Notes from Leadership Advanced Milwaukee: How Nonprofits Balance Service and Advocacy

Recently, my colleague Steve Zimmerman of Spectrum Nonprofit Services and I led a session for Leadership Advanced Milwaukee on Balancing Service and Advocacy. To recap, Leadership Advanced is a cohort-based, peer-centered, professional development program. How does the program work to strengthen nonprofit leaders and create stronger communities? Check out the new Leadership Advanced Overview video.

Why Nonprofits Need to Advocate

According to the research presented in Forces for Good on the six practices of high impact nonprofits, advocacy is one of the six practices of high impact nonprofits.  Conducting programs on the ground help meet the immediate needs of constituents as well as inform the system-level reform necessary to create long-term sustainable solutions.  Advocacy in this context is used to identify changes in public behavior, laws and public policy.

Many practitioners and board members in the nonprofit sector believe that advocacy is forbidden by the IRS regulations and that nonprofits are walking a slippery slope if they venture into this arena.  Well before we even go there, why should nonprofits pursue advocacy?

image001

What Crutchfield and McLeod Grant state is that there is a virtuous cycle between service and advocacy.  What organizations learn from delivering direct service programs informs what is needed to improve conditions for better outcomes for constituents.  Direct service also offers channels for implementing innovative solutions.  With this knowledge, organizations are well positioned to advocate for legislation, funding and raise visibility of the importance of their causes for public benefit.

Advocacy is not Lobbying

The term advocacy often conjures a vision of lobbying.  Lobbying is a very small slice of the advocacy pie.  There are many other approaches to advocacy that don’t include influencing elected officials regarding a specific piece of legislation.  These approaches include: civic engagement (involving others in your mission); information advocacy (providing analysis of an issue); and lobbying lite (talking about issues not legislation with public officials).

Approaches to Advocacy

In our Leadership Advanced Milwaukee session, we asked whether any of the organizations represented in the group conducted advocacy activities. Three of the eleven participants acknowledged that their organizations did conduct formal advocacy activities.  Interestingly, these three organizations represented the various approaches to arrive at balancing service and advocacy.  One organization started with advocacy as its primary focus and later added direct service programs to fill a need for services.  Another organization started with direct service and recognized the importance of a voice for their cause.  The third organization began with both direct service programs and advocacy activities.

At one point in my career, I held a position as Marketing and Communications Director for a statewide advocacy organization for children and families.  Every day, I was providing information and education regarding various policies and practices that affected children and families in New Mexico. We developed campaigns to inform the public about various pieces of legislation that would negatively impact those citizens that can’t vote, children.

Only once did I need to register as a lobbyist and that was when we were engaged in the drafting of a specific piece of legislation to create a youth development fund.  In that circumstance, my time was focused exclusively on that effort, to influence policy makers and elected officials.

Before you dismiss advocacy as something your organization “can’t do” check the IRS guidelines.  An organization with a budget of $500,000 annually can legally spend $100,000 on lobbying without jeopardizing its nonprofit tax-exempt status.

How Does Your Nonprofit Advocate?

Does your organization participate in advocacy activities? Leave a comment below describing your approach. If not, think about the impact you want to make with your services. What changes in the environment would increase that impact? Those barriers to increasing impact are the place to start with advocacy activities.

Nonprofit Leaders: Are You Prepared to Pass the Torch?

Over the past 10 years, leadership development and succession planning in the nonprofit sector has been gaining increased attention.

In 2006, a national research study of nonprofit executive leadership found that 75% of leaders planned to retire  in 5 years. In 2011, the study was conducted again and although the pace of transition was dampened by the recession, executive turnover remains high.

While the economy’s recovery is still in question, the need for more nonprofit leaders is irrefutable.

The current prediction? Approximately 640,000 nonprofit leaders will be needed by 2016. What are we as a sector doing to nurture the next generation of leaders?  Is your organization prepared for a turnover in leadership?

Stay tuned for an upcoming informative webinar this spring! Webinar participants will explore strategies to strengthen nonprofit leadership and commit to the next generation of nonprofit sector leaders.

Can’t wait for the webinar to get started on succession planning?  Email me today.

Reaching the Summit with Girls on the Run

Recently I partnered with Forward Community Investments and Girls on the Run of Dane County to present a case study on capacity building and strategy development at the Girls on the Run Summit in San Antonio, TX.  We had more than 85 participants interested in learning about how to build capacity and think strategically to chart the future path of their councils.

