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focus1There is no unanimous agreement on the benefit of focus groups, or even how to conduct focus research or use what is learned from it. Done well, however, focus groups can be a source of information.

At the Direct Marketing Association New York Nonprofit Conference, Dana Weinstein, membership director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), and John Perell, manager of direct marketing, research and analytics at the American Red Cross (ARC) national headquarters, talked about focus groups their organizations conducted and the knowledge they gleaned from them.

The results for the museum:

  • There was little to no idea of the USHMM work. It was an unknown entity.
  • Commonly used language describing its public-private partnership (federal support and nationwide donors) did not resonate.
  • Despite deep probing, messaging to war veteran audiences did not resonate.
  • The genocide message resonated well.
  • Anything “America” or “national conscience” did not resonate. Strong language and images ranked high.

For the ARC:

  • The Red Cross is synonymous with “disaster relief.”
  • Disaster relief is so powerful that it dwarfs the importance of other American Red Cross activities and services.
  • Emphasis on disaster relief does little to build the local brand.
  • The need exists to create a chapter identity.
  • The strongest case celebrates the power of giving.


Source:
The Nonprofit Times

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capacityThe Nonprofit Good Practice Guide, a free online resource, captures and organizes good practices for nonprofits and foundations.

There are thousands of effectiveness-building tips and resources on topics including:

  • Accountability and Evaluation;
  • Advocacy;
  • Communications and Marketing;
  • Foundations and Grantmaking;
  • Fundraising and Financial Sustainability;
  • Governance;
  • Management and Leadership;
  • Staff Development and Organizational Capacity;
  • Technology; and
  • Volunteer Management.

Source: National Council of Nonprofits

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One of my all-time favorite management gurus is W. Edwards Deming. In my opinion, Deming along with Peter Drucker were the most important management minds of the 20th century. Here, on a cold, rain sunday night is a wonderful taste of his wisdom:

The prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers–a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars–and on up through the university. On the job, people, teams, divisions are ranked–reward for the one at the top, punishment for the one at the bottom.

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There’s being committed to the job, and then there’s being a workaholic. It might sound like a polite euphemism for someone who puts maybe a little too much time into work or seems a little too dedicated.

But according to Bryan Robinson, a retired psychology professor, workaholism is an addiction, a serious one that harms not only the addict but also everyone around the person. In fact, it also does a disservice to the group, company or organization to which the workaholic belongs.

Being a workaholic has been linked to sleep disorders, heart attacks and strokes.  In his book, Chained to the Desk, Robinson identifies 12 symptoms that are signs of being workaholic.  While none of these alone point to pathology, taken together they indicate a serious problem.    

The 12 signs are:

  1. Rarely delegating or asking for help;
  2. Showing impatience with others’ work;
  3. Often doing two, three or more tasks at one time;
  4. Committing to work; biting off more than one can chew;
  5. Feeling guilty and/or lost when not at work;
  6. Focusing on results, not the task;
  7. Focusing on planning, ignoring the here and now;
  8. Continuing to work after others quit;
  9. Imposing pressure-filled deadlines;
  10. Seldom relaxing;
  11. Attending more to work than to relationships; and,
  12. Lacking hobbies and social interests.

Source: The Nonprofit Times

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In a major revision of IRS Form 990 — the tax exmpt annual reporting form required by all nonprofits — the IRS has released for public comment a discussion draft of a redesigned Form 990, Return of Organizations Exempt from Income Tax. The discussion draft constitutes a significant redesign of the form, which has been revised only on a piecemeal basis since 1979. The IRS anticipates using the form for the 2008 tax year (returns filed in 2009).

The redesign of Form 990 is based on three guiding principles: enhancing transparency, promoting tax compliance, and minimizing the burden on the filing organization.

  • Enhancing transparency means providing the IRS and its stakeholders with a realistic picture of the organization and its operations, along with the basis for comparing the organization to similar organizations.
  • Promoting compliance means the form must accurately reflect the organization’s operations and use of assets, so the IRS may efficiently assess the risk of noncompliance.
  • Minimizing the burden on filing organizations means asking questions in a manner that makes it relatively easy to fill out the form, and that do not impose unwarranted additional recordkeeping or information gathering burdens to obtain and substantiate the reported information.

The public comment period is through September 30, 2007.

The complete draft can be found here.

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You’ve heard people say networking is important, and many trace their current employment to knowing someone in the company. But I believe networking is more than a job-finding tool and can benefit you on several levels. Connecting with other managers in your personal network can improve your ability to

  • present solid business decisions
  • discover practical applications for processes and tools
  • develop innovations
  • create role definitions for special job categories
  • renew your management spirit

Although it can be a pain to initiate, having a personal network is a blessing.

