Executive coach and leadership expert Marc A. Pitman recently joined us for a webinar in which he outlined the discoveries from his latest research project into the state of nonprofit leadership.
In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:
Steven: Well, Marc, my watch just struck 1:00. Is it okay if I kick us off officially?
Marc: Let’s do it.
Steven: All right, well good afternoon everyone if you’re on the East Coast, and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Averting the Crisis in Nonprofit Leadership.” My name is Steven Shattuck. I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
Just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation, so if you have to leave early or perhaps you want to review the content later on or share it with a friend, you’ll be able to do that. Have no fear, I am recording this presentation and I will be sending that out to everyone this afternoon along with the slides, just in case you have not already gotten the slides. So just look for that later on this afternoon.
And as you are listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right on your screen. I know a lot of you already have and that’s awesome. We would love for this presentation to be interactive, and we’re even going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy about that. Send those questions and comments all throughout the hour here.
You can follow along with us on Twitter if you’re into that kind of thing. We’ll be moderating the tweets as well. And just a reminder, these webinars are, the quality of them is usually only as good as your Internet connection. If you are listening by your computer and having any audio difficulties, try switching over to phone audio. There is a phone number for you in the email from ReadyTalk. It’s usually a little bit better quality by phone. So if you have any trouble there and you can dial in by phone, I would definitely recommend you do that.
If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I want to say an extra special welcome to all of you. If you’ve never heard of Bloomerang before this webinar, I want to let you know that we offer some really great donor management software. That’s our core business in addition to doing all these great educational webinars and other resources throughout the sector.
If you’re in the market for a new software, check us out. You can even watch a short video demo, don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to do that. So we’d love for you to learn more. But right now, I’m very excited today’s guest. He’s one of my favorites. He is joining us from Greenville in one of the Carolinas, I can’t remember which Carolina it is, Marc, even though you said it just a minute ago.
I’m kidding. Marc Pitman, how’s it going, Marc?
Marc: It is fantastic. Thank you so much.
Steven: If you guys don’t know Marc, although I can’t imagine too many of you don’t know Marc, Marc’s one of our favorites. He’s a great guy. He is the founder of fundraisingcoach.com. You definitely want to bookmark that website. Great blog, great videos, lots of cool resources there.
He’s the author of “Ask Without Fear.” He’s also the executive director over at thenonprofitacademy.com. Recently he was named an advisory panel member of Rogare, which is a really cool international fundraising think tank out of the UK. He’s got a brand new project that I’m sure he’s going to talk to you about today called the Concord Leadership Group.
Really excited for him to share the results of an interesting survey he did earlier this year. So Marc, I’m going to pipe down and let you take it away, my friend.
Marc: Well, I’ll leave it right here for this moment. Thank you so much, Steven. I wasn’t going to talk about the Concord Leadership Group really, so I’ll just say in short for the last 12 years, I’ve been known as fundraising coach, but it was always to do leadership coaching. I’m a certified leadership coach, I have a masters in organizational leadership. So I thought impacting boards and executive directors is a great way to help the sector.
Over the years, Fundraising Coach took off, but I started having in the last five years clients say to me, “Marc, come on. I have labor union issues. My board wants to help me to get coaching with a labor union issue, but they’ve got a fundraising coach and they think I didn’t hear them.” And I had other people that had other issues that they wanted to hire me for, but Fundraising Coach didn’t speak to them. So they asked for a Concord Leadership Group type site. Looked like a firm, it felt like the gravitas of what they’re going to get.
So rather than just do a site and it’s a natural evolution of my business. Fundraising Coach still exists as a nonprofit academy. But I decided, “why just put out a website? That’s all about me. Let’s help the sector. So let’s get some partners together and do this leadership survey,” which we’ll be unpacking now in the next few minutes.
I want to warn you, I’ve been told that anybody that’s heard me speak knows that I say that I’ve been told I speak about 400 words a minute, with gusts up to 600. We have a ton of slides to get through in this presentation, because I want to give you the top highlights of the survey. You do get the slides as a download or handout from Bloomerang. There’s a link at the end, concordleadershipgroup.com/report where you can actually download the whole executive summary of the report that has all this data in it. You can share that around as widely as you want. So we’re going to keep you covered, but we’re going to also keep the commitment to not letting this go too long because I could talk for days on end.
So part of when you do a study, you want to find out why a new study. There’s tons of studies out there, why something new? And really, the genesis of this started about three years ago when the National Catholic Development Conference CEO, Sister Georgette Lehmuth, asked me to facilitate a two-day conversation with university presidents and executives, directors of their organizations on the CompassPoint “UnderDeveloped” study. Which is a great study. Just Google “UnderDeveloped” and you’ll find just a fabulous piece, lot of work. CompassPoint does a lot of good research.
They wanted to answer what’s wrong with the development director’s position. And as I took this around to different parts of the country, it started becoming “The Current Crisis in Nonprofit Leadership” webinar, which was crazily popular last year. So that gave me a clue that people want more on this. It dealt with the role of the executive director, the development director and the board, and how they all viewed fundraising.
Concurrently, there was all these different studies of CompassPoint and Bridgespan and Third Sector, New England, and others that were talking about problems with leadership. What is going on with leadership? And there are also, if you’ve started seeing the Olive Cooke way . . . for those of you in the United States, you need to just Google Olive Cooke and look at all the horrendous slander that’s been going on against the nonprofit community in the UK, because a media wanted to sell papers.
That’s my very biased viewpoint, but I think it’s accurate. If you go to Critical Fundraising blog, you’ll find out some of the academic research that’s helping fundraisers respond to this well. But basically media took a story and blew it out of proportion, and there was no leadership in the UK that was able as to, as a conservative voice, come against it and say, “We’re not predatory like that. There are predatory nonprofits. As a sector, we’re not all out trying to rob old ladies.”
So that continued to have problems, but you also saw communities in the United States that are trying to tax charities because they feel like they’re not getting any economic benefit because there’s no tax revenues. You see that increasingly encroaching.
With my practice as an executive coach, I was having a number of executive directors call me, panicked, because they were being treated by their board in ways that we would never allow students to be treated on a playground or in a school. We’d never put up with the type of bullying that executive directors are getting.
