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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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