Archive for March, 2012

Bridge the gap between your service and advocacy

This post is the third in a series on advocacy and offers relevant Page to Practice™ book summaries and articles at the end of the first article and second article.

In our monthly virtual book club last week, we had coauthor of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, Heather Grant, participate. One of our attendees said, “Nothing beats actually hearing the author explain his/her insights on a subject.” I agree.

Start at the beginning. One of the six best practices we spent some time discussing with Grant was first on the list of high-impact nonprofits: bridging the gap between service and advocacy. Several EDs in the group commiserated with one another about how this was a neglected area which needed improvement.

Systemic change requires more. In Forces for Good, Crutchfield and Grant explain that great nonprofits realize that, in order to achieve higher levels of impact, they need to bridge the gap between advocacy and service. They may start out providing great programs, but eventually realize that they cannot make systemic change without also engaging in advocacy. Others start out doing advocacy and then add programs to catalyze their strategy.

Bridge the divide. Providing services helps meet immediate needs, such as feeding the hungry or housing the poor; advocacy helps reform larger systems by changing public behavior or creating governmental solutions. High-impact nonprofits bridge the divide between advocacy and service. Although policy advocacy can be an incredibly powerful tool for creating large-scale social change, many nonprofits shy away from it.

Create a virtuous cycle. Some of the reasons for their hesitation include the fact that advocacy is difficult to manage and requires different organizational skills than those needed to provide direct services. In addition, it is challenging to measure results of advocacy efforts. However, the authors discovered that simultaneously doing both creates a virtuous cycle. Instead of causing the organization to lose focus or lessening its impact, engaging in both service and advocacy can create an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is no surprise, then, that all the organizations in the book have engaged in both.

Here are three ways to bridge the divide:

1. Start with service, add advocacy. The majority of organizations in the book began with direct service, or programs, and adopted policy advocacy well after they were founded. The underlying reason why they decided to engage in advocacy was the same: They wanted to have more impact on the problems they were trying to solve.

2. Start with advocacy, add service or programs. Starting out with policy advocacy is especially effective when an organization is relatively small in relation to the level of impact it seeks to achieve.

3. Combine service and advocacy from the outset. The authors observed two main patterns among the organizations that combined both from the beginning: a) Leaders knew that replicating programs site by site, with private funding, would never take them to the level of change they were seeking; and b) Leaders also shared a common philosophical belief that government should be a part of the solution. Policy reform sends a signal to the rest of the nation that the changes these organizations propose are important enough for society as a whole to adopt.

Watch for part four of our advocacy series when we highlight how high impact nonprofits are successfully combining approaches of service and advocacy.

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Great boards follow three key principles

I have been asked numerous times by clients to describe what a “good board” looks like. I understand the point of the question–what is the right size, what are the right committees, etc. But asking what a board should look like misses the more important point, which is this: a good board is defined not by what it looks like but rather how it thinks and behaves.

Based on my work as both a consultant and board chair for a large nonprofit, I have concluded a “good board” exhibits three essential and interrelated characteristics.

1.      A good board is one in which form follows function. “Do we need a marketing committee?” is the poster question for this phenomenon. The answer is, of course, “It depends.” Specifically, it depends on a) what your organization is trying to accomplish strategically and b) what you need from your board to make it happen. I have seen valuable time wasted trying to fill committee slots simply because the committee exists on paper. If the people were in place, one should ask, what would we have them do? If there is no compelling answer, chances are your board has been wasting energy trying to create a function to fill an existing form.

2.      A good board is one whose work is aligned with the life stage of the organization. As we know from the excellent work on “nonprofit lifecycles” from Susan Kenney Stevens, nonprofits move through predictable stages of development. However, not all aspects of the organization move forward in lockstep. Usually, it is the board role that lags behind the evolution of the program model and the administrative systems. One key consideration for the board of a maturing organization is to have an honest discussion about how far removed from the “inner circle” its members are drawn. As a start-up or young organization, the board is made up of people who have a direct personal connection to the mission and/or are drawn to the charisma of the founder. The work of the board at this stage consists of gathering together, rolling up the collective sleeves and pitching in to get the work done. Unfortunately, some boards unwittingly create a mismatch of interest and skill by retaining the same board orientation long after the other aspects of the organization have settled. The board that is able to reorient its work and perhaps even repopulate its committees to support the emerging needs of the organization is positioned to become a good board.

