Does your non-profit culture contain bears?


By John Greco
Originally published on April 19, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
bear1Two men were walking through the woods when a large bear walked out into the clearing no more than 50 feet in front of them.
The first man dropped his backpack and dug out a pair of running shoes, then began to furiously attempt to lace them up as the bear slowly approached them.
The second man looked at the first, confused, and said, “What are you doing? Running shoes aren’t going to help, you can’t out run that bear.”
“I don’t need to.  I just need to out run you.”
[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.]

Think of your co-workers, or your circle of friends.
Would you take off and leave them for bear food?
Would they take off and leave you for bear food?
In the organizations we work in, if we see this kind of behavior on an isolated, every now and then basis, we would likely be safe to attribute it to unbridled ambition, to competitive spirit run amuck.
But if we see this consistently, broader …
Have you ever worked in a culture where there were ever present threats, where there was a palpable feeling that to survive you needed to, well, look out for yourself at every turn?  Every man for himself?
Not exactly a culture, one would think, that drives cooperation, communication, collaboration… and not exactly a culture that we would predict would produce stellar results.
bear3But here’s something we can predict:  embedded in these cultures we will find organizational policies and/or management practices that pit one associate against another … we will find policies and/or practices that recognize and reward individual achievement without also recognizing and rewarding teamwork and team results … and we will find organizational initiatives that at best only temporarily solves problems (because they only address symptoms) without real and substantial effort and action to fundamentally address the root causes of problems.
In other words, we will find the bear.
john greco sig

Is your non-profit rich beyond its wildest dreams?

Cubicle Diamonds

By John Greco
Originally published on March 15, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
diamondsAn African farmer heard tales about people who had made millions by discovering diamond mines.  These tales so excited the farmer that he could hardly wait to go prospecting for diamonds himself.  He sold the farm and spent the rest of his life wandering the African continent searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices on the markets of the world.  Finally, worn out and in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned.
Meanwhile, the man who had bought his farm happened to be crossing a small stream on the property one day, when suddenly there was a bright flash of blue and red light from the stream bottom. He bent down and picked up a stone…
It turned out to be one of the largest diamonds ever discovered.  
And his creek was full of such stones, not all as large, but nonetheless valuable…  The farm the first farmer had sold, so that he might find a diamond mine, turned out to be one of the most productive diamond mines on the entire African continent. 
That first farmer had owned, literally, acres of diamonds, but he didn’t look there.
— Update, from a reader: From a lecture by Russell Conwell and popularized by Earl Nightingale many years ago.  Thanks Deb!

This is a pretty well-traveled story, with a pretty straightforward lesson.
Before you look out, look in.  You may already have what you need to accomplish what you want.
I’m going to “mine” this differently.
There are diamonds of a sort all around you now.  Can you see them?
Look outside your office.  Down the hallway.  In the cafeteria.  Every single meeting you go to.  And all the ones you don’t.
diamonds2Jerry, the financial analyst, can make a mean bouillabaisse.  Mary, the executive admin, is a Toastmasters organizer.  Julie, in inside sales, does graphic design for her church’s marketing pieces.  Peggy, in tech support, is a stand up comedian.     Bill, in logistics, does resumes on the side for family and friends.  Susan, in customer support, is on the board of a local non-profit.  Judy, a software tester, volunteers at the local hospice.  Christian, a call center agent, paints.  John, an industrial engineering manager, blogs.  Damian, a research analyst, is an actor in a local drama troupe.
Diamonds, all.

Our people are our greatest asset.

