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by Floyd Rumohr

I recently had the pleasure of working with two nonprofit organizations on developing vision, mission, and core values language — essential dimensions of the strategic planning process. One organization is well into its second decade and the other is a start-up.

Neither organization had a stated vision, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It was hiding behind a lot of what felt like rhetorical slight-of-hand. When describing her work to potential donors, for example, one executive director saw “furrowed brows or eyes brimming with confusion” on listener’s faces. Grasping for the right words, she “would tumble into a monologue – bolting one sentence to the next like a flustered magician searching for the missing bunny in my hat.”

If executive leadership is struggling to describe what the organization does and where it’s going, what must the board, staff, and extended community be going through? The task before us was to make explicit what was implicit to organizational leadership so readers and listeners could viscerally connect and understand the organization’s day-to-day business and longer-term vision.

Bold and energizing descriptions of a nonprofit’s activities are more important than ever. They play a leading role in governing resource development and their allocation, marketing, and communications while clarifying what the organization is aiming to accomplish over the longer term.

Both of the organizations described below approached the initial steps of the process differently. The first convened a staff and board of over twenty stakeholders during an all-day retreat. The second discussed challenges over a more intimate dinner with a few trusted colleagues. Both organizations engaged additional community members to subsequently weigh-in at appropriate times.

Whether yours is a start-up or more established, perhaps these two organizations will inspire a second look at critical dimensions of strategic planning.

Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York (MYO)

MYO is twenty-three years old and started a strategic planning process two years ago, but transitions in organizational leadership and other challenges delayed follow-up activities. A funding application for a governance grant illuminated areas to strengthen, such as a vision for the organization. The vision wasn’t explicitly stated and “lives in the head of MYO’s founder” said Anthea Jackson, executive director.

Over the past couple of years, MYO has grown from 650 to 950+ members, added four new ensembles, and increased the size of the board from seven to eleven members. Anthea described the growth process as “throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.” In this context, the leadership team wanted a deliberate strategic framework for governing growth along with a process to engage stakeholders in moving the organization forward.

“Being relatively new in the community, I wanted to honor the past and envision a future for MYO collaboratively by bringing our staff, board, and music directors into the process,” said Anthea. “It can be challenging to put so many voices in the room, all of them passionate about music education and fiercely proud of the organization. Egos and personal agendas had to be set aside and we were all reminded that we were there for MYO, not just to protect who we are, but to imagine what’s possible for our organization and the long-lasting effect we can have on the Long Island community.”

Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York board/staff strategic planning retreat at the Smithtown Country Club, Long Island.

Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York board/staff strategic planning retreat at the Smithtown Country Club, Long Island. August 30, 2015.

A board/staff retreat focused on getting the key members of the MYO community, quite literally, on the same page. Working teams developed drafts of vision, mission, core values language and established a strategic planning team to further the work with specific, targeted goal dates. A smaller sub-committee of “synthesizers” is whittling at the language until it is ready to share (along with some strategic goals) with the broader community at a public launch celebrating the organization’s renewed energy and direction.

“Putting our vision into words is challenging and we’re not quite there yet,” said Anthea. “We’ll keep nurturing the 3am ideas; the ones where you bolt upright in bed and think ‘Yes, we want every child in Long Island to experience making music in a rigorous and supportive environment!’ and we will keep working together to create our strongest and most audacious language to express that idea.”

A Fresh Chapter

In 2009, Terri Wingham was diagnosed with breast cancer. By 2011, her final surgery was behind her and she found herself grappling with feelings of isolation, depression, survivor guilt, and anger. Through volunteering and travel experiences, Terri began to formulate some ideas for addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of cancer through personally meaningful travel and volunteerism.

In February 2013, twelve men and women joined her for a two-week pilot program in New Delhi, India. While this and other travel odysseys resulted in various “Ah-ha” moments for cancer survivors turned volunteer travelers, she found herself scrambling to find the “missing bunny in the magician’s hat” as she struggled to verbalize a vision and mission.

Over a March 2015 dinner in New York City, Terri, myself, and a few colleagues helped answer a question that haunted her, “How would we grow or become sustainable if I couldn’t paint a clearer picture of who we are and why it matters?” We explored that question through the remainder of the evening. Read more about Terri’s vivid and beautiful odyssey on her blog.

Terri’s take-a-way other than a delightful dessert? Several months later, she shared her now explicit vision and mission with a potential donor:

Terri's Vision Image

“Our vision is a world where the pain and adversity of cancer opens a doorway to new purpose, possibility, and connection in the lives of men and women around the globe. Our mission is to heal the emotional scars of cancer through volunteering and meaningful travel.”

She didn’t see in her listener a furrowed brow of confusion as before but an expression of wonder. An invitation to elaborate! “When participants step beyond the borders of their cancer stories, they see that struggle is universal and new dreams are possible.”

The response of her potential donor? “Boom! That’s a great elevator pitch. Tell me more.” This same friend has a friend in Cape Town who now wants to support upcoming program activity. Terri attributes her success to the “lesson on clarity I learned in March.”

