3 Ways to Build Nonprofit Growth Mindset

3 Ways to Build Nonprofit Growth Mindset

Do you“fake it ’til you make it?” 

Do you have a “growth mindset?”

Reaching your aspirations requires taking action beyond your comfort zone.

“Fake it ’til you make it” says to pretend you know what you’re doing, and eventually you will. This cynical statement implies you don’t know what you’re doing, even as you actually accomplish things. It sidesteps the obvious – you do know at least some of what you’re doing, and now you’re learning the rest of it on the job. Thinking that you’re faking may keep you from asking for help in accomplishing (or being) what you aspire to. But stepping into a space beyond your comfort zone is a step toward growing into the job.

In “Do you have a growth mindset?” we encounter the sociologically proven axiom that if you believe ability is fixed, you’re less able to improve your skills than those who believe abilities can be learned and improved upon. Those with a growth mindset are often eager to take actions beyond their immediate abilities. They believe that even if they don’t succeed, they will learn from the experience.

It is action that leads to growth.

The act of learning and the act of doing make us step outside what we already know, and we grow from the experience.

Which leads me to this blog post by Seth Godin.  The four elements of entrepreneurship. Subtitled, “Are successful entrepreneurs made or born?” Godin demonstrates that entrepreneurship is a set of actions. Thinking of BEING an entrepreneur leads to the ‘either/or’ question: Am I or am I not an entrepreneur. But if entrepreneurship is a skill set, it can be learned.

What does this mean for your nonprofit?

Your organization can learn to grow, just as individuals can.

1.      Recruit board members with a growth mindset. The forces of society are changing rapidly, and your organization will need to be nimble to stay abreast. Board members who believe that they and others can grow and learn will be better able to adapt to rapidly changing situations.

2.      Recruit CEOs with entrepreneurial skills. They don’t have to have been an entrepreneur, but can they manifest the skills of being nimble, trying new things, learning from others, being decisive, be persuasive? These are entrepreneurial skills, necessary to coping with rapidly changing situations.

3.      Be willing to experiment with new directions and new programs.  Staying in the safety of what worked before isn’t enough. If you’re not sure of what you’re doing, it doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. You know a lot more than you think you do. A failed program is one from which you can learn. A new direction that needs a course correction is proof that you can learn and adapt.

Organizations are collections of people. And if people can learn with a growth mindset, so can your organization. Onward!

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Just Say No. Or, How FOMO* is Hurting Your Organization

Just Say No. Or, How FOMO* is Hurting Your Organization

The board member is excited.

“My cousin in Arizona just told me how his nonprofit is partnering their day care with a senior center and just drinking in the money from all the funders. We should do that!”

Right. Never mind that you’re a public garden with a research mission and you already have robust relationships with several senior centers that bring devoted volunteers to your site. You’re not a day care center, and the research you do requires fine motor skills.

“But we could get so much money from funders!!”

Is that really true?

The first question that major funders ask is how this new project fits into your strategic plan; which in turn has to match your mission and vision. Somehow, this fabulous idea doesn’t look so fabulous any more.

Or does it? What if you don’t have a strategic plan? What if you don’t have a coherent vision and mission? How can you tell whether this is a fabulous idea or not?

When everyone on your board, and everyone on staff, knows your mission, vision and plan, it’s a lot easier to “JUST SAY NO” to the random fabulous idea. 

But when you don’t have this foundation, it’s very easy to be pulled into projects and schemes that take you away from your purpose.

Mark Pettit wrote 5 Steps to Overcoming FOMO about personal goals. With his permission, here they are, with my take on applying them to your organization.

Five concrete steps:

1 – Commit to strong, specific goals. Articulate clearly what your organization’s priorities are. Ask that excited board member how the opportunity fits your current priorities. An important caveat: Don’t squash the enthusiasm, channel it!.

2 – Know the high-value activities needed to hit your goals. When you know the activities that will bring you the most return for your effort, you know where to channel that enthusiasm.  Have her work on the most important things, and keep her and others focused on the priorities.

