Fridays” over the years. I wish him a restful break and hope he comes back to the blogosphere when he is ready because the world is better place when he is blogging and sharing his perspective on how to grow our organizational capacity and manage change.

Here’s to your health!

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

There are BIG BUTS to consider when planning for change in your workplace

leading2Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Big Buts,” John talks about leadership and how changing the culture at your agency starts at the top. I just love the Chinese proverb with which John starts his post: “The people follow the example of those above them.”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked in the front door of an agency because they need help changing something.

Something being . . .

  • We’re not raising enough money.
  • We’re not hitting our goals.
  • No one is on the same page.
  • The agency is adrift.
  • The programs aren’t achieving the necessary impact.
  • Donors are abandoning ship.
  • The board is disengaged.

In these initial conversations, I’m always asked to help fix the situation, but the fix is always something like:

  • Help us write a strategic plan, board development plan, resource development plan, annual campaign plan. Plan! Plan! Plan!
  • Conduct a program assessment.
  • Facilitate a training.

leading1Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that assessments, plans and trainings aren’t important. They are crucial! However, there are questions that must be asked first. Those questions are:

  • Is the leader (or leaders in the case of a non-profit organization) willing to lead the change?
  • Is the current leader the right leader to lead this change? Or are they part of what needs to be “changed”?
  • Is the current leader willing to lead by example after the training, assessing or planning is completed?
  • Is the current leader willing to do whatever it takes to get everyone else (e.g. middle management, board members, etc) aligned and on the same page?
  • Is the current leader willing to advocate and lead on issues pertaining to policies, procedures and practices (e.g. budget practices, fundraising policies, HR policies, board practices especially around creating accountability in the boardroom, etc).

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not just talking about the executive director of a non-profit organization. Depending on the circumstances and requisite change, these questions can also pertain to:

  • board president
  • board volunteers who serve as committee chairs
  • fundraising professionals
  • program leaders

All I am saying is that step one to any change initiative at your agency needs to involve taking a good hard look in the mirror and asking some tough leadership questions. To John’s point in his post “Big Buts,” the issue goes beyond just “Do we have the right person(s) sitting in the right seat(s)?” It includes a lot of BIG BUTS.

Only after those questions are asked and answered can planning or training efforts take root and spark the cultural change you seek in your non-profit agency.

An old friend of mine is famous for saying: “Non-profit success starts and ends with leadership.

To channel Jim Collins this morning . . . Does your agency have the right people on the bus? Are they all in the right seats? How do you know? What tools do you use to answer these questions? Annual performance plans? Committee work plans? Year-end individual board member evaluation tools? Written annual personal performance plans for individual board members? If it is change you seek, are those individuals willing to lead by example?

Lots to ponder on a Friday morning. Once you have some answers, please share a few of your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Change 101: Sell-Sell-Sell and then Strategy-Strategy-Strategy

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.

In a recent post, John talked about the importance of “selling problems,” and he wasn’t referencing issues that sales teams experience. He literally meant taking your organization’s problems / challenges and selling them as things that must be solved.

A few weeks ago, I attended Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Regional Conference as an exhibitor and trainer. One of the sessions I presented was “Transformation: Driving Lasting Change at Your Club“. In that training, I shared with participants a six stage process for leading change that I learned at a change leadership training offered by Linkage Inc.

Here are the six stages to that change model:

  1. Make the case for change
  2. Enlist stakeholders to develop vision & strategy
  3. Communicate the vision and strategy
  4. Remove barriers
  5. Set milestones & acknowledge progress
  6. Reinforce the change

If you click over and read John’s post and then click back here to the six stage change model, you will see the first three stages all deal with “selling the problem”.

Of course, this all seems to easy when presented in blogs and six stage models. What could go wrong, right?

Well, there is always that little thing called strategy development that if done incorrectly can lead your organization down a path towards bigger problems.