Magicians and Visionaries

Are you a magician searching for the missing bunny in a hat? Or a visionary who energizes your community with a bold, vivid, and audacious description of your world after your mission has been accomplished?

I think that organizational leaders tend to be a bit of both at different times during their leadership tenure. However you describe yourself, strategic success is shaped by the degree to which organizations can find the clarity that Terri is talking about and the courage demonstrated by Anthea, who is developing a vision for her organization in its twenty-third year after being in her position for no more than two.

Such vivid descriptions, ironically, can act like magic upon potential stakeholders. They can melt hearts, galvanize enthusiasm, quickly identify the like-minded, and inspire investment from those who say, “Tell me more!”

Ah! The magic of courageous clarity.

More information:

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by Floyd Rumohr

Employee Performance Reviews Image #2Performance reviews are a challenge for most nonprofit leaders and managers. Traditional approaches such as skills-based competency evaluations can be time-consuming and not particularly effective according to some compelling research from the for-profit sector.

Jena McGregor of The Washington Post has been writing some interesting pieces about for-profit leadership in general and human resources in particular. One of her most recent is based on a Harvard Business Review report about 360-degree and laborious, once-a-year evaluations. The HBR reported that Deloitte has simplified the process for 10 per cent of its workforce using the following four statements:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus.
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team.
  3. This person is at risk for low performance.
  4. This person is ready for promotion today.

Deloitte uses a 1-5 rating scale for the first two statements and a simple “yes” or “no” response for the last two. Managers respond to the above four points at the end of every project or at the end of every quarter for longer term activities. Time will tell if this will take off at other companies, and what implications, if any, the framework has for nonprofits.

Here’s what I like about it:

  1. It saves time and could encourage more frequent, formative touch points with direct reports.
  2. It captures low-performance risk and could trigger a deeper dive into professional development needs.
  3. Employee performance is reviewed in the context of organizational/programmatic goals.
  4. The statements are deceptively simple. Just like the Charting Impact framework for organizations developed by BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar USA and Independent Sector, the statements will encourage discussion and inquiry regardless of where a particular employee falls on the scale.

Here’s what I don’t like:

  1. The emphasis on extrinsic rewards like bonuses and compensation. Nonprofit team members might be motivated by other factors like mission or culture and not respond to incentives used successfully in for-profit contexts.
  2. The majority of nonprofits have limited upward mobility options because of their size. Statement #4 could mean that the only way “up” is out.

What do you think? How does your organization conduct performance reviews? What role does the process play in achieving your mission? If a skill learned today could be obsolete tomorrow, then what should the basis be for employee performance at your nonprofit?

Get the Employee Assessment Instrument in the Rumohr and Clarke Video and Template Library. Click here and select title 5.1. Although Deloitte uses a 1-5 scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree,” we recommend a 1-4 scale to discourage responders from gravitating toward the middle.

 

References and recommended reading:

— “What if you could replace performance evaluations with four simple questions?” by Jena McGregor, The Washington Post, March 17, 2015: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2015/03/17/deloitte-ditches-performance-rankings-and-instead-will-ask-four-simple-questions/.

— “Reinventing Performance Management” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, Harvard Business Review, April 2015. Accessed online March 17, 2015: https://hbr.org/2015/04/reinventing-performance-management.

By Jenny Clarke. Reposted from the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable blog, December 11, 2014

When the CulturCDP 2al Data Project (CDP) reporting process was rolled out some years ago, it seemed a great idea – arts organizations could complete one comprehensive online report that would work for a slew of grant makers. It didn’t take long for reality to set in. We would in fact be digging really deeply into all aspects of our organization to conduct a comprehensive survey AND the rest of the reporting work didn’t seem to go away. Then there were the scary e-mails from CDP outlining all the errors in our reports and worse than that were phone calls from extremely perky and helpful CDP staffers asking about the intricacies of long-forgotten calculations.

But CDP has been working diligently to turn what was perceived as a burden into a valuable resource. Becoming an independent organization a year ago, CDP is reinforcing its goal to be a “powerful online management tool designed to strengthen arts and cultural organizations.”

New tools have made the online system easier to use and expanded educational offerings help the field use data more effectively to tell the organization’s story.  In addition, CDP is now the holder of a vast collection of original data from the field, which is available for cultural research projects (by application).

CDP is promising more great things ahead, while “building critical information resources and skills that will advance the sector in the future.”  The field will eventually find that what was once a burdensome drain will actually help us tell our stories to funders, audiences, and stake-holders, and will enrich the field. And in any case, those of us who are in New York State now have Grants Gateway to deal with. One day, perhaps, we will appreciate having all our documents in an online vault and realize that it’s good for the sector.

 

By Jenny Clarke

Reposted from the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable blog, November 1, 2014

This morning, I was looking at images of last night’s Halloween parade in the Village, marveling at the creativity of costumes, puppets, banners, and art on display. It seems as if Halloween brings out our passion for creating an altered persona and world, weaving together creative imagination and a variety of repurposed materials.

