Remember our work with the University of South Carolina and the Face of Y’ALL campaign? (If not, you can read about it here) Well, we’re happy to introduce you to the university’s newest Face of Y’ALL winner, Michelle Parsons Kelley, ’04, ’07! The University of South Carolina has taken tremendous strides in engaging the young alumni population, and we’re so happy to see individuals like Michelle committed to giving back to an institution that provided her with not only a National Merit Scholarship, but a world class education.
Read about Michelle and her ideas for the Y’ALL Campaign here!
Several years ago I was going through Steven Covey’s 7 Habits program with a leadership team. We were watching a video clip where he had a pile of rocks that he was trying to bury in a bucket filled two-thirds with sand. The rocks represented the major priorities in life, while the sand was all the little things that fill up our day. His first attempt at inserting all the rocks into the bucket of sand, one rock at a time, was unsuccessful. It didn’t work.
He then took an empty bucket, representing an empty schedule, and carefully placed the large rocks into the bucket first, then poured the sand in to fill in the gaps between the rocks. I thought there was no way it would all fit, but with some shuffling, it did.
Covey’s memorable point was that when we try to fit large commitments and projects into calendars that are already two-thirds full (much less completely filled) with smaller commitments, we can’t possibly get our most important priorities done. We have to start with a calendar where large assignments are scheduled first, followed by smaller items that fill in the gaps.
I realized while watching that video that something had to change in how I thought about my schedule. We all deal with the challenge of balancing great opportunities against too few resources. My problem was that some of my most strategic priorities were being postponed because they were not fitting in amidst all the other stuff already on my calendar.
Looking at the eight keys to execution, taking action—actually doing the work of execution—is the most time consuming of all the keys. Once we get to this step in the process, our challenge is to make sure we have allocated the time needed to get the right things done. That implies the need to allocate time for them before our calendars fill up with all the miscellaneous stuff on our plates.
This is a good place to ask: Who is managing your calendar? Are you essentially operating as a “victim” of all the requests being imposed on you? Do you ever decline a meeting request because you have more important work to do? Is it time to delegate? Are you attending meetings because it feels good to be needed, or because you don’t trust the staff who have been tasked with the responsibility?
Leaders need to take control over their schedules and should empower their staff to do the same. Start saying no to some requests. Ask that meeting time be better managed.
Sometimes our problem isn’t allocating time for important work. It is that too many crises interrupt our days. How often is your schedule derailed because of something unexpected? Why didn’t you see the crisis coming? This issue gets back to creating urgency and identifying issues that needed to be addressed before they turn into a crisis.
Not only will your organization appreciate your focus, but your friends and family members will, too. They are usually the first to feel the effects of an out-of-balance work life where trivial matters and crisis issues have crowded out the room we would normally use for accomplishing the most important things in life, whether at work or at home.
How are you allocating time for top priority work? Are you scheduling sufficiently in advance, or is crisis crowding out the important items on your calendar? What does your calendar say about your priorities, or about how well you are scheduling and investing time?
Tell us what your thoughts on the 5 keys we’ve discussed so far.
Key #1, Urgency
The first key to execution involves creating a sense of urgency. Nonprofit leaders usually have too many things to do. The question is, are any of them urgent enough to drive the time and attention it will take to get an important job done? Urgency creates drive. It helps overcome resistance, especially when initiatives require us to follow through on tough decisions.
I consulted recently with an organization that is in the process of making some foundational changes to its business model. These changes are going to require intense focus and time from most of the senior leadership team. One of the last things I said to them before I left was to realize that the future of their organization will likely depend on their follow-through.
Not every strategic initiative involves a life-or-death matter, but our most important priorities need to be connected to the very significant consequences that will be incurred should they go unfulfilled. The business sage Max Dupree once said that one of the two jobs of a leader is to “define reality.” Leaders need to define reality by clarifying the ultimate destiny of continued poor execution.
Many organizations use crisis as a form of urgency. Nothing gets attention like a crisis. Some people can’t function until priorities become crisis. It works, for a time. But crisis is often a failure of leadership to define the road ahead well before our car goes over the cliff while there is still time to act.
Crisis usually results from an external, unexpected situation, while urgency involves the proactive anticipation of a coming need. Crisis drives attention away from other important priorities and makes it hard to focus, while urgency focuses attention on important initiatives. Crisis kills priorities. Urgency makes them. By the time we jump into crisis mode, our options for responding are limited. It’s too late to do what we would have done had we anticipated the need before it turned into a crisis.