When it’s a pain, you may have to push through.
Publications managers can be introverted people, and the idea of taking the lead to interact with new people is a turn off. Contacting acquaintances and associates to get their help can be equally painful. It’s easier to invent your own solution and ignore your peers. I hope understanding the rewards of staying connected can bring you the ‘juice’ you need to build and sustain a personal network.

Time is another barrier to push through. Networking takes time. You have to schedule contacts, apply and get approval for attending conferences or seminars, and travel. Like exercise and diet, you have to believe in the benefit to persist.

What’s the reward for building your personal network?
Remember the reasons I stated in the beginning.

Presenting solid business decisions
As a publications manager, you make cases for your decisions and your coworkers, and upper management asks questions about them. They recognize your expertise but can feel uncertain because they know little about the guts of technical communication. When you report similar actions or quote best-in-class practices of companies they know, you take your credibility to a higher level. You are framing your actions within a business context. If several companies are taking similar actions, you can show you are part of a business trend.

Discovering practical applications for processes and tools
As you network, you learn more about what’s going on out there; you begin to mine process and tool information from the experience base of your peers. Recommendations and solutions to problems grow naturally. You find out what vendors others use, what organizations they find useful, and what books and articles help them make decisions.

Developing innovations
Conversations spark ideas and sharing ignites further innovation. You can follow up with visits to other groups or offer demonstrations of your work.

Creating role definitions for special job categories
You can discuss job descriptions and special assignments in your group to see where there is commonality and where there are differences. As the industry changes, new assignments develop and the traditional titles of writer and editor fall short of current roles. How have peers solved these issues? What were the results? How can you tailor their jobs descriptions for your group’s requirements?

Renewing your management spirit
Conversations with peers allow you to release the joys and concerns management responsibilities create. The knowing nod and smile can validate you. A frequent comment CIDM Director Dr. JoAnn Hackos receives as feedback on her conferences is the positive experience of interacting with other managers.

How to develop a personal network
Networking happens on the phone, in one-on-one meetings, and at social gatherings, seminars, and professional conferences. You can create your own network by identifying like-interest managers in your company, business area, and professional organizations. Start the process by picking a topic and setting a time and location for communicating with other managers—one-on-one or in a small group. Expand your contacts by signing up for professional conferences. Afterwards, follow up on the phone or in person to increase your opportunity to interact with these professionals. Intensify your experience by recording your results in a networking journal. Note what topics you discussed and what the business or group is doing; list processes and tools; and, most of all, record what you contributed.

You will probably spend some time on social topics but that interaction builds the fabric of networking communication and makes requests easier in the future.

If you haven’t tried networking, I hope you will. If you are already networking, stay connected. Building a personal network rewards your investment and can help you in good or bad times.

©2005 by the Center for Information-Development Management. All rights reserved.
Tel. 303-232-7586 Fax. 303-232-0659

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Mike Hudson has written an awesome book on leading nonprofit organizations in the new century. The book mainly applies to medium-sized and large organizations — those that employ ten or more staff and those with an income of $1 million plus per year. In Managing at the leading edge: New challenges in managing nonprofit organizations, he asks three important questions:

  1. What are the leading-edge approaches to managing nonprofit organizations?
  2. What should managers and board members be doing differently to enhance the performance of their organizations?
  3. How can the impact of the nonprofit sector be significantly increased?

Based on face-to-face interviews with leading nonprofit CEOs, consultants, academics, and senior managers, Hudson identifies what does and doesn’t work in nonprofit organizations. He then distills the best practices from these organizations into practical advice and guidance.

His research identifies six themes central to nonprofit excellence. These include:

  1. Strengthen your organization’s capacity
  2. Manage for outcomes
  3. Create strategic alliances
  4. Exploit the changing patterns of funding
  5. Lead with integrity
  6. Continuously strengthen your governance

This is an outstanding piece of work, and one I recommend. You can find book on Amazon: here.

Hudson, M. (2005). Managing at the leading edge: New challenges in managing nonprofit organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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capacityBy: Lilya Wagner, Ed.D., CFRE, 5/2/07

Capacity building seemed to be the “buzzword” of the early 21st century. Books and book chapters were written about this concept, workshops were requested and conducted, articles were published, and foundations were openly urged to do more for nonprofit capacity building.

The truth is, capacity building as a concept is neither new nor complicated. Nonprofit organizations have always had to be concerned, to some degree or another, about their capacity to carry out their work and do it well and also to improve their capacity

Capacity building is an organization’s ability to carry out its mission, using best practices, having financial and personnel resources to do so, and meeting the needs of clients. Mike Hudson, in Managing at the Leading Edge, provided this succinct definition: “Building organization capacity is about systematically investing in developing an organization’s internal systems (for example, its people, processes, and infrastructure) and its external relationships (for example, with funders, partners, and volunteers) so that it can better realize its mission and achieve greater impact” (Hudson, 2005, p. 1).