So all of this kind of came together, and it’s like this. In my 20 years in the sector, 12 years coaching, it’s like we get this kind of strategy or study or something, we push it up to the top of the mountain, and then the next year comes and we get a new goal and we’re right back to where we started. That’s my really artistic version of the Sisyphean task of nonprofit leadership.
What I’m pleased to say is with the nine partners that we pulled together, the study that we’re going to go through helps show some of the reasons why it feels like we’re not getting any traction and just spinning our wheels. When we pulled these people together, Steven Yoder, Get the Word Out, Pearl Wright is the acting CEO of the Utah Nonprofit Association, Jay Love and Steven at Bloomerang, Randy Hawthorne over at NonprofitHub in Nebraska, Chris Johnson at StratusLIVE in Virginia, Rachel Hutchisson and the whole Blackbaud team is really helpful.
Bill Tedesco and their team at DonorSearch. AFP promoted the survey. And then Bill Littlejohn at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego also helped craft the wording. We also had real solid help with the wording and in the data crunching with the University of Plymouth Center for Sustainable Philanthropy, and particular Jen Chang and then Rogare, the think tank there. Ian MacQuillin, they ask really good questions that made it so that the survey . . .
The big scare when you’re a firm doing a study like this is, “Oh, this is just going to be a fluff piece to market their services.” No. Life is too short to pull that off on people. I wanted solid research that we could all get behind and use as another LEGO brick in the growing evidence body of solid research that’s going on in the sector.
What we wanted to do differently was we believe that leadership happens on all levels. Most of the studies that we’d seen in the press and the research reports were focusing on the board and the CEO. We wanted to go deeper, so we looked at all sorts of levels. We created a 38 question survey, and had over 1,000 people take the survey, which was quite gratifying to do that. And it was literally over 1,000, 1,006 people took the survey.
As you can see here, they come from a wide variety of places. And I want to just share a little bit about the sample, just so you know this isn’t one subset of one particular age group or particular title or anything like that. So there’s volunteers, there are staff members, there are middle managers, senior leaders like CFOs, COs, CEOs, CEO or executive director. You’ll hear me refer to the CEO a lot, I mean the executive director too. CEO is just quicker to say and board members understand it a little bit better than “executive director” sometimes.
And then there are board members too. The big chunks of course were middle managers and CEOs, because most of our organizations are flat. So if we have any middle managers . . . And then it was good to see that even 9% of the responses did come from board members.
Age was what you’d expect if you work in the sector. About 50% Gen X, about 35% Baby Boomer, a growing percentage of Millennials. Millennials are projected to be 50% of the workforce in the United States by, I think it’s the year 2020. So that will just be growing as we continue to do subsequent reports. And a little bit of silent generation folks, folks that are still in the workforce, still are on the boards.
Not surprising, but predominately women in the sample. And what was really gratifying to me is that we had a really good tenure here. These aren’t people that are just on a honeymoon phase. These aren’t people that are on a “honeymoon’s over” phase. These are people that have been in this sector well over seven years, 14% were 7 to 10 years, 55% were 10 plus years. So 69% of the sample were people that had been in the sector for over seven years and had gone through their emotional rollercoaster and they were still committed to the sector. So these are people that know the warts and want to see it helped.
Also highly educated, as you’d expect. A lot of bachelor’s degrees and some grad degrees, and that’s what you’d expect working in the sector.
What we were hoping to find was, we’d heard a lot of bad stories about nonprofit leadership and insecure CEOs and boards that were bullying. We were really hoping that those were just the stories, the bad apples in the bunch. Turns out, what we wanted to do is see if the data would support that.
We’re really good as a sector. As a values-based sector, we’re really good. It turns out that’s not really what we found. We found that the stories do accurately exemplify what’s going on in our sector. And as my wife said, “the nonprofit sector is the only sector that seems to reward dysfunction and co-dependency.” Some of what we’re going to go through now is some of the key findings, and then seven things, low hanging fruit that you can do to help fix this in your organization.
One of the key finding areas we’re going to talk about is strategic planning. We didn’t go into it thinking strategic plans. We’re strategic plan neutral. Does it matter, does it not matter? Turns out it really does matter. We found succession planning was not being done at all, even though 10,000 Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age every day.
There could be an issue with people retiring comfortably. That was in the report. Creative recruiting in the nonprofit sector, seems like things that were done maybe around the time of “Mad Men.” So the recruiting in the nonprofit sector hasn’t really kept pace with what the reality of job seekers are coming into this sector looking for. And then a huge problem was sharing the story.
So we’ll go through those bullets now. Strategic planning. One of the questions we asked was, “Do you have a strategic plan?” Sixty-eight percent of people said, “Sure, oh yeah, we had a strategic plan.” Twenty-nine percent said, “No, we don’t at all,” and 3% weren’t even sure.
But then we asked the question, “Do you have a strategic plan in writing?” And when you crunch those numbers it went down to only 51% of the nonprofits said yes, and 29% said no, 17% said not in writing. So if you don’t have it in writing, it’s just an idea. And that explains one person that was working through these results and he said, “That explains our board meetings. We all have our own strategic plan in our head. So we’re all talking from our strategic plan, but it doesn’t match up with anybody else’s.”
It’s no wonder that so many nonprofit leaders say that they feel like they’re building the bridge as they’re walking across it, because they really are. They don’t even know if that bridge is going to go to the right destination. They’re just kind of building it as they go.
What was shocking to us was that the question, “Do you have a strategic plan,” didn’t seem to, it wasn’t just smaller nonprofits that didn’t have one. If you look over to the right, nonprofits with budgets of over $5 million, 80% said that they did. So that means one in five of them do not have a strategic plan, yet they’re operating with large budgets. So this seems to be more prevalent in smaller budget organizations, but it goes to large organizations too.
Another thing that we looked at with the whole looking at the strategic planning question and then breaking it down by title the people associated themselves with as they took this particular survey, you could see here all the different components of, “Do you have a strategic plan,” and this is the yeses.
