Attention board members: Beware of staff complaints about the executive director

pandoras boxIf you Google the definition of “Pandora’s Box,” the all-knowing internet oracle says the term means: “a process that generates many complicated problems as the result of unwise interference in something.” I love this expression, and I used it a few months ago when talking to the board president of a non-profit organization who was describing to me how they were handling a complaint about the agency’s executive director.
In a nutshell, the board president in question was approached by a staff member with a complaint. The board president asked the staff member to put the complaint in writing and agreed to take it to the entire board of directors.
While on face value, this might make sense because the executive director works for the board. I believe this opens the flood gates, and anytime staff have an issue they will now likely circumvent the executive director and go straight to the board.
My advice?

Don’t undercut your executive director like this. You might as well fire them if this is how you’re going to manage them.

With that being said, I bet there are many of you who are wondering what the right course of action should be. After all, it is a fiduciary responsibility of the board to hire and manage the executive director.
Here is how I suggest the board handles all staff complaints pertaining to the executive director:

  1. Immediately ascertain if the executive director has done something ILLEGAL, UNETHICAL or VIOLATES AN AGENCY POLICY.
  2. If the issue rises to the level of illegal, unethical or policy-related, reach for a bottle of Maalox or Pepto and ask for staff to put it in writing (and if illegal call the police and an emergency board meeting immediately!). Or more importantly, follow the written process if you one.
  3. If the issue doesn’t rise to this level, then politely turn them around and ask them to try working it out directly with the executive director. Explain that there is a process to follow and it starts with trying to first work it out with the boss. Empathize with their situation and express confidence that it can be worked out. Walk them through your agency’s policy/procedure. Explain the circumstances of when they might submit something to the board in writing after they try to work it out with the executive director (e.g. retaliation, etc). Be transparent. Be genuine. Empathize. But draw the line clearly.
  4. Circle back around to the executive director. Be transparent about what happened. Encourage them to work things out. Remind them of the importance of staff morale and the power of team. Remind them to stay within the agency’s policy boundaries. Express confidence in their abilities to solve the issue.
  5. Prepare for the worst case scenario.

Please don’t misread what I’m saying here. I did not just tell board volunteers to wash their hands of staff complaints unless it rises to the level of “illegal, unethical, or policy violation“. What I am saying is . . . not all complaints are equal and the ones that don’t rise to the level of illegal / unethical / policy violation should be handled in a way where you’re not undercutting your executive director.
Because . . .
If you choose to allow staff to circumvent the board’s one employee — the executive director — then you’re opening Pandora’s Box, and I guarantee that you won’t have an executive director for long. You will either fire them or they will quit.
There are some assumptions that I’m making about your agency when writing this blog post such as:

Let me bottom line this complicated issue:

  • You don’t want to undercut your executive director
  • You don’t want to abdicate your fiduciary responsibilities to supervise the executive director and ensure the agency is well-run
  • You want to think these things out in advance — proactive and not reactive
  • You want written policies and procedures in place and you want to follow them (don’t be arbitrary or capricious in enforcing the rules)
  • You don’t want to put the agency in a position to get sued

Is that it?
LOL . . . yeah . . . that’s it. Good luck!
Since we can all learn from each other. Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Please also feel free to point your fellow non-profit professionals and board volunteers to awesome samples and online resources to assist them in managing risk.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Advice to people looking at careers in the non-profit field

job3When I graduated college with my masters degree in Urban Planning in 1994, our country was still emerging from a small recession (you know the once that propelled Bill Clinton into the White House). Needless to say, government jobs in urban planning offices across America were still in short supply, and there were many people with much more experience waiting in line for jobs ahead of me. It was this economic dynamic that forced me to innovate, changing my job search parameters and propelling me into the non-profit sector.
I starting thinking about this topic when the Wild Apricot Blog announced earlier this month that it was hosting the June 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival and the theme was “Innovation and Inspiration.” All of this got me wondering how many recent college graduates might be in a similar situation in which I found myself back in May 1994.
Getting it right the first time
Throughout my college years, I worked at a Boy Scout camp in the summer to earn money for room & board, books, and spending money. So, when my job search focus changed from urban planning to non-profit jobs, agencies with a youth development focus made sense.
My first non-profit job was with the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club as a unit director. My job was to open a new site in a rural community west of Champaign, Illinois in a town called Mahomet.
I didn’t last long in that position because the salary was miserable, and I was working 50 to 60 hours per week. However, little did I know that I found my non-profit career path and future employer right out of college.
My next job was in the for-profit sector, and three years into that position I was regretting my choice to leave the non-profit sector.
I opened a new job search and thought I had found the perfect fit when I accepted a District Executive position working for the Boy Scouts of America in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
I saw this as perfect because:

  • I am an alumnus of the scouting program and an Eagle Scout
  • I had already worked for the scouts as a summer camp employee and thought I understood the culture
  • It was a youth development agency, which I learned was a passion for me from my work at the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club

Valuable lessons learned
job1I loved working for the Boy Scouts because I learned so much including:

  • Membership recruitment & management
  • Volunteer recruitment & management
  • Field service
  • Fundraising
  • Training

In spite of all of this, I learned this wasn’t “the perfect job for me” as I had originally thought.
First, I was still reeling from a divorce and grappling with my sexual orientation.
I was fairly sure that I was gay, but I thought I could make the choice of celibacy as I entered scouting’s anti-gay workplace. Interestingly, when the job offer arrived, it motivated me to come out of the closet to my first family member — my mother — because I was afraid that I would somehow get “outed” and she would find out by reading it in the newspaper. (side note — this kind of stuff was happening in communities across America at that time . . . it was a very different world  in the 1990s)
Second, I learned after three years on the front line with the scouts that the mission of the Boy Scouts only matched my passion and what was in my heart by about 95%.
It wasn’t enough to love scouting and be a poster-child (except for being gay) illustrating the impact that scouting has had on the lives of millions of Americans.
What I learned was that the mission of the non-profit organization for which you work (and work like a dog) must match what is in your heart 100%.  Being close is not good enough.
I used to joke with close friends that it was the mission of the Boy Scouts to “take today’s average Joe and turn them into tomorrow’s CEO.” Of course, scouting’s mission is much more than this, but leadership development is still at its core.
What I came to realize was that I am passionate about much more than just working with and making a difference in the lives of today’s youth. I am passionate about working with “those kids who need us most.” We used to call those kids “at-risk” or “youth from disadvantaged circumstances.”
So, I opened another job search, left a job promotion opportunity on the table with the Boy Scouts, and landed my first executive director job working with a local Boys & Girls Club. And the rest as they say is history!   😉
Words of wisdom for those young people looking for non-profit jobs today

  1. job2Look into your heart and understand your passions
  2. Match your job search with your passions
  3. Don’t settle for offers from non-profit organizations that don’t speak to your inner passions
  4. Understand the organizational culture of the agency for which you’re going to work
  5. Understand that you can most likely make more money working in the for-profit sector, but your payday will come from making a difference in the lives of your clients
  6. Consider doing some volunteer work first to identify areas of interest before jumping into a non-profit career
  7. Don’t abandon hope of doing what you studied in school because there is lots of room for lots of stuff in the non-profit community (for example, I am using my urban planning degree to do lots of strategic planning, board development planning and fundraising planning)

Are are currently looking for a non-profit job? Or does your story sound similar to mine? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Advice from a non-profit CEO on how to build staff loyalty

In case you haven’t heard, DonorDreams blog is hosting for the second year in a row the Nonprofit Blog Carnival in the month of May. This year’s theme revolves around building loyalty among various non-profit stakeholder groups such as donors, employees, volunteers, etc. If you are a blogger and looking for the “Call for Submissions,” then click here. The carnival will be posted right here at DonorDreams blog on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Stay tuned!

In the interest of building momentum, we’ve dedicated the entire month of blog posts to this topic. We’re specifically focusing on what a variety of non-profit organizations are doing (or are looking at doing) to build loyalty.

adviceWhen I decided to ask local non-profit organizations to use my blog platform to talk about some aspect of building loyalty with a particular stakeholder group, I sent out a ton of email requests to former clients asking them to consent to an interview or send me something in writing.
The following is a letter from a former client talking about their experiences with building staff loyalty. I didn’t secure permission to use their name. So, I edited their submission to protect their identity.

Dear Erik:
I think it (building loyalty) starts with choosing the right people. Some people have the capacity or desire to be loyal in the right circumstances. If you choose someone who is not wired in that way, nothing you do will make it happen.
Once you have that kind of a person on staff, you have to provide them with something to be loyal to. 
One of my big foundations — and I think it is key with younger employees — is work flexibility.  I let them:

  • set their schedules
  • take time when they need
  • don’t require a 1-for-1

I find that I get back more than I give and have people who are willing to work on the odd weekend, can be counted on putting in extra time, etc.
 If there are opportunities to make extra money (e.g. by working a rental event, etc), I never take it unless no one else wants it. That way, staff have the opportunity. 
I support my staff in all their decisions, always assume that they have made a decision in what they believe to be the best interest of our agency, and try to use mistakes as teachable moments.  I rarely get mad with staff as I find it to be a pointless waste of emotion on both sides. They are usually much harder on themselves than I would be, and they don’t need me adding to their burden.  If I have to countermand a decision they have made (which is extremely rare), I do it in private and make sure everyone knows I support my staff but just feel like they made a poor decision that one time.
I try to share lessons I have learned with my staff and help them benefit both from those lessons as well as from learning the process of working through making a decision. 
I make them treats, cook them breakfast, make them take time-off when they need, and get them cups of coffee when they are running on empty. 
I try very hard not to share issues or difficulties in my life as it is my job to help them, not theirs to provide “counseling” for me.  At all times, I try and keep in mind that I have more of a choice about whether to lay my “stuff” on them than they may feel they have to listen to it or not.
 By the same token, I have become a lot less tolerant of new employees who do not share our values or ethics and try and weed them out before they upset the balance of our little apple cart. 
I try and let my employees know how much I appreciate them, be there with the difficulties they have, and participate in all the nasty parts as well as the good parts of everything we go through. 
I try and make less work for them rather than increasing it.

Thanks for sharing, BW. You obviously work very hard at building staff loyalty and have put lots of thought into your strategies.


If you want to learn more about what other non-profit organizations are doing to build loyalty among various stakeholder groups (e.g. donors, employees, volunteers, etc), then tune in here to DonorDreams blog every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of May. We will also publish the Nonprofit Blog Carnival on May 28, 2014 with a number of links to other non-profit bloggers who are talking about loyalty related themes.

Here’s to your health!

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

Building staff loyalty starts with a good hiring process

In case you haven’t heard, DonorDreams blog is hosting for the second year in a row the Nonprofit Blog Carnival in the month of May. This year’s theme revolves around building loyalty among various non-profit stakeholder groups such as donors, employees, volunteers, etc. If you are a blogger and looking for the “Call for Submissions,” then click here. The carnival will be posted right here at DonorDreams blog on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Stay tuned!
In the interest of building momentum, we’ve dedicated the entire month of blog posts to this topic. We’re specifically focusing on what a variety of non-profit organizations are doing (or are looking at doing) to build loyalty.
Today’s blog post is from Nick Jones, who is the Director of Operations at Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus in Ohio.

Lead a Team; Don’t Manage a Group
Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus

By Nick Jones
Guest Blogger
bgc columbusMy first days (and those leading up to) as the Director of Operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus — an after-school program in Columbus, Ohio — were solely focused on what fun and engaging programs I could implement for the kids.My thoughts were consumed with:

  • Open gym basketball with the teens
  • Arts and crafts with the younger members
  • Interactive homework help session

I was excited about the opportunity to work with kids again, having just taken two years away from the field.
However, as a new manager, I quickly realized my time would not be consumed with facilitating a program for kids, but instead with our staff, who in turn worked directly with the kids.This was a painful realization, as my true passion was in building positive, developmental and long-lasting relationships with young people, especially those who need us most.
It was this realization, though, that was the first step towards building a loyal TEAM of professionals I now believe I have.
bgc columbus1Team vs. Group
Before moving forward, I want to make sure I emphasize the importance of the word, “team.”
In one of my MBA courses, a professor spent almost an entire class differentiating between “team” and a “group.” He explained that a team takes a long time to build. In fact, he said, many groups never develop into teams.
Here are two points I took away from that lecture:

  • A team is willing to praise one another as well as hold each other all accountable (it isn’t just the manager’s responsibility)
  • A team can have confrontations and disagreements among themselves. However, once it’s time to “hit the floor” and perform, everyone needs to be on the same page and drive towards one common goal.

Finding Your People
bgc columbus2The first step I stress to all of my managers in building a loyal team is the importance of the interview process.
During your search you will hire for the attitude you want as part of your team. Most important is making sure there are several levels to your interview process.
In the after-school and youth development sector, with most positions being part-time, we are often faced with the dilemma of being short-staffed and trying to maintain a substantive, safe and fun program for the kids. This, at times, creates “rush hiring,” where it is tempting to fill an open position with a warm body.
Of course, I have seen this fail repeatedly, as many “rushed hires” pass the initial smell test, but later show inadequacies in ability and non-commitment to the organization. This is why it is important to have a multi-layered interview process and allow several management-level staff members play a role in interviewing a candidate.
Your search process should include:

  • pre-screens
  • behavior assessments
  • practical experiences

A thorough interview process will allow you to gain a fairly solid picture of what the applicant could bring to the table as an employee.
I believe most important to this process is conducting behavioral interviews. Why? Because one’s past behavior is the best predictor for future behavior. Interview questions should begin with, “Tell me about a time when . . .
The interview process is the first step towards developing a supportive and trusting relationship with your employees.
 Acclimatizing Your People
bgc columbus3Once hired, make sure the new employee participates in an immediate on-boarding process and orientation to the organization.