3.      A good board is one that values principles over practices. I have written about the shortcomings of a “best practices” approach, particularly when too much credence is given to merely mimicking the practices of other organizations. (The short version of the argument is that things work in a particular context because of everything else that is going on within that context). By contrast, effectiveness principles focus on the desired ends and the manner in which those ends are pursued.

For me, it boils down to three key principles:

Effective Oversight. Oversight means striking the balance between trust and verification. Financial crises don’t develop overnight but over time. Too often, boards are forced to respond in crisis mode because they didn’t ask the right questions, didn’t ask the right questions soon enough or didn’t know what the right questions were. Like the frog in the boiling water, a board that doesn’t pay close attention to the elements in the environment may discover too late things are getting hot.

Open Communication. I have been involved in more than one contentious discussion about the “need to know.” Here’s the deal: there are no degrees or ranks when it comes to board authority. Anything important enough for the board chair or executive committee to know is important enough for every board member to know. Granted, sensitive personnel issues may be better kept under a tight lid. But this is the exception. Nothing is more disengaging for board members than the presence of a pocket of power (and information is power) within the board.

Strict Accountability. Simply put, some boards are just too darn nice to each other. Yes, the board was relying on the resource development committee to plan the upcoming event. And it didn’t get done. But they are very busy people…you shouldn’t expect too much from them. Really? To quote a former client, “Board members should be expected to bleed for the organization.” If you sign up, you are expected to perform. Period.

When it comes to board “goodness,” there really is no there. People change, issues emerge and priorities shift. But focusing on these three characteristics will allow boards to maintain consistency of purpose even in the midst of changing structures.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

The Board Game

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Overcome your risk aversion through “little bets” and “plussing”

Successful innovators have revealed a consistent pattern from which we can all learn. Peter Sims’ Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries explores numerous examples—both corporate and nonprofit—that demonstrate how strategic small experiments were the key to huge wins. Through the process of trying and failing in incremental ways, creators gain the critical knowledge they need to develop extraordinary breakthroughs. These “little bets” helped launch companies like Google and Amazon.

According to Sims, Thomas Edison said “If I find ten thousand ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is just one more step forward.”

Learning a lot from a little: Successful social and business entrepreneurs don’t try to avoid errors; they seek them out as a means for closing in on the right answers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why the method of learning a lot from a little is better, especially within nonprofit constraints. Nonprofit leaders who read this book will find that Sims’ guidelines for being productively creative are surprisingly right-sized for the nonprofit and useful in an environment that often proves financially more unpredictable than a corporate setting.

The genius of play: What Edison’s quote doesn’t mention is there are a handful of guiding principles or conditions which facilitate this type of experimental innovation. One of which involves creating an atmosphere that allows for playfulness and improvisation. Improvisational techniques free us up from the risk aversion and emphasis on rigid procedures that dominate so many workplaces.

Learn how to “plus” an idea: For example, one way Pixar has overcome risk aversion in the creative process is through a technique called “plussing” says Sims. The idea behind plussing is to build on and improve upon ideas without using judgmental language. Creating a positive atmosphere where ideas are constantly being plussed, while maintaining an atmosphere of humor and play, is a key ingredient in Pixar’s recipe for success. Rather than using “but,” peers try to use “and.” For example, “I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled to the left?” or “Would it be clearer if [the character] did it this way?”

Happiness a precursor to success: Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work says, “Happiness is not just a mood—it’s a work ethic. Study after exhaustive study proves that happiness precedes important outcomes and indicators of thriving.” His book is based on the proven premise that happiness is actually the precursor to success. When you increase your happiness levels, you experience more successful outcomes and can work smarter and faster.

Make it safe for your employees to experiment with small bets: While nonprofits may not be in the business of animated films, they can undoubtedly benefit by using the “plussing” technique when solving problems or strategically planning. When financial or programmatic challenges sometimes appear to be bleak, solutions are more readily proposed if colleagues know their suggestions will be “plussed” rather than “minused.” Take a page out of Sims and Achor’s books; give your staff the freedom to experiment with small bets and provide them encouragement through plussing. Your staff will exude resilience during setbacks and confidently pursue the best solutions.