What’s intriguing to me is that the middle managers here seem to believe that . . . they far more likely believe that there was a strategic plan. The board, that are supposed to know, there are only just above 50% that said, “I think we do.” Their job is to ensure and hold in trust the mission and vision of the organization. Not surprisingly, CEOs are like, “Yeah, we got this,” because often we are operating, and it should be in our head and heart, but it should also be on paper where it could be clear for everyone.
With the middle managers here, it was intriguing. I’m wondering, we didn’t study this so we’re not sure, but part of what we’re trying to do in the interpretation is wonder, do we have a strategic speak? Do we talk mission, vision, and values even though we’ve never written them down and agreed on them? So that the middle managers feel like, “Yes, we do, because we’re hearing about it, it’s in our mission, it’s in our DNA, it’s in our values.” So there could be a little bit of a disconnect between reality and what our speech is in this.
I kind of put the heading “strategic wishing.” Sixty-two percent says their plan doesn’t have a sustainable fundraising plan. So we’re building out a plan on what we want to do, our strategic plan for the next 3 years, 5 years, 20 years, whatever, however long we want it to be. And all the dreams and hopes and desires we’re going to put in it, and 62% are saying, “We don’t know how we’re going to fund it.”
Well, that’s not a strategic plan. That’s just a strategic wish. That also seems to be consistent among organizations. The wording was actually “a multi-year sustainable fundraising plan,” so over 70% of the smallest organizations, which over 80% of the United States nonprofits are less than a million dollars in budget, so vast majority of nonprofits do not have that. But even what many would think would be a more stable nonprofit with a larger revenue base of over $5 million in budget, just about half of them don’t have a fundraising plan that is part of their strategic plan. They’re still sort of making up the fundraising part as they go along. If you’re a fundraiser, that may be why you feel that whiplash in your day to day work.
Again, under the strategic planning, 58% say the plan isn’t checked in at least quarterly. So one of the biases in the sector is that when we do a strategic plan, but then it just collects either dust on a physical shelf or digital dust on a hard drive. I don’t even know where to find it. Part of that’s the reality of what strategic planning is. It’s an event that we did, and we all got together and everyone talked, but it doesn’t really impact our daily life.
Then a shocking part of the strategic plan too is that 70% said that they didn’t even check with any other organizations when they were . . . or not check with the organizations by talking with them, but just look to see what other organizations in their sector, their space, their community were doing. So that speaks to the frustration donors have with duplicate efforts, and all sorts of other issues that we’ll talk about as we unpack the seven steps.
But one of the things is you don’t have to necessarily fundraise, you have to resource raise. And part of your resources could be working collaboratively with another organization to share space, or use services, or whatever. You can’t do that if you don’t know what organizations are doing around you.
So as I put, and some people have tweeted from a previous version of this webinar, is that strategic wishing is not equal to strategic planning. There’s an issue with strategic plans, and we’ll show you a little bit later why that matters. Because Jen Chang said, “So what?” She’s the philanthropic psychologist, PhD in philanthropic psychology. She said, “Does that matter? If there’s no strategic plan, does it matter?” And we’ll see a little bit later when we do the deeper dive into the data, it mattered greatly.
I want to move on to succession planning. The question was worded in a way that seemed like it would be really clear. “With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day, does your nonprofit organization have formal succession planning?” Then we thought maybe that’s a little bit too high a bar, so we lowered it also and said, “or even a leadership training program.”
Still, way over 70% of responders said, “No, we don’t have succession planning or a leadership training program. No leadership development.” Just above 10% said they did. Huge problem in the industry, but we can plan for this. With 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, we know that doesn’t mean they are retiring every day, but there’s a huge shift that’s going to be hitting our nonprofits. And it seems like as a sector, we’re not planning for it at all. We’re kind of doing the ostrich sticking her head in the sand, hoping it’ll go away.
This again, like so much of the data, cuts across organizations of all sizes. Even the answering “no,” 67% of the largest organizations said, “No, we don’t have a succession plan or even leadership development training.” Not surprisingly, 85% of the smaller organizations, because as most of us know in small organizations, it’s enough work to just try to do our services, let alone take the what Stephen Covey would call “Q2 time” to do some planning.
What we all will find is that Franklin Covey, if you’ve read anything of Seven Habits, you know that sharpening the saw actually makes you cut the trees faster. And if you’re an environmental cause, I’m sorry. It wasn’t . . . it’s sustainably harvesting trees.
But there’s a point, and if we take a step away on a regular basis, whatever the right rhythm is for your organization and team and work on skills, you’ll become more efficient at doing them. You’ll be able to do things without being so stressed and overwhelmed.
So part of what we were wondering is, with the succession planning not existing in our sector, how are people, executive directors feeling about retiring comfortably? Right now we’ve got, according to the sample, 51% of the people that said that they’re a CEO or executive director were Gen Xers, 41% were Boomers, 2% of them are still silent, and then Millennial was 6%. Which as we all know is going to grow, and that’s great. Millennials are awesome.
So the ages are, we’re looking at Boomer, and you can see the ages beside that. So the Boomers, more than half of them are Boomers. And we asked the entire sample, “Does your organization have a retirement planning option in place to ensure that leaders can transition out with financial confidence?” And I understand, retirement planning options in place is different than actually taking advantage of retirement planning options in place.
But we said, “Are there at least plans in place, or systems in place?” Sixty-three percent said, “Nope, uh-uh, we don’t have any of that so that people can retire or transition out with financial confidence.”
Then we did a deeper dive and looked at just the CEO, executive director answers and it jumped to 83% that said, “No way, we do not have that.” So part of what we’re wondering, and it’d be fruit for if somebody else wanted to do another study, is are people staying there because of the mission and they love the mission, which is totally legitimate? Or are people staying there because they’re scared? They’d like to transition out but they just don’t see how they can afford to stop working.
And we’ve all been in the situations where it would be good if people moved on, but no one has the guts to tell them that. And we haven’t necessarily treated people well enough with our systems to be able to help them move on with confidence. So this is something that we might look into as a sector too, or as individual organizations.