What kinds of things kill urgency? John Kotter lists nine in his well-respected business book, Leading Change:
1) Never allowing problems to “blow up” 2) Having too many obvious examples of excess 3) Maintaining low standards 4) Focusing on narrow, functional goals 5) Measuring the wrong things 6) Providing little feedback from customers 7) Enforcing a kill-the-messenger or low-confrontation culture 8.) Allowing human nature to drive performance (denial, business, stress) 9) Too much “happy talk” from senior management
He admonishes leaders to “never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.”
Leaders need to create the conditions that will drive their teams to act. Consider this example:
Team, I want to be up front with you about the challenge in front of us. As you can see on this chart, if we don’t address this donor communication problem within the next six months, the trend in major gift revenue will continue to drop another $X,000,000. That’s the equivalent of XX jobs. On the other hand, if we can successfully complete this initiative, I estimate the impact will be…
Honest communication like this, ideally before the adverse symptoms show up, will go a long way toward creating the urgency we need to execute.
Now ask yourself: Is there a sense of urgency in your organization? Are people operating as if the future of the organization is at stake? Does everyone understand the repercussions of a failure to act? Is there a willingness to confront problems? Is there an understanding of key trends in performance?
Check back soon for The Eight Keys to Execution, part 2!
Ideas are everywhere. Through emails, blogs, conversations, keynote speeches, and media, we are endlessly bombarded with the latest and greatest idea, few of which are ever implemented. So how does a nonprofit organization create momentum internally to get a great idea put into action? Curt Swindoll details eight steps to creating forward movement both in the mission and in the fundraising disciplines of your organization. Being able to come up with great ideas is fantastic, but ultimately worthless if they don’t translate into action.
Click here to download this whitepaper and kickstart your nonprofit’s effectiveness and execution.
How are you planning to augment your acquisition practices in 2012? You might have looked at your acquisition costs and thought that they were too high, but are unsure how to gain new donors at manageable rates. Tommy Swanson explains in this whitepaper how search engine marketing can help nonprofits find prospects that align with their mission or vision and convert them to loyal donors, year in and year out. You might think search engine marketing is only for commercial businesses, but the best practices hold true for fundraising.
Click here to download the whitepaper and change the way you acquire new donors.
Many organizations have yet to tap the power of mid-level donors, instead focusing on the long development cycle of major donors and the acquisition needs of the annual fund. Both of these practices have been tried and true, and if done right, can yield great results. But what if you could quickly upgrade qualified donors from the annual fund and create a next generation of major donors? The new revenue would take donors from smaller gifts to mid-level annual pledges, giving your organization a fresh fundraising stream from within.
Tony Smercina and Erik Tomalis discuss the strategy used to gain mid-level donors in this whitepaper.
Click here to download your copy and learn how to make mid-level giving a part of your organization’s standard fundraising disciplines.
Gary Cole wrote an excellent whitepaper in 2011, exhorting organizations to focus on creating an internal culture of philanthropy. So many nonprofit employees develop tunnel-vision around the mission of their organization and fail to make themselves better fundraisers. At the end of the day, there is no mission if there is no money. Educating everyone in your organization on basic fundraising principles can begin to raise the watermark of philanthropy at your organization.
Download this whitepaper and rethink the way your organization thinks about fundraising.
Purposeful and authentic storytelling is vital in any organization, but it is increasingly necessary in philanthropic organizations seeking to engage external support in order to advance the organizational mission. Consensus building, a shared vision, and inclusion in the process are required by both internal and external constituents.
Unfortunately, stories are far too often more monologue than dialogue. Gaining ownership of and commitment to the organization’s vision becomes much more difficult when leaders develop a vision for the organization without first soliciting feedback from all key stakeholders. Key stakeholders who are critical to the success of the vision are then relegated to the role of spectator rather than an an engaged, respected, and active participant.
This practice creates both a disincentive for staff to offer feedback and a diminished desire to engage in the success of the organization with any degree of passion or enthusiasm. As a result, staff simply wait for further instructions before proceeding with any tactical assignment. The result for the organization is a less creative, less autonomous, and less committed staff.
The same concept holds true outside of the walls of the organization. Storytelling must be about meaningful, authentic, two-way conversations when engaging volunteers, advocates, and those willing to make philanthropic investment in the mission. We must spend more time being interested instead of simply trying to be interesting. Our stories must have a goal. They must be memorable and they must be actionable.
Often organizations create communication plans that lack integration or goals. The plans are measured by the message being delivered as opposed to the message received. Creating a culture of philanthropy requires that all within the organization speak the same language and tell the same story. It requires that all messages and all communi- cation channels become integrated to increase interaction, involve others more meaning- fully in the life of the organization, enhance a shared vision, and create viral advocates for the cause. In short, philanthropic organizations are those that move from talking at people to talking with people – and they do so with purpose and intent.
It’s not uncommon for fundraising practitioners to speak of the culture of philanthropy that exists within their organizations. The term itself has become quite popular in recent years. However, what is uncommon is an ability to collectively articulate what exactly the phrase means, how it looks, how it should be measured, and how those whom the organization serves may benefit from such a culture. As catalysts for change, development professionals have perhaps the best vantage point to view the entire organization. But in order to affect change and help create a philanthropic culture, an understanding of organizational culture is first needed.
There are two schools of thought on organizational culture. Some believe that organizations have cultures. Others believe that organizations are cultures. For the purpose of this paper, organizational culture describes the attitudes, experiences, beliefs, and values of an organization. Simply put, the culture defines how things are done in an organization and how individuals within it interact with one another.
A CULTURE OF PHILANTHROPY
A culture of philanthropy refers to an organization’s attitude toward philanthropy and the development process. But in this instance, philanthropy refers to more than fundraising revenue goals. Practitioners must first understand the value of the organizational culture, the importance of philanthropy, the link between philanthropy and development, and the leadership roles for each of us in this process to truly understand how to create a culture of philanthropy. Even then, there are broader behaviors and practices that must be understood. Below are four key components that will provide a deeper dive into what kind of culture actually exists within your organization. Evidence of a strong culture of philanthropy typically includes:
- Demonstrated leadership at all organizational levels
- Authentic storytelling and a commitment to conversation with all stakeholders
- Mission-driven systems, staffing, structure, and processes
- Shared values and a collective commitment to a common goal
LEADERSHIP AND FOLLOWERSHIP
Creating a culture of philanthropy within an organization begins at the top. The board’s level of engagement is a critical element of a strong philanthropic culture. How often the board meets, the style of the meetings, term limits and rotation schedules, board giving, and the activities of board committees send messages about the value placed upon the board’s leadership in philanthropy. Other critical factors are how the board chooses to measure progress toward mission, the impact of philanthropic efforts, and the importance placed on long-term relationships.
But it doesn’t end there. What’s also required is the ability to lead from the middle – or, quite frankly, wherever your position ranks in the hierarchy. Doing so provides all with the opportunity to impact positive change.
But there are specific aspects to leadership necessary to create a culture of philanthropy beyond the visible willingness of boards to engage in strategy, staff to counsel superiors, or managers to follow subordinates.
Governing boards and senior leadership are responsible for the administration and strategic direction of an organization. Where their sustained focus resides says a great deal about the existing culture, climate, and areas of perceived significance.
Philanthropic organizations have missions. They exist to serve society, not to simply provide employment for those working within them. Leadership must maintain a balanced focus on both the organization’s impact on society and its operational efficiency. Again, this does not stop at the top, but should penetrate deeply to all levels of the organizations.
Organizational attention drifts far too often. Focus shifts solely on operational efficiencies (the cost of raising a dollar is one example) and tactics, as opposed to measuring the intended impact on those served by the organization and society as a whole. Subsequently, without many noticing, board and internal conversations shift to the organization’s needs as opposed to societal needs. Philanthropic support becomes the answer to little more than budgetary gaps as organizational strategy focuses on maintaining organizational profitability rather than serving others.
This diminishes the case for support and the role of philanthropic investments and those willing to make them, and it marginalizes fundraising practitioners as well. Being an efficient organization does not mean it’s more philanthropic.
The responsibility then rests on the entire organization to maintain focus on the mission. Hanging plaques with the mission statement in offices or asking staff to involuntarily stand and recite the mission at staff meetings does not make an organization more philanthropic. Leading, regardless of your position classification, and following while living the mission creates a more philanthropic culture.