See also:

Happiness Advantage
Small Bets
Fired Up or Burned Out

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Bolster traditional planning with small bets

So you’ve done your strategic plan and everyone’s on the same page. What about the unanticipated opportunities or challenges that always arise?

You need a more nimble means for responding to and acting on the changing environment around you, according to Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. Sims endorses an approach that requires making good use of small experiments by repeating, refining and perfecting for large wins.

Look at experimental innovation as helpful in building up a solution rather than starting with what you suspect is the answer and planning around it. Sims reminds us that creative teams that use the little bets approach aren’t trying a lot of ideas to see what sticks; rather, they are rigorous, analytical, strategic and pragmatic about their innovation. The principles Sims introduces in Little Bets are not meant to facilitate a step-by-step process. Instead, they are meant to guide productive creativity.

The Little Bets approach has some fundamentals. Sims says we should:

Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly and learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems and build up to creative ideas.
Play: A playful, improvisational and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.
Immerse: Take time to get out into the world and gather fresh ideas and insights in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires. Absorb how things work from the ground up.
Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them.
Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.
Iterate: Repeat, refine and test frequently, armed with the better insights, information and assumptions as time goes on.

For most of us, adopting this experimental approach requires a significant change in mindset. Many factors throughout our lives have accumulated to form tendencies away from little bets or entrepreneurial experimentation. For example, our education system is centered on teaching us facts and rewarding us for memorization. There is much less emphasis on teaching us to creatively think and discover for ourselves.

Those of us who are willing to embrace uncertainty and failure will reap remarkable results. Little Bets’ case study heroes rejoice in errors and surprises. The mere fact that Sims’ book is based on the notion of small discoveries leading to breakthrough ideas feels as if it was written for the nonprofit organization. Nonprofits, in truth, are built for small bets and big victories. Our budgets demand it. So if you can stomach the experimental failures and keep the board at bay while you do so, get ready for breakthrough ideas.

For more information about Peter Sims’ book, visit or Or you can learn more by dowloading the Little Bets Page to Practice feature at CausePlanet.

See also:

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

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Advocacy: Begin with an approach that fits your nonprofit

This article is the second in a series on legislative relations.

Engaging in advocacy is one of the most effective ways for your nonprofit to achieve its mission. By augmenting the services and programs you provide with an active voice for change, you can meet the need while working to affect the systems creating the need. Although it can seem daunting, advocacy programs complement and enhance the work you already accomplish. There is a range of ways for your nonprofit to create change in your community or state.

When deciding which advocacy strategy is the best fit for your organization, consider these three approaches as a starting place:

Voter engagement: Constituents of nonprofit organizations are often underrepresented at the ballot box even though they are directly impacted by changes in safety net programs, education cuts and health care eligibility measures, to name a few. Voter registration is a powerful way to ensure ballot issues and candidates for office reflect the values and vision of your organization. Not only can you increase the power of your voice, but it can be a great way to build relationships with politicians and ballot issue leaders through asking them to speak to your constituents about their platform or issue. Although 501(c)3 organizations cannot endorse or publicly support a candidate for office, you can (and should!) educate your constituents on how candidates’ positions affect your mission. A great resource for involving your nonprofit in voter engagement is Nonprofit VOTE.

Grassroots advocacy: Once your constituents are informed on the issue affecting your mission, encourage them to tell others. Ask them to speak to local businesses, neighbors and others who share in the vision for your community and encourage them to support issues that benefit your organization. Taken one step further, you may want to offer your constituents an email or phone script to call their representatives to express their support or perspective on the issue. Through empowering your members, donors, clients and other constituents to make their voices heard by public officials, you are not only building the strength of your organization but also providing a valuable service to those who feel passionately about your mission. Speaking up as one individual can be intimidating, but speaking as one voice of many is an inspiring experience. Many states have a nonprofit participation project that can serve as your grassroots advocacy resource.

Direct lobbying: The highest level of engagement in nonprofit advocacy (besides running for office– consider it!) involves working with the state or federal government to inform and influence policies. There are some limitations placed on the amount of resources 501(c)3 organizations can dedicate to direct lobbying. The Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest is a great resource. Direct lobbying may involve tracking bills and providing testimony in hearings. A staff member, board member or lobbyist may provide information or perspective on a bill through meetings with representatives or their staff. This is hugely valuable to those who represent us at the capitol, since legislators cannot possibly be fully informed on all the issues they weigh in on. Leaders of nonprofits are oftentimes uniquely informed on how a bill will affect their community. Sharing that insight through a fact sheet, one-on-one meetings or committee testimony can change the course of a conversation or give a bill the boost it needs to be successful.