Again, in line with 10,000 Boomers reaching retirement age every day, there’s also a need for recruiting new people. When we studied it, 36% of the leaders in the study said yes, their nonprofit’s turnover was high. Is it normal, is it low, normal, or high, and they said, “This is high.” And we had different grades in between, too. But over a third of the leaders said, “Our turnover is pretty high,” which is consistent with some of the revolving door that we see in fundraising and some other positions.
When asked what creative ways they were competing for new employees while keeping within their budgets, over half of the people that took the survey left comments, this was by far the most commented on question. Unfortunately, 61% of the comments were some variation of, “We’re not doing anything creative to stay within budget.” And you could see, 10% of the comments actually were, “We’re offering benefits.” That was seen as their great contribution to creativity.
I’m a Gen Xer, I’ve been in the workforce since the mid ’90s. Benefits were never a negotiable. They were always an assumed that when I got a position, especially salaried position, there’d be some level of benefits. It was, did I like the level, not did they exist. So it was kind of scary that 10% of people took the extra time to say, “Oh, we offer benefits.”
Now, the responses for these, I’m going to read through these really quickly. You can study them, they’re in the report and in the slides. But just listen to some of the responses and catch the sarcasm that was just . . . some of these responses were dripping with sarcasm.
What are you doing creatively to recruit new employees on a fixed budget and still maintain your budget? One of them said, “We offer a 30% discount to our thrift store,” and I think this was no sarcasm. I think this was said as real honest. “We offer a steep discount to our thrift store.”
Somebody else said, “We offer free lunches.” Somebody else said, “We have a $200 medical benefit but we have to pay taxes on that.” Another one was, “Oh, we provide employee of the month recognition.” “Competitive strategies? Aren’t you funny,” somebody actually typed in. Another person said, “Well, we pretend everybody gets the same salary and then we hold a bonus raffle at the end of the year to give away a bonus.” That has all sorts of issues with it, I’m sure.
Somebody else said, “We give hats to volunteers.” Another person said, “We give a free bus pass. That’s how we’re creatively recruiting new employees from all the different employment options they could have, from for-profit and D corporations and other nonprofit corporations and government. The bus pass is going to be our competitive advantage.”
And then there was another group of answers that just sort of . . . leaders just throwing their hands up in the air, abdicating responsibility for even trying. “We just can’t compete. People are here because they want to be here.” “We hire people committed to the mission.” And you’ve heard this in places that you’ve worked in if you’ve been in the sector for any length of time.
One person said flat out, “We just don’t compensate fairly.” Another person said, “We don’t have the money to do that.” Yet another comment was, “The board and the CEO don’t take the process seriously enough. It’s a low priority.” A separate comment piggybacks on this. “They’re always looking to cut budgets and get a cheaper employee, rather than paying the market rate for the skills and the experience we need.”
I understand. Revenue is problematic and hiring is expensive, as is having an open position expensive if you look at the research. But I would just ask you, as you’re looking at your leadership stuff, is your cause worth having the best people at the helm trying to deal with it? Is the mission of conserving the land or taking care of pets, spaying and neutering pets, feeding kids, taking care of the elderly, whatever your work is, developing nations, digging wells, whatever you do, wouldn’t you want to have the best people at the helm?
Another study would be interesting to see how much of it is actually ego getting in the way, where some leaders don’t want smarter people than them in the room, and how much of it is actually the idea of finances. And there’s got to be creative ways to get around that, which we’ll look at in the seven steps.
So this is what we see a lot in the sector, is that we hire people committed to the mission. And there’s a self-righteous pride that comes with it, and the sense of entitlement really makes the people feel like they’re in the club, the people that are doing the hiring, but it repels lots of other people that are just looking to make a fair wage, or to earn what their skills merit on the marketplace.
Another sector . . . I’m just telling the bad stuff before I get to the good. Another high point of this was sharing the story. So what we found in the UK was that their nonprofits were having a hard time sharing the story in a way that government and media understood, that we weren’t all predatory and we weren’t all trying to rip people off. And we see that same thing here in North America. With the Wounded Warrior project and other things, there are bad apples or reporting skewing things to look like bad apples.
So if you’ve read “Nonprofit Pro” or seen some of the stuff Dan Pallotta has done about Wounded Warrior, it gives another perspective. Whether you agree with it or not, you see that there’s a bigger picture here than just the way ABC and others were reporting it. So with the lack of vision and recruiting retention, nonprofits must be investing in PR. Because if it’s not coming in the fundraising side, we’re trying to raise advocates, we’re trying to do other things, talk to our city councils and all, right?
Well, that didn’t happen in the survey. We asked them, not including fundraising, how much do you budget each year for marketing and PR and community visibility? And the vast majority of people said . . . well, vast, there’s only a majority or not I guess. The majority of people said that they budget less than $5,000, and most of them, over 25%, budget less than $1,000 to marketing and/or PR and/or community visibility. Anything that’s not related to fundraising.
We looked even further. We asked everybody in the sample, “Are there systems in place to ensure that all stakeholders or board leaders, staff, donors clearly share the vision and the brand of our nonprofit?” The board, 30% said that there were. So that means, that was a high mark for these. Oh, they didn’t agree. Thirty percent said, “No, this doesn’t exist,” 70% said they did, but 30% of the board said, “I don’t think we are on the same page.”
The executive director, much more of them were likely to agree, because this was the people that said it didn’t exist. So less than one in five CEOs felt that a cohesive brand didn’t exist. Senior leaders were more likely to say no, this doesn’t exist, and here are those middle managers again. The ones closest to the decision making were the ones that are able to say “I don’t think this cohesive brand stuff exists. I have to make the decisions that they’re saying is what our vision is about, and I’m seeing a huge disconnect.” Just over 40% of middle managers said that.
So there’s internal storytelling and external storytelling, and this is one of the places where we found the strategic planning was helpful. It’s helpful on a lot of levels, you could see that in the report, but here. When we looked at, do you have this shared vision question that kind of is cohesive across different groups in your nonprofit, those with a written strategic plan, 77% said yes, we do, 23% said they didn’t.
But those without a written strategic plan, only 47% said yeah, the cohesive brand exists. So one of the things that we can do, and you’ll see in this top seven steps, is write down your strategic plan.
