November 19, 2016
I was recently part of a small group offering advice and counsel to a young nonprofit trying to improve its visibility and develop new sources of financial support, as a large grant that has carried them will be expiring.
Here’s a summary of my advice to them:
- Broaden the population you serve. That means more stakeholders, and more people motivated to tell your story.
- Seek media coverage.
- Create tools top tell your story — articles, white papers, audio podcasts, short videos, etc.
- Become a thought leader. Offer authoritative opinions, clear professional advice, quotable quotes that the media can use.
- Encourage other thought leaders to use and recommend your program. They will then help tell your story.
- It will be hard for your program staff to focus on such public relations work at the same time that they are passionately involved in program activity. Seek earmarked funds to hire a full time (or maybe part time) professional publicist.
When asked what should be included in an Executive Director’s report to the board, I responded with this model of “OARS” to help the board be aware of the steering environment:
- O = Opportunities . . . that the organization can (and perhaps should) pursue
- A = Accomplishments . . . both little and big successes
- R = Risk factors . . . things that look like they might go wrong, including action taken to mitigate these.
- S = Surprises . . . that the ED encountered. Yes — even in a well run organization, with very professional staff, there are surprises
This model was inspired by the “Significant events” report I had file each week when I was a mid-level manager at General Electric. Each of my staff had to write such a report to me, and I distilled and condensed these, along with my own list, in my report to senior management. Our “significant events” were named differently, but functioned in the same way to alert our managers about situations that would likely develop — either into more mature problems, or into inspiring successes.
The underlying value here is truth telling. I knew it was easy for my staff to report great successes, or opportunities that seemed to be developing. It was much harder to report those out of control situations that could get worse, those stakeholders whose dismay was escalating, those situations that seemed only to work against us. But my job was to know of such situations, and to organize appropriate responses. Were I kept in the dark, I couldn’t really do my job.
December 12, 2012
I’d read about Three Buoys — the new fish restaurant that recently opened up a few blocks from my office. It sounded like a wonderful place for simple fish sandwiches, and for more sophisticated seafood preparations as well. So, I thought this morning, why not try it for lunch today.
I was warmly welcomed, but then presented with a dense page of typewritten text, that must have contained at least 100 different menu items. All were priced well above what I wanted to spend for lunch, and most were not seafood.
Yes — I could have scanned the menu, checking out the seafood items. There probably were some that would have interested me, and at a price not too much above what I expected to spend on lunch. But the very fact that there were so many items on the menu was proof positive to me that this place couldn’t be doing anything very well.
My “proof positive” may have been completely wrong. I might have missed a taste thrill for lunch today. But that’s not the point. What’s interesting is that I entered the restaurant wanting to buy something, and I left feeling upset that this mission was so hard. They might have lost not just my one purchase today, but a loyal customers for years to come.
What might have helped turn me into a real customer?
- A menu sorted by kind of item — Perhaps fried seafood, broiled seafood, soups, salads, meat, poultry, etc.
- A menu that was just shorter.
- A server who has offered to help me pick out something on the long menu for this new place.
- A page of lunch specials — perhaps only slightly cheaper than the full menu, but much more approachable.
Also, as I left, somebody might have asked, “We’re sorry you’re leaving . . . What were you looking for that you didn’t see on the menu?”
I want this little place to succeed, and may go back to offer my feedback — for what it’s worth. But if they are not querying their customers (or would-be customers), there’s not a lot of hope that they will get it right.
October 12, 2011
As I work with non-profit boards, these are some of the questions I usually raise. But you can use these on your own. I’d welcome feedback about which are most important, which need to be changed, and what should have been included but was not.
Mission / Vision: Does the organization have a clear mission statement, and a vision of what it seeks to achieve? At what point in time might the mission be accomplished? When has the board last revisited mission and vision? Are staff, board, and executive aligned on mission and vision? Are mission and vision statements referenced when program ideas, and internal policies are being considered? Does the board notice when stated mission and actual function are different, and can it take constructive action?
Stakeholders: Who are the stakeholders, or potential stakeholders? How does the board connect with or represent the stakeholders? If some stakeholders are not in some way represented on the board, how does the organization maintain ties with them? To what groups does the organization feel itself accountable?
Board membership: How are Board members chosen? Does the board include people with experience to evaluate and clarify the organization’s need for legal services, accounting, publicity, marketing, program development, fundraising human resources, etc.? Is the board primarily a policy-making body, or does it seek is it a “working board” (providing some of these services)? Are there term limits for board members? How does the board identify and cultivate new members with the right skills, experience connections, and commitment? Is there a training protocol for new board members, and a regular check in with continuing board members as they get re-appointed?
Board meetings: Are board meetings well attended lively events, that engage the board and that result in useful dialog and decisions? Do board members come away excited and involved? Is there a clear agenda, with board questions presented in enough detail and accompanied with enough background material? Are meetings run in a manner that encourage candid sharing, creative problem solving, and the generation of consensus whenever possible? Is the board able to listen carefully to minority views, to see how these might provide helpful insights and guidance? Are minutes taken carefully, and then reviewed by the board? Read the rest of this entry »