These three categories are not mutually exclusive. Through the promotion of a voter engagement campaign, you may hear stories from your constituents on how an issue affects them and decide to offer testimony to share those stories with legislators. While tracking the progress of a bill, it may benefit your organization to employ grassroots techniques to show those voting on the bill how those in their district feel. Regardless of how you engage and how often, there are a few basics your organization should have in place before starting to take action:

1. Determine key goals, values and priorities to guide your work. What is the end result you are trying to achieve through engaging in advocacy? Clarifying priorities at the outset will help your board and staff determine which areas to invest the most resources. For instance, a children’s health-related nonprofit may have several areas of policy that directly affect their mission: poverty, education, healthcare policy. To what extent does the organization actively participate in all three? Your nonprofit’s leadership may decide that although bills related
to health in school are important, you prioritize bills that affect primary care.

2. Cultivate partners and build like-minded coalitions. Chances are there are other nonprofits in your community that have similar goals but different priorities. Building partnerships around overlapping issues can benefit all involved. Rather than actively promoting a bill or ballot issue in your constituency, you may offer your support to a partnering organization for which the bill is a top priority. When a priority issue directly affecting your mission surfaces, you can then ask your partners for the same level of support, demonstrating a stronger coalition of support than each organization can offer on its own. Although members of an advocacy coalition may disagree on an issue at times, the benefits of working together most often outweigh the obstacles. And when an issue directly affects many of the members of the coalition, the support and organization of the whole is a boon to the cause.

3. Get ready to communicate. Don’t assume just because you’ve testified at the capitol or registered 2,000 voters that people are aware of your activities. Share your goals, successes and struggles with donors, institutional funders and the media. If possible, include updates and calls to action in newsletters and at staff and board meetings. Let those who support you know why what you’re doing is important. It encourages our communities to value nonprofit engagement in advocacy and most importantly, empowers others to take action.

See also:

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits

Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results



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Stop trying to predict the unpredictable

Your traditional linear planning process has a new agile teammate. This teammate brings a complementary set of skills to your planning game: creativity and innovation that’s low risk and high gain. Too good to be true? Not according to Peter Sims. He says, “The reality is that most of what we try to predict and plan for is unpredictable.” We need a more nimble means for responding to and acting on the changing environment around us.

Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, endorses an approach that requires making good use of small experiments by repeating, refining and perfecting for large wins. Adopting an experimental approach requires a different mindset for most of us. We’ve been programmed since early childhood that failure is bad. Sims uses a blend of theory and practice to demonstrate how committing to a series of small bets—or often illuminating failures—is a breeding ground for innovation. This entrepreneurial experimentation is not only decidedly rigorous and strategic, but also wildly successful.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, put it succinctly, “You can’t put into a spreadsheet how people are going to behave around a new product.” This sentiment is held widely among many different industry and sector leaders including comedy’s Chris Rock, Google’s David Galenson, Pixar’s John Lasseter, and Grameen Bank’s Muhammad Yunus. Today’s traditional long-range planning must be accompanied by what author Peter Sims likes to refer to as “experimental innovation. These creators use experimental, iterative, trial-and-error approaches to gradually build up to breakthroughs.

Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goal.” Anyone can use little bets to unlock the mystery behind what’s unpredictable and potentially remarkably successful.

Sims has written this important book about how all of us can tap into the innovative behavior of successful entrepreneurs. We just have to be willing to, no, anxiously anticipate the errors and surprises along the way that help us isolate the winning answers. While traditional ways of working are useful when much information is known, little bets are essential when it’s not.

For more information about Peter Sims’ book, visit or Or you can learn more by dowloading the Little Bets Page to Practice feature at CausePlanet.

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In session: Advocacy for the nonprofit leader

This article is the first of a series on advocacy.

As many state legislatures are about to convene or already have for 2012, it’s a good reminder for those of us who work in the social sector to roll up our advocacy sleeves and engage in the process. My friends at The Bell Policy Center tell me working at this level upstream can save an inordinate amount of time and resources downstream at the direct service level.

