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My Favorite Quotes About Planning (and what they mean to me)

WE'RE ON THE CUSP OF THE NEW YEAR, A TIME WHEN I try to use the next few days to do some reflection and personal mission review and goal setting. Sounds very serious, but I assure you that it's not so much that as it is reinvigorating. Taking a bit of reflective time puts me back in touch with some basic ideas that are foundational to my work and to my outlook on life. I thought I'd begin the process this time around by sharing some quotes with you that have particular meaning for me: Eleanor Roosevelt: It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. When I first came across this quote, I wrote it right down. It clicked with me, because I've worked with so many organizations whose dreams seemed to far exceed their capacities to fulfill them. Or one person has big, vocal dreams, while everybody else is either not yet in dream mode or is completely clueless. No matter whose dream or how big, without an articulated plan to achieve it, it almost certainly will …

Who Writes a Plan?

IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE IDEAL PLANNING PROCESSincludes many voices along its way from inside and outside the organization. Casting as wide a net as possible for stakeholder opinion and insight can help the plan’s developers frame questions they might never have thought of asking, which can lead to the creation of important criteria by which to filter possible future scenarios.It’s also a way to gain broad buy-in to a final plan, because many people will have had an opportunity to put a point-of-view, an idea, or a warning on the planning table.Sounds good, doesn’t it?In practice, few organizations are able to take on as much opinion gathering as they or their consultants would like.If truth be told, all that surveying, benchmarking and focus-grouping is time-consuming work requiring as much (or more) coordination as the actual writing of a plan.But it can be so richly rewarding!Organizations that short-circuit this “research” phase of the process, however, go into planning with only i…

Organizational Resolutions

AS WE NEAR THE END OF ANOTHER YEAR, I offer up this post of organizational resolutions, which I wrote in 2008. As I re-read them, I think they hold up pretty well for the continuing financial uncertainties most cultural nonprofits face in 2010, although two are particularly salient right now: become financially literate and get comfortable with change.
Financial literacy is more than being able to read a monthly or quarterly statement, although that's a basic skill everyone should be taught. To me, financial literacy is being able to draw conclusions about how the numbers support mission and make an impact on the audiences you serve. That entails understanding how the numbers relate to each other, such as all annual income raised from individuals, as well as what among them are your organization's key financial and operational indicators. Every organization needs to have a handful of key indicators that will help boards and staffs track financial health. The recently rele…

V is for Value

"A COUPLE OF BOARD MEMBERS HAVE BEEN ASKING questions recently about the value of our organization. I realize I have to do more than become angry and come up with something that answers the question with a business-based answer."That was the substance of a recent email from a heritage organization board member.There are some things in professional life that continue to confound me – even pull me up short – despite the fact that I know they exist.For me, these “professional surprises” run the gamut from an organization’s unwillingness to ask for community input to the downright failure of some boards and staffs to recognize, or understand, that a nonprofit organization’s reason for being is the public benefit it provides. Knowing all that still didn’t prevent my heart from skipping a beat when I read that email.There it was, the “V-word” (not to be confused with the other problem “V-word” – vision).Articulating the "value" issue plagues many cultural organizations,…

Your Nonprofit as a Wind-up Toy

I SUPPOSE THIS POST MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO with the gift-giving time of year, or perhaps it's the phone conversation I just had that touched upon the phases of organizational growth. I don't know, but I'm going to put the two together for today's post and see what I can make of it.
I actually want to concentrate on the founding stage of a nonprofit -- those early, heady years of excitement and energy fueled by a gratifying sense that one is creating something important and needed. I got to thinking about organization founders: community activists, groups of friends, lone rangers -- passionate people, all. They have a vision and often the power to make that vision reality. They utilize their networks to accomplish their vision. And they may easily embrace others into their vision or they may not.
The most enlightened founders know that organizations are living, breathing, dynamic things, with changing leadership and funding needs. These founders understand that…

The Mission Statement Wrestling Match

A CLIENT OF MINE IS WRESTLING WITH REVISING ITS mission statement. And wrestling is a good word for it. Writing a deceptively simple, but truly meaningful, statement is not easy. So many mission statements are mired in the what's and how's of an organization's activities that they barely acknowledge an audience or rarely talk about the whys of their existence. (Hint: audience and the whys of existence are the two most important things.)
I've written (and spoken) a lot about this here. One of the connecting themes to all those posts is about digging deep to taste and savor meaning; to layer in texture and color; to make the statement connect on some emotional level with the people who read it. In fact, the mission statement is not so much about helping the folks within the organization decipher what the organization is, as it's about helping folks outside the organization discover your power and purpose.
Here are some of the words from the image above that cam…

"Key Questions" Post Receives Kudos

I'M REALLY PLEASED THAT MY POST, “Key Questions for Board and Senior Staff”, received some high praise from readers at AssociationJam.org.It was voted one of the best ten stories for Leadership in November 2009!AssociationJam.org is a website sponsored by WildApricot.com, a subscription-based blog “for volunteers, webmasters and administrators of associations and nonprofits. We discuss issues and trends in web technologies that help your organization do more with less.”