These images led me to thinking about the greatest NYC resource in our field for repurposed materials of every conceivable kind, and that is Materials for the Arts (MFTA). If your organization is not registered and you haven’t engaged in MFTA programs or visited the warehouse in Queens, a review of programs and services is highly recommended.

The MThe-warehouseFTA warehouse is operated by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs with additional support from the City’s Departments of Sanitation and of Education. MFTA collects unneeded items from businesses and individuals, and makes these donations available for free to its recipients: nonprofit organizations with arts programming, government agencies, and public schools.

On any visit, you can expect to find stacks and stacks of useful supplies – bolts of fabric, every kind of paper and card, buckets full of buttons, boxes of feathers, paint, wood, furniture, equipment, and almost anything you can think of.

 

Friends of Materials for the Arts is the nonprofit partner that guides and supports educational programming, warehouse operations, programmatic initiatives and other goals of MFTA. Visit the Friends website to find out more about classes, p-credit courses, and useful resources such as sample lesson plans.

MTFA’s educational programming focuses on creative reuse: making art with readily available materials and the ever-changing MFTA warehouse inventory. The Center hosts programs in two studios, organizes exhibitions of recipient artwork at MFTA Gallery, and sends teaching artists into the community to share the art of reuse. Some examples of programs:

♦ Professional development for teachers workshops help educators learn engaging projects for lessons in all content areas.

♦ Field Trips:  Tour the MFTA warehouse.

♦ In-school residencies: Bring Materials for the Arts to your school or site to enhance and reinforce curricula in math, science, social studies, and language arts.

♦ Art booths and Family Engagement Nights: Creative reuse program or art booth designed for a large audience, or a series of in-class art workshops linked to your curriculum

♦ Public Programs: Exhibitions, open studio nights, and workshops open to the public

♦ Teambuilding Workshops: Volunteer and then work together to create large-scale collaborative art pieces such as quilts, sculptures, or mosaics

There is an application process and applicants need to meet eligibility requirements. Visitors need to make an appointment prior to shopping at the warehouse. Click herefor eligibility and application information.

Materials for the Arts is located at 33-00 Northern Boulevard, 3rd Floor, Long Island City, NY 11101. Click here for hours and directions

For teachers, teaching artists, schools and non-profit arts organizations, the MFTA warehouse is a treasure trove! Enjoy your visit!

Looking to sustain and/or grow program services in an increasingly competitive environment for nonprofits of all sizes? Please join us for the day long summit presented by the Support Center | Partnership in Philanthropy:

NEW DESIGNS FOR CHANGING TIMES

A Regional Summit on Organization Redesign

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baruch College Conference Center

55 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010

Register here.  Learn more about organization redesign and review the agenda here.

by Floyd Rumohr

I was one of the lucky consultants from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut selected by the Support Center | Partnership in Philanthropy to take some first steps in developing a community of practice around how nonprofits can work together.

Facilitated by Renae Oswald-Anderson and Gordon Goodwin of MAP for Nonprofits (Minnesota), the two days took an introductory deep dive with affiliate consultants and senior associates to explore case studies in realignments along a continuum that includes collaboration, administrative consolidation, joint programing, program transfer, parent subsidiary, joint venture, and merger/acquisition. Detailed descriptions of each of the continuum strands are available here.

Organization realignments are becoming part of long term programmatic sustainability and/or growth conversations for more and more nonprofits. “Growth” and “sustainability” can be achieved in a variety of ways – not just by attracting more revenue.

Take-a-ways for me from this extraordinary professional development experience include the importance of:

  1. Courage: it is often possible to sustain and even grow a worthwhile program if the primary stakeholders are willing to let go of a few things and focus on the mission no matter how dire the circumstances (financial and otherwise). It appeared as if programs were lost in a couple of case studies. But those programs ultimately survived and thrived because of a facilitated joint process that focused on continued service to the community. Fierce courage to let go of what can often feel sacred is likely to be required of each person at some point in the process.
  2. Trust: challenges arise during all stages that could test you and your colleagues personally and professionally. Good communication and transparency can help build trust that will help sustain the conversations. In addition (and this will sound a bit self-serving – my apologies in advance) but the evidence also underscores the importance of an outside consultant to facilitate the entirety of the process.
  3. Visionary leadership: respondents from 95% of mergers in the MAP for Nonprofits study agreed that “if not for one of the executive directors, the merger would never have happened.” In 61% of the cases, “having a board member from at least one of the pre-merger organizations pushing for a merger was a primary reason” for pursuing it.
  4. Sense of urgency: realignments can “lag” without it. Executives retire and board leaders transition. Redesign of any kind needs sustained transformational champions to succeed. Constant change among leadership can destabilize and, in many cases, bring the process to a halt. 78% of merged partners agreed on a defined process, 63% specified outcome goals and 80% completed a timeframe.

Working with other organizations on behalf of communities can leverage existing resources and sustain programs that might struggle otherwise. What’s the next step for your nonprofit? Can it get there on its own? If not, perhaps it’s time to realign!

Please contact Keith Timko, Support Center│Partnership in Philanthropy, at ktimko@supportcenteronline.org or (917) 522-8308 to get the conversation started.

References and recommended reading: