Over the past several years, the breakthrough thinking of Dan Pallotta and his work has reached many in the nonprofit arena. His TED Talks, particularly ”The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong”, his two books “Uncharitable” and “Charity Case” and the creation of an organization advocating for this next generation approach, the Charity Defense Council are critical components in changing the way the nonprofit industry is viewed.
In his first book, he traces the origins of nonprofits dating back to the Puritans; Pallotta identifies charity as a remedy for the wealth created in the history of our nation. I won’t do a book report summarizing the books. They’re hard to find at bookstores but easily accessible on kindle, nook or play books for the e-reader of your choice.
He was of course, highlighting the point that our culture believes nonprofits should operate under a set of rules distinct and disadvantaged from the for-profit arena. The biggies include the suggestion that nonprofits should not invest heavily in infrastructure (a.k.a. the Future). They shouldn’t have the option of spending money on unnecessary expenses such as competitive salaries for staff or senior leadership. Finally, they should be operated on a shoestring budget. In other words, try to solve huge societal budgets with tiny dollars. A perfect example: we're thrilled to get free advertising at 4:00 AM rather than spend to reach audiences when engagement is high.
I agree with his thinking and advocate for it on any occasion I can. Hopefully the newly launched Charity Defense Council (CDC) will make inroads into this seismic shift in thinking. We can't solve big problems with small-thinking solutions. To learn more about the CDC, visit their website www.charitydefensecouncil.org Sign up. Get involved.
Beyond spending; however, a significant gap exists when comparing nonprofits and corporations. The biggest is how they operate day to day. Having spent nearly two decades in the sector, I'm convinced the charities suffer from another challenge:
Attitude. A lack of a true sales/marketing ATTITUDE.
I’ve worked directly for a range of charitable organizations, consulted and coached with many more. As such, I believe I’ve experienced a good sampling. While many excel at their mission, most (not all!) are quite content to be approached, rather than approaching. Mail goes out and emails are sent. Proposals are submitted along with responses to RFPs. Follow up calls are made in accordance with the exacting rules set out by the foundations (translation: don’t call us - we’ll call you!)
But the heavy lifting of truly assertive - OK, plain old aggressive - outreach is rarely on the checklist. I’m not suggesting that organizations that don’t aggressively prospect have a bad attitude. However, the prevailing thought process is still that charitable organizations don't do aggressive things like cold call, prospect, present, gain, commitment and yes, CLOSE. The simple truth is that if you're trying to build, grow and achieve your impact, this is a big part of the game. Further, no matter how strong your Board of Directors may be, can you ever have too many qualify prospects?
Much as Pallotta is advocating for change in the way dollars are spent, I advocate for change in the way time is spent. Whether we like it or not, the charitable sector is a competitive one. Organizations compete for donor attention whether they're individuals, corporations or foundations. While posts, Facebook likes and other vehicles pull in attention, the surest way to get attention is to grab it! And that's my call. If you're not grabbing for the attention of individual, corporate and institutional donors, one of your peers or competitors is.
Time to hit the phones - and no time like the present. And if you’re having trouble getting started, make my number the first you call: 917-733-8569... I’m happy to help!
I consider myself fortunate to get to work with some extraordinary individuals for my coaching and consulting practice. They all work for very different nonprofits in terms of mission, size, scale. I also work with a range of individuals at all levels of leadership – managers, directors and yes, a few Executive Directors. I was recently thinking how different yet accomplished they all are and how they all have fantastic and diversified traits.
As a fun exercise, I started to jot down five things I admired most about each one of them and in no time at all, I had an impressive list of leadership traits I believe any one of us would want to cultivate. Naturally traits like commitment, integrity and authenticity came up. Chances are you’ve read or heard about the value of traits like those and other similar ones. I thought it could be more interesting to share some of the less obvious ones. I’ve created some titles for them and shared the Top 5 Below. I can’t guarantee you haven’t thought of these but see which of these might fit you and your style….
Forever Futurist: I know there are a few leadership books out there that identify people as Futurists. Surprise! This is someone who is strategic and always thinking about the future. I happen to have one client who is always dazzling me with her incredibly sunny vision of the future and what it looks like for her organization and their ability to fulfill their mission. She’s an eternal optimist and I see how it helps her and imbues her with an ongoing passion. This one might be a touch controversial however as we do need to live in the present. But it seems to work for her! What do you think?
Mistake Lover: One of the nonprofit leaders I work with absolutely thrives on mistakes and is fearless about making them. By the way, I’m not talking about game-changing, money-losing out of scale mistakes. I’m talking about learn as you go, learn by doing, challenge myself and figure it out mistakes. And from the ongoing growth of his organization, he doesn’t just make mistakes, he learns from them. How about you? Are you making mistakes and learning from them?
Breaker of the Mold: We do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This is, without a doubt, one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard on numerous occasions (and with numerous organizations) in my 18 plus years of working at nonprofits and now coaching and consulting with them. I love the fact that I’m working with a leader right now who is literally breaking the mold that’s worked for him since starting his organization. He’s moving from a for-profit entity that was chugging along to a hybrid model and he’s absolutely fearless about it. And all in service of meeting his mission.
A Teacher and A Student: Some of us are great mentors, coaches. Some of us are terrific at learning new things and picking them up on the fly. But how many of us can say we are teaching and learning every day. Actually, several of the nonprofit leaders I work with make it a point to say that they are committed to teaching and learning every day. Sounds like a recipe for success.
Playbook Burner: Interestingly, several of these leaders have had a great deal of success at other nonprofits before landing in their new spot. What I was happy to hear is that while no, none of them burned their playbook (a common metaphor for trying to replicate success the way it was experienced elsewhere) they knew when to use it and when to leave it behind. As you may know, it’s not uncommon to hear about fundraisers or senior executives describing the “way we did it at XYZ” as the way we’ll do it here. These leaders know how to learn from past successes but are still adaptable to their present situation.
Hopefully these got you thinking – please feel free to share any other somewhat less obvious leadership traits we can shoot for..
By the way, if you like what you read, please subscribe below. Also, I’ll admit I’m just learning the joys of twitter – or not – but you can now follow me at @NowNonprofit (and you can feel free to give me any tips of the trade if you’ve got them..).
Batman: I have one rule.
The Joker: Then that's the rule you'll have to break to know the truth.
Batman: Which is?
The Joker: The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. And tonight, you're gonna break your one rule!
“The Dark Knight” 2008
The above exchange comes to mind because of an experience I’ve recently had participating in a training program called Creating the Impossible or CTI. It’s a virtual program hosted by Michael Neill, who runs multiple virtual and in person coaching programs. Over 90 days, he provides guidance to participants that have chosen a project with the following criteria:
When we started, I jumped in with my usual goal orientation. I was going to find the most impossible project I could! But after a week and a half of flirting - as Michael called it - with various charitable projects, nothing was making me grin, gasp or giggle. But it was the 7th (or 8th or whatever day) and according to the rules, I had to choose.
So I did. I chose to launch a chapter of a national nonprofit I’ve always admired. As was recommended, I posted to social media and told whoever I could to create accountability. Then I did what I’ve always done: I created a plan, strategy and timetable. Lots of google docs, spreadsheets, call lists, etc. I was on track. I was following the rules.
Around the same time, I had also volunteered to launch a meetup group and first event for the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA). I have CHD, had open heart surgery when I was 10, and got a pacemaker two months ago. I’ve always wanted to give back to this community as I feel so grateful (to be alive that is!). I’m 54, have been blessed to lead a wonderful healthy life that even includes running marathons. Things were coming together really well. My cardiologist and friends were eager to help and I even secured a great venue. I loved this project but it didn’t seem like a CTI fit because it was coming together easily, organically and almost effortlessly for me.
Today, I realized something HUGE. My ACHA project is perfect and exactly what I want to do - 90 days and beyond. I actually felt this from the start but it just didn’t seem impossible enough - not according to the rules of the game. I had refused to listen to my own inner wisdom because it would have forced me to challenge and possibly even break the rules of the CTI game. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I’ll be launching the Fort Myers, FL Adult Congenital Heart Association Group as my CTI project!