  • Has (s)he reviewed your Employee Handbook?
  • Has (s)he seen her/his official job description?
  • Has (s)he learned about the organization, its history and its values?

It is important during the first couple of weeks to make sure the new employee’s manager spends as much time with them. Slowly acclimatizing her/him to the organization may be hectic, especially when you’re short-staffed, but it will pay off in the long-run.
It is also critical during this time to build a one-on-one relationship with the new employee as well as with the rest of the team.

  • Allow time for the new employee to shadow her/his  new co-workers
  • organize staff get-togethers (outside of work hours)
  • make sure staff meetings incorporate team-building activities

Whatever your process may be, it is most important to remember that consistency, communication and collaboration are all necessary actions for any on-boarding and orientation plan and for building long-term loyalty.
Retaining and Keeping Your Talent
bgc columbus4After the honeymoon phase and the initial adrenaline of starting something new, the “real work” is just beginning for the person managing a new employee. The staff manager has the unenviable job of figuring out how to retain talent and simultaneously build a team.
In my current role, most of my time is focused on staff development and creating a work culture that brings out the best in everyone.
I have tried many different things to engage our staff and make our organization a fun place. One of the first things we did was make sure that all staff had a role in defining our organization’s shared values. This effort was instrumental in establishing the process we now use for making all sorts of strategic and operational decisions.
To create a loyal team, your employees must feel a part of every decision. Employees need to know their voices are heard and valued, and that their ideas are considered.
Additionally, our organization’s managers develop their people through a strengths-based approach.Considerable time, effort and expense is taken to do this, and we’ve been able to learn the areas in which our people have the greatest opportunity for success.
Of course, we also identify areas of development for our people, which is how we focus on ensuring all employees are well-rounded and no one feels like they are being set-up to fail.
Loyalty is built when employees feel like their employer is as invested in their growth as they are invested in achieving the agency’s mission.
Finally, we ensure that our staff leaders operate with what Sean Covey describes as a “cadence of accountability.”
It is a requirement for our leaders to have a minimum of one, dedicated touch-point with each of their employees per week.
Our staff leaders work with their employees on creating a development plan, and the weekly touch-point meetings focus on the employee’s development and success.
Consistency in this regard makes an immeasurable difference in creating a loyal team.
Bringing It Together
shetland sheepdogWhile Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus allows each of our five programs to have its own identity, we strive for something that we call a “One Club Feel.” This, to me, is the most important part of my job and truest test of my success (or failure) as a leader.
I spend endless hours, days, weeks and months working to solidify a dynamic, diverse group of professionals to lead our programs. Most have come through past professional experiences or by recommendation from trusted colleagues, which makes the goal of establishing a loyal team a lot easier and attainable.
While it is great when my direct reports and program managers possess leadership qualities, frankly it  isn’t enough. The following is a short list of other things I work hard at doing when coaching them on how to coach their team:

  • identifying each leader’s strengths
  • investigating areas for development
  • developing a communication style and leadership style

In addition to coaching, our agency developed common goals and lead measures to which each leader is committed. While each staff leader has different numbers to reach, all leaders have the same goal and lead measures. This allows our management team to speak the same language when planning our staff meetings, staff trainings, and even our staff get-togethers.
Our dedication to coaching and planning helps us build loyalty and trust, which in turn has enabled our organization to grow exponentially over the past four years.
Rarely would I ever try to compare the loyalty of my beloved Shetland Sheepdog — Ollie — to anyone (or anything). However, if there are humans who are in the same loyalty-hemisphere as Ollie, then it’s our team!


If you want to learn more about what other non-profit organizations are doing to build loyalty among various stakeholder groups (e.g. donors, employees, volunteers, etc), then tune in here to DonorDreams blog every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of May. We will also publish the Nonprofit Blog Carnival on May 28, 2014 with a number of links to other non-profit bloggers who are talking about loyalty related themes.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Does your agency have a blindspot for accepting things at face value?