This is one of the actual comments to the story. “We don’t have communication tactics exactly, because our programs just speak for themselves.” Which my response was, “What?” I wish I had a question after that saying, “How’s that working for you? Are you getting the results in your fundraising, advocacy, and the support you’re getting from your community as well as the impact you’re having on your mission?” But none of us or the partners that put this together thought to ask that question.
The data seems to suggest seven key areas that we can use. I present these, I’m a congenital optimist, I present these as easy things, low hanging fruit that we can work on. I know, having been in the sector so long, that that kind of rock, pushing up the ramp, it really needs . . . Some of these are really hard to do, even though they sound simple. So I’m going to set them in a tone that anybody can start doing these, but I know that people . . . that these are seven areas that it could be very good to find help too from people to get these done.
And there are board members that can help, community members, there’s a lot of people that can help your plan, help you with this. So one of the things that it seemed to indicate in the research is that it all comes back to the correct use of a strategic plan. Strategic planning isn’t an ego exercise, although it should be inspiring and invigorating and refreshing. But it’s also not something you just carry in your head, although it should be there. It needs to be on paper. Something that inspires and unifies and calls everyone into a vision greater than themselves.
And if you need more on this, you can just Google “Concord Leadership Group school orchestra strategic plans.” So if you look at school orchestras, I have a four-minute video on how school orchestras inspired me to think of nonprofit strategic plans and help executive directors work in their leadership role.
So the first suggestion we come down to with the strategic plan, not the simplest, it takes a lot of effort to do this. But write it down. This can really become complicated, because if you Google “strategic planning templates” there are millions of hits that come up. So here at Concord Leadership Group, we’ve got four areas that we suggest. Four steps we suggest you work with your team through or you have a facilitator help you with.
First is just ask yourself, “What are we doing and why are we doing it?” And for those of you that know traditional planning, it would mission, vision, values, guiding values. This like the, “What would our world look like if our profit didn’t need to exist anymore? Why are we doing what we’re doing?” These are the motivational things, these are the emotive parts of what you’re doing. This is how you’re changing the world.
Then the guiding values are helpful because life changes around you. So what are the values that we’re going to err on the side of? Is it kindness, or is it brashness? Are we going to err on the side of statistical significance, or something else? There are different things that you’re going to have to, in the course of every day, people are going to have make decisions on.
I told, in an early fundraising position, I asked my boss, “Which is more important? That everybody gets a live person when they call my number, or that a grant application gets out on time?” And I’m cool either way, but just let me know which do we value more in the office – the human interaction, or are we okay with voicemail getting it knowing that the call will be returned in 24 hours, because we’re going to be putting our head down to finish something for deadline?
Those are the kind of decisions, discussions that need to be made, and we can do that in the first part of the strategic planning. You don’t have to get that nitty-gritty, but those can be the guiding values.
The second step is then asking, so how are we going to get it done? This is where you start talking about goals. What is it that we want to do? Why are we doing it, but what is it that we want to do? What are our objectives that we’re doing? What are the situational assessments? What’s going on in the situation? Some people have SWAT analysis. What are other organizations doing, how are other people approaching this?
I was talking with one nonprofit leader this week, and she said, “Every nonprofit thinks they’re truly unique,” and this one probably arguably is one of the most unique I’ve seen in the sense that I don’t think there are any peer organizations like her. But she was at least looking, what are the peer ones, because if we don’t have to reinvent the wheel why would we?
The third step to go through is how are we going to fund it, and if you’re only stuck in business, strategic planning stuff, it’s all going to be finances and fundraising. But here at Concord Leadership Group we really like to say better, how will we resource it? Because it’s fundraising, yes. As nonprofits, if you’re leading a nonprofit you can’t subcontract fundraising. Fundraising is an integral part of what running a nonprofit is all about.
You have special tax, many of our countries give special tax designations so that people can make charitable donations and that is part of your revenue stream, and you need to get good at figuring out how to do revenue, just like anybody in any organization needs to figure out revenue. The fundraising is definitely part of it.
But there’s also strategic collaborations. My friend Hildy Gottleib talks about how in developing a diaper bank in Arizona, she was able to be challenged by her board to think well, why would we need to rent warehouse space to house diapers? Why don’t we look at other . . . She said, “Well, it’s true, we could look at nonprofits. Maybe there are nonprofits that have warehouses.”
And one of the board members said, “Why nonprofits? Why not ask a for-profit?” And they developed an incredibly strong relationship with a for-profit that had a warehouse that wasn’t being used all the time, and they ended up also trucking the diapers around her place in Arizona, and just a very good relationship that wouldn’t have been asked if they didn’t ask, “How are we going to resource this?”
Then the fourth part, which most strategic planning seems to ignore, is who do we tell about it? So this is where you start thinking about how are we going to assess how well we’re doing, what are our metrics, what’s the needle we’re trying to . . . how are we knowing we’re pushing the needle. But then there’s also the internal and external marketing. We need to tell internal stories well, and we need to tell the staff, “This is how we’re doing well. We really are part of something really good,” and the internal as a board, “Hey, you guys are really helping lead something really good.”
And it’s also the donors, “You’re part of something really good.” But the external is, the politicians that are interacting with us, whether it’s a national, local, municipal, state, whatever, we’ve got to be telling our story to the people that are making policy decisions that could categorically change the way we operate. Fortunately, there are large organizations like AFP and National Catholic Development Conference and others that are watch dogging some of the legislation in DC. AHP, also.
If you’re not members of those, join. It’s a pain in the neck sometimes it feels like to pay the bill, but it’s important to have people that are actually watching what’s going on in Congress so that when the IRS wants to change its laws and make every single nonprofit carry the Social Security for ever donor over $250, somebody like The Agitator Roger Craver in his blog is calling out a watchdog saying, “Whoa, wait, that’s crazy. That’s just totally crazy.”
Or some legislator in California saying . . . These are real examples. This really happened in the last 12 months in the United States. The California, some assemblyman said everybody should have sort of like a Surgeon General warning on every nonprofit website donation page with all their financials spelled out, almost like a splash page before anybody can make a donation. And it was only for people in California, but if any website could reach California, you had to have this on there.
