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How to Communicate with Donors & Supporters

IMAG2832Do you know Ron Barb? Chances are you don’t, unless you’re from Logan County Kentucky or you work in the plastics industry. I didn’t know about Ron until today, when I read an article on newsdemocratleader.com that referenced him and the great work that he’s leading in Logan County. I was so impressed that I decided to share the article with the world – particularly those that work or volunteer in the Not-for-Profit, Independent Sector.

You may be wondering what can not-for-profits learn from a plant manager in the plastics industry. More than you realize my friends, more than you realize. You see Ron is the chairperson for the allocation committee for the United Way in Logan County. This isn’t his full time job – it’s a volunteer position that he assumes, like many others across the country, that are committed to doing what they can do to positively impact their local communities.

There are a few things that Ron and the entire team at the United Way of Southern Kentucky got right with this article that I think needs to be highlighted for the benefit of others in the sector – and not just United Ways, but anyone that’s attempting to communicate their value to stakeholders:

  1. The messenger is just as important as the message. Notice, the article isn’t referencing the CEO of the United Way or the other staff. They’re talking about Rob Barb, the volunteer committee chairperson, who has a full-time job as a plant manager. Sure the CEO could have been featured, but there are times when all organizations need to be strategic about whom the message is coming from. Last time I checked, plant managers are pretty busy people and the fact that Ron Barb devotes a portion of his valuable time to the United Way’s efforts speaks volumes to others regarding the importance of servant leadership.
  1. Thank donors/supporters in a meaningful manner. Ron does a phenomenal job thanking them and connecting them to the work of the United Way and their partner agencies. Consider this line from the article, “Your contributions have helped reach 7,956 individuals in Logan County last year alone, out of a little over 27,000 people in the county. You should be proud of yourselves.”  His message is directed to the Fiscal Court – a public body within the county – and Ron is thanking them and showing the impact of their contribution in a public forum. This is a meaningful “thank you” because public bodies get their fair share of public disgruntlement and disagreement, therefore it’s nice to appreciate them in public and give them a space to show the good they do.
  1. Quantify the good that was done. In this article, Ron is giving an update to the Logan County Fiscal Court on the impact that the United Way and their partner agencies are making through the supported allocated via the Fiscal Court. He’s telling a story where their involvement extends beyond a contribution; they are part of a solution, a story, and can be proud of their efforts.   He doesn’t just give them abstract statements like, “you made a difference” or “you helped change a life” or “the community is a better place” – he quantifies the difference, the better and the change.   Some examples include:
    1. 1,040 youth in Logan County received sexual assault prevention education services through United Way partner agency Hope Harbor.
    2. 293 nursing home residents received visits and complaint resolution services from the Barren River Long Term Care Ombudsman program resulting in improved quality of life, quality of personal care, interpersonal skills, and socialization.

Thanks to Ron Barb and the entire United Way of Southern Kentucky family for reminding us of how to communicate with our donors and supporters – great lessons and reminders for all of us. I suggest you read the full article at the link below – you may find some additional lessons.


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Eliminating Mediocrity

I was reading Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” and came across the story of George Cain when he became the CEO of Abbott Laboratories.  It’s noted in the book that Cain could not tolerate any form of mediocrity and that he, “set out to destroy one of the key causes of Abbott’s mediocrity: nepotism.”

The part of this story that draws my attention is the fact that he attacked the cause – nepotism.  Often times leaders and managers treat symptoms, we very rarely take the time or have the insight to find the underlying problem and even deeper root cause.  In my opinion the problem, symptom, cause framework for Abbott Laboratories looked like this:

Symptom = Abbott Laboratories wasn’t performing.  They were sitting at the bottom quartile in the pharmaceutical industry.

Problem = Mediocrity

Cause = Nepotism

By attacking and eliminating the cause, Cain turned things around.

The lesson we all can learn from Cain is you don’t eliminate mediocrity by attacking mediocrity. If mediocrity is a problem in your organization, you have to identify the symptoms and then attack and eliminate the root cause.