Encouraging Board Learning

I KNOW THAT MANY OF US, MYSELF INCLUDED, ARE LOOKING for ways to encourage and maybe even inspire boards to take an active role in their own leadership and decision-making growth. It's not easy. That's why I thought the following from Hildy Gottlieb, President of the Community-Driven Institute, in response to a question on LinkedIn about board learning was one I wanted to share with you. Hildy's suggestions for creating a board learning environment can be used by organizations of any size, with staff or not.So, go for it!I have been encouraging boards to actually begin doing their work as learning communities - with generative discussion being a big part of each meeting, focused on the things that matter most - vision, values, making a difference, measuring that difference.Focusing on the "intentional" part of your question, some strategies I've seen work well. • Have the generative discussion be the first item on the agenda, to set the tone for the rest o…

Building Cohesion Among Board Members

AS WE WORK TOWARD GREATER DIVERSITY ON OUR nonprofit boards, more and more boards are being made up of people who may not know one another well or at all. They don't run in the same social circles in the community, they may come from a wide geographic area or spend just a part of their time in one community. The result is they may only see one another at your organization.
Moving a group of relative strangers toward a cohesive team requires that each person shifts from an individual to a group mindset where the success of the whole is the goal. Successful teams care not only about the organization, but care enough about each other to ensure that everyone is able to meet their responsibilities. To get to that point, team members need to have opportunities to get to know one another just enough to foster mutual trust and respect. After all, it is just those two behaviors that get groups through stressful, even difficult, times.
So, how can board and staff leaders build cohesion…

The Importance of Focus Groups to Strategic Planning

THE VERY NOTION OF STRATEGIC PLANNING DEMANDS that one get out of one's skin to view an organization the way others do. There's valuable information out in the landscape about your organization and all you have to do is ask for it. But, frankly, that's enough to send chills through some of the most hardened organization leaders.
Most organizations rely on the survey as a means to collect community input. But surveys are passive things -- they generally only tell you what's written on the page. No chance for follow-up questions. While they're great for reaching a large group, it's really hard to create a survey that gives you much new or really insightful information. Talking face-to-face in small groups also has its limitations, but hold tremendous opportunities for making deeper connections. And since few cultural organizations seize the opportunity to use focus groups in any regular way....or at all....the format is definitely worth exploring, particular…

Templates are the Enemies of Innovation

NOT MY TITLE, BUT A GOOD ONE DON'T YOU THINK? It comes from thisarticle in Fast Company by Dev Patnaik on how the The Rotman School of Managementis restructuring its MBA program based on developing business leaders who are well-grounded in multiple disciplines (including strategic and creative problem-solving). No wonder then that one premise held by the school’s dean is that “templates are the enemies of innovation.” Hmmm.....templates. My world is littered with them. I'm always searching for them to use as examples, to shine new light on old dusty topics. But, think about it: templates are meant to provide a standard output, whether it's that envelope up there in the image or a policy statement. In the organizational context, it’s so easy to copy or spin someone else’s work, even if it’s not quite the right fit. Yet, one of our oft-stated mantras is “don’t reinvent the wheel”; when someone or some organization has already gone down that road, why should we? Templ…

Why Do You Care? Making Personal Connections to Organizational Mission

I FREQUENTLY USE THIS INTRODUCTION/ icebreaker at board-staff retreats and it almost always results in a new level of mutual understanding and respect: I ask participants to talk about why they care about the organization and want to be a part of it.
Emotional connections to the importance of the organization and to its mission are often revealed in heartfelt ways. Participants revel in newly discovered information about each other. Boards and staffs rarely allow themselves the opportunity to talk in such a way, yet their underlying desires to play a part in an organization are, in fact, the connective tissue that holds the enterprise together. It's a worthy thing to share.
This activity is also a great pick-me-up for those times when a group has just plain run out of steam. It helps bring the energy level up, because it asks people to get in touch with what they deem is personally important.
This discussion is also an effective opening to the creation of vision and mission state…

