Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Improving Your ROF: “Return on Failure”

The cover of the new May issue of Harvard Business Review is titled “How to Really Learn From Failure.”  In the article, the authors suggest three disciplines of making sure that you can “Increase Your Return on Failure.”*

Do you do an “After Action Review” at the conclusion of every project?  This is highly recommended.  When you do it, make sure to point out the positive aspects of the project and the things that could have been done better.  Don’t fall into the trap of just ignoring failures or being embarrassed about them.  Here are the three tips from the HBR authors:

1.  Learn from Every Failure.  While it can be painful to look back, we need to discipline ourselves to do this even if we are very disappointed.  Pixar’s President, Ed Catmull, is quoted in the article: “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil.  They aren’t evil at all.  They are the inevitable consequence of doing something new . . . and should be seen as valuable.”

2.  Share the Lessons.  Get over the embarrassment factor.  Set aside a time at staff meetings to share what people have learned from failures or setbacks.  If you are a larger organization, perhaps consider a place to post these electronically or on an intranet.  The HBR authors suggest Triple F Reviews: do them Fast, Frequently, with a Forward-looking focus on learning.

3.  Review Your Pattern of Failure.  Every now and then sit back and review at your list of failures as a whole and look for patterns.  Are there flaws in your decision-making processes?  Consider whether your failure rate is too high or too low?  If it is too high then maybe you need to add some more conservative team members who will help critically review options.  Or maybe you need to add more risk-takers if your failure rate is too low.  Without some failure, there will be limited learning and innovation.

If you practice these disciplines of engaging failure from a positive perspective you will improve your “Return on Failure” and make even more of a Mission Impact.

*J. Birkinshaw & M. Hass, “Increase Your Return on Failure,” Harvard Business Review, May 2016, pp. 90-93.


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Perceptions, Reality, & Wounded Warriors

Many of us were very pleased in 2013 when the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator launched The Overhead Myth campaign – their effort to dispel the notion that nonprofits should operate with very low staff and infrastructure expenses.  I believe that slow progress is being made in this arena.  But now the Wounded Warrior Project controversy has come along to muddy the waters for the general public.

In late January, both CBS news and The New York Times published stories that criticized WWP for exorbitant spending on staff conferences/travel and that overhead that is too high.

I don’t know about you, but my Facebook page was on fire with so many people declaring they would never again give to WWP.  Even Gary Trudeau trounced WWP in his weekly Doonesbury cartoon. (And when he takes time away from mocking his favorite target, Donald Trump, you know you are in trouble.)

The WWP Board fought back by conducting its own internal investigation into the allegations.  They found that many of the accusations were not true.  However, they did report a need to improve staff travel policies.  And they announced that “the Board determined the organization would benefit from new leadership.”  The CEO and COO were removed from office.  But no further explanation was given.  Hmmm.

Soon thereafter, a report from The Charity Defense Council – a group which seeks to educate the public on the realities of nonprofit finances – issued a report that is critical of the news media coverage and also of the WWP Board not giving a full explanation of why the CEO & COO were fired.

But then, a few days after the CDC report, Nonprofit Quarterly reported in an investigation that WWP made a $150,000 grant to CDC in 2013-14 that was 85% of CDC’s revenue for the year.  And that the now former WWP CEO is on its advisory board.  What?!?

What is going on here!?!

First, there is clearly a lack of transparency, full disclosure, and accuracy on the part of a lot of people – the news organizations, WWP, and CDC.

Next, if you read all of the news accounts, there is a smack of arrogance from both the WWP Board and former CEO as they defend themselves.

This is not the way to build public trust!

The Point: as we seek to educate the public about the importance of adequate infrastructure (not overhead) and staffing, we need to understand and appreciate the general public perception that expenses in nonprofits need to be kept low.  We need to respect the view even as we engage it and work to change it.  We need to be transparent and cannot be tone deaf to public perception.  

It is going to take patience and time and lots of work for us to educate the public on the value of appropriate salaries for quality staff and solid infrastructure for nonprofits.  If we do it with candor and transparency I believe we will get there.

Meanwhile, we shall see what comes of WWP.  All I know is that there are many, many wounded veterans in our country who need assistance. And we need to figure out how to appropriately serve them as they served us.


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Preparing the Strategy Process

“We are too busy doing stuff!  We don’t have time for strategic planning!”

Once you get past this objection then you get: “Okay, but we need to be efficient!”  Which I appreciate.  None of us have the time for everything we want to get done.

