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

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

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

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

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

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

However, I am left with two questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should your agency approach strategic goal setting?


By John Greco
Originally published on August 27, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog

visionAh, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?

— Robert Browning

I ran across this quote many, many years ago.  It was a curious quote to me back then; I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I couldn’t quite grasp the meaning.

But, over the years, I’ve made sense of it.  I’ve got it now.  In fact, since I’ve gotten it, I’ve flipped it into something more meaningful, for me, in my work.

I was recently sitting in on an executive session kicking off the strategic planning cycle.  I used the quote as I was making a point in the meeting.  I am not at all sure I should have used it, because when I used it I used my flipped meaning and not the standard, widespread meaning.

(I also doubt that I should have used it because, well, strategic planning meetings aren’t exactly forums for poetry readings… but, alas, I’m always seeking to be impactful when making my points…)

Back to the quote, and the strategic planning meeting.

By most accounts, Robert Browning was talking about the notion of aspirations.  Reach for the stars!  He was advocating for setting challenging goals.

He goes on to note — with an astonishing economy of words — that we should not expect to achieve those lofty goals; but never fear, there’s always the afterlife…

So conversationally it might be no, go for it, just don’t expect to get everything you go for!  Heaven is where we get everything we want… If we accomplish everything we set out to accomplish, what is heaven for then?

Now you might be thinking how in the world that notion would be relevant to share in a business strategic planning meeting. I don’t blame you, I would be thinking that too, if I intended to use that meaning.

But of course my application wasn’t drawing on that meaning.

For me, the crux of the matter is to focus — and work hard — on minimizing the difference between our reach and our grasp.

Now I’m not suggesting we necessarily not reach for the stars.  This to me isn’t an automatic we need to manage our expectations play, although that’s where it could land.  No; for me, it is way more about increasing our capabilities, i.e. improving our grasp.  In more business / OD-speak, it is about tweaking and syncing up the structure, policies, work processes, culture, talent… the plane will fly based on how it’s designed; shouldn’t we redesign when we want it to fly differently?


I really don’t lose my patience that often.  Really, I don’t.  But there are times that test me, and one of those times is when I repeatedly see goals that are set with only perfunctory attention given to investing in building the organizational capability to reach them.

This is a particularly acute hot button because I really can’t stand the predominant result of this — leaders pointing fingers and placing blame at people, and not owning the root cause of the underperformance — insufficient organizational design.

And there’s an insidious reinforcing loop that’s often in play — when we set aggressive targets, but begin falling short because we haven’t redesigned to enable the performance, leaders will react, make short-term decisions to reach the short-term targets (to get those year-end bonuses) but which weaken the organization’s capability and leaders’ decision-making ability to break the cycle and accomplish the longer-term strategic vision…

So there’s this annual business strategy cycle that is my version of Bill Murray’s groundhog day; please, please let me wake up to a new day and a strategic planning process that is different than the last several…

Please don’t misunderstand; the strategic vision should be a stretch, it should challenge the organization to accomplish bigger and better in order to stay strong and competitive.  Because it is the result of strategic thinking, a strategic vision can inspire, and energize. It can motivate to reach.

But strategic visions need to incorporate comprehensive strategic plans that emphasize building the requisite organizational capability.

These plans raise confidence that the strategic vision is realizable.  These plans strengthen our grasp.

What do you think?

But wait, one last thing.  Let’s look one more time at that quote.

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?

What could that “Ah” mean?

I imagine Browning is saying but consider this or look at it this way …

Ah, indeed.  That’s all I’m asking too…
john greco sig

What is your non-profit vision?

visionAs with most things in this world, there are different schools of thought on different things. While working with a client recently, I was reminded of the two camps that non-profit professionals tend to fall into when it comes to writing vision statements. So, I thought it would be fun this morning to explore both perspectives.

On one hand, you have the folks who believe a vision statement must focus on the community and the future state that the non-profit is striving to bring to the community. While digging around on the internet for examples, I came across great examples at Top Nonprofits blog in a post titled “30 Example Vision Statements“. The following are just a few examples from that post:

  • Feeding America: A hunger-free America.
  • Human Rights Campaign: Equality for everyone.
  • Make-A-Wish: Our vision is that people everywhere will share the power of a wish.
  • ASPCA: That the United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.

Wow! Big expansive visions. They are packed full of inspiration, and clearly explain in just a few words to donorswhat they are investing in. They are chock-full of aspiration, and guide the organization’s decision making.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to write a vision statement.

On the other hand, you have folks who believe a vision statement should focus on the organization and the change it strives to bring to itself and its clients. The following are a few more examples that illustrate this way of thinking:

  • The United Way of Elgin will be a recognized catalyst for mobilizing resources to build a healthier, more compassionate community.
  • Greater Elgin Family Care Center is known in the communities it serves for high quality, patient-centered care, delivered by a team of competent and committed staff. GEFCC will grow responsively and responsibly to fulfill unmet health needs, enhance community relationships and maintain financial viability.
  • It is our vision that the Rappahannock Youth Symphony will become a major regional youth orchestral organization that nurtures young talent and enriches the greater Fredericksburg community through the performance of orchestral literature.

OK . . . perhaps, these vision statements aren’t as grand as the ones previously cited, but they are certainly very utilitarian and functional. I suspect donors are no less inspired by these visions, and the organization is much clearer on what decisions it must make and actions it must take to get from point A to point B.

Let me be clear. I find both schools of thought to be perfectly acceptable when it comes to writing non-profit vision statements.

Is your organization reaching the end of road with its current strategic plan? Have you fulfilled your vision? Are you getting ready to develop a new vision and plan?

