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Is This Really a Need??

Today I took Devin and Darius school shopping.  You know the routine; pencils, colored-markers, highlighters, compasses, usb drives (I don’t remember this one on my school list), composition books (classic), and of course the transporter of all these supplies – the book bag.   We got everything on the list, we got everything we needed, or so we thought.

It was a pretty uneventful trip, until we unpacked at home.

I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and they’re both  showing Dexter their supplies when this exchange takes place:

Darius – “Dex, you like my book bag?”

Dex  – “Yeah.”

Dex – “Darius, what’s that other bag?”

Darius – “My book bag from last year.”

Dex – “That looks brand new.”

Me – “Huh, what?? Bring me that bag.  Darius this book bag from last year is just fine.  Why did we buy another book bag?”

Darius – “I don’t know.”

Dex – “When am I going school shopping?
Me – “Now’s not the time..”

Dex – “Ok, and by the way, I don’t need a book bag.  The one I have from last year is just fine.”

Me – “Great, that saves me some money.”


Now back to Darius.  As you can see, I spent $30 on a book bag.  $30 that I didn’t have to, but I did.  Why because I failed to conduct a proper assessment of our needs and resources before I allocated my money.


What another wonderful lesson for leaders that my children have been so gracious to teach me:


Before you expend resources, make sure you assess not only your needs & wants, but your assets.  Sometimes you already have what you need. 

Next time you write a grant, apply for a government contract, conduct a needs/resource assessment remember this lesson.

We can become so preoccupied and focused on what we want and what we “think” we need that we don’t spend ample time assessing what we have and how to leverage what we have to get more.


By the way, Dexter leveraged the fact that he already had a book bag to get extra money for clothes.  Darius is learning the value of philanthropy and donating a book bag to a church’s back-to-school drive.   Oh yeah, and in the future, we will assess what we have before we go shopping.

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A Change is Gonna Come

Change is:







Call change what you like but there’s one thing we all must agree with – funders of all types pour money into communities everyday seeking change in some form or another as the return on their investment (ROI).  Some organizations and communities are successful at implementing, managing and navigating change; while others struggle with the mere thought of change.  I started wondering what’s the difference between those that successfully implemented and sustained long-term, positive, effective, healthy changes in our communities and those that didn’t.

Based upon my observations and conversations with leaders in the Social Sector, I’ve discovered 4 keys to successful change efforts, the keys that separate the “change agents” from others:

Purpose:  You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not.  Simple question, why??  Why are we doing this?  To what end? What’s the core purpose of this initiative, effort, or project?  I’ve seen instances where the sole purpose was to “spend money we had to spend”.  Guess what?? There was no long-term, positive, effective, healthy change.  Why?  Purpose drives passion and provides direction.  If we’re just trying to clean the books before the end of the fiscal year, all we’ll change is the balance sheet.  Clearly defining the purpose gives everyone involved a framework for their engagement.  We know why we’re here.  We know the end we’re striving for.  We are able to see beyond the tasks at hand to the vision at the end.

Patient Persistence:  Successful change agents recognize that “it didn’t get this way overnight and we’re not going to change it overnight.”  This has been a huge issue with government and foundation funding.  We expect to break generational and cyclical patterns of poverty and despair in one grant cycle – Not going to happen.  I applaud those foundations, government agencies and other entities that recognize the strategic advantage of committing to longer-term funding.  Some of the proverbial “needles” we want to move are going to take a while to move. We shouldn’t hastily select “symptomatic” indicators that can move the needle easily, but don’t change reality.

Participation:  We’re not going to make a difference in anyone’s life or any community without the active, up-front participation of all stakeholders.  I’ve seen far too many “needed” programs and projects fail because the “smart people” making the decision, knew what the community or target audience needed and decided to deliver it without their buy-in. We’re not there to work “for” “to” or “at” anyone, we’re there to work “with” and “through”.   This notion that we’re going to ride into a community on a white horse in our shining armor and save people from themselves is played-out.  By the way, participation is more than inviting people to an event announcing what’s already been decided upon.

Pain: As necessary as change may be, for a target audience or community, we must acknowledge that any time we disrupt the status quo it results in discomfort for somebody.  The process of change can create conflict and resistance.  Think about it, when faced with pain most of us want to “pull up”, “pull back” or “pull out” (think about working out at the gym for the first time.) The first step to handling this is to be up-front with all stakeholders – talk about the process and challenges.  This applies to all stakeholders, including service providers.  For instance, collaborating can be a painful process – it’s different, it can become uncomfortable and disruptive.  Talking about this “pain” will help everyone manage the pain when it inevitably arises.

This is not an exhaustive list, it’s just 4 simple ideas that I believe can positively change the “culture of change” in our organizations and communities. 


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Why Does the Board have to Fundraise?

The majority of Independent Sector organizations have a need for their boards to fundraise .  This is why you see an abundance of Board fundraising trainings, tools, and efforts throughout the sector.  However, there’s something else we still see – many boards and/or board members that don’t, won’t or can’t fundraise.

For those Boards and Board members that struggle with the idea of fundraising or still don’t understand “why” we have to fundraise, consider this:

  1. Funders Expect It: The overwhelming majority of grant applications from corporate, foundation  and even government funders ask a similar question, “What percentage of your board financial contributes to the organization?”  Why do they ask this question?  Simply put, they’re not as close to the organization as the board is – and if the board won’t financially support the organization why should they?  I can’t overstate how impressive it is to a funder when you can claim 100% of our board financially contributes to the organization.  As a matter of fact I know of a few organizations that can claim 100% financial participation from the Board and staff. Wow!!!
  2. Increases your Credibility & Confidence during the Ask: How can you ask others to do what you don’t do?  Imagine approaching a friend or colleague to seek their financial support for the organization.  They look you in the eye and say, “Great, I’d love to support the organization.  By the way, did you give? “ If you can’t answer this question with a resounding confident yes,  you just lost credibility.
  3. Increases your Sense of Ownership: We are more likely to pay attention and care for those things that we own versus those things we don’t own.  Making financial contribution increases your sense of ownership and commitment.  When I was a kid, the phrase “put your money where your mouth is” was very popular.  In other words if you believed in something enough you’d put your money up.  Board members need to “put their money where their heart is”.  If you’re enthusiastic and believe in the cause this will come easy for you.

Finally, there are two ways we’ve seen the expectation of Board member financial support communicated:

  1. A specific annual amount is determined by the Board and agreed upon when board service begins. (i.e. Board members will contribute $2,500 annually..)
  2. The  specific amount is determined by the individual.  (i.e. Board members will contribute a financial amount annually commensurate with their ability.)

Bottom Line: Effective, high-performing boards don’t view fundraising as an obstacle, they view it as an opportunity – an opportunity to advance the mission that they committed to serve.

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