This experience was a great example of the fact that truly do have inner guidance and wisdom that helps us towards the right path. The challenge is that so much gets in the way: rules (society’s as well as our own self-imposed), how we want to look, or a lack of confidence in our wisdom. Ultimately here are the choices when it comes to this wisdom and guidance:
But if we’re not all able to do #1 all the time (I’m not there yet know) we can create
4. We can decide To hell with the rules - I’m doing what I love.
”Have a really average day!”
Can you imagine saying the above to your spouse or partner as you see them off to work? Or perhaps you say that to your child as they head off to school. Or maybe you even mention this to your colleague as you wind down your first cup of coffee at the office. There are any number of occasions where such a greeting is the exact opposite of what we typically offer. We’re more likely to wish people a great day, wonderful week or some inspired hope for something awesome to happen immediately if not sooner.
Yet there is brilliance in wishing someone - or better yet experiencing - a perfectly average day. To give full credit where it’s due, this wonderful concept was highlighted by International Transformative Coach Michael Neill (www.michaelneill.org) in several of his books including SuperCoach and I love it! He wisely points out that focusing on living an average day EVERY DAY is far better than the imposed limitations of having a great day, super week or the like. A lifetime of average days can add up to an extraordinary life.
Why am I sharing this? First off, I love sharing great ideas and I’m confident this one can be a game changer for you. Equally important, I want to invite you to consider this thinking as it’s the antithesis of how many of us operate. Imagine the cumulative impact of our lives if we could all just live our “average day” every day as opposed to killing it for a week, a month, a quarter - or even a year.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a professional fundraiser (like me). What if each day you committed to doing the minimum. This is like studying to get Cs in school instead of As. Maybe you’re thinking that’s not the way I roll. But let’s say you could commit to doing the following barebones effort every day of your lifetime career as fundraiser:
2 cold calls per day
2 cultivation calls per day
2 new prospects researched and identified every day
Let’s lock this down to doing this every business day of the year - that’s roughly 250 days. We’ll also assume that your skills are as marginal as your effort - you’re successful just 10% of the time. That would look like this over a year.
500 cold calls translating to 50 new prospects
500 cultivation calls translating into 50 upgrades in gifts
500 new prospects identified and researched translating into 50 pre-qualified prospects
You may be reading this thinking what a joke! He’s suggesting I sit around and just do 6 things every day. But truth be told, how many of us fundraisers can honestly say that every year we identify 50 great new prospects, talk to 50 completely new prospects and get 50 people to upgrade their gift? And how many of us do it year after year after year? If you do, I know I’d hire you!
I’m not suggesting being lazy and in my example above, I’d assume you can squeeze a bit more productivity out of your day. But if you’re with me on shifting your thinking, you can get started by doing the following:
STOP Trying to Have a Great Day (week, month, year): This is a seismic shift in what for many of us, particularly achievement and goal oriented individuals, know is a very ingrained mentality. It takes daily thought and practice. So much of life is centered around how we can pack a ton of action into defined brackets of time and goals. We want to lose XYZ pounds in 90 days; train for a marathon for 6 months and crank out the big proposal by the end of next week (and then chill!). These are all worthy achievements but consider including those as parts of your average day.
START Identifying the Key Components of YOUR Average Day: What are the building blocks that make your average day into a truly incredible life (including your personal life, career and personal interests). We looked at an example for work above. If you start adding in telling your partner and kids you love them, doing something healthy, helping a stranger and a few other high priority actions, that wonderfully average day can start to look pretty action packed. But keep it average!
FOCUS on Quality over Quantity: Remember, the numbers are in your favor! Some of you - myself included - might be tempted to play with the math here and decide to squeeze out the additional phone call, email, or whatever. Think of that extra phone call or email every day over the year. Just imagine the exponential impact! ...But don’t do that. Focus on 5 Quality (fill in the blank) per day over 7 so-so (fill in the blank). Doing whatever you do with that extra bit of you and integrity far outweigh the benefits of an additional unit of activity.
Now go out there and BE AVERAGE!
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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