Will your Nonprofit be Here in 30 Years?

Will your Nonprofit be Here in 30 Years?

Your future depends on having people around the table NOW who will be around when that future comes to pass.  So the question is, have you involved any Millennials in building your strategic plan?

They’re the ones who have a vested interest in tomorrow’s community.  They may not yet be able to write big checks, but as Atul Tanden said about Millennials and Nonprofits, Millennials want to have an impact. They want to know what their money is going to do, for whom. They like to dig into an organization’s mission before giving money or time.

Perhaps even more important, rookie board members bring fresh eyes to your organization. They’re free to question why and how because they’re not hampered by what’s happened before. Liz Wiseman, in her Harvard Business Review post, discovered that rookie engineers had no qualms in seeking guidance from others. In her study, the rookies were more likely to seek help beyond the usual suspects and brought new expertise to the organization that veteran engineers hadn’t considered.

Rookies forge new territory because they aren’t held back by experiences that didn’t work in the past. Because they are new, they a different perspective and high energy to projects, accelerating the pace of innovation.MilennialsWordCloud

A sound organization practice is to have board members from every decade of adult life. That way, you hear the voices of people who were NOT here at the beginning; people who don’t have the nostalgia factor pulling them back to the tried and true.  You hear the voices of people who will be your future leaders, and you get to know the people to whom you will pass the baton.

When building your strategic plan, you have to hear the voices of the future.  The women and men who have a vested interest in the community you are building WANT to be part of the nonprofit world. Invite them. Encourage them. Bring them onto your board. They’re the ones who will make sure you’re still here in 30 years.

Now’s the time to look for the fresh faces who will join your board in 2015. Let’s talk about how to build your board with Millennials, and hear their voices in the strategic plan. Contact me at  sdetwiler@detwiler.com to hear more!  

Are Your Trustees Smarter than a 6th Grader?

With the start of school, education gets a lot of attention. Keeping up with the sector means perusing the legislative, governance and financial news. It also means listening to the people on the frontlines.

While scanning an education site, I was struck by how closely classroom management lessons match the latest in governance wisdom. Those values we learned in grade school have a great impact on the way our boards work together – if we actually bring those values to our nonprofit.

On the first day of school, this grade school teacher* introduced to her class “Six things sixth graders say:”

I don’t know….YET. In the context of nonprofit board work, are we able to recognize that we don’t know everything, and there is much we can learn? How does that recognition affect our interaction with staff, clients, the community, our peers?

I’ll give it a try.  Even if things are going well, perhaps doing something new will be even better. Innovation is key to avoiding stagnation.  Are the members of our board open to trying something we’ve never tried before?

Oooh! A Challenge!  When things are difficult, do we fall back or step forward? Do we cocoon, or is our board willing to explore the limits of our abilities?  Do we reach out to others who may have the resources to help?

Let’s figure this out together. Science has shown that cooperation and trust among team members foster better results. On a board, cooperation allows each person to contribute his or her particular expertise. Do our trustees cooperate and collaborate?

Of course, I’ll help!   Sometimes extraordinary times require extraordinary effort from staff, board and volunteers. Do our trustees see themselves as integral to the success of the mission, and personally take steps to ensure that success?

Thank you.   Quality of life is proven to improve if we recognize that we have something to be grateful for. Of all the reasons to serve on a board, the opportunity to say thank you by helping others is one of the most powerful. Do we each come to our board work with an attitude of gratitude for the work of others and the opportunity to fulfill the mission?

These are simple statements, but science has proven each to be important components to success. I’ve seen innovation, gratitude, and cooperation create successful teams in organizations as diverse as arts, education and social sciences. I’ve also seen the price paid when trustees forgot them.

Think future! Building these attitudes into regular board meetings fuels dynamic discussions that focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t.

*Special thanks to Aliza Chanales of Yeshivat Noam, for permission to repost her “Six Things Sixth Graders Say” in the context of nonprofit governance.

What are your experiences in building the right attitudes among your board members?  Pass them on!  Post them here or you can reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

A Faster Horse

I have mixed thoughts about innovation. As much as I tell boards and organizations to be open to innovation, there are risks.

Henry Ford is famous for saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” There’s no evidence that he really said that, but the message is clear and was reiterated by Steve Jobs. Jobs actually did say: “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

The lesson is that innovation comes from an isolated genius; that people don’t know what they want.

But this father knows best attitude flies directly in the face of so much else we get through received wisdom: build relationships; engage the people to find out who they are, what they like, and what they want; build consensus to agree on a vision and work together to achieve it.

Are these actually in conflict?

No. Sometimes you need one. Sometimes you need the other. As Patrick Vlaskovits says in the 2011 Harvard Business Review post, Henry Ford may have innovated, but then he continued to ignore his customers. By not listening to them, he lost out on the market as others, who did listen, built an incremental market beyond Ford’s initial dominance.

Innovation isn’t only the province of the commercial market. If you see a way to radically address a problem in society, go for it. But the paternalism of Ford and Jobs isn’t going to cut it. People may not be able to ‘blue-sky’ what they want – they may still ask for faster horses – but they almost certainly can tell you how your great innovation will work in the real world.

If you want to envision a radically different world – or figure out how to react to the changes you’re already encountering – let’s talk.  You can reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.