Here’s a brief list of some Causes of Mediocrity we’ve witnessed:

  1. Leaders who stay in position beyond their “time”.
  2. Lack of accountability among Board members, managers, and staff.
  3. Unwillingness to set and enforce performance expectations.
  4. Fear of conflict.
  5. Culture of Excuses.
  6. Lack of commitment to the core business.  Good at too many things, but great at none.
  7. Unwillingness to measure and report results.

Have you witnessed other causes of mediocrity?  Please add to the list.


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Don’t Bother the Board

I recall a meeting with a Board Chair in preparation for a project.  Part of the project involved the deliberate engagement of the Board.  Individually and collectively the Board had to  commit the time that this effort demanded if it was to be successful.

The Board Chair had a concern – The Board members time.  I realize I’ve heard this before from other Board Chairs and CEO’s that wanted to protect their Board’s time.  Here are some common things I’ve heard:

“The Board is busy, we don’t need to bother them with this.”

“Our Board doesn’t have time, they’re just volunteers.”

“I’m trying to make it easy for my board.”

“The Board has better things to do.”

“Can’t we just do it and bring it to the Board.”

“My Board is full of busy people, they don’t have time.”

“Let’s not trouble the Board with this.”

Though I appreciate the fact that someone is protecting the Board’s time (by the way, a resource worth protecting), I’m concerned that in many instances  we are robbing the board of the opportunity to exercise their responsibilities and perform their duties.  Let me be clear, I’m  not for wasting time, I’m not for “meeting just to meet”, and I’m definitely not for engaging the Board in matters that don’t pertain to their roles, responsibilities, or expectations.  I am for the Board fulfilling their duties of Obedience, Loyalty, and Care.   I am for the Board providing proper over-site.  I am for the Board being engaged.

So what does this mean?? The Board is there to be bothered.  The Board isn’t there for the easy work, they’re there for the hard work. There’s nothing better for the Board to do than govern the organization and fulfill their roles, responsibilities, and expectations.  Yes they’re volunteers, but they’re accountable volunteers.   If the Board doesn’t have time to be the Board then they don’t have time to be on the Board. 

Bottom Line: Stop trying to make life easy for your Board.  Stop tricking people to serve on the Board by telling them “there’s not much to do”.  Stop depriving your board of the time, space, and opportunity to be the Board.  And most importantly, if you’re a Board member, stop letting your Chair and CEO let you off the hook – Be Aware, Be Engaged, Be Bothered!!!!!

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Am I the Reason My People Have No Initiative?

Leader: “I can’t get my team to take initiative and take charge of projects.  They won’t just jump in and “do it”.  How can I get them to grab the reigns and take charge.”

Me: “What’s been your previous pattern of delegating authority?”

Leader: “Huh?”

Me: “Do you have a history of delegating authority and tasks to your people?”

Leader: “No, I haven’t in the past, but I’m starting to do it now.”

Me:  “Well this explains why they won’t take charge and just jump in.”  Let me explain.

Your team feeds off of your behavior and your patterns – they know you, they watch you.  If you have a pattern of just doing it yourself, you know the old saying “by the time I show somebody else how to do it, I might as well do it myself” –  you can’t be surprised when they don’t jump in to do a job that you NOW want them to do.  Every time you didn’t delegate a task to your team, that should have been delegated, you were telling them, “I don’t have confidence in you” – that was your pattern.  So this is new territory for them – you can’t expect them to just do it.  For those leaders who have seen the “delegation light” and want to now realize all the benefits of creating an environment where your team members can exhibit their competency and skills through delegation, here are a few things you are ABLE to do:

  1. Reintroduce yourself to your team: Bring everyone together and introduce the new you.  Acknowledge the new pattern of behavior you are committing to, and also share why you are doing this. Acknowledge that this is new and there will be a transition period for everyone – you have to get used to delegating and they have to get used to receiving.  You’re restoring trust at this point.
  2. When you delegate be very clear regarding roles, responsibilities and expectations.  For instance, ensure the individuals you delegate to, have the capacity to perform the task at hand.
  3. If you want something a certain way, let them know.  Don’t make people “guess” to figure out how you want something done. If you have specific imperatives that must be met, let them know up front.
  4. Let them know where there’s room for flexibility, imagination and creativity.  Let them be flexible, imaginative, and creative.
  5.  Finally throughout the delegation process communication must be clear, concise, and consistent.    You may not want to wait til the end to see what’s been done – create a space where you can check-in with each other without anyone feeling disempowered on one end or disturbed on the other.