3 – Recognize the tradeoffs. Questions are rarely ‘yes/no.’ If there’s a possibility that the idea fits, consider both the opportunities and the costs of each choice. My colleagues and I call this the “positive/positive, negative/negative” equation. What’s the upside of saying ‘yes’ AND what’s the upside of saying ‘no?’ What’s the downside of saying ‘yes’ AND what’s the downside of saying ‘no.’ All relative to your goals, of course.

Remind your board that you have more than you think.

4 – Give yourself permission to say ‘no.’ There will always be other things to spend your energy on and other opportunities that look good. Engage your board in a conversation about making choices, and acknowledge that you can’t say ‘yes’ to everything.  This boosts your ability to say ‘no’ when the time comes.

5 – Create an abundance mindset.  Chasing scattered opportunities is a symptom that you aren’t sure of your own plans and progress. FOMO is today’s way of saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’ Meanwhile, the person on the other side of that fence is saying that about you. Remind your board that you have more than you think. You have a plan. You have rational reasons for each part of it. And feel free to say ‘no.’

*Fear of Missing Out

Lead your board through these five steps, and watch staying true to your plan get easier. Write back, and let me know how it goes!

Let’s talk about crafting that Vision and Mission and making sure you’re all on the same page. Contact me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com and we can talk.  Or sign up here to receive regular updates on board development and planning.

No Bootstraps — The Curse of the Unconnected Community

No Bootstraps — The Curse of the Unconnected Community

An article about how Wyoming relies on Federal dollars to support its arts, brought back memories of a panel of philanthropists I heard speak many years ago.

It was a frustrating experience. At the time, I was Executive Director of a small nonprofit. The panelists represented major, national level foundations. Each foundation funded national nonprofits and national causes. Each also funded their local communities.

Had I lived and worked in one of their communities, I would have been thrilled to hear how much they funded their home towns.

Unfortunately, my nonprofit was in a small state, with few heirs to phenomenally large endowments. To obtain money from these large foundations, I needed to apply to one of the national nonprofits they funded, competing against other small nonprofits for the trickle-down largess.

During Q&A, I asked what recourse we agencies in the hinterlands had when it came to applying for their funds. Would these large foundations consider supporting us, as well as their hometowns?

The answer was no.

They supported their home towns, and they supported the national nonprofits. It was up to us to figure out how to survive without having ‘angels’ in our midst.

A HARD LESSON

It’s a hard lesson for us in the hinterlands to learn. Of course, I use hinterlands figuratively. All you need do is look around, and see where the major corporations and major foundations reside. Everywhere else, nonprofits start with at least one fewer arrow in their quiver, at least one fewer prospective major funder. Small communities in particular are vulnerable, as they have fewer prospective donors in general.  The arts and culture sector can be particularly vulnerable; unlike in the social sector, there are few government contracts available for their work.

Maybe that’s why boards of directors keep saying things like, “The Gates Foundation has a lot of money; let’s ask them!” and “Maybe Meryl Streep will come to our gala!” Hopes are high, but the reality is that the local nonprofits are not on their radar.

Yet these nonprofits DO succeed, because the national organizations DO make some funds available. In many cases, the Federal government steps in – at least for now, in the arts and humanities, there is the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, each funding large percentages of the rural arts and humanities programming. Other Federal agencies serve other areas, like Department of Education, Corporation for National and Community Service, Department of Labor.

BOOTSTRAPS ARE HAD TO COME BY

These outlying nonprofits also do a very commendable job of enlisting their communities. Often there is volunteerism providing support in the form of unpaid labor. But the very fact of being in smaller communities makes it harder to get sufficient volunteers, either because the communities are small, or because there are barriers in smaller communities (e.g., lack of transportation, lack of childcare) that make volunteering more difficult.

Is this a plea for consideration by the large, national foundations? Maybe. I think it’s more a reminder that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Telling small-town organizations in unconnected communities to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is naïve at best, and cruel at worst. First you need bootstraps.

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5 ways to build staff – board relations

5 ways to build staff – board relations

Does your staff know what the board does? Really?

In conversations with emerging professionals, I find they often haven’t a clue what the point of a board is. Frankly, I sometimes get that question from Executive Directors, too [but that’s a whole ‘nother issue].

Passionate people working for you.