For example, The Center worked with a broad coalition of 40 nonprofits to enact a payday lending law in 2010 and preserve it in 2011. These nonprofits provided critical support by enlisting the testimony of their clients who use payday loans. Thanks to the successful collective efforts of this coalition and The Center, they estimate that payday borrowers will save more than $52 million annually in loan charges, which will have a lasting effect on the low-income people served by this coalition and will reduce the demand for services.

Nonprofit organizations are responsible for substantial economic and social impact. Of the 2 million+ organizations in the world, 1.5 million are in the U.S. alone. It’s imperative we observe best practices when participating in advocacy and demonstrate exemplary leadership in this arena.

The following is an excerpt from the Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Colorado, published by the Colorado Nonprofit Association, which focuses on advocacy, public policy and civic engagement — a useful reference for your own statewide advocacy endeavors.


Advocacy is the active support of an idea or a cause. A nonprofit should advocate on behalf of its constituency, organization and the nonprofit sector as a whole in order to advance the mission of the organization. Involvement in advocacy, public policy and civic engagement will vary in sophistication dependent upon an organization’s mission and strategic direction. Nonprofits should encourage broad community participation in these efforts and, in the process, provide appropriate assistance when needed. These practices pertain only to nonpartisan public policy issues.

When a nonprofit advocates for or against specific pending legislation or ballot issues, federal and state lobbying rules apply. Lobbying activities are permitted but a nonprofit must not violate the prohibition on endorsing a candidate or elected official and must stay within regulatory limits on activities that meet the definition of lobbying. By knowing and observing these rules, nonprofits may legally include lobbying activities directed at specific legislation or ballot issues in their advocacy efforts.

Practices for advocacy and engagement

1.       Proactive approach – A nonprofit should proactively develop specific strategies to address key issues facing the organization, its constituency, and the charitable sector and should include its stakeholders in those efforts.

2.       Stakeholders as advocates – A nonprofit should encourage board members, staff, volunteers, and constituents to act as advocates and ambassadors for the organization and the entire charitable nonprofit sector.

3.       Inform stakeholders – A nonprofit should ensure that individuals who act as advocates and ambassadors for their organizations are knowledgeable about the programs and activities of the organization and prepared to speak on its behalf when appropriate.

4.       Communications – A nonprofit should ensure that information provided about or emanating from their organizations is timely and accurate and that the social and political context of the information is clear. Information provided by the organization to the general public, the media, and policy makers becomes a matter of public record and these activities may be subject to lobbying limitations and political campaign prohibitions.

5.       Public policy and advocacy plans – If engaged in public policy and/or advocacy activities, a nonprofit should adopt a written policy that clarifies the scope of the work, as well as the time and resources to be allocated to those activities, including clear guidelines that explain and adhere to the limits on lobbying activity and prohibit political campaign activity.

6.       Relationship building – A nonprofit should build relationships with elected officials, community leaders, and other nonprofits in order to strengthen its ability to affect community change and impact public policy. However, these relationships should be carefully scrutinized to ensure there is no express or implied endorsement of a candidate for public office or attempt to influence legislation outside the permissible limit.

7.       Education – A nonprofit should provide board, staff, stakeholders, and the public with nonpartisan resources and training on issues important to it or its constituencies.

8.       Public forums – A nonprofit organization whose constituencies are affected by government actions should conduct public forums for nonpartisan discussions or provide venues for constituents to express concern about the effects of various policy choices.

9.       Nonpartisan activities – A nonprofit engaged in promoting public participation in federal, state and local policy must ensure that the activities of the organization are educational in nature or within permissible lobbying limitations (IRC 501(c)(3) and 501(h); 990).

10.   Promote civic engagement – A nonprofit should encourage citizen participation in local, state and federal policy-making efforts amongst its stakeholders.

In one of the Page to Practice™ book summaries I’ve recommended below, Do More Than Give: Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World, the authors argue that today’s growing complex issues require a new donor asset they call adaptive leadership. What’s more, the author’s research revealed these new adaptive donors embrace their recipients as equals, so they can advance real systemwide change. Catalytic donors have the opportunity to exemplify adaptive leadership because they have something to give beyond financial support. Political clout, community contacts and business savvy are among them. It’s up to you to diversify how your donors participate with your organization.

