Monday, July 21, 2014

Who Will Pay For It?

Entrepreneurs – whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit focused – have this question as one of their main challenges.  Many for-profit entrepreneurs come up with a new, cool product or service – but there is no market.  There is no one who will actually pay for it.

The not-for-profit entrepreneurs are fantastic at coming up with new, innovative programs that will make a difference.  But the question I have pushed not-for-profit colleagues on for decades is “Great, but how are we going to pay for it?!?” 

“We’ll just do more fundraising.”

That might be the answer.

If you are a Board member and you want the organization to raise more money, then we are going to start with you.  And that means having you give more and ask more frequently and ask for bigger gifts.

If you are a program staff member and you want the organization to raise more money then we will also ask you to increase your annual gift.  And we might need to redesign your job so you can devote some time to helping raise money for your new ideas.  Fundraising needs to be the “work” of the entire organization.

As I have written before (“Give Your Strategy a Tune-up”), the three fundamental strategic questions are:

*What programs/services do we want to provide to make a Mission Impact?

*How will we staff our organization?

*How will we fund our organization?

That last question deserves as much creative thinking, or more, as the others.  It may not be the most “fun” of the strategic questions.  But if we can’t figure out how we are going to sustainably pay for our programs, services, and staff – then we won’t make any impact at all.

Maybe the answer is more fundraising.  But maybe it is also more fees for service.  Or collaborating on costs with another nonprofit.  Or closing down an “okay” program for one that has much more promise.  (FYI – the answer is probably not a golf tournament or bake sale.)

Regardless, we have to figure out how to fund ourselves.  We are not the U.S. Congress.  We can’t just print more money.  We need to earn our way along.  And that is actually one of the things I love most about working in the not-for-profit sector.


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, July 9, 2014

The Timing is Never Right to Lead Change

Do it anyway.

You know that things need to change in your organization.  You are either wasting money or opportunities.  Or you keep doing the same things over and over again while people expect a different result (Definition of Insanity attributed to Einstein).  Something has to change!

But the timing is not right.  Either you don’t have the right big boss or if you are the big boss then you don’t have the right team.  Or something else is not exactly right.

A number of years ago a colleague and I were discussing a similar issue with one of our mentors, Dr. Russ Ackoff, during lunch break on the day he was doing a seminar for EMBA students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.  Russ yelled at us (I am not kidding) “Start where you are and with what influence you have.  Now!”

Later that afternoon, Russ finished his seminar while my colleague and I sat in the back of the room.  He told the story of a joke his son once told him when he was young.

“Hey Dad, two skeletons were locked in a closet.  What did the one skeleton say to the other one?”

“I don’t know.”

“If we had any guts we’d get out of here.”

The audience chuckled.  And Russ concluded: “Do you have any guts?”

He appeared to be looking at the students when he said this, but my colleague and I knew he was speaking directly to us.  He was telling us that we couldn’t allow ourselves to be trapped in a closet of constraints that we had imagined.  We needed to summon our “guts.”  Now!

Start where you are, with what influence you have.  Now!  And you will be on your way to 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.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Do We Have the Correct Strategy?

There is no “factual” way to know the answer to this question.

And it drives a lot of people mad.

But strategy is not a math question with right or wrong answers.  You “create” a strategy based on your aspirations and, yes, some hearty analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  But there is no way to tell if you have created the “correct” strategy.

Recently, Roger Martin – former Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto – had a great blog entitled “Why Smart People Struggle with Strategy.”  His main point is that “smart” people are used to finding the “right” answers.  And the ambiguity of strategy creation vexes them.  A smart student in one of my graduate classes once suggested he could create a logarithm to discern a correct strategy. No. Can’t be done! 

What you can do is to create a thoughtful process that involves multiple stakeholders and is led by insightful, caring people.  Take your time and work the process.  Once you have created your strategy then make sure to list your assumptions so you can monitor those as you implement the strategy.

And, of course, implementation is key.  Aimlessly taking action without a strategy is a bad idea. But the poor execution of a great strategy will get you nowhere. An excellent strategy with superior implementation will make a tremendous 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, June 19, 2014

Risk vs. Irrelevance

Making Strategic Choices is risky.

Often when I give strategy examples to clients or executives I am teaching I will hear the comment “That sounds risky.”  This response does not consider the risk of continuing to do things the same way.

In his books and teaching, Dr. Russ Ackoff would often make the distinction between errors of “commission” – doing something that should not have been done, and errors of “omission” – not doing something that should have been done.  Unfortunately, the only errors that show up in an audit or accounting system are errors of “commission.”  However, errors of “omission” can be quite costly and often go undetected – the US auto industry should have switched to more fuel efficient cars earlier, Kodak failed to leverage its invention of digital photography, and Circuit City’s failure to innovate led to its demise despite being featured in the book Good to Great just a few years earlier.

Ackoff elaborates:

“Therefore in organizations that, like in schools, treat mistakes as bad and punishable, the best way to maximize job security is to do nothing.  This is the major contributor to the reluctance of employees at all levels to initiate change.  Unfortunately, in an environment that is increasing unpredictable and turbulent, doing little or nothing is a sure path to death.”*

Or, I will suggest, it may lead to something even worse – a sure path to irrelevance.  It would be better off for an ineffective nonprofit to simply close its doors and stop draining resources from others.

Yes – Strategic Choices will always involve some risk.  But thoughtful, calculated risks are usually far better than the risk of becoming irrelevant.

*Ackoff, R. L., Magidson, J, Addison, H. J., Idealized Design, 2006, p. 204.


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.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Maximizing Personal Energy

Recently, I was on a panel at a conference for 250+ nonprofit executives when I suggested that in order to effectively address today’s challenges they need to lead with a sense of urgency because that is what it takes to accomplish important changes required today in the sector.  But it’s not going to happen overnight.  So they also need to lead as if they are running a marathon.

But how do you run a marathon with a sense of urgency?

First we need to maintain a focus on the long term impact our mission will make.  We need to pace ourselves and not try to run a marathon like a sprint.

Next we need to discipline ourselves so that we are able to provide a high quality work effort over time.   In their article, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete”* in Harvard Business Review, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz call this attaining an “Ideal Performance State.”

Applying what they have learned through training world class athletes, Loehr & Schwartz suggest that the discipline required to attain the Ideal Performance State includes focusing on four important aspects of our lives:

Physical Capacity.  Do the healthy things we know we should do.  Exercise at least four times per week – including weight training at least twice a week, eat healthily, drink sixty ounces of water per day, get adequate sleep at a regular bedtime.

Emotional Capacity.  Cultivate a positive attitude, have empathy for others, and invest in quality relationships.  A strong emotional capacity builds resilience in challenging times. 

Mental Capacity.  Enhance focus by setting goals, take breaks every 90 to 120 minutes to refresh and regain focus, consider meditation to quiet the mind and enhance mental recovery, use visualization to picture successful performance.

Spiritual Capacity.  Be ever mindful of your purpose and values, and how you are living these out.  This makes work more fulfilling and fuels us for the long term.

By feeding each of these aspects of our being we can more successfully mobilize energy for quality work over the long term, resulting in a successful marathon run and enhanced Mission Impact.

*The Making of a Corporate Athlete, Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review, January 2001


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.