Let’s look at a real world example that many non-profit organizations deal with at one time or another. This is the issue of fundraising efficiency and productivity.  Here is how I’ve seen this change initiative unfold too many times:

  • The agency needs to do better with its fundraising program.
  • The executive director sells the problem to the board. Facts, figures and charts all demonstrate the need.
  • The executive director and board members sell the problem to donors, who generous agree to help with their pocketbooks.
  • All of stakeholders agree that the strategy needs to be increased organizational capacity in the area of fundraising. The solution? Hire a fundraising professional! (or more fundraising professionals as the case may be)
  • The new fundraising professional joins the team, and the problem doesn’t get better (in fact it sometimes gets a little worse).

Huh? What happened?

In many instances, I’ve seen the executive director take a victory lap and then wash their hands of their fundraising responsibilities. The board does a similar celebration and then disengages from the resource development program. Board members think: “Phew! Thank goodness we hired that person to do all of our fundraising. Now I can focus on other things.”

Oooops! Maybe the problem was deeper and more complex.

When leading change, the first order of business for the non-profit executive director is “selling the problem”. As John points out in his example, if you can make this a self-discovery process for key stakeholders, it will be that much more powerful.

Immediately, after you secure engagement, strategy and vision development becomes critical because selling the right problem with the wrong solutions will get you nowhere fast.

I don’t mean to imply that the aforementioned strategy of hiring a fundraising professional is a wrong solution. However, understanding cause-and-effect is important and anticipating potential scenarios will help you avoid some heartache. Additionally, understanding the entire problem and being comprehensive in your strategy development is key.

Has your agency ever solved a problem without engaging key stakeholders in what the problem was in the first place? What was the result? Have you ever solved a problem and found yourself surprised that the solution didn’t solve the problem? What did you do? How did you correct course and change your change initiative? If you are a fundraising professional who has gone through what I just described, please share how you re-engaged your boss and the board and got things on track. Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and examples.

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

Non-profit “inside the box thinking” — Understanding change

As promised in last Friday’s post, I am dedicating today, tomorrow and Thursday to challenging proponents of “outside-the-box thinking” and examining various “inside-the-box thinking” principles. This week’s posts were determined by DonorDreams blog subscribers who took the time to voice their opinions via a poll last Friday. Thank you to those of you who voted. Additionally, the foundation of these posts are rooted in Kirk Cheyfitz’s book “Thinking Insider The Box: The 12 Timeless Rules for Managing a Successful Business.” 

DonorDreams blog subscribers voted to hear more about chapter one of Cheyfitz’s book, which is titled “The Basic Box: Some Things Never Change”.

I love how the author starts each chapter with a short sentence that serves as “food for thought”. The following is how chapter one was started:

Know the difference between what will change and what won’t, and pay attention to the former.”

Most of this chapter talks about how some economists and many pundits are flat wrong about what they see as a “new economy”. He points to the dot-com bust of 2001 and talks about how ignoring human behavior and the basic principles of capitalism will get you and your company in trouble all of the time.

This chapter got me thinking about Gail Perry’s recent post titled “Post Recession Donors Have Changed” over at her Fired Up Fundraising blog.

After reading Perry’s post about donors, I realized the following:

  • There will always be donors regardless of how good, bad or sluggish the economy is. This will never change.
  • The mindset of those donors and conditions upon which they will donate is always evolving. This is constantly changing.

Cheyfitz’s encourages us to pay attention to “what will change” because not focusing on the ever-changing landscape is what puts too many companies (both for-profit and non-profit) out-of-business.

Gail Perry tells us in her blog that post-recession donors . . .

  • trust non-profit agencies less than they used to,
  • crave more information about ROI,
  • want to see more transparency, and
  • want to contribute to fewer unrestricted fundraising campaigns.

Read Gail’s blog for a few great tips on how to use “inside-the-box thinking” to address these perceived trends in the donor community.

There are also many other interesting trends occurring in the donor community:

  • technology’s impact on giving,
  • technology’s impact of cultivation and stewardship activities, and
  • donor communications moving  from one-way to two-way communications.

Cheyfitz urges us to not focus on “the shiny object” (in this case it would be technology) and throw what works out the window for what we don’t understand (e.g. ePhilanthropy). However, he does not tell us to ignore the changes that are starting to happen. Instead, he point to the words that are chiseled above the entrance of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.:

“The past is prologue”

He ends the chapter by saying, “Paying attention to history, in short, can save a lot of time and pain and produce a lot of gain.”

