Thoughts to Ponder

July 24, 2017

It’s been two years since I began consulting more or less full-time. It’s quite astonishing how quickly two years goes by. I continue to learn new things every day and I am thankful to my clients for not just seeking out advice, but to teaching Andy and me new ways of thinking. This is why I love coaching/mentoring so much. Not only do we get a chance to share a bit of wisdom gained over many years, we keep learning too. That’s what’s called a win-win.

As the practice has grown and evolved, we’ve moved boldly into CEO/ED searches and Strategic Intents planning. These two areas suit us well and we believe provide important service to the community based on two key principles. First, we decided to keep our fee schedule affordable, since we know how important every dollar is to our clients. Second, we watch the time very carefully – which means we know that most of our clients multi-task and don’t have time to waste. So, we work very hard to not only provide a great dollar value, we work to keep our client’s investment in time at a minimum without risking a shoddy product.

We stress Return on Investment (ROI). Andy and I believe that every expense needs to prove worthy and should further an organization’s mission. In short, we believe that successful non-profits operate like good businesses, just good business with a heart and a community purpose. So, we work hard to assure that our coaching/mentoring not only supports a CEO or CDO, but leads to better outcomes. We work hard to make sure our Strategic Intent process directly links planning to outcomes. And, we fill our CEO/ED positions very quickly because we know that there are opportunity costs lost by not doing so.

Being a CEO or a Board Chair of a non-profit is hard work. Important work, too. An investment in having sound advice, when you have the right people onboard, should always have a positive ROI, while making the work just a bit easier too.

March 10, 2016

In these turbulent times, it’s time to focus on your core mission and values. This month’s Thoughts to Ponder addresses today’s economic landscape and how you can stay ahead of the curve.

In this past Sunday’s Houston Chronicle there was an interesting article about the state of local philanthropy and non-profits.  In essence, with the situation in the oil and gas sector in such a state of flux, charitable giving in Houston in beginning to see significant reductions.  One organization featured is closing due to decreased giving and others were highlighted as planning for significant budget cuts. Dislocation like this can be unnerving, but there are a number of ways to address this sort of roller coaster.  The most important thing is not to panic. The key to riding out these valleys is to remember that the economy, particularly one as dependent on a large sector like Houston, is to take the following steps:

  • Stay close to your donors.  Now is the time to show them your appreciation, even if they are giving less
  • Show even more love and support to your staff and volunteers; they feel the pressure just like you do and need to know that you and the Board are working hand-in-hand to positively address each obstacle
  • Build cash reserves wherever possible
  • Make strategic investments – it’s not just about cutting
  • Stay true to your mission

And, this might be the time to actually spend more (if you have the cash reserves available) while others are retreating.  There will be an end to this cycle and those who keep a high profile during a downturn will be rewarded because they will be the most well-known when the tide changes.

Even more, now is the time to double down on your mission.  Mission driven organizations prove themselves worthy of support time and again.  Look carefully at areas where mission creep is taking precious resources and refocus your energy on your core value propositions.

September 20, 2015

It’s been two months since I’ve started this new venture and it has been exciting to be part of the growth of so many organizations. I didn’t expect so many opportunities so soon, so it’s been a bit overwhelming, but that’s just great.

The thing that has struck me, though, is how similar the issues facing each organization are. Even though I am addressing different operational issues with each organization, I have found that there is one issue that runs through most of my client’s concerns.

Board and Staff relations is a biggy! The tension that exists most often impedes the organization’s growth. In most cases the staff and volunteer leadership are great, but the lack of clarity of roles, and the sense that there is not a clear shared vision slows things down. In these days of growing needs and scarcity of resources this is an unnecessary burden.

Tension is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a motivator, pushing all parties to be the best they can be. However, negative tension, the sort when there are “elephants” in the room, issues that most know exist, but are not addressed, lead to a lack of trust and too often to negative behavior patterns. Tension can be a breath of fresh air, or it can suck all of the energy out of a room.

Ask yourself this. Is the Board the strongest ally and booster of the organization? Is the staff considered to be the organization’s best asset? If the Board and Staff don’t share the same answer, you have some important work to do.

July 6, 2015

I recently was asked why one of my clients needed a coach. Implied was that if someone needs a coach, they must not be all that good at their job. My answer was that even though I had over 40 years of experience as a non-profit executive, I had a coach through the majority of my time – and in particular right up to the last day at my last position. Why?

Well, I found that being the CEO of a non-profit, and I presume this would be true for for-profits execs as well, is a lonely job. No matter how great your staff is, no matter how wonderful your volunteer leadership is, the buck stops with the CEO. The burdens of operations, fundraising, leadership development, legal and fiscal management, all fall on that person’s shoulders.

Even the best need someone who has no “dog in the hunt” to bounce ideas off and to help clarify issues. And even the best still need to learn. Experience is a great teacher, but it’s good to have someone to catch you when you inevitably fall.

I am thankful to those who caught me and helped dust me off and set me on my way.



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