Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Your Strategy & Your Board

How involved should your Board be with your strategic planning process?

As usual, opinions vary all over the map on this question.

On one end of the spectrum, some people view strategy-making as the responsibility of the staff.  The Board should be generally informed – and certainly consulted if anything “wild” is being considered – but their main role is to ask good questions, and then approve “management’s” strategy.  And they should definitely stay out of reviewing annual operating plans.

On the other side, there are those who believe that the entire Board needs to be intimately involved with the entire strategy process – including a careful review of a detailed implementation plan.  Granted, some of these tend to be more of our smaller nonprofits – but this philosophy exists even in larger organizations.

Which is right and how do you decide what is best for your organization?

In my view, it is essential to involve every Board in three different aspects of the strategy process:

*Mission Affirmation:  What impact do we want to make and for whom/what?

*Mission Metrics:  What metrics will we use to track progress?

*Visioning:  What would the world look like if we were accomplishing our mission 100%?  What would our organization look like, ideally, so we have the opportunity to accomplish our mission as effectively as possible?

Beyond that, the next question I encourage clients to ask themselves is “How instrumental will the Board be in the successful implementation of this strategy?”  The more important they are to successful implementation – and that includes giving and raising money – the more involved they should be.  You can include the Board – or at least Board representatives – in the setting of Strategic Goals, SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), and Strategy Themes.

As an example, a few years ago I was consulting with a group and a core of their Board was very involved with the strategy process.  They came up with an exciting vision and participated in creating some really big, bold goals.  At the end of the process, the Board members were fired up!  And this Board is experiencing a lot of success in accomplishing those goals – including raising a lot of money.  I seriously doubt that would have had the passion they now have, had they not been so involved.

Engage your Board properly with strategy and 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.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Building Bridges

For the past many months, construction workers have been tearing down and then rebuilding both sides of a bridge I take to work every morning.  Traffic was redirected over one side while they worked on the other.  So, I have been able to observe their daily progress – and I have a new appreciation for everything it takes to build strong bridges.

I think that relates to organizations as well.

Many organizations – especially nonprofits – are engaged in collaborations, strategic alliances, partnerships, etc. these days.  But how well have you built the bridges to these partner organizations?  Here are some observations:

Pittsburgh is the City of Bridges and this is my favorite one there -
The Roberto Clemente Bridge, which stretches from downtown to
PNC Park, home of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates
*Strong Bridges are Heavily Reinforced.  I am so happy to report that my new bridge has layers and layers of materials which will fortify the concrete when it is ready to be poured.  How strongly reinforced are your relationships with your partners?

*Strong Bridges Take Time!  Sure it is inconvenient to be rerouted for so many months.  But I am very confident about driving on this new bridge after watching the workers carefully take the time needed to do this right.  Are you trying to build partnerships too quickly?

*Bridges are Inspected Regularly.  I like knowing that my new bridge will be inspected regularly even though I am very confident in how well it is being built.  How often do you assess the quality of your partnerships?

Collaborations and partnerships are great ways to leverage Mission Impact, so long as we take the Time to build and Reinforce relationships – and occasionally Assess them.


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, 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.