nonprofit

Winter isn’t bad…its just…Winter

I’ve been thinking for a while that this “economic downturn” is a long-overdue winter in our perpetual (illusion of) summer here in the USA. Eventually the over-picked, under-watered plants need to shut down and regenerate or they will die. This may sound depressing and cold in the sun-starved northern hemisphere, but in fact its a fundamental process that allows life to continue. Plants that are in relative harmony with their surroundings and weren’t already diseased will survive and thrive come spring.

The same is true for us as individuals and for the organizations we lead and are part of. Getting back to our roots, our core, focusing on the basics, and remaining in harmony with our surroundings are essential to surviving winter and preparing for new life in spring.

Late last week, I hosted a table discussion at a well-timed forum about leading in an economic downturn put on by United Way of King County. Jon Fine, the CEO of the United Way here in Puget Sound, suggested some important strategies for nonprofits to weather winter, which I thought could be applied to us as individuals as well. Here is my synopsis of his most useful points:

  • Don’t be in denial about it being winter – plan, prepare and dress warmly!
  • Remember and focus on your core – what do you do well and differently than anyone else?
  • Be transparent and honest. In winter, everything is visible to everyone else. We can more easily see your tracks, and are more attuned to each other because we need each other more.
  • Conserve your energy for what’s really important. Don’t chase or create non-essential projects or new markets right now.
  • Be efficient! Do what you need to do with as little effort and expense as you can, but do it well!
  • Let go of what isn’t working so you can focus on what is working. There’s no shame in letting go!

And finally, don’t forget to be grateful for the many blessings you do have and ENJOY what there is to enjoy about winter!

Warmth and peace to you and those you love.



Investing in the most important work on the planet…

For the past two months I’ve been meeting with a group of professional coaches who are or are interested in coaching leaders in the social sector. One of the main topics of discussion is the fact that most CBOs (community benefit organizations) don’t invest in themselves or their own leaders. Money for professional development is limited at best, and many executive directors and board members believe that funds should always go to programs first.

What message does this send to the people who’ve chosen to spend the bulk of their time and energy working toward the mission of this organization? Is their development less important than the organization’s clients?

Can you imagine if Costco or Starbucks had this attitude? They would never be able to retain the talent that makes them successful, that gives them a competitive advantage.

Foundations and corporations are often reluctant to fund leadership coaching or other professional development efforts in the CBOs they support. If it doesn’t contribute to the “bottom line” of meeting the mission, it may seem irrelevant.

There’s a major fallacy in this line of thinking, however. Without the people who do the work, the leaders who make a difference, there are no programs, there is no mission impact.

There is a profound and I would argue essential connection between the hearts and minds of the people doing the work and the effectiveness of CBOs themselves. And we ignore this connection at our peril. Its time to put our money where our mouths are.

If we are doing the most important work on the planet, we need the very best care and feeding available. Like a top athlete who eats only the freshest, most nutritious food before a game, we deserve to care for our hearts and minds so we can do our best work, even if it’s for the good of our clients. Maybe especially so.



How do you know you’re making a difference?

This was a major topic of discussion in the hallways and at lunch at the Washington Nonprofit Conference last Wednesday. The spark for these conversations was the keynote address from the 2 women who wrote “Forces for Good: the Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits.” Crutchfield and McLeod were greatly influenced by Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” and followed a similar research methodology.

What had us talking was what they didn’t say, however. They began by saying that they only considered nonprofits with a national scope and a large ($10 million or more) budget for the study. We wondered: Why are national scope and a large budget prerequisites for impact? The consensus was, they’re not prerequisites, and that McLeod and Crutchfield should have qualified their research upfront with this caveat.

My question for you: how do you know you’re making a difference, either as a person or as an organization? I’m especially interested in how you qualitatively instead of quantitatively know you’re having an impact.

At the same conference. I co-presented a workshop about coaching called “Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders: Investing in your Organization’s Biggest Asset.” Our group of 35 or so had some fascinating discussions about what coaching is and isn’t and when it’s most useful. Here is the handout about coaching as a capacity-building tool and here for resources for nonprofit leaders seeking coaching. You can also find more resources about leadership in the nonprofit sector here.



You Turn blog icon