Key Questions for Board and Senior Staff

I'M PREPARING FOR A BOARD WORKSHOP ON ROLES and responsibilities, and we'll be spending a good chunk of time reviewing a self-assessment board members participated in a few weeks ago. The organization's director and I decided to use the self-assessment as the launch pad for a series of discussion questions that we think will encourage board members to dig deeper into how to apply established responsibilities to the institution.
I think they're pretty good, so I wanted to share them with you. Feel free to share them with your boards. How frequently and deeply is the mission used to drive organizational goals and values?What is the role of the executive director vis-a-vis the board in financial stewardship?Besides finances, what are the biggest risks facing the institution?How can interaction among board members be enhanced?Is the needed mix of talent at the board table for now and the next five years?How can the level of information and idea exchange at board meetings be…

Game Changing the Model

WHO'S READY TO MOVE FORWARD? WHO'S READY TO EXPLORE new and effective ways of addressing the seemingly intractable problems of the arts and cultural community, -- too many of us, too few resources to sustain us all, too many fiefdoms, unpredictably shifting audiences (to name but a few)? Who's willing to dig in deep enough to ensure that new approaches are sustainable for the long haul? Who are the arts and cultural game changers right now? Here are three that come immediately to mind: Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, created this year the “Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative,” a program providing free arts management consulting to non-profit performing arts organizations around the United States. The program has put Kaiser on the road to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, hosting management symposia. Maxwell Anderson, Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has championed the use of …

Developing a Facility? Your Best Advice May Be Just Around the Corner

I'M ALWAYS ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL TO RECEIVE QUESTIONS from smaller culturals that are in the process of creating or expanding their facilities. These organizations often operate with a dearth of information about building and shaping their spaces, despite the fact that there are thousands of organizations who've gone through it and are happy to offer up advice, warts and all.
Without some unvarnished insights and opinions, most of us are susceptible to the shiny object held out in front of us by architects, professional fundraisers, and product vendors. We don't wish to appear ignorant, even if we are. But do we really want to end up with a museum that has too little collection storage space or a performance hall with a too-small backstage area?
Boards of trustees and many staff do get caught up in the immediacy of such projects, often unable or unwilling to think about the long-term consequences of building decisions. The pressure to raise funds and move forward on ca…

Frozen by Fear

A CONVERSATION TODAY WITH THE DIRECTOR OF A
local history museum outlined many of the financial issues cultural institutions are grappling with right now. While programs continue apace by a small and increasingly overworked staff, the director said, "We're close to pulling out of the economic trauma, but it seems as though every time we get close, we fall back." She cited a confluence of issues at the base of which is the simple reality that there just isn't enough operating income being generated from any source to cover expenses.
And like your organizations, this one has cut its expenses as much as possible without laying off staff. That may come next year, however, if the museum fails to address its structural (long term/ongoing) operating deficit, which right now is about $40,000. While some of her board members are beginning to examine the issues surrounding the deficit, these conversations easily become consumed by minutiae. Before you know it the train is…

A Board Self-Assessment Tool to Get You Started

My last poll about board self-assessment attracted thirteen respondents. Six have done or do self-assessments; six haven't; and one intrepid person who admits to needing a bit of help with the whole process.
So, to help get those of you who are interested in self-assessment a bit of a jump start, I'd just loaded a tool on my website that you can use as is, or adapt to best suit your needs.
Here are some thoughts about using it, once you've decided to take the plunge:
First, consider the self-assessment as a baseline of information/feedback from the board about how it does its work from the governance and organizational structure point of view.Give the board some time to review the findings and comments.Structure part of a board meeting (or several meetings or a retreat) around discussion of the findings.Focus primarily on areas of greatest discrepancy in responses. Spend some time delving into why some board members rated a statement weak …

Does the Cultural Sector Need ONE BIG RALLYING POINT?

THIS PARAGRAPH FROM A RECENTpost by Dan Pallotta (his blog is Free the Nonprofits) has my head spinning.So, I’m just going to lay it all out there as best I can.Pallotta uses the Apollo space program as an example of a success because it had specific parameters – and resources – for achievement.He doesn’t see either in the current nonprofit sector.Nearly 100 new nonprofits are created in the U.S. every day — about 35,000 a year — most of them doing the same things as existing organizations wrestling with the same social problems. Over 90% are very small — with less than half a million dollars in annual revenues. In his recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mark Kramer wrote that, because of fragmentation, redundancy, and the plethora of small organizations "there is little reason to assume that [nonprofits] have the ability to solve society's large-scale problems." I would argue that it is precisely because we aren't committing ourselves to solving…