Remember this “delegation thing” is new to you and to them.  Every time you delegate with confidence, they have the opportunity to demonstrate competence.  This becomes a powerful  cycle that leads to greater confidence and competence.

Want to learn more?? Take a look at TWG_retreats to see how we can help you and your team improve your performance over time.


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Don’t Worry About It

A young professional shared this with me recently.  In the last few months several people had been “let go” from her organization.  Concerned for her own job security, she approached the Executive Director to find out if the organization was going to “be here” next month – she was told don’t worry about.  A few days later she overheard the CFO telling the Executive Director that cash flow was way down and the organization had never been this broke – she again approached the Executive Director and was told – don’t worry about it.  Finally there has been an increasing number of creditors and subcontractors calling the office seeking payment for overdue invoices and bills, once again she approached the Executive Director and was told – don’t worry about it.

By this time you do know what she’s doing, don’t you?  That’s right worrying about.  I understand that there are times when leadership believes the followers can’t handle the truth – not saying I agree with this or condone it, but I do understand how leaders may think it – they may think if everyone really knew how dire the situation is they may panic, they may leave, programs may suffer.  Well guess what, if they’re constantly worried about what you won’t talk about, the work and programs are suffering already.  AccountABLE  leaders help their people confront and navigate reality.

Reality is confronting this young lady on a daily basis and the Executive Director’s admonishings of Don’t Worry About It aren’t working.  Leaders are ABLE to talk about what their people are worried about.



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How’d They Get That Job???

“The reason she got the job is because she can’t do the job.  The leader (term used loosely) doesn’t like people working for them that will push back, question, or “rock the boat”.  She got the job because she’s a safe hire and will do whatever the leader wants. Everyone knows this.  The leaders entire team is composed of people that will follow orders, not question the status quo, and just fall in line.”

How would you like to be the “she” in that conversation?  By the way, it could just as easily be “he.”

How would you like to be the leader in that conversation?  Not exactly a shining portrayal of leadership greatness.

IF and it’s a big IF – If this is true, there are several issues any leader with integrity would have with this scenario.   I’m not going to discuss those issues – I’m choosing to treat this like a case study and go a different direction.  By the way, like all case studies we explore, the names have been changed to protect the innocent – so stop trying to guess who I’m talking about.

Now,  I want to ask some questions to spur all of us to engage in some Courageous Conversations to examine ourselves.  Why? Because the fact of the matter is any of us could be either of them, depending upon who you ask.

  1. If a leader of a major organization (large nonprofit, educational institution, city government) purposefully hires people that “can’t do the job” or “ who just fall in line”, how can they do that and not be held accountable? Whose job is it to hold them accountable?
  2. If this does happen, and the leader isn’t held accountable, what does that say about our expectations of our leaders?
  3. Where’s the line between proper authority and dictatorial or passive-aggressive control?
  4. Is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to hire and surround yourself with “yes men and women”?  If so, when?
  5. How long will you stay on a job, that doesn’t let you do your job?
  6. Why and when can people “thinking” be a threat to leadership?

So, what are you ABLE to do?  Spend some time answering these questions.  Better yet, if you’re a leader, use these questions during an open group dialogue with your team.  It’s one way to find out if you’re one of the two people mentioned in the conversation above.

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Why Would They Care?

I recently read an article that focused on IBM’s former CEO Sam Palmisano and his recollection of his first meeting as the Chairman of the corporation back in 2003.  According to the article he only wrote down 4 questions that day:

  1. Why would someone invest in us?
  2. Why would customers buy from us?
  3. Why would someone work here?
  4. Why would society allow us to operate?

Great questions.

Not that Mr. Palmisanon needs my approval, but I’ll give it to him anyway.   These questions, especially the last one, speak to the value a company offers and the purpose they serve.  See, even in the profit-driven corporate world innovate leaders are recognizing that if they want to last, they better be worth the space they take up.

As I continued reading the article I couldn’t help but think, how could we apply these questions to the nonprofit sector.  So in the spirit of “not reinventing the wheel”, here are 6 questions that every nonprofit leader should ask today:

  1. Why would someone donate to or fund us?
  2. Why would clients seek services from us?
  3. Why would someone work here?
  4. Why would someone volunteer here?
  5. Why would another agency/organization collaborate with us?
  6. Why would society allow us to operate?

If you want your nonprofit to last, provide value, and serve a purpose, these are the types of questions you need to be asking and answering substantively.  If you can’t answer them, then why should we care?

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Show Me the Money!

You can’t say it without picturing Cuba Gooding and Tom Cruise engaged in the now famous exchange in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” as Cuba’s character Rod Tidwell expressed his primary interest in retaining Jerry as his agent – “Show Me the Money!”

I’m approached on a regular basis by grassroots organizations, faith-based organizations, and not-for-profits of all sizes, seeking our assistance with one thing – that’s right – money. Because if they could just get some money everything else would be all right – or so they think. “Can you write a grant for us or get us the money we need?” they ask.  As the conversation continues, I ask my clients to consider their “readiness” to receive grant money. And, for the record, this question normally doesn’t go over too well.

Money should not be the priority or primary concern that motivates you or your organization. Money can be your worst enemy if you get it when you’re not ready to receive it.  Sure, it takes money to get work done, but there are several factors that demand our attention before we ask others to invest in us.

1.   Need
What is the issue, challenge, problem, or situation that you seek to address?  Answering this question is critical, particularly for many grassroots and faith-based organizations who – in their quest to help – try to be all things to all people.  Don’t stretch yourself too thin.  The key word here is focus.

2.   Assets (Capacity)
Now, just because you’ve figured out what problem you’re trying to solve, you still can’t run out and ask for money.  The next question you need to answer is what assets and resources do you have and/or have access to that can address the need.  Remember, just because a need exists and is validated doesn’t mean it’s yours to fix. Look within your organization at your volunteers, staff, board, space, vehicles, equipment, knowledge, skills, abilities, relationships, and previous successes.  Make sure you have the assets or the access to address the need.

3.   Vision
As an organization you need a vision – a picture of success.  When I ask individuals and organizations about their vision I often get a blank stare and then they begin to tell me about what they’re doing.  The vision is not what you do – it’s what the community will look like after you do what you do.  The vision needs to be compelling, inviting, challenging, and serve as a call to action for others to support you.  Remember the vision is that which you can only see if your eyes are closed and your heart is open.

4.   Mission
If nothing else, the mission should tell others what you do, who you do it for, and where you do it.  It is not a list of programmatic or ministry activities: it is the overarching purpose of those activities.  Some good mission words include: Develop, Promote, Equip, Connect, Reduce, or Promote. You can test the validity of your mission by asking one simple question:  If we do this, will it lead to our vision?  The mission is the road you travel to get to your vision.

5.   Values
At the core of your organization are your values.  We define values as the non-negotiable principles that you will not compromise and that guide your decision making. Values are unique to each organization and depend on that organization’s culture.  Whether you have a written values statement or not, we all have organizational values.  They are evident in our relationships, decisions, and activities.  For instance, if you say you value feedback from your constituents, but there is no mechanism in place for them to provide that feedback, then it’s not really a value: it’s just a nice thought.

If the mission is the road you travel to get to your vision, then your values serve as the guardrails.  They protect you and keep you within your mission. One result of a lack of values is mission drift.  We sway off course because we’re chasing money.  One irrefutable fact is that ministry does not follow money, but money will always follow ministry.

Understanding, respecting, and communicating your Strategic Framework to all stakeholders will help you identify potential grant opportunities, as well as partnering agencies, board members, volunteers, donors, and others who share your passion for helping others.

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They’re doing a great job… or are they?

Imagine running a race and not knowing where the finish line is.

Imagine playing a game and not keeping score.

That’s what it’s like being the CEO of an organization and never being told what success should look like.

Newsflash – If it’s not written down, you can’t expect for it to happen.

It’s unfair to the CEO. It’s unfair to the board and it’s unfair to the stakeholders. How can you measure success when you haven’t defined it. How can you reward exemplary when you have defined ordinary.

Do yourselves a favor. Sit down with your CEO and develop annual performance measures – it’s a joint effort.

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