Archive for the ‘Mission, Vision, Values’ Category

board1Anyone who has read my blog for any period of time or has been a nonprofit grad student of mine knows how I feel about nonprofit boards. Most are just deplorable – wasting precious staff energies and bringing nothing to the board table.

We need a “Jack Kevorkian” for nonprofit boards – cutting the oxygen and giving a merciful death since beheading is so “old world”.

While Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) has minimal requirements for nonprofits, the fact is that most organizations have no agreed upon metric for evaluating board performance.

I do like the Junior League’s motto, “give, get, or get off.” Whitman-Walker Clinic, Metropolitan Washington DC’s AIDS-service organization, requires an annual $10,000 donation from each of its board members whether through a personal gift, an arranged contribution of money or services, or a combination of both.

But a board’s responsibility doesn’t even start – let alone stop – with financial support. In principle, nonprofit boards are the “eyes and ears” of the community. They’re there to make certain that the organization is true to its stated mission.

In a recent email from the Nonprofit Times, there is a blurb about a few board groundrules stated as questions:

  • Does the adoption of good governance practices lead to the desired outcome? What is that outcome? How is performance measured?
  • If you assume a practice is a “best practice,” how do you deal with offenders? How do you establish those practices across a diverse nonprofit sector that includes grantmakers, such as private foundations, social service organizations, educational organizations, hospitals and others? How can you establish the predictive ability of “best practices?”
  • Does a nonprofit with high marks provide any assurance that the nonprofit is, in fact, a good organization?
  • Will good governance practices, over time, assure superior performance based on operating measures or other characteristics?

The email states that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tells us “a well-governed charity is more likely to obey tax laws, safeguard charitable assets, and serve charitable interests.” This reminds me of the opening line made by an IRS auditor to a minority business owner: “I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you.”

What do you think?

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In regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society; some are guilty, while all are responsible.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

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mvvThe Salvation Army is rightfully considered one of the most effective, best-managed nonprofit organizations in America.

In five brief paragraphs, they summarize their value-based operating guidelines.

  • Keep first things first. To put it another way, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. It requires a constant reminder to everyone in the organization as to why there is a Salvation Army in the world and what its mission is.
  • Maintain strict integrity in business. There should never be any question about that. Our word must be our bond, and anyone dealing with us should rest assured that there will be no misrepresentation, no shortcuts, no special interests or conflict of interests.
  • People are important. The paperwork and administrative functions in this complicated age are more than burdensome. Sometimes they are overwhelming. Every person must be of immense importance to us. People are the reason for our existence. People are the focus of our mission. People provide our ministry and people receive it.
  • Service is essential. We are to shun materialism and avoid greediness on the one hand. On the other, a prudent, careful allocation and use of resources is incumbent as we seek to spread limited resources to meet unlimited needs. Our cherished reputation for making the dollar go further than most other organizations must be more than a reputation. It must be demonstrated every day by our stewardship.
  • Results are more important than plans. We are in a bottom-line oriented society. Salvation Army supporters want to know and have a right to know what results are being produced. It is important for us to be able to clearly identify families we have reunited and restored, wayward youth turned in the right direction, alcohol and drug abusers cured, liabilities turned into assets.

The older I get, the less patience I have for the slobbering hyperbole so common in nonprofits — (best, greatest, excellence, leading-edge . . .). Spare me! Are you making a difference in the lives of the people you profess to serve? If you went out of business tomorrow, would we even notice? The bottom line is, are you living you mission, or it all just “happy talk?”

Given the challenges facing the planet, I believe that it is immoral for an organization to suck up resources and not to delivered ten-fold results. Lead, follow, or get out of the way; there is no third option.

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mvv1I’m an enormous fan of Margaret “Meg” Wheatley. She writes, teaches, and speaks about radically new practices and ideas for leading in chaotic times. Meg draws many of her ideas from new science and life’s ability to organize in self-organizing, systemic, and cooperative modes.

Listen, let in, what she says about leadership.

“There is a simpler, finer way to organize human endeavor. I have declared this for many years and seen it to be true in many places. This simpler way is demonstrated to us in daily life, not the life we see on the news with its unending stories of human grief and horror, but what we feel when we experience a sense of life’s deep harmony, beauty, and power, of how we feel when we see people helping each other, when we feel creative, when we know we’re making a difference, when life feels purposeful.”