Too bad their added value is off the books.
Undiscovered, in cubicles, unmined.
john greco sig

Scandal, crisis and abusing your non-profit brand

crisis2Sometimes I think the universe speaks to us, and lately it has been begging me to write this blog. Over the last few months, I’ve spoken with a good handful of non-profit professionals who have shared stories of scandal and crisis that would make your toes curl. These stories have ranged from incidents on the front line that made the local newspaper to outright embezzlement.
The tipping point for me was last week when I was visiting a client and prior to the start of our meeting a board volunteer brought up the name of William Aramony.
Now before I proceed let me say that a number of my United Way friends are rolling their eyes right now. I can almost hear them saying, “Come on, Erik. Give us a break. Do you have to tell that horrible story again? It is so 20th Century and stuff for the history books.
crisis3For the record, I agree with my United Way friends. If you don’t know about William Aramony, what you need to know for this blog post is:

  • He was an iconic CEO of United Way of America
  • He was accused of wrongdoing
  • It was a national news story for a long time
  • He ultimately resigned and served a little jail time

The details of the scandal aren’t important here. What is important is that this scandal occurred in 1990, which is more than 20 years ago. Heck, Bill Aramony died in 2011. But this story has legs as they say in the news industry.
The board volunteer who raised the specter of Bill Aramony last week did so almost as if that news story had just happened recently.
I am trying to make the following points:

  1. People have long memories
  2. Donors are often not very forgiving
  3. Scandals can do long term damage to your brand

Perhaps, I am a cynic on this subject, but I believe that all non-profit organizations are likely to experience scandal at least a few times in their organization’s life span. There is bound to be an incident where accusations are made and lawsuits are filed. When you deal with employees, there is likely going to be a messy HR issue from time to time.
I think Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said:

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

So, what should a non-profit do to prepare itself?

  1. You should have written policies designed to minimize your liability and exposure.
  2. You should have plans designed to help guide your agency through crisis (e.g. crisis communications plan).
  3. You should review yours plans and policies every year.
  4. You should be sitting down with your top donors every year just to touch base and see what they’re thinking.

Plans & Policies
crisis1You can probably spend the rest of your life writing policies, but let’s not get carried away. Here are a few questions I suggest you ask as you start going down this road:

  • Do you have a criminal background check policy when it comes to your employees, volunteers and board members?
  • Do you have policies pertaining to the safety and security of your clients?
  • Do you have policies that address the subject of injuries?
  • Does your organization utilize technology? If so, do you have policies addressing the use of technology?
  • Do you have an employee handbook or employment policies?
  • Do you have a written crisis management plan? If so, do you review it often with staff and clients? (e.g. fire drills, etc)
  • Do you have a crisis communications plan?
  • Do you have appropriate insurance coverage? How do you know? How often do you review it?

I suspect you have some of this in place and the rest is on a to-do-list somewhere.
This is not work for your board to tackle. It is committee work. If you don’t believe in standing committees of the board, then it is task force work.
But the bottom line is that it is WORK. Work to develop them. Work to regularly review them. Work to monitor them and assure compliance.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work because it only takes one good crisis or scandal to do series damage to your non-profit brand.
If you don’t believe me, go ask your local United Way executive director to tell you about William Aramony. Just be prepared to get an earful.  😉
Has your organization (or another one in your community) ever had to dig out of a big hole created by crisis or scandal? If so, how long did it take? What did you do to reset the playing field? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Are your agency's employee performance plans full of pixie dust?

Sprinkling the Pixie Dust

By John Greco
Originally published on March 25, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog

pixie2I was very new to the company.

I was in a meeting with the regional vice president and the regional staff.  The region was underperforming.  We were a few months into the new fiscal year, and we were already trending far short of our productivity target.  It was time to act, to get back on track.

And then I heard the action that I immediately knew had absolutely, positively no leverage.

“We’ll just have to raise everybody’s goal then!” the RVP spouted.

Huh? I thought I had misheard.  Raising a goal will help improve performance when performance is already short of the goal?


How can we make sense of this?  I only have one theory —the RVP and staff must believe that his management team and perhaps his associates are not putting forth their best effort.  Somehow raising the goal to increase the gap between actual and expected will kick everyone in gear, and boost performance.  It would be the increased dissonance that would provoke improved productivity.

I wouldn’t bet on it, would you?

What I think was really going on (I didn’t have this insight then) is that RVP and his staff didn’t have any idea how to improve performance.  They felt helpless; powerless.  But they did have the power to set the bar.  So they did what they could.

So, when on the national conference call he was asked about the disturbing early trend, he could confidently say:  “Yes, I’m on top of that; I’ve already taken action.

pixie1Action without any leverage.  Might as well sprinkle a little pixie dust!