Right now, I want to talk about the staff. The young professionals. The people you rely on at the front lines to deliver your mission.

Most of them care about the mission. They care about why you exist. Many of them care deeply and passionately. It’s not just a job. Unfortunately, they often lack a big picture of the entire organization as a unified entity, supported by the volunteer board of directors.

They don’t see how they fit into the scheme of the whole organization. Looking upwards, their view often stops at the program manager, director, vice president, or perhaps the executive director level. They don’t even see the board. If they do see the board, its purpose is hazy.

Worse, that view of the board is often negative.

How do you portray the board to your staff? How often do you say things like,

  • “The board said we have to do it this way.”
  • “We can’t afford it because the board didn’t approve the budget.”
  • “The board retreat is coming up and we have to make sure our presentations are perfect.”
What messages do these statements deliver?

The board is demanding,
doesn’t understand their realities
and is only worried about dollars.

Even if staff members can parrot back the purpose of a board, do they understand the ramifications and significance for their work?

What would be different if the staff knew that board members care as much as they do about the mission? That the board makes decisions with the future in mind?

What would be different if the board was transparent in why certain decisions are made? Not because you don’t have the funding, but because the funding is supporting the mission in other ways.

What would be different if staff understood that board members were doing their damnedest to make sure they had the resources to do great things?

Five ways to start building a better view. 

  1. Reframe how you speak about board decisions. Instead of blaming the board for unpopular decisions, or acting like popular decisions are a surprise success, put the decisions into context, including the considerations taken into account.
  2. Introduce individual board members to the staff. Give staff members an opportunity to meet and get to know the board as a collection of individuals, rather than a monolithic, enigmatic entity.
  3. Include information about the board in employee orientations. Integrate the board into the organization chart, with information about its purpose – not just as the last resort for employee grievances.
  4. Invite staff members to sit in on open board meetings. Board meetings are frequently open, but staff may not believe they would be welcome. Even if employees don’t attend, the fact of the invitation is an indicator of welcome.
  5. Consider mentorships between board members and staff. While young employees are frequently mentored by senior employees, board members often have special skills they may be willing to impart.

Each contact between board and staff builds a greater rapport, and a greater respect on each side.

Its a simple start to a new year of building the trust needed for accepting and working with hard decisions and new opportunities.

May 2018 be a year of harmony, respect and trust!

Weaving Together Innovation, Risk, Strategy and Execution

Weaving Together Innovation, Risk, Strategy and Execution

“The plans say you’re responsible for this.  Make sure you get it done by June.

Too often, we treat planning and execution as two separate things. Leadership make plans; departments and workers are told to execute them. Meanwhile, those charged with execution don’t see the full vision of the plans. They end up in silos, blithely executing their tasks, without knowing how their work affects the work of others, or how their work is woven into the whole.

But planning and execution are a seamless fabric; planning must include execution, and execution must reference the underlying plans. Building execution into the planning, and including those who do it in the process, makes for a smoother transition from the theoretical to the practical.

There is a cascade from vision to plan to strategy to action, that creates a picture of how each action contributes to the whole. When this cascade is shared with – and built with! – those tasked with execution, everyone has a common language and goal; everyone understands where they fit into the whole. Whether it’s a small museum or a large public garden, including staff in planning generates buy-in and pride in the organization. Ultimately, each person sees how they contribute to the enterprise.

Yet detailed, inclusive planning comes with a risk.

When everyone knows where they are headed, and execution is planned in detail, changing course can seem as impossible as turning around the Titanic. This is where a culture of innovation and risk leadership is important.

This is a second benefit of including everyone in planning the execution.

There is empowerment when everyone in the organization knows and participates in generating the ultimate goal and strategies. This empowerment means they feel permitted – perhaps even obligated – to bring new ideas to the table. Instead of focusing on new ways to execute a strategy, they can seek new ideas for reaching the ultimate goal. They can think of solutions at levels beyond their own tasks.

When everyone in the organization can bring new ideas to the table, the sheer abundance of new ideas provides fodder for thought.  Goals may stay the same – but strategies will benefit from the abundance of ideas.

Inclusive planning takes advantage of the brains, experiences and points of view of many more people. Why waste these talents?

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