But I do recommend that you be deliberative about three aspects of preparing for your strategic planning process before charging ahead too quickly:

1.  Consider conducting a Board Self-Assessment prior to the strategy process.  The benefits of this are making sure that your Board is operating as a high performing team, that they understand their responsibilities, and that you have the “Right Board” ready to do the strategy work.  My favorite example is a Board which legitimately did not realize that fundraising was one of their responsibilities.  Following a self-assessment, they enthusiastically accepted the responsibility and it made them realize they needed to add some additional, well connected Board members prior to strategic planning. 

2.  Take the time to connect with and involve stakeholders in the process.  This takes time, but is well worth it.  Check out this blog for more on the value of nurturing stakeholders continuously.  They can provide ideas and insights you might otherwise miss, and will be more likely to support implementation if you involve them early on.

3.  Carefully select your Strategy Planning Committee.  I recommend a group of 15-20 people – and a mix of Board, Staff, and Stakeholders.  With fewer than 15, I get concerned about the lack of divergent thinking.  With more than 20, it gets unwieldy.  Make sure you have the right Board representation so that the final product will pass through the full Board.  And consider involving junior staff as well as management.  Community stakeholders, potential Board member, funders, and those who utilize the services are great voices to have at the strategy table.

Thorough prep will improve your overall strategy process and allow you to make even more of a Mission Impact!


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Storytelling & Fundraising

This semester I am co-teaching a graduate course in Nonprofit Fundraising with my colleague, Dr. Bob Grimm, who is the Director of the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Maryland.  One of the books we are using for the course is The Generosity Network, which I highly recommend.

One of the themes of the book is that when donors are engaged as partners and time is devoted to developing relationships between the organization and the donor, amazing results can occur.  Rather than taking a more traditional “transactional” approach, the book encourages developing “transformational” relationships with donors.

One of the recommendations of the book is that organizational leaders should be prepared to share “stories” about the organization and those they serve in order to more effectively communicate the mission of the organization.  This did not come as a surprise to me as I think effective fundraisers have been doing that for years.  But it is a good reminder.

A bit more unique, however, is the book’s suggestion that we – anyone who does fundraising – should be prepared to tell our personal life stories of our connection to the nonprofit with donor prospects.  And we should ask our donor prospects to share their life stories with us.  Reading this made me realize that I tend to be more traditional and reserved when it comes to sharing my life story with others – especially a donor prospect!

But I think that the point is that we should stop thinking about donor prospects as donor prospects and more as “people” who happen to be donor prospects.  And we should attempt to engage and build a relationship first, as people, before we start talking about mission and money.

Certainly, developing relationships with donors takes time, and you won't have the time to do it with everyone.  But for those for whom you can put in the time it can lead to transformational relationships and transformational gifts.  And it starts with that human connection.  What’s your story?


For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Boom! Are You Ready for the Boomers?

This blog is dedicated to the first wave of Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) who will turn 70 years old in 2016.  Are you ready for them?

Much has been written about the importance of organizations getting ready for the Boomers to retire – such as my recent blog.  But are you ready in other ways? 

The Baby Boomers represent what will be the healthiest and wealthiest retirement generation that America has ever seen.  You need to be prepared for them as:

*Volunteers & Board Members.  Once they retire, most Boomers will still be quite healthy and they are altruistic.  They can be exceptional volunteers and Board members.  But, you need to prepare the right kinds of volunteer opportunities for them.  Most Boomer retirees I talk with want to be given volunteer work of real substance.  These are not people who want to stuff envelopes.  You need to consider how they may serve your nonprofit as “quasi-staff” so you can tap into their talent and experience.

*Donors.  Nonprofits have the opportunity to develop real relationships with Boomers.  They will be less interested in just writing a check.  Let them get close to what you do, involve them, and take a long term approach to their philanthropy.  They will live for many years beyond retirement and your nonprofit could be their favorite new cause.  But you need to tailor your approach to them and their lifestyle.

*Service Recipients.   For the Boomers who are well off and healthy, nonprofits can look at creating special “fee for service” programs for Boomers – especially in the areas of the arts, education, and health.  Special exercise programs for Boomers are popping up in many places, for example.  For those who are not so healthy or well off, nonprofits can expect a surge in service needs in a variety of areas from hunger to addiction to transportation to health care.

Get ready for the Boomers!  There are a lot of them.  Their birth year will peak in 1957, so we have years to go until the largest cohort reaches 70.  The aging of this generation represents opportunity and challenge for making even more of a Mission Impact



For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.