It Isn’t What It Is

By John Greco
Originally published on August 23, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
empathyThe regional VP and I would fly into the district office.  We would first meet with the district Director, and then over the course of the next two days the VP, the Director, and I would meet with each station manager in a series of rather intense “three-on-one” station review meetings.
This particular district was once again underperforming; it was the worst district in the region by far.  This district’s meetings were not pleasant for the district Director, and they were not pleasant for most of the managers.
One of those three-on-ones I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Scott was a young station manager, only a few months into his promotion.  He took over a station that had a reputation for being tough, intractable; and to make matters worse, the previous station manager had transferred out amid accusations of falsifying reports to prop up performance.
Scott was cleaning up the operation; doing so necessitated firing some of the previous front-line managers who simply did not want to play straight.  That meant he was bearing the burden of being understaffed.  And because the performance reporting was now honest, Scott’s operating results were showing rather dismal year-over-year comparisons on many of the key metrics.
If the meeting were today, I’m quite sure he would have explained his situation with a matter of fact “it is what it is” but that phrase wasn’t in popular use back then…
Everybody knew the situation.  The RVP was going to test Scott a bit, but he was not going to go hard at him.
Scott was clearly nervous as he initiated his presentation, but most of the station managers were, so his nervousness wasn’t overly conspicuous.  He was doing a reasonable job explaining his difficult status and his challenging plans.
Until he said something that struck me as not quite right.  It was an innocent, off-hand comment; but, to me, it seemed packed, loaded, heavy.  I wanted to not hear about the numbers anymore.  I wanted Scott to unpack it for me.
I distinctly remember interrupting him, timidly turning to the VP and the Director, and noting that I wanted to ask Scott a question but warning that it might take us off track a bit.  The VP told me to go ahead.
“Scott, can you speak more to why you think the drivers don’t respect you?”
And the floodgates opened.
We never did get back on track.  Scott wasn’t able to finish his presentation.  He broke down; he shared that he had been working 20 hours a day; he was sleeping in his car; his marriage was in trouble; he went on… until we called a time out.
I remember the debrief afterward, and the VP wanting to talk about what we could do for Scott.  I remember the district director at one point turning to me and asking how I knew to stop and ask that question, and how I knew it might lead us to something else entirely, something important.
I didn’t know how I knew.  I just knew.  In fact, I think it was more a feeling than a knowing.  It was one of those times when feeling was knowing.
By me asking that question, Scott knew I knew.  Or at least he knew I knew something.  And it allowed him to release.  He needed to release.  But of course, in a leader, that is weakness…
But it isn’t what it is.
Shortly after that meeting, Scott resigned.  He didn’t see his situation as recoverable.  He may have been right.  But I’m not so sure.  Regardless; we’ll never know.
You might be thinking that this wasn’t exactly a great outcome.  You might point out that this didn’t end well, that we didn’t improve the situation with this approach.  Hard for me to argue with that.
But everyone learned something.  The VP learned that he was under supporting this young leader; he likely wondered how many other young leaders he was under supporting.  That’s a valuable lesson in my book.
The district Director learned that she had an emotional blind spot; she likely wondered what other leader stress across her district was not being recognized and managed.  That’s a valuable lesson, as well.
I learned that I had something to offer that was in short supply in business circles and that I needed to trust my instincts.  And that, without a doubt, was valuable too!
I don’t know what Scott learned.  But I want to believe he learned a lot.
I don’t know where he is now.  I’d like to think that he went on to realize his leadership potential, because he certainly had it; in spades.
It was just too much, too soon, for him.  By all appearances, he was decisive, leading, in control, taking charge.
But sometimes it isn’t what it is.
And, without empathy, we never know.
And thus, we never learn.
And thus, we can’t correct.
john greco sig

Are you managing your non-profit staff or are you leading them?

It Does Not Follow

By John Greco
Originally published on September 3, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
leadership“You don’t manage people; you manage things.  You lead people.”
— Admiral Grace Hopper

A while back I recall being on a regional conference call with the VP, his regional staff, and his district directors.  The topic of the day was how to increase the productivity of the delivery drivers.  The region’s labor costs were over budget, and driver wages were the lion’s share of the variable expenses.  So they needed to get faster…
I was getting increasingly frustrated with the conversation.  I was hearing nothing but quick fixes; I now call them fixes that fail because they ultimately make things worse after making things temporarily better.  I kept hearing these simplistic directives that implied a measure of control that was, well, in my calculus, ridiculous.
I remember thinking to myself if they have such control, why are we having this conversation?  If they are in control, end of story, no?  Just tell them to work faster, no?
I think I said something to this effect on the call.  But it’s possible my memory is playing tricks on me.

*     *     *     *     *

Performance management is a non sequitur.

The origin of non sequitur, from latin, translates “it does not follow.”  When I hear management being practiced in terms of control and authority, coercion and force, I cringe.
Performance does not follow.
People, unlike things, feel and think!

  • They assess.
  • They ascertain.
  • They consider.
  • They project.
  • They imagine.
  • They analyze.
  • They calculate
  • They judge.

And, ultimately, they choose.
Management control is a myth.
When managed, people will — at best — comply.  Which means they are simply making the choice to accept your authority, and they are choosing to behave within the lines that you have drawn.
Things, on the other hand, don’t feel and think.  They can be managed!  Goals, processes, procedures, tools, resources, budgets, reports, timeframes, work flows, measurements …
Leaders manage things; and they lead people by influencing.
Influencing requires an understanding that control is a myth.  It requires an awareness that people have choices and make choices.  Influencing also requires leaders to trust that their people really do have the capacity to engage and make the choices that are necessary for the high functioning of the organization in its pursuit of its mission.
Manage things; lead (influence) people.
For now, let’s grossly summarize leading as providing a meaningful business aspiration; communicating clear and timely information regarding the who/what /when/where/how, involving them when problem solving and implementing change, and supporting them with sufficient tools, technologies, and other resources.

*     *     *     *     *

That conference call ended as most do; action items with little leverage.  But the VP was slowly clarifying his philosophy.  It was a work-in-progress for sure, especially in terms of its execution, but I remember its five parts distinctly —

  1. Grow the business.
  2. Serve the customers.
  3. Lead the people.
  4. Manage the numbers.
  5. Support the community.

People follow when leaders lead.
john greco sig

Having difficult conversations with board, staff and donors

difficult conversations2From time-to-time, we all need to have a difficult conversation with someone. It could be an employee, board volunteer, donor, collaborative partner, or even a spouse or loved-one. I was in such a position a few days ago, and needless to say it didn’t go very well. In the subsequent days, I spent a lot of time licking my wounds and thinking about what I could’ve done differently. So, I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts with the readers at DonorDreams blog and hope you’ll also share your thoughts and experiences.
Setting the stage
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. The following are just a few examples of difficult conversations I see non-profit professionals having every day:

  • correcting poor performance or disciplinary action with an employee
  • engaging a board member in a discussion about poor attendance at meetings or following through on things they’ve committed to do for the agency
  • speaking with a donor who spontaneously donated — before your fundraising volunteers could schedule an appointment to visit — and made a contribution of less than what you were planning to ask them to give
  • talking with a funder about a set of grant deliverables that your agency agreed to achieve but might now be having difficulty achieving

I’m sure we could identify many more of these types of conversations without even trying very hard. Won’t you please share?
What not to do
As I look back upon the many difficult conversations I’ve had in my professional life, I’ve made many mistakes and some of those mistakes I continue to make over and over again for some dumb reason. Here are just a few of those missteps:

  • I procrastinate and put off having those conversations
  • I obsess and over-think those conversations, essentially having different version of those conversations in my head prior to the actual conversation
  • I try to set the stage with a pre-discussion email outlining the issues that need to be discussed
  • I get emotional and take things personally
  • I wear my emotions on my sleeve
  • I get entrenched in my opinions and don’t leave any room for alternate viewpoints

I could also go on and on with developing this list of mistakes. I’ve made so many of them throughout the years. I know you probably have a few things to add here. Won’t you please share?

Best practices
difficult conversations1I’ve done some research into how I can do better in the future with engaging others in these type of conversations. Here are just a few of the best practices that resonate with me:

  • Don’t have this conversation in your head before having it in-person because over-thinking creates anxiety and frames issues that might not even come up
  • Stay away from email because people read tone into written communications that you may not intend . . . but perception is reality
  • Go into the discussion prepared to: a) hear the other person and b) possibly change your mind
  • Encourage questions to promote understanding
  • Restate what you hear the other person saying in order to make sure you’re hearing them correctly

As with the previous section of this post, I know there are many more best practices. Won’t you please share your best practices?
When you Google the search words “having difficult conversations,” there are a ton of great resources. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful:

Without sharing the ugly details about one of your difficult conversations, please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. Share resources that you’ve found useful. Share things that you’ve learned not to do. Share things that you always try to do. Life is too short . . . we can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Dear Non-Profit President / CEO / Executive Director,

open letterMy online friend, Marc Pitman is hosting this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and asks his fellow non-profit bloggers to write an open letter to executive directors in honor of President’s Day.  For those of you who don’t know of Marc, he is well-known to friends and business associates as “The Fundraising Coach“. As the coach describes in his call for submissions post, he runs into CEOs who think hiring a development director gets them out of their fundraising responsibilities.
I have run into the same situation many times, and this open letter is my President’s Day gift to those executive directors.

Dear Non-Profit President / CEO / Executive Director:
Congratulations on making an important investment in your agency’s resource development program. Hiring the right fundraising professional should help take you to bigger and better things. You’re embarking on what is surely a fun and exciting organizational journey. Enjoy it!
However, the road ahead is full of potholes and obstacles.
First, please know that you can never abdicate your role as the agency’s “Chief Development Officer“. Sure, you’ve just hired someone to take on that role, but Harry Truman said it best when he said “The buck stops here.” Your fundraising role may look different now, but you will likely still be involved in some capacity with:

  • Cultivating prospects & stewarding donors
  • Soliciting donors
  • Supporting fundraising volunteers

Your focus may shift from more annual fund activities involving pledge drives and special events and move more towards major gifts and cultivating long-term donor relationships.
What is most obvious is that you’re role as “fundraising visionary” is more important now than ever before.
Why? Simply because there are more chef in the kitchen.
As you open your executive director toolbox, you will find many different tools that you need to become proficient at using, including:

  • written resource development plan
  • fundraising dashboards and scorecards
  • donor database (or CRM)
  • staff and volunteer job descriptions

However, one of the most powerful tools that you need to master is the annual performance plan for your new employee — the development director.
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it too many times, where an executive director fails to provide the newly hired fundraising professional with a written performance plan. Instead, they simply say: “Go raise some money. Chop-Chop!
Please don’t be one of those Non-Profit Presidents. You are better than that. Besides, not providing your new employee with a written annual performance plan is akin to setting them up for failure. How? Why? Because they don’t know what success looks like at the end of the year. They aren’t mind readers and don’t know what you’ll be grading them on other than raw dollars and cents.
For those of you who are new to annual performance plans, here are a few tips:

  • Make sure each objective is measurable
  • Make it clear what it will take for the employee to go from a “meets expectation” to “exceeds expectation” for each objective
  • Link the performance plan back to the agency’s written resource development plan or strategic plan
  • Ask for feedback and input from your new fundraising partner and make any necessary adjustments

Finally, once you’ve cemented a performance plan in place, sit down with the new development director and engage in a clear discussion around what your new role could and should be with regard to resource development and fundraising.
Well, I hope your President’s Day was awesome and best of luck on your fundraising journey.
As always, I raise my glass to you and say, “Here’s to your health!

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

Is your non-profit ready for an increase in minimum wage?

obamaWhen adjusted  for inflation, the current federal minimum wage is smaller than it was when President Reagan was the President of the United States. Democrats in Congress have been making the case to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for the past year. Ten states in 2013 raised their minimum wage laws, and President Obama is signing an executive order increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 for all government contracts.
Here is what the White House said in a statement it issued prior to the State of the Union:

“Hardworking Americans — including janitors and construction workers — working on new federal contracts will benefit from the Executive Order (EO). Some examples of the hardworking people who would benefit from an EO include military base workers who wash dishes, serve food and do laundry.”

Of course, all of this got me thinking about non-profits who take government money and sign those contracts. Are they included in this executive action?
After doing some research . . . I’m still not sure, but I believe the answer is “NO”.
However, there is a bigger question here . . . What should your agency be doing to get ready for a prospective increase?
Now some of you probably read this question and think, “Oh Erik … you’re such a worry wart. This is just pre-election season chatter. Nothing is going to happen. This is all posturing.
While I know you are right, the facts are still the facts, and the trend arrow is pointing in the direction of $10.10/hour. I say this because we can look at state governments and use them as a barometer, and 10 states increased their minimum wage in 2013.
head in sandIn my humble opinion, non-profit professionals have two choices:

  1. You can put your head in the sand, cross your fingers and hope the minimum wage does go up (and what does that say about your feelings for your employees and clients???)
  2. Or you can be proactive and start making plans today for what will likely happen at some point (if not next year then some time in the next few years)

As a planner, I like option two. It is like my mother always said,  “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
So, what does planning and preparation look like? Here are just a few preliminary thoughts:

  • Start talking about what this looks like with your agency’s HR committee
  • Dust off you Salary & Compensation Plan (or revise those salary scales) and assess where your employees currently are and what a potential law change would change that picture
  • Start budgeting and funding small wage increases NOW because going from $8.00 or $9.00 to $10.10 is easier than going from $7.25 to $10.10
  • Engage your resource development committee in constructing a fundraising plan for 2015 focused on increasing your organization’s revenue

I believe focusing on revenue increases is the biggest thing you should be focused on right now. Too many non-profits cut-cut-cut after the economic recession hit in 2008. Of course, this means there is no more fat to cut and all future expense budget adjustments will be cuts to organization muscle and decreases in service.
It really boils down to one question in my opinion:

Don’t your clients deserve better than program cuts and staff layoffs?

Let’s get proactive and focused on the future again!
What is your agency doing to prepare for a possible minimum wage increase? Who are you engaging? What plans are you making? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and plans. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Is your non-profit designed for performance?

Fighting the Physics

By John Greco
Originally published on April 9, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
performance7Grab a piece of paper.  Make your best paper airplane.”
And the management workshop immediately takes off!
Okay, let ‘em fly!
Some take flight spectacularly.  Others not so much.  This usually causes some guffaws, and some good natured ribbing.  I generally pick one of the more “flight-challenged” ones —
Okay, Bill, come on up to the front of the room.  Here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to fly your plane right down the center of the room.  Aim right for Debbie, right at her! and have it land on the table right in front of her.  Can you picture that?  Be positive.  You can do it!  Okay, keep the vision of that flight in your mind, and let it fly.”
The airplane generally goes anywhere but down the center of the room.  Debbie is momentarily relieved.
Bill; let’s try again.  You can do this!  I believe in you.  Remember the vision?  Right down the center of the room, right at Debbie.  But this time, let me give you a quick training lesson.  Hold your airplane a third of the way from the point, between your thumb and forefinger.  Flex your elbow, pull it back, envision the flight, and then advance your arm and release.  Okay, try it.”
The airplane again goes anywhere but down the center of the room.  Debbie starts to realize she has nothing to fear.
Okay, Bill, let’s get serious.  I’ve got twenty dollars here (as I pull a twenty out of my pocket) and it is all yours if you simply fly your plane down the center of the room, right at Debbie, and have it land right in front of her.  Envision the flight, use the technique I showed you, and think of that twenty.  Okay, go!
The airplane now goes … not down the center.  And not by Debbie; she’s pretty relaxed and smiling now…
Alright Bill.  (My tone has changed.)  “Bill, I told you I believe in you, and still do, but this is your plane to fly.  I asked you to envision your plane flying down the center, to Debbie.  I trained you.  I even motivated you with a twenty in cash.  I’m running out of patience.  I need you to fly your plane down the center of the room at Debbie.  Or else.  Do it.”
Nothing different; no improvement whatsoever.
I don’t understand.  I believed in you Bill.  I helped you envision success.  I trained you.  I motivated you.  And then I threatened you.  And now I need to fire you…
performance8Often in these sessions, after one or two unsuccessful flights I see the “pilot” start adjusting the paper plane: a different fold there, a bending of the wings, sharper folds at the point…  When I see this, I react —“Whoa!”  What are you doing?”
Adjusting the plane so it will fly better.”
Hmmm.  Yes indeed.  Adjusting the plane to fly better.
Paper planes — and organizations — fly as they are designed.  Their performance is fundamentally by design.
And when we want a certain type or level of performance from a paper plane or organization that is not designed to produce that performance, we are in fact “fighting the physics.”
Fighting the physics is what we do when we expect results from a system that has not been designed to produce those results.  It reflects an ignorance of cause and effect; it points fingers and places blame on the people in the system instead of the design of the system.

  • We fight the physics when we expect teamwork while rewarding individual achievement.
  • We fight the physics when we encourage innovation while emphasizing sacred cows, third rails, and CLMs (career-limiting moves).
  • We fight the physics when we expect speed and responsiveness in customer service while structuring multiple layers, enforcing centralized decision making and requiring formal communication channels.
  • We fight the physics when we expect efficiency while not investing in repeatable processes and enabling technology.

Now; there’s nothing wrong with positive thinking; research supports the benefits of a positive mental attitude.  Research also supports how envisioning an outcome can help actualize the vision.  No doubt that when we have a skill or knowledge gap, training makes a difference.  Incentives, be they monetary or otherwise, certainly do get our attention.  As do threats.
But if the organization plane was not designed to fly down the center of the room and land in front of Debbie, no amount of positive thinking, envisioning, training, motivation, and threats will fundamentally and substantially improve it’s performance.
Fighting the physics always results in the physics winning.
Debbie is safe.
We are not.
john greco sig