If your answer is ‘YES’ to the previous question, my first piece of advice is to make a conscious decision about which school of thought you subscribe. Recognize that you are at a fork in the road and must make a decision on which road to travel. Once you make this decision, then you may want to check out some of the following resources on how to go about developing and writing your vision statement:

How is your non-profit vision statement written? To which school of thought do you subscribe? What process did you use to develop your vision statement? How do you use your vision statement?

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

We shall overcome! Celebrating MLK and non-profits 50 years later.

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement marched on Washington D.C. and history was made. Today, all of us should take a moment to reflect and pay tribute to a great man and a powerful movement. However, I encourage you to also take another moment to think about the role that non-profit organizations played in Dr. King’s dream and the impact his message has on our sector.

First, let’s start in the beginning with this YouTube video of MLK and his famous speech of 50 years ago:


When listening to Dr. King’s speech, I am most struck by how many non-profit organizations today are engaged in the struggle he articulated. His impact is still felt 50 years later, and his legacy is his gift of a “vision statement” for so many non-profit organizations.

The following is a list of non-profit organizations from 50 years ago. Do you know what they all have in common?

  • Alpha Phi Alpha
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Women’s Political Council
  • Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • The Penn Community Services Center
  • Detroit Council for Human Rights
  • American Committee on Africa
  • SNCC Freedom Singers
  • The Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Yes, these are all non-profit organizations with connections to MLK. If you’re interested, you should click-through to an amazing Blue Avocado article titled “Did You Know? … Ten Nonprofits that Shaped the Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

When you go to GuideStar and type in the words “civil rights nonprofits” a list of 6,1,63 different non-profits come up under the category of Civil Rights and Liberties. While not all of these charities are tied to MLK, they are all connected to the legacy he helped sow.

Fifty years later, we use Martin Luther King Jr. Day to encourage our fellow citizens to use it as a “Day of Community Service“.

As I reflect on MLK’s accomplishments and use a non-profit lens to do so, here is what I see:

  • The man and his point of view was influenced by non-profits.
  • His movement was fueled by non-profits.
  • His “I have a dream” speech is a vision statement for countless civil rights organizations to this very day.
  • His messages and his tactics are his enduring legacy, and these things are still used by all sorts of non-profit organizations.
  • The national holiday celebrating his birthday has transformed into a day of service benefiting countless non-profit organizations.

It is an amazing legacy with non-profit fingerprints and connectivity associated with it. I hope you have a few moments to reflect on all of this today.

Do you have a dream? What is your non-profit organization’s dream? How is your organization’s mission and vision rooted in Dr. King’s iconic “Dream speech“? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts or just leave a tribute to MLK.

Here’s to your health . . . “Let freedom ring!”

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

The Chicago Cubs Convention through non-profit eyes: Part Two

cubs way3This last weekend I attended the Chicago Cubs Convention with my family.  As we drifted from session to session, I couldn’t help but see all sorts of blog themes and things that non-profit organizations could learn from this major league franchise. I will use the next few days to share a few of these observations and hopefully stimulate a few new ideas for you and your agency. In yesterday’s post, we talked about stewardship. Today, I thought we could talk about shared vision, values, and culture.

In many of the sessions, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to reference something called “The Cubs Way Guide“. They always described this guide as an organizational manual that describes what they believe and how they do things.  Here is how President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein described “The Cubs Way Guide” in February 2012 on the Cubs’ website:

“The Cubs’ way really boils down to the people — the players, obviously, but everyone, all the scouts and all the people in uniform in the Minor Leagues and the big leagues. For us to teach the game the right way, it’s more than words on the page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how hard we work. There’s a lot that goes into this and building an organization.”

At Saturday’s convention, here are some of the phrases I heard people use to describe this manual and organizational resource:

  • It is a document that is a few inches thick.
  • It is what we believe as an organization.
  • It embodied the organization’s philosophy and approach.
  • It spells out how to prepare players for the big leagues.
  • It lays out for coaches at every level of the minor league and major league how to teach players how to play the game. Instruction can get as detailed as which foot hits the bag when players make a turn on the bases.
  • It lays out a vision and plan.

I walked away from each of these sessions wondering the same thing: “I wonder what such a manual might look like for a non-profit organization?

cubs way1After a few days of day dreaming about this topic, here are a few of my thoughts on what your organizational guide might contain:

  • Shared values
  • Shared vision
  • Code of ethics
  • Conflict of interest policies
  • Protocol on how to recruit community volunteers and prepare/position them for joining the board some day. (e.g. getting them involved in a committee, working a few pledge cards, etc)
  • Procedures on how to identify, cultivate, recruit, orient, train, rotate, recognize, and evaluate board volunteers.
  • Steps on how to hire new staff.
  • Rules on how to conduct outreach/recruitment of clients.
  • Etiquette on how to prepare for board meetings and committee meetings (e.g. agendas sent out a certain number of days before the meeting, meeting notes and action item memos going out a certain number of days after a meeting, elements of a productive board meeting, etc)
  • Code of behavior regarding how to engage, solicit and communicate with donors (e.g. Donor Bill of rights)

I suspect that I could make this list go on and on and on if I wanted.

If you started thinking to yourself when reading my list that you already have some of this in place at your organization, I suspect you are probably on to something. Some of this might already be included in your strategic plan, board development plan, resource development plan, stewardship plan, etc.

However, the genius of “The Cubs Way Guide” is:

  • It is all in one place, not in a series of documents sitting on a number of different book shelves.
  • It creates a central focus. It becomes the heartbeat of your organizational culture.
  • It is easy to reference.
  • It is easy to create training opportunities around it.

cubs way2

What are your thoughts about creating an organizational “How To Manual” for your non-profit organization? What would you include? Who would you involve in this project? What elements already exist that you might fold into such a manual? How would you use it to transform your organizational culture? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts because there is nothing new under the sun and we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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