As you reflect on these 10 practices above, notice how many involve the engagement of the catalytic donor. Whom among your immediate nonprofit community could be tapped for their influence or connections related to advocacy? It’s time to take a page out of Do More Than Give and create partnerships with donors who can help you influence and accelerate your goals. Public policy might be a great place to start.

See also:

One-Hour Activist

Social Change Any Time Everywhere

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

Special thanks to the Colorado Nonprofit Association for its permission to excerpt Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Colorado.

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Power shared becomes power returned

This article is second in a series that looks at practices of seasoned nonprofit leaders.

It’s four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. The school dismissal bell rings and most students leave for the day. One classroom fills with middle school students. These students walk to desks, pull out academic materials and quietly begin to work on school assignments. The quiet seems surprising enough until five minutes later when an equal number of high school students from the campus across the street come in to pair up with the middle school students and mentor them in hushed, church-like tones. In those interactions lie the hope and dreams of what academic success might mean. These students are the dreamers of the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation (CIHAD) whose mission is long-term dropout prevention for youth from disadvantaged communities in the Metro Denver area.

Dreamers begin in the program as early as third grade and if they graduate from high school, they are given financial support to attend college. Each class of dreamers is financially supported by an investor who donates enough money to run each class from third grade through high school. These donors make a large and sustained commitment. Each class is assigned a project director or PD. The PDs are special staff who mentor, guide, direct, push, encourage and see each dreamer as a whole person capable of great contributions. Often the PDs stay with CIHAD for the entire dreamer’s experience of ten years. In addition, CIHAD is governed by a board that can have more than 35 members.

At the intersection of these multi-aged student dreamers, powerful and incredible donors, a large board and amazing staff is one woman. Mary Hanewall has been the ED since 2000. Mary will retire in the fall of 2012. For more than a decade, Mary has led through her will and her willingness to let everyone in this organization lead when needed. When I sat down to interview Mary, the topic of her succession quickly evolved into the discussion of when and how to give or share power to get organizational results.

Before Mary was an executive director, she was a development director. In that role, she used her creativity to tell the stories of the constituents served by the nonprofit. In those stories she learned the power of each individual. Mary has learned and now believes the way to run an organization is finding the power of every individual who touches the organization. Each board meeting begins with a “Dreamer Success Story.” Often, these stories are about dreamers who made mistakes but in the end turned those mistakes into positive personal learning moments. Examples abound in the experiences of the high school students who mentor dreamers younger than themselves, attempting to model good teenage choices.

Hearing those stories, board members learn the power of the mission and vision. Mary describes the humility she feels around those donors who choose to fund dreamer classes. Mary works hard to give those funders the right amount of say in the program and to fuel their passion for the organization. Donors are encouraged to know the dreamers as well as collect data about how their investment is faring. The investment numbers are good: 120 of the 550 dreamers have received recognition for scholastic achievement. The high school graduation rate ranges from 65-95% compared with the 10-15% in some of the dreamer’s high schools.

Mary is devoted to and admires her staff. She believes in their power of idealism. These are employees who give their heart, head and soul to the success of dreamers. Mary does not see herself as a traditional manager. She knows her staff leads every day and her job is to let them. Power shared becomes power returned as the staff accomplishes so much through their innovation and belief in the work.

Mary talks about her philosophy that with such a large board, she must spread her power and leverage the board’s ability. She believes the board/ED relationship is split 51%/49%. The board chooses which percentage it desires. Mary knows a powerful board will guide a great organization. She educates and encourages by sending out pertinent materials on student achievement, acknowledging board members successes and always celebrating the dreamers, the foundation of the organization. I asked Mary if she ever feels as though she acquiesces too frequently. Mary quickly replied she is the connector, and what benefits the organization, the mission and the dreamers is how she defines success.

Mary and I finished our conversation by describing what she hopes are the qualities of the next CIHAD Executive Director, qualities that serve any leader well. These include passion, business sense and a belly. Passion includes devotion to the vision, the people and the outcomes of the organization. Business sense is the ability to assure financial sustainability for an organization that supports each dreamer for at least ten years. The belly allows the director to advocate for those who serve and are served by the organization.

See also:

Leaders Make the Future

The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

The Power of Collaborative Solutions

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