Another authority on this topic, the Amherst Wilder Foundation, defines capacity building as “the process of strengthening an organization in order to improve its performance and impact” (Amherst Wilder Foundation, 2002, p. 7).

Capacity building has been around for as long as nonprofits have had an identity as a sector, balancing government and business in the scheme of United States civil society. But the renewed attention came for a reason.

Nonprofits have tended to concentrate on delivery of programs and services, a state of being that was no doubt reinforced by some donors, mainly foundations, who focused their attention on the efficiency (keeping costs low) of their grantees and tended to fund programs, especially new ones for which they sometimes provided seed money. But this trend or expectation leaned toward some negative side effects.

How can excellent programs be developed and delivered without appropriate organizational capacity to do so? As one of the authors of a seminal book on capacity building stated, “Nonprofits have been doing more with less for so long that many now border on doing everything with nothing” (Light, 2004, p. 14). He also stated that the result of emphasis on programs has caused the public to have expectations of delivery without the attendant funding related to costs of capacity building, and the unfortunate outcome is increasing criticism of nonprofits as organizations that lack managerial and financial substance.

The lack of capacity building and the emphasis of program and service delivery caught up with the nonprofit world at least in the thinking of many leaders and practitioners if not in reality. Beginning late in the last century, there came a shift, even if slight, from expanding effective programs to building effective organizations that develop, house and improve the programs. Consequently, there is increased attention on not only what nonprofits do, but also how they do it, because stronger nonprofit organizations lead to greater program impact.

Building an organization’s capacity means deliberate efforts are undertaken to enhance an organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Capacity building is a significant part of the overall management of a nonprofit, one which overlaps with and is congruent with all other management functions, from programs to human resources, from fundraising to public relations.

Mike Hudson (2005) considers the elements of internal capacity to include the mission; the board; the staff, volunteers and other personnel; management skills; physical infrastructure; technology; and evaluation (2005, p. 9). The external key elements are relationships; identification of relevant high-value services; orchestration of creative campaigns for social change; and creativity in funding and income generation (Hudson, 2005, p. 9-10).

In “Capacity Building: A Primer,” the lead article in a volume devoted to nonprofit capacity building, the authors acknowledge that it may take many forms, sometimes depending on the type and size of the organization, but several steps or stages are always present:

1. Validate the mission

2. Reconsider the vision

3. Reaffirm the values 

4. Develop resources
5. Set strategies

6. Ensure productivity

They also acknowledge that organizations wishing to engage in capacity building will find many possible ways to achieving a high-performance organization and a single solution is not mandatory nor feasible.

The success of capacity building is dependent on first understanding that change is needed, and identifying the desired outcome. Money, time and human resources must be invested, with appropriate guidance for the efforts. Building capacity may include a wide range of approaches, such as peer-to-peer learning, training, research, assistance from consultants, academic study, and experiential learning. It means taking a careful look at an organization’s ability to achieve its mission, to do its job more effectively.

As explained by a volume produced by Venture Philanthropy Partners, the Capacity Framework defines nonprofit capacity in a pyramid of seven essential elements: three higher-level elements aspirations, strategy, and organizational skills three foundational elements systems and infrastructure, human resources, and organizational structure and a cultural element which serves to connect all the others (Venture Philanthropy Partners, Effective Capacity Building in Nonprofit Organizations, August 2001).

There is no mystery in capacity building, as is sometimes implied. Capacity building isn’t something that dawned recently. It has always involved an organization’s ability to balance programs against management; to be as effective as possible in fundraising, customer relations, financial management, and governance as in delivery of services to its clients; and to achieve positive change. What’s new is the renewed emphasis in the recent decade by funders and critics who understand that good programs need good organizations, and therefore good capacity somehow must be developed and maintained.

Capacity building is far more than a buzzword. Regardless of terminology, the capacity of an organization to carry out its mission and all activities based on its mission has been a critical element that delineates between organizations just getting by or perhaps even fading away, and those that are the backbone of the nonprofit sector.

References

Connolly, Paul and Carol Lukas. Strengthening Nonprofit Performance: A Funder’s Guide to Capacity Building. Saint Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation and with the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, 2002.

Hudson, Mike. Managing at the Leading Edge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2005.

Kinsey, David J., and J. Russell Raker III, “Capacity Building: A Primer,” in Capacity Building for Nonprofits, New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, No. 40, Summer 2003.

Light, Paul. Sustaining Nonprofit Performance: The Case for Capacity Building and the Evidence to Support it. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press, 2004.

McKinsey & Company, Effective Capacity Building in Nonprofit Organizations, Prepared for Venture Philanthropy Partners, 2001.

About the Author
Lilya Wagner is vice president for philanthropy at Counterpart International and was formerly with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
You may contact the author at: lwagner@counterpart.orgl

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customer-serviceWhy is it that we never speak of customer service in our nonprofit work? Be honest, when was the last time you heard someone refer to increasing customer service, or customer satisfaction? I can’t remember one time.