But, beyond the fact that there’s no way that action will prove effective,  there’s another consequence, a more insidious, more harmful, consequence.

This kind of leadership produces a loss of confidence; it produces a loss of hope by employees in the ability of their leaders to make decisions and take actions that make a difference.

So, if you’re with me, what started as a leader and his staff being helpless to correct underperformance led to an action that actually produced a helplessness in his people.

Less than zero leverage.  Not no effect; negative effect.

Absolutely, positively.

Pass the pixie dust please?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!/eanderson847

More on the government shutdown and the non-profit sector

shutdown5In yesterday’s post titled “Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown,” we talked about whether or not fundraising strategies are one of the leading factors contributing to our current situation. Today, I want to stay with this topic and look at how the shutdown is impacting non-profits and what you should do in the long-term to mitigate some of these issues.

Those you serve

Last night, I was watching the news and an executive director of a veterans agency was being interviewed about how the government shutdown was impacting veterans. Throughout the interview, he eloquently talked about the impact on:

  • military support staff
  • vendors
  • contractors
  • VA Hospitals (except for emergency room services)
  • students waiting for G.I. Bill payments for school costs
  • disbursement of death benefits to families

While I found all of this interesting, the thing most interesting to me was how his agency was being impacted. Obviously, informational hotlines are not being staffed in government offices. So, this organization is trying to fill that void and trying to answer their questions or get them the information they require.

All of this got me thinking. How many other non-profit organizations have clients who rely on the government for something? And by “things” I mean benefits, services, etc.

I suspect there are many non-profits whose phone lines and case workers are now working overtime to fill the void normally filled by government agencies.

Funding concerns

shutdown4From what I’ve heard and read, many non-profit organizations are concerned about how the government shutdown will impact their funding. Consider the following:

  • organizations fund their operations with federal contracts
  • states receive federal pass-through money which eventually can put state funding to non-profits in question
  • vendors, who do lots of business with the government, might not be able to continue providing your agency with the services you require
  • donors who work for the government or receive benefits from the government might not be in a position to pay their pledges or continue their support in the short-term

The longer a shutdown drags on, the more pressure will be placed on many non-profit organization’s revenue models.

Human capital

Just the other day, I was speaking with an agency who runs many of their programs with work-study students from the local college. The question they were pondering was obviously, “What impact might the government shutdown have on their situation?

There are government programs like work-study and Americorps that fuel countless agencies’ human resources needs.

Unanticipated consequences

Our system of government is large and complicated. There are countless numbers of programs that non-profit organizations rely upon, and there are millions of individuals who are impacted. Some of these challenges are immediately obvious, but many others will only make themselves visible down the road.

When businesses — regardless of whether they are for-profit or non-profit — operate in an environment of uncertainty, crazy things start to happen. Uncertainty and the human experience mix together about as well as oil and water.

While finance professionals brace for instability in financial markets, so too should non-profit organizations prepare for the obvious impacts and attempt to anticipate unexpected challenges.

What should you do?

While you might feel helpless at a time like this, there are some things you should consider:

  • Pull together an ad hoc committee to assess your agency’s vulnerabilities
  • Revisit your strategic plan and invest some time in contingency planning
  • Engage fundraising volunteers in a discussion about how to shift your agency’s dependence on government funding to other more stable sources like private sector fundraising efforts and specifically individual giving

Has your agency been impacted by the government shutdown? If so, how? What are you doing about all of this right now? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Obamacare and your non-profit: Part Two

On Monday of this week, I blogged about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and what it might mean for non-profit organizations including those that have fewer than 50 employees and don’t think this legislation applies to them. At the end of my post, I asked a few questions as I always do. Within 24 hours, one person did weigh-in and others sent me direct emails. So, I decided to share that expert feedback with you today.

Feedback from a federally qualified healthcare center

elgin greater familyThe following is a comment from Rose Reinert who is a community outreach liaison from a healthcare non-profit in my hometown of Elgin, Illinois. I’m sharing it here because I know many of you don’t get an opportunity to loop back around to former posts to read the comments.