Fortunately that got tabled in committee, but it’s still around and it’s something that’s persistent. There’s such distrust. We have to tell our story better externally.
That was all under one, writing the plan down. The next part is living the plan, and I’m just going to briefly say this. This needs to be something that, because it also ties into the third point. But the easiest way to live the plan would be just to ask . . . put it in part of an annual performance review.
Now, if you’re one of the 62% of CEOs that aren’t having any performance review, then that could be a place to start, is to start pushing with your board. “I want to have an annual performance review. I want to model this for my direct reports who have performance reviews.” But it could be as simple as having a checkbox that says, or asking them to self-report, which of the strategic planning objectives did you help with this year? And just having it be a conversation.
It doesn’t have to be anything that’s necessarily weighted and graded and percentaged. It could be just a conversation at first. But that’ll help you live the plan. And I would encourage you to set a standing board and staff meeting agenda at least every three months to check in with some aspect of the strategic plan. Let it be a living, malleable document. Don’t let it be something that’s collecting dust.
Now, this is a big part of what we like to do in our coaching, and this is something that came up from a client and works really well with this whole strategic planning and the situation that a lot of CEOs find themselves in. In many nonprofits, the board comes up with a sort of, it feels like an arbitrary set of things for the CEO to work on. Fundraising up this much, percentage, and grow this much and percentages has to be growth this much. They kind of get this list.
And then CEOs, being really collaborative and facilitative and really wanting to be a good coach, she turns to her senior leaders, middle managers and staff, and says, “Well, what are your goals for the year? How can I help you live your goals for the year?” And then for the rest of the year, she’s crushed between these goals and the board’s goals. Because whenever she’s working with her direct reports, she’s working on their goals, but she knows that those aren’t the things that are going to be on her report card at the end of the year because the board is looking at what their list is.
That grinds together. So here’s a way to do it in light of the research that is more effective. We call it cascading goals. It’s the CEO and the board working together with the strategic plan. The goals flow out of the strategic plan. Where we want to go together, where we’ve already agreed on we want to go together. And then rather than taking those as the list from the board as her personal to-do list for the year, she’s able to then go to her senior leaders and middle managers and say, “Hey, this is what the board set the objective for the organization this year. What aspect of your work intersects with different parts of this plan? How can I help you do that?”
So now it’s no longer a CEO being crushed by her to-do list from the board and her to-do list from her staff, but it’s a CEO saying, “We’re working in integrity here, day to day integrity with our plan. There’s going to be stuff that happens, as in any organization, that’s not part of the plan and we understand that and we want to be able to respond and pivot as appropriate. But we’re going to be also working in integrity,” and that way all the stuff that she does, she doesn’t have to be distracted when she’s working with her direct reports because she knows she’s doing what the board is also looking at.
That’s the third part. Again, this is why you want to have the slides and download the report, because there’s so much to unpack here.
Another part that came up was this whole idea of, there’s a shift going on, the demographical shift that’s going on with the generations reaching adulthood and reaching retirement age and all. One of the things that we talked about with . . . we studied and studied was cross-generational teams, and that’s more in the report.
But the typical “use” of “young people” in nonprofits is exemplified here. “Well, we have a group of young professionals,” we hear that a lot, in a lot of nonprofit associations and organizations. “We’re calling them the ambassadors, and it’s their job to help push out communications.”
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m a young professional or any type of professional, I don’t want to be used, for starters. And I don’t want to push anything out. I want to collaborate, I want to have my brain engaged, and I want to be able to give my best of myself to a cause, not just shovel dirt and pushing it out as they’re trying to clear something or broadcast something. That may be part of it, but that’s not my sole purpose.
So part of what we can do, just to make this better and actually makes our . . . Studies show that the diversity can make your leadership stronger, it can make your organization stronger. Commit to really involving a variety of ages in real decision making. Boards, you could create a grid for board committees. Like we had in one organization I was a board member of, they let me use this, we knew that we had our board members and we had start term, end term. We had what gender they were, what age they were, what age cohort, whatever the segments we thought were important.
Where in the cashment area that we were, what community they represented, what kind of professional field they were in, but also what areas of expertise because sometimes we have areas of expertise outside of our professional field.
And you can see the blurred area. We had dots on each of those, and then we looked to see where the gaps were. Age was one of the gaps, often, when we were doing nominations, and so we’d look there. Who were the people of this particular age segment, because you can see the 21 to 35 was blank, that have . . . and then we’d match them up with other professional fields or areas of expertise we needed.
On a staff, you could see teams, look at your teams and standing committees and make sure that there’s a mix of ages in there. Part of it is because you’re going to have fresh ideas coming from, traditionally from the people that are newer to the organization, and then you’re going to have history passed on from the people that had more longevity there. So there’s going to be more integrity and cohesiveness within your organization.
The key is use existing groups. Don’t just create a special initiative. We’ve all had fads, flavors of the week, and we’ll all roll our eyes at that. And who has time for another program? Why not just use what you’ve already got and work within that?
We’re going to have questions in about four minutes according to the clock, so be sure to be typing those in. Steven’s moderating those. We’re aiming to have 10 minutes of questions, so I’ll just blow through the next two here.
Leadership training, there’s all sorts of really complicated ways you could do this, but the two easiest ways to start are asking your direct reports or your staff, if that’s different, what are your felt needs? What do you think you need training with? When we were doing it in a hospital, we thought they were going to be team building and personality things, and for a large section of a certain department it was Excel spreadsheet training.
Well, we can hire that. That’s a commodity. I mean there’s a ton of people that do Excel spreadsheet training. So we were able to do that.
The other thing you could look at is in your strategic plan. Okay, to be that organization that we want to be, what kind of skills, what kind of assets do we need to develop so that we can be there? And the key, whenever you do a leadership training, is not only having the training. When we created this for a hospital, we did a training one month and then we did a debrief the next.