The non-profit sector has seen this kind of change in communication technology before, right? I am thinking about the rise of “direct mail” and how that changed how we cultivate, solicit, and steward donors today.

I suspect that non-profits, who tossed their special events and peer-to-peer annual campaigns onto the trash heap and invested everything they had into direct mail, probably went out of business. Those who survived kept their eyes on the trend, engaged their donors in thoughtful discussions about their preferences with direct mail, and proceeded forward with caution and strategic focus.

Again . . . outside-the box thinking will sink you, and inside-the-box thinking will keep you afloat.

At the end of every chapter, Cheyfitz provides a few tips on how to “build your box” so that you can think inside of it. He offered four tips at the end of chapter one, but the last tip struck me as very appropriate for non-profit organizations during these challenging and changing times (read the word “customer” as “donor” to help with the non-profit translation):

“Use your time to focus on how your customers’ lives are changing and how you can serve their emerging needs with new products and services (delivered using the same old business models).”

Are your donors behaving different after the economic crash of 2008? What is your donor data telling showing? What are donors telling you? What kinds of “inside-the-box” best practices are you employing to thrive in this new economic climate? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share a thought or two with your fellow non-profit professionals this morning.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit organizations turn, turn, turn . . .

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, I am focusing on a post that John wrote that was inspired by a baby crib mobile. He uses the mobile as an analogy for organizational change and equilibrium. Throughout his post he references both major and minor changes in the corporate landscape and talks about how those cultures balance and re-balance.

As I dwell on this post, I think about a number of non-profits who I’ve had the honor of working with throughout the years:

  • There is the organization who employed one of the most talented fundraising professionals I ever knew, and they decided not to re-hire the position after his departure. Needless to say, their resource development efforts are struggling.
  • There is the agency whose most influential and engaging board volunteer resigned due to “burn out,” and they decided to not find ways to keep him engaged. Needless to say, he faded away and isn’t even a donor anymore.
  • There is an executive director who freaked out after the economic crash in 2008, decided to lay off his grant writer and assumed on all of those responsibilities in addition to his regular responsibilities. Needless to say, someone is feeling overwhelmed and burned out.

I think the baby crib mobile is such a great analogy for what non-profits deal with on a daily basis. In fact, I think it is even more appropriate for non-profit organizations than for-profit corporations. Why? Simply look at how much juggling the average organization does because of significantly limited resources. Consider how much more important a board of directors is to the functioning of a non-profit organization compared to a for-profit corporation. So, when one talented employee or influential board volunteer leaves, then everything feels off off-kilter and the struggle for equilibrium feels like a roller coaster ride.

Looking at a non-profit through this mobile lens, I see a chaotic, whirling dance of people that’s bobbing and dipping and threatening to crash and burn.

The difference between a non-profit organization crashing and burning versus re-balancing to find a new equilibrium is huge and highly dependent on their approach to managing change. To some extent, I also believe that organizational cultures that embrace planning at their core and actually implement and adhere to those plans (e.g. succession plan) during times of change are the most successful at re-balancing in a graceful manner.

Those organizations, who don’t have very much capacity and make poor decisions during tumultuous times, end up in crisis. Sure, balance is ultimately achieved, but at what price?

The bad news for these types of non-profits is that change is a constant in our world, and their baby crib mobile probably looks like the tangled and dysfunctional one that hung above my crib (because you know that I was the kid who could never leave anything well enough alone).  🙂

Looking back at the three examples that I described at the beginning of this post, I see a common thread . . . LEADERSHIP. I am talking about both board leadership as well as executive leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that the key to successfully keeping your organization from getting tangled and unbalanced is talented, engaged and committed leaders.

And isn’t that just the perfect cherry on top of the sundae when you look back of all of this week’s blog posts? Again, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Dani Robbins, for guest posting all week-long on board development and executive leadership. I am very happy that she will be contributing a board development post to DonorDreams blog every month.

After reading John’s blog post, I can’t get this song out of my head. So, I thought it would be appropriate to end this post with it.


How chaotic is your organizational mobile? Do you have a story about how your agency managed “change” really well? Please scroll down and share it with the rest of us in the comment section.

Here’s to your health!

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