“Over many years of work all over the world, I’ve learned that if we organize in the same way that the rest of life does, we develop the skills we need: we become resilient, adaptive, aware, and creative. We enjoy working together. And life’s processes work everywhere, no matter the culture, group, or person, because these are basic dynamics shared by all living beings.”

“Western cultural views of how best to organize and lead (now the methods most used in the world) are contrary to what life teaches. Leaders use control and imposition rather than participative, self-organizing processes. They react to uncertainty and chaos by tightening already feeble controls, rather than engaging people’s best capacities to learn and adapt. In doing so, they only create more chaos. Leaders incite primitive emotions of fear, scarcity, and self-interest to get people to do their work, rather than the more noble human traits of cooperation, caring, and generosity. This has led to this difficult time, when nothing seems to work as we want it to, when too many of us feel frustrated, disengaged, and anxious.”

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (click title for Amazon link) is one my top ten books. Also, find more great material on her website: here.

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mvvI find such power in the enduring wisdom of this holy man.

I take such strength in the enduring words of this holy man. Notice how relevant his words are as when he originally spoke them:

  • Wealth without work,
  • Commerce without morality,
  • Science without humanity,
  • Pleasure without conscience,
  • Politics without principles,
  • Knowledge without character.

–Mahatma Gandhi,
Leader of the Indian Nationalist movement

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mvvPeter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, believed that the seeds to successful organizations all started by answering five powerful questions. These questions address the ways an organization intends to create value for its customers and is therefore applicable to all organizations, not just businesses. It requires answering the following:

  • What is our mission?
  • What are our core competencies?
  • Who are our customers (clients) and non-customers (non-clients)?
  • What do we consider results for our organization?
  • What is our focus?

The answer to these powerful questions is often not obvious, nor can it be discovered without a healthy “give and take” discussion. This means that formulating answers to these questions must be a forward-looking exercise – systematically assessing emerging trends, future changes in the environment, and current or emerging social problems that may be turned into opportunities.

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mvv2As the concept of diversity grows and evolves, many nonprofits are taking steps to make diversity part of their institutional culture. Many larger organizations are establishing a diversity officer, sometimes as part of other responsibilities and sometimes as a separate position.

Kay Hoogland, vice president and corporate director for global diversity for Motorola, offers a few guidelines for those who may find themselves coming into the position of diversity officer:

  • Assess where diversity is in your organization. Make it a candid assessment. Window dressing does not help the organization.
  • Learn from others inside and outside the organization. Listening to your own team should come first.
  • Determine whom to trust. Solicitations, invitations and messages will come flooding in. Exercise determining who and what can add value.
  • Find reliable data sources. Managers won’t accept, “It’s the right thing to do.”
  • Resist the temptation to immediately adopt new programs. Look around first.
  • Ensure that you draw your support from a diverse set of disciplines across the company. Don’t let diversity be just a human resources program.
  • Protect and leverage your credibility. The way you communicate your observations is key.
  • Get into the rooms where decisions are being made. Be in the critical decision path. Keep your door open. Wide open.
  • Put yourself out there. Progress is not made without taking risks.

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editorialIn an article in today’s Washington Post, Rev. Ted Haggard, President of the National Evangelical Association (NEA) revealed that “he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a self-described male escort.” Now mind you, this admission contradicted his denial only two days ago.

To put this in perspective, the NEA under Haggard’s leadership has been doggedly conservative and virulently anti-gay. The organization’s current crusade is to “save marriage” from the peril of committed same-sex relationships.

Personally, I could care less if his sexual predilections were to monkeys or if he had frequent flyer miles in a crystal meth club. It is none of my business. It became my business when a self-anointed guardian of morality pontificates on what is ethical behavior in America, uses a national bully pulpit to demonize a minority group and spends millions to pass state-based legislation to “protect marriage.” Only to be discovered to be a hypocrite.

Over the past decade, we have witnessed a tidal wave of business scandals with Enron and Tyco at the top of the list. Unfortunately, the nonprofit world is not far behind with New Era Philanthropy’s Ponzi scheme that bilked over three hundred creditors – many of which were nonprofits – out of $107 million. And no list of nonprofit shenanigans is complete without recalling William Aramony’s gutting of The United Way of America.

For me, the takeaway is clear. We work in organizations that are built on powerful mission statements and lofty values. We stand as the living promise of their dreams. The government underwrites our work with tax-exemption, and society is our ultimate customer. If we are going to lead, then our lives must be one of honesty, clarity, and even some humility. Anything less is just not acceptable.

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