When everybody was on point, knowing that everything they were learning one day they were going to be asked 30 days later what parts they were implementing and what was sticking and what wasn’t, it caused their learning in the training to be a lot better. Because they knew that they were going to go around the room, even though there were like 50 of us, we were going to go around the room, person to person, and we’re going to be individually accountable for that. So that kind of debrief hard wires the education that you’re doing.
Sixth part that came up from the data was creating a succession plan. The client that we had in northern New England, they called it their “Moose Plan,” because if you get hit by a moose the odds of you winning are not that great. I know other people call it a lotto plan. I’d like to think that if people won the lotto they’d still want to work with our organization. And other people call it “what happens if you get hit by a bus.”
This can be incredibly personal and odd. It’s obviously a conversation people aren’t having, and it’s a shame, because it’s a great organizational question to have. But basically, it’s who steps in if you’re not able to. What functions in your organization are mission critical? What has to keep going and what could be in limbo for a little while while the plan is getting built out?
Then also, what systems exist so that as new people on-board, board members or staff members, how do you make on-boarding as seamless as possible so that they can capture as much of this system and what makes your group special without just being kind of the outsider with the cool kids? The new people is an outsider with the cool kids who kind of know everything that’s going on and aren’t sharing it, that’s not a place we want to put anyone in our organization.
So that will also force you, as you look at this succession plan, who do you need to be training personally as a leader? Whatever level of leadership you are, you should always be having a hand up to someone so they’re getting advice or guidance, whether it’s in your organization or outside of it. You should also be having a hand out to somebody else, pulling them along. Who is it that you need to be cheering and mentoring, and hopefully to take over for you?
Then we have, there are some stories that the chronicle of philanthropy was able to find from people that took the survey, that of that, I can share in the question and answer if you’d like.
The last part is learning storytelling. And we’re seeing from, well 83% of leaders in this survey said that communicating a compelling vision is in their top three priorities for their work. But 62% said they weren’t even sure how to create one. So we know that human beings are hardwired to tell stories. There’s a whole bunch of stories, books out, there are studies about the story proof. Jeff Brooks has written books about it. Ken Burnett talks about storytelling changing the world. Tom Hearn, making money with your donor newsletters.
For us with the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference we’re seeing donors thanking us when we start telling our stories. We’re seeing other people tripling their fundraising from telling their stories. Just minute tweaks. We know that storytelling is important, so learn to tell it. Who are the internal stories you need to be telling, and who do you need to be telling and what are the stories?
Some of them are, how is your nonprofit funded? In my storytelling training I talk about, you call it your genesis story. What wrong was your nonprofit started to right, make right? What values exemplify how the staff is responding? Internally, when they’re on-boarded, you could have a story about we did, again, this hospital that I worked in, we were told at every orientation they talked about a person coming in cold in the Maine winter, and a nurse going clear across town to get them a winter coat so that they wouldn’t have to leave cold too.
That was the type of value that we wanted to instill, going above and beyond for our patients. Those stories really can tell you more than just a list of values that are guiding.
And then moving to the external. What fight are you inviting donors and community members and others to be part of? How are you making the donor the hero? This is a whole other seminar, we won’t go into it, but basically the more in your fundraising you can say, “You, donor, are making this impact” not, “We, nonprofit are making this impact, you can help us make more impact by giving to us.”
But just taking a backseat as a nonprofit and saying, “You donor are making this impact,” because they are. If their funding weren’t there, the impact wouldn’t be as great or existent. That is helping people really revolutionize the results in their fundraising.
And as we go into the question and answer section, I just want to share with you, don’t go it alone. Being a CEO is one of the most isolating and lonely places to be in some ways, because all the skills that got you to the top of the organization are no longer what you need to keep you there. You can’t be the problem solver all the time, you need to be helping other people be problem solvers.
And if you’re doing this all on your own, sometimes the board expects you to know how to do something, the staff expects you to know what to do. As we said before, you could be building the bridge as you walk across it, but you could find out it’s going onto the wrong part of the shore across the river. Or it’s not even going across the river.
So you could look at peer groups, you could talk . . . even though we’re somewhat competing with each other in the nonprofit sector, it’s a great sector to work in. We can talk to other peers of the same levels, we can talk . . . there are professional associations I mentioned often have CEO events or summits or groups. Those are great times to build relationships, even if the topic isn’t exactly something you’d like. Being in the room with people that have the same burden of responsibility is . . . there’s something to be said for that.
And of course the executive coaching, CompassPoint in 2003 did a study that showed that the return on investment for every dollar spent in executive coaching of the executive was a 300% return. That’s an amazingly cost-effective way to do training, and it’s good for the staff as well. Leaders then lead with more confidence and humility. They’re able to bring up, raise up others around them also reduce the stress in the workplace, because it’s not vacillating or indecisive.
We really believe the future can be brighter. Steven, are there questions and answers that we want to go through?
Steven: There are. We’ve got a couple questions in here already, and I would invite people to send them our way if you were sitting on your hands. You’ve got probably about six or seven minutes. We’ve got the report link up on the screen. If you haven’t downloaded the report already, definitely download it now that you’ve had this awesome intro from Marc.
Marc, thanks for doing this this morning.
Marc: Really cool. Oh my goodness, you’re welcome.
Steven: Take a break. I’ll speak . . .
Marc: Yeah, so the report is there, and then there are some videos that are also there on the blog that are starting to unpack some of this. And for executive directors, there’s quick training of the three strategies I use in my coaching and we do at Concord Leadership Group. If you want to get a sneak peek at that, that’s at concordleadershipgroup.com/ceo.
I’m having fun with this highlighter. I’m going to try the pen. So go for it. What are some . . .
Steven: So what were you surprised about, Marc? As you were compiling all the data and seeing the survey results come in, what surprised you, what didn’t surprise you?
Marc: I was really surprised about the strategic plan. As a guy with a master’s in organizational leadership, I’m a Franklin Covey coach, so I know begin with the end in mind. That’s something that has been a guiding in the work I’ve done in the sector. But myself and the conversations I had with the partners, it was really interesting that the strategic plan really mattered.