What does this say about how we view our clients, particularly for organizations that don’t sell a service like hospitals, arts and cultural nonprofits.

The Ritz-Carlton has made a brand out of exceptional customer service. Matter-of-fact, they won the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award twice (I am a Baldrige examiner). They have something to teach every organization about customer service.

Diana Oreck, vice-president of The Leadership Center for the Ritz-Carlton shared some of the company policies in employment and customer. Listen to what she said, how can you apply it to your organization? If you charged for your client services, would you have any buyers?

  • Good customer service is like poetry in motion, Oreck said.
  • And customer service starts with proper training for all employees.
  • The service philosophy is so simple, but many companies are giving it lip service, she said.
  • It all starts with hiring the right people. The Ritz has an elaborate interview-testing method that was developed specifically to identify personalities that are “customer-focused.”
  • Communication with customers is a necessity, she said.
  • Happy people spend more money, Oreck said. Verbiage is important. We use customers’ names. It’s important. And we want them back. How many companies blow it in the last second when dealing with customers?
  • Perhaps listening to customers is the most useful tool.
  • If you receive a complaint, own it, she said. Then resolve it to the guest’s satisfaction. While service is declining in other industries, we have continued to increase business and offer guests unparalleled customer service. This can only be done through highly trained and motivated employees.

Let you organization’s ego “hold it’s breath.” What can you learn from her comments?

Source: Shottenkik, J. (2005, April 6). VP of Ritz-Carlton speaks at Oklahoma City leadership program, says success hinges on good customer service. Journal Record, 1.

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angry1Anger is a force that can move an organization forward to improve, or, it can be a force that destroys the organization’s ability to fulfill its purpose on an everyday level. Managers play a critical role in determining which of these results will come about.

The way the manager deals with conflict and anger will set the climate for employees. Here are some helpful tips provided by Robert Bacal on dealing with the angry employee.

  • When an employee expresses anger, deal with it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean in two weeks! By showing a desire to make time to discuss the situation, you are showing that you are concerned, and value the employee and his or her perceptions and feelings. Many performance problems reach crisis proportions as a result of delay in dealing with anger.
  • Certain situations require privacy for discussion since some people will be unwilling to air their feelings at a public staff meeting. However, if anger is expressed in a staff meeting, you can develop a positive climate in the organization by dealing effectively with it in public. One technique is to ask the angry employee whether they would like to discuss it now, or prefer to talk about it privately. Let them call the shot.
  • Always allow the employee to talk. Don’t interrupt. If they are hesitant to talk, encourage them by using a concerned, non-defensive tone and manner, and gently use questions. For example:

    You seem a bit upset. I would like to help even if you are angry with me. What’s up?

    If an employee refuses to talk about what’s bothering them, consider adjourning by saying:

    I can understand that you are hesitant to talk about this, but we would probably both be better off if we got it out in the open. Let’s leave it for a few days and come back to it

  • Then follow up on the conversation.

  • Respond to the employee’s feelings first, not the issue underlying the feelings. Use empathy first by saying something like:

    It sounds like you are pretty annoyed with me. I would like to hear your opinion.

  • Before stating “your side” or your perception of the situation, make sure you have heard what the person said. Use active listening.

    George, if I understand you correctly, you are angry because you feel that I have not given you very challenging assignments, and you feel that I don’t have any confidence in your abilities. Is that right?

  • If the employee’s perceptions do not match your perceptions express your perceptions in a way that tries to put you and the employee on the same side. Your job is not to prove the employee wrong (even if they are).
  • Trying to prove the employee is incorrect is likely to increase the anger level even if you are right.

    George, I am sorry you feel that way. Let me explain what I think has happened so you can understand my thinking. Then we can work this out together.

  • A technique used by expert negotiators is to establish agreement about something. Before getting into the issues themselves, lay the groundwork by finding something the two of you agree on. Again, the point here is to convey the message that you are on the same side.

    For example:

    George, I think we agree that we don’t want this issue to continue to interfere with our enjoyment of our work. Is that accurate?

  • At the end of a discussion of this short check in, check with the employee to see how they are feeling. The general pattern is:

    • Deal with feelings first
    • Move to issues and problem-solving
    • Go back to feelings (check it out)
    • Ask the employee if they are satisfied with the situation, or simply ask, “Do you feel a bit better?” You may not always get a completely honest response, so be alert to tone of voice and non-verbal cues.
  • If it appears that the employee is still upset or angry, you may want to let it pass for the moment. Allow the person to think about the situation away from you, THEN follow-up in a day or two. This is important because someone who is angry initially may “lose face” by letting the anger go immediately. Or, the employee might just need time to think about your discussion.

Good luck!

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