Great post Erik! As you know, I work as Community Outreach Liaison for an area Federally Qualified Health Center that meets the medical and dental needs of all, regardless of ability to pay, and I can say there are a lot of changes coming. It reminds me of when we used to play hide and seek and scream, “Ready or not! Here I come!” In this case, we have to make ourselves ready, and there are a lot resources to do so.

I have also found a lot of confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act. Having said that, our organization, Greater Elgin Family Care Center has received federal and state funding for In Person Counselors who can assist in education and enrollment.

If anyone is in the Greater Elgin area and would like to learn more about the Affordable Care Act, please let me know. We can come to you to give talks to your staff, your clients, or any one who might want to learn more!

Rose Reinert,

Feedback from an HR professional

hr midwestThe following is an email from a former volunteer and friend of mine who is a human resources professional. Her comments reference resources she recently blogged about. (I should note that she is one of my favorite HR bloggers and I subscribe to her site) If you want to check out her blog, click here to visit her site which is titled “Don’t bite the apple . . . Work is not a fairytale”.

Here is what she said in her email:


Hi there, I hope all is well.  Great Article on Obamacare. I didn’t want to post my blog to yours and some of my information doesn’t apply.  I just wrote a post on the notices with a link to the DOL approved notices.

ALL businesses subject to FLSA (which is pretty much everyone) has to send notices to employees to tell them if they are or are not providing insurance by October 1st.  It has to go to ALL employees f/t, p/t and even if not on insurance.  It’s a great thing to post about and provide the links.  The first page of the notices explain to the employees how to go out to exchanges and look at healthcare.  It also notifies people that if they buy from there and the employer pays part of the premium  they can lose their match. 

Feel free to take anything you’d like out of the post and if you need anything else, I’d be happy to help.  I have access to a lot of info through SHRM.

Have a great day,

Feedback from an insurance professional

lundstromDan Walter is a board member for my local United Way and he is a partner and senior vice president for Lundstrom Insurance. After reading Monday’s blog post, he sent me a guest commentary he recently wrote for The Daily Herald newspaper.

Here is his article about the Affordable Care Act:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is about to enter its most far-reaching phase. In 2014, the ACA mandates that nearly all citizens purchase qualifying health insurance or pay a penalty. Guaranteed insurability will provide access to health insurance coverage regardless of health history. Health plans must accept pre-existing conditions that might have been denied or limited under the present rules.

The Health Insurance Marketplaces, also known as the public Exchanges, are scheduled to be operational on October 1st, with coverage that can be effective as soon as January 1, 2014. Rather than create its own exchange, Illinois chose to partner with the exchange established by the federal government. Illinois consumers will have access to six carriers, far fewer than originally anticipated.

By October 1st of this year, most employers are required to distribute a notice to every employee informing them about the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace/Exchange will provide access to private health insurance plans as well as certain government-based health plans like Medicare and Medicaid. Also, the public Marketplace/Exchange is the only place an individual can access premium and cost-sharing subsidies. Premium subsidies are available on a sliding scale up to 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and consider the entire household income for eligibility. Cost-sharing subsidies help offset high out of pocket costs for people with incomes up to 250% of the FPL.

Insurance will continue to be available through brokers and carriers without going through the Marketplace. Brokers will have access to many other plans and other carriers, as well as those on the Marketplace/Exchange. Some carriers like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois have also created their own private health insurance exchanges which brokers can access on behalf of their clients.

New ACA Fees and taxes will also go into effect in January. Two of these new costs are the Health Insurer Fee and the Reinsurance Fee. Starting at $8 Billion in 2014, the Health Insurer Fee will apply to health insurers offering individual coverage and fully insured group plans. The tax is allocated among health insurers based on relative market share. By 2018 this tax will have grown to $14.3 Billion.

The Reinsurance Fee is scheduled to be in effect for a three year period, decreasing over that time from a starting point of $5.25 per person, per month and applies to individual coverage and fully insured group plans, as well as self funded plans.

Combined, these two fees will add an estimated 3-4% to the premium. The amount will vary based on the number of people covered and a formula applied to the carrier’s net premium for the prior year.

In July of this year it was announced that the penalties and reporting requirements of the so-called “Employer Mandate” would be delayed to 2015. This portion of the law affects businesses with 50 or more full time equivalent employees and obligates them to offer coverage that meets certain standards of coverage and premium affordability. Not doing so will risk fines ranging from $2,000 per full time employee, to $3,000 for each full time employee who obtains a subsidy on the government Marketplace/Exchange. Other requirements and timelines of the ACA remained intact.

This is only a brief summary of some key points of ACA. If this sounds confusing or complex, it reinforces why individuals and businesses should be very discerning about ACA related information. Be sure to identify whether the information you rely on applies to individuals, small or large employers, and even whether it applies to your state or not. Obtain good counsel and guidance to help you understand your choices as well as your compliance obligations and potential penalties.

The impact of ACA is far reaching. With appropriate guidance, you will navigate it just fine.

My final thoughts on this issue

If you think your non-profit won’t be impacted by ACA, you are most likely wrong. At a minimum, this legislation will get your employees talking about healthcare benefits in your workplace. It would be wise to read up on ACA, talk to your insurance people, and be prepared to talk intelligently with your employees about this issue if and when questions arise.

This blog thread appears to have resonated with DonorDreams readers. Do you have more questions or comments? If so, please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

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

Does your non-profit put its employees first?

peoplefirst1Welcome 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 “People-Service-Profit,” John talks about the impact that Federal Express’ corporate philosophy of People-Service-Profit has on it employees . . .  which in turn has an effect on customer service and loyalty . . . which ultimately is reflected on the bottom line in profit

When reading John’s blog post this week, I immediately had two thoughts, which I will address below in two different sections.

Non-profit culture

People who work for non-profit organizations are different. In my experience, they aren’t motivated by the same things as their for-profit counterparts.  Here are just a few examples of what I’ve seen people on the frontline of the non-profit sector do:

  • They often agree to work for less money than they otherwise might earn working in the for-profit sector.
  • I’ve seen non-profit employees work longer hours than they’re asked (or authorized to do). I’ve even seen hourly employees fudge their timesheet in order to avoid overtime (e.g. they get in trouble for working unauthorized time . . . overtime isn’t part of most agency’s budgets).
  • I’ve seen program assistants purchasing supplies for their programs using their personal money because there isn’t enough agency funding to do so.

peoplefirst2The point I’m trying to make is that most non-profit organizations have built a culture that revolves around THE CLIENT. This focal point is so intense that ideas threatening to shift that focus are often seen as heresy.

While many people see a client-focused philosophy as altruistic, there can be a cost to this kind of corporate philosophy.

  • Low employee morale
  • Burnout
  • Cynicism
  • Poor staff cohesion

Another significant negative effect of this philosophy is “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle”. I talked about this phenomenon in a previous “DonorDreams: O.D. Fridays” post on July 26, 2013 titled “Is your non-profit only living for today? Then you need Picasso!

In the Picasso post, I describe how senior leadership and board volunteers are blinded by the agency philosophy of CLIENT FIRST, which results in zero funding important organizational capacity building expenditures. The end result is a non-profit that has no capacity and starves itself out of business.

Heck, in yesterday’s post about budgeting, I confessed that when I was an executive director, my finance committee once convinced me to eliminate donor newsletters from the budget in order to balance it. Ugh . . . while this was done in the name of putting the CLIENT FIRST, the result was putting the donor second (which is the person who needs to see ROI on their investment if they are going to renew their support).  How did THAT make any sense?

So, let’s jump back to John’s post about company philosophy and FedEx.

If you are an executive director or someone who supervises staff, you should click-through and read the 10 bullet points located in the middle of John’s post. After reading those FedEx examples of how managers should treat their employees, I encourage you to complete the exercise described in the paragraph after the list.

It likely will be an eye-opening experience for you.

The Loyalty Effect

peoplefirst3I suspect many non-profit people who are reading today’s post are probably still not convinced that a CLIENT FIRST philosophy can be damaging.

More than a year ago, I wrote a week long blog series focused on “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value,“ which is a book written by Frederich Reichheld. I mostly focused on translating some of his business themes into resource development messages.

However, one of Reichheld’s bigger points is how employee loyalty drives customer loyalty, which turns into profit on the bottom line.

If you are still one of those skeptics when it comes to this post, look at it from this perspective . . .

Many of your clients have “special relationships” with your staff. In fact, if you surveyed your clients, I suspect they would say they come to your agency primarily because of that relationship and secondarily because of your services. I know for a fact this was true for the kids using the programs at my former agency.

So, investing in your employees results in their retention and loyalty. This in turn keeps your customers coming back, which in turn drives impact and program results. When you communicate this impact (e.g. ROI) to donors, it improves your donor loyalty rates and you raise more money.

Please don’t misinterpret me here.

I am NOT suggesting you shouldn’t strive to make your clients happy and provide them with the best possible programming. However, I am saying  the non-profit sector needs to take a page out of FedEx’s book and figure out how to invest in its people. It will make a huge difference in so many different ways!

Putting your employees first IS putting your customers first because your employees will put the customer first especially if your organizational values drive them to do so.

If you have some time this morning, I also encourage you to jump in the “way back machine” and check out that six part blog series about donor loyalty as it relates to some of Reichheld’s loyalty principles:

Want to change? Where to start?

If this post has you thinking about creating a different company culture, you may want to check out a post by titled “How to Create a Company Philosophy“. It is definitely worth the click!  😉

Did you click-through and read John’s 10 bullet points? If so, how well did your agency do? What are you doing to invest in your employees? Is your organization avoiding the starvation cycle? If so, how are you making the case for investments in capacity building? Have you ever correlated your employee turnover to client turnover to donor turnover? If so, what have you found? Please scroll down and share your thought and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-Profit Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on 

Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive

By Dani Robbins

board of directors3

As mentioned in Board Basics and reposted on this very siteBoards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization.” That includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan,
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director,
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent,
  • Setting Policy, and
  • Raising Money.

As you know, one of my goals is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling non-profit executives and boards how things should be without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.

Since I wrote a recent post on Strategic Planning, I’m going to circle back to that one and start with Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director.

What that means is:

It is the Board’s role to hire the Executive Director, also called CEO. Prior to hiring, interviewing or even posting the job, it is imperative the Board discus what they want and need in an Executive Director. This conversation cannot be farmed out to a committee primarily consisting of non board members, or to a consultant or hiring firm. That will only get you what they want and think you need – not what you want and actually need.

What skill sets and experience do you need in a leader?

Growing, turning around or maintaining an organization require very different skill sets. Which trait do you want your new leader to have? Does your leader need to be a subject matter expert? Does she need to be local? Does he need to be a fund raiser, an operations person or both?

I recommend a search, REGARDLESS OF . . .

  • if there is a good internal person,
  • if someone on the board wants the job, or
  • if there is an obvious heir apparent.

Do a search, let everyone apply and see who best matches your needs. For more information on conducting a search, please click here.

exec searchOnce your hire an Executive Director, s/he needs to be supported. Supporting an Executive Director is where the rubber meets the road.

I once had a colleague tell her board to “Support her or fire her, but to choose.”  While I was shocked, I was also in agreement. The job of the Executive Director is very difficult and energy spent on worrying is not spent on moving the organization forward. (To the Executive Director’s out there: Worrying about keeping your job precludes you from doing your job. You have to do what you believe is best, based on your experience, information and training, within the boundaries of your role and the law. We all know that any day could be the day you quit or get fired. That can’t stop you from leading.)

Communication is key: the Board needs to know (and approve of) what the Executive Director is doing and the Executive Director needs to know (and be willing to do) what the Board wants.

It is the Board Chair’s job to be the direct supervisor of the Executive Director and the entire Board’s job is to support him/her, set goals and hold her accountable to those goals. This means the Board has to let the Executive Director fulfill the bounds of his/her role. There should also be a strategic plan that is being implemented, board approved policies that are being followed and an annual evaluation process for the Executive Director (and the rest of the staff).

The vast majority of Executive Directors rarely get evaluated, and when they do it’s often because they asked for an evaluation. (To the Board Presidents out there: Executive Directors, just like Board members and most other people, when left to their own devices will do that they think is right. What they think is right will not necessarily be aligned with what the Board wants, especially if what the Board wants has not been discussed or communicated. It also may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing. See the Strategic Plan link above to create alignment.)

Executive Directors should be given expectations and goals (just like all other staff) and should be evaluated against those expectations and goals every year. There should be a staff (including executive) compensation plan that has a range for salaries for each position and reflect comparable positions in your community; raises should be given within the confines of that plan, or the plan should be revised. (More on that in the Setting Policies blog to come in the next few days.)

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director has to happen – in full- for your executive to be an effective leader, for your board to fulfill its responsibilities and for your organization to fulfill its mission.

When an Executive Director is hired right, supported appropriately and evaluated effectively there’s no end to the impact it can make on an organization and a community.

What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your insight and experience.
dani sig

Does your non-profit agency need to re-think its online strategy?

commmgr1As you can probably imagine, I subscribe to a lot of things — everything from eNewsletters to blogs — and I do a lot of reading. It helps me be a better non-profit consultant, and equally important it helps me be a better thought-leader / blogger. This brings me to an article written by Cody Switzer in The Chronicle of Philanthropy titled “75% of Young Donors Turned Off by Out-of-Date Web Sites“.

After reading the article, the first thought that ran through my head was “It certainly is a ‘brave new world’ when it comes to non-profit fundraising.” Attached to this conclusion were memories of conversations I’ve had with countless numbers of board members and fundraising volunteers over the years about what support materials should look like for an agency’s annual campaign.

Perhaps, some of these discussions sound familiar to you:

  • Glossy campaign literature vs. something that looks less expensive
  • Video vs. no video
  • Content focused more on client stories vs. focused more on agency information

When I close my eyes after reading Cody’s article, I can almost see him reprising the role of Paul Revere but this time riding a keyboard and yelling:

The Millennials are coming!

The Millennials are coming!

Sure, they are just starting to trickle through the front door of your fundraising program, but you better start getting ready. Why? Because their expectations are very different.

Forget about the traditional questions that I shared above about glossy literature, support video and content. While the Chronicle of Philanthropy story does a good job of telling us that Millennials want to see your webpage, it really goes much further than just having an online presence. Right?

commmgr2Cody’s article about the Millennial Impact Report is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, I bet your agency is already asking itself questions such as:

  • How often do we refresh our website content?
  • Is the content on our website the right balance between showing donor how we’re putting their money to work vs. showing donors that our agency is healthy and a good investment?
  • Are there too many words on our site? Are there too few pictures and videos?
  • Is our website mobile-friendly?
  • What does our online community look like beyond the website? (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blog, etc) And how often do those platforms get fresh content?
  • What target audiences and niche groups are each of your online platforms focused on? And how does this impact your content creation?

Of course, ALL of these questions beg one big question . . .

Who is doing all of this for your agency?

The simple answer to this question is . . . your organization needs to look at hiring what is now commonly being called a “Community Manager“.

commmgr3This person isn’t a “technology person” working in your IT department. In fact, they don’t need to have many of those skill sets because you either already have an a) IT person on your payroll, b) relationship with an IT consulting firm or c) utilize “in-the-box” technology (e.g. Press Publisher,, etc) that comes with a toll-free help desk when things get dicey.

Yes, I know . . . You don’t have any money.

My response? You better figure it out and find some money soon to hire this person.

Why? Because “The Millennials are coming! The Millennials are coming!

The days of tossing lots of text about your agency online are over. Let me bottom line it for you like my partner does for me all the time . . .

Fundraising is evolving . . . adapt your online strategies.

Some of you are probably saying “Wait! Tell me more about that community manager position. What do they look like? What type of skills should they possess? Where do I find them to build an applicant pool?

The following links will take you to great online resources that speak to the issue of what you should look for when hiring your Community Manager:

Does your non-profit organization current hire a community manager to handle your online strategy? If so, what skill sets do you think are more important than others? Do your fundraising program have an online fundraising plan that spells out strategies and tactics including how your fundraising professional(s) interact with your community manager?

Please scroll down to the comment box and share a few of your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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