And it’s kind of like a “no duh” afterwards, because of course, if we’re . . . Oh, like I say in the video, sitting in the school orchestra watching my kid’s performance, if everybody in the orchestra had different sheet music, they’d be playing music, but it would sound awful. Because it would be all discordant, it would be all against each other, competing.
So having something in writing does make sense. I think that was a huge surprise. And honestly, one of the negative surprises was my wife . . . well, it’s not negative that my wife was right. That’s positive. That is awesome. But the whole . . . we really are a sector that seems to reward co-dependency and dysfunction. I think as I’m going through this, I think what happens is well-meaning people start a nonprofit. They see a need and they start filling it, and they’re good at it.
And then they realize we need some more resources due to that, so people start giving to them, and maybe they start hiring. But it’s all on screech. It’s all on this, we’ve got to get this done sort of feeling. There’s a panic, there’s this. And that panic gets then built into the organizational culture, and it gets built into the scarcity too gets into it.
We can’t compete, we don’t have that, you just have to be committed, and that creates a pretty toxic work environment for many of the nonprofits.
Steven: Yeah, I’ve seen it. Well, we’ve got some questions here. I’ll try to roll through them. We got a question here from Ron. Ron is wondering what position should be the keeper or the owner of the succession plan and the planning activities. Should it be CEO, board, what do you think, Marc?
Marc: Whoa. Excellent question. I’m a big fan of the board oversees vision and mission and doesn’t get into operations. Because I see really, really weird things happen when board starts trying to dictate who you hire, fire, and how you run the organization. They’re well meaning people and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just organizationally it doesn’t work well.
So I would say the CEO or the senior leaders should hold this, and it shouldn’t be a secret document. I think it should be on a shared drive so that if any one of the people aren’t able to come in, they know who’s next. When the Chronicle broke the story on this report, one of the people I got to lead them to was Living Room Atlanta, where this nonprofit, the leader must have been one of the most humble that existed. Because he was hired, and he immediately brought the other person who was second into all his council.
So there are two people he brought into all of his council, but particularly this one assistant director. Every meeting he went to that would just typically be the CEO, he went into with her. And he’d get briefed, “What do you think we should do?” “Well this is why I think we should do this way,” and if he made a decision that didn’t agree with what she thought he explained it to her.
“I understand you said this. I have a different perspective sitting from where I am. I just sense that this is the right thing, the data leads me to go this way, and I respect your disagreement but this is why I made this decision.” All of that work, Steven, 18 months later, he ended up dying.
Steven: Oh wow.
Marc: Heart attack or something, I don’t remember what it was, but it was yeah, shockingly passing away. And the nonprofit didn’t miss a beat because he was humble enough to share, it was clear that he was grooming this person to be the heir apparent. That can create weird feelings if you have heir apparent, but maybe starting with a more objective, less personality filled succession plan could be helpful with that.
Steven: Here’s one from Jim. Jim’s wondering what your feeling is on the conflict that can often occur between attempts to diversify the board and the desire to have a sort of consistent board in terms of expectations of giving.
Marc: Oh, man, and we were just talking about that in the Nonprofit Academy yesterday.
Steven: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Marc: I have never . . . I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve worked with lots of different organizations. Yeah, all sorts of good organizations. I have found it really hard to find a very consistent expected give and get.
And it’s like my friend said, “It’s not give or get, it’s give and get.” Every board member should be giving and getting.
Marc: I think it goes back to the values. What are your core values? If there’s a socio-economic diversity, if there’s a representation of the community that has different socio-economic groups, that is the best excuse for me to not have a hard and fast minimum pledge level.
Whenever I come in and do a board training though, I broadside this really hard. And I check with the staff first, but I just go into it when I talk about how to ask for money. I say, “You’ve got to make your own gift first,” and if anybody’s on a board of a nonprofit and they’re investing their time and their talent into this nonprofit, isn’t it worth as much to them as their cable bill or their cell phone bill? Then I let it sit there.
So that’s like $84 a month, $1,000 a year should be a minimum for a board member. Don’t you agree? And I’ll just sit there. Because when you’re the trainer, you get the floor, you have a different power dynamic going on. And then I let the staff clean it up after, based on what their values are.
But I just say, “I think every board member should challenge themselves to get on a recurring $84 a month credit card donation.” They don’t have to think about it, and they know that they’re investing in it as much as they’d invest in some other aspects of their life. So. Not a clear answer, I don’t have a cookie cutter approach for that one.
Steven: That’s okay. Well, it’s 2:00. I think we’ll end it there. I know we didn’t get to all the questions, but Marc, would it be okay if people emailed you additional questions? Is it okay if I share your email address?
Marc: Absolutely. Yeah, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m on Twitter, @marcapitman. That’s a Twitter. I’m on there a lot. email@example.com. And try to make myself incredibly accessible, so yes, please do because these are important issues.
Marc: And they’re not simple to address, even though they’re some low hanging fruit for us.
Steven: Yeah. Well download that report, I would definitely encourage everyone do that. We had a lot of fun helping out with that at Bloomerang. We played a tiny, tiny role, but it was still fun. But Marc, thanks for doing this. Well, thank you for giving all this info out to the sector. I think it’s really useful.
Well, we have lots of great resources on our website as well that you can check out. Our upcoming webinar schedule is looking really good. We have three presentations planned for August. We’re going to take next week off, but we are back two weeks from today with Jim Shapiro. He’s going to talk about the ask, thank report cycle.
Marc: I’m sorry Steven, but for everybody looking at that, don’t be swayed by the title. I got swayed by the title and thought “eh,” and then I watched some of the training that he and Steven screened you and it blew me away. I’ve been at this 20 years and I hadn’t heard it presented the way they did it. So you want to go to that.
Steven: Jim’s a good one. It’s a good one. We’ve got a couple more in August, you’ll see him there. We’ve got more planned out through the end of the year, actually. So register for those webinars. We’d love to see you again two weeks from now, if not again after that.
So we’ll end it there. Look for an email from me with the recording. I’ll send that out in just a couple hours, but thank you all for taking an hour out of your day and thanks again to Marc for sharing all that great information. We will catch you in two weeks. Have a great rest of your afternoon and a great weekend. Bye now.
Marc: Bye everyone.