The 2014 Girls on the Run (GOTR) Summitt. From left to right: Dennis Johnson, VP of Advisory Services of Forward Community Investments, Sara Pickard, Executive Director, GOTR of Dane County, Mary Stelletello, Principal, Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, and Mindi Giftos, Board Chair, GOTR of Dane County.
The 2014 Girls on the Run (GOTR) Summit. Dennis Johnson, VP of Advisory Services, Forward Community Investments, Mindi Giftos, Board Chair, GOTR of Dane County, Mary Stelletello, Principal, Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, and Sara Pickard, Executive Director, GOTR of Dane County.

It was wonderful to work with Girls on the Run because their vision so strongly aligns with my own personal values:  “A world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”

The 2014 Girls on the Run Summit kicked-off in San Antonio, Texas.
The 2014 Girls on the Run Summit kicked-off in San Antonio, Texas.

Are you interested in reaching your limitless potential and boldly pursuing your dreams?  Let’s talk about how coaching can help you.

Or maybe your nonprofit organization is launching a strategic planning or capacity building initiative? Contact me today! I look forward to helping your organization reach the summit.

Developing a Sustainable Approach to Leadership

When I took my first job as an executive director at age 25, I didn’t really think about embarking on a career as a nonprofit leader. However, more than 20 years later, I have led five different organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $13 million. As an executive director, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program that confirmed some practices that allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills and create a path for sustaining my leadership.

Leadership

Today, serving the nonprofit sector as a consultant, I have the opportunity to be a facilitator of leadership development programs. I draw from my diversity of experiences as an executive director and the seven key themes that sustained me in those positions.

Start with fire in the belly.

You absolutely must be passionate about the work that you are doing. That energy is what will drive you in tough times and will motivate your staff to do their best work. When people are feeling down and struggling, they will look to you as a barometer of the organization’s health. If you can’t see the path to better times, they won’t either. This is not to say you should be wearing rose-colored glasses but, as suggested by Jim Collins in Good to Great, it reminds me of the “Stockdale paradox”: acknowledging the brutal facts, but never losing hope is essential to success.

Everyone is a leader; leadership is a team sport.

Leadership is not a commodity for sale to the highest bidder or a “star is born” phenomenon. I learned this when I started playing Little League in 1972. Everyone is a leader in some way, and the trick as an “anointed leader” is to identify the key to opening that leadership pathway in those around you. One tactic to avoid burnout is to spread the load of leadership throughout your organization. In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc., calls this “roving leadership.” The only way to open that leadership pathway is to listen deeply to those around you to determine how their passion fits with the vision of the organization.

When staff feel that their thoughts actually do matter and that everyone is in the same boat trying to get to the same destination, there is a greater interest in paddling together. You must be genuine and authentic in your actions. When you say you want people’s input, it must be true, and your behavior must be in alignment with your statements. Leaders who are dictators in disguise will only achieve what they individually desire. There is greater success in collective power than in the power of one.

Create an environment that rewards learning and innovation.

We live in a world that seems to be changing with greater speed with each generation. As a leader, you have to be a change agent, not an idea squelcher. Fostering the desire to learn and explore new ways to address challenges enhances your success. This will keep your work interesting and allow your organization to be more effective. Many of the leadership gurus — Peter Senge, James Kouzes, Barry Posner and John Kotter — all emphasize the importance of life-long learning as an attribute of effective leaders.

Recharge your battery.

It is very easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of communication, particularly email, and never lift your head. This trap will become a downward spiral to burnout if you don’t carve out some space on a regular basis that allows you to fully unplug. Whether it is doing something outside, reading something completely unrelated to work, cooking or playing music, you must protect a segment of time that is dedicated to clearing your head of everything that burdens you as a leader. You owe it to yourself and to the cause you are serving. Take Tony Schwartz’s Energy Audit to see how you are doing.

Celebrate.

The work that you do can be fraught with what seems to be insurmountable challenges on a regular basis. One approach to mitigating the effects of these difficulties is to create a culture of intentional celebration. It could be opening your staff meeting with a standing agenda item of “Thanks and Acknowledgements,” or creating the organization’s “Let the Fun Begin” committee that is responsible for maintaining a level of celebration in the organization. Social support networks enhance productivity, psychological well being and even physical health, so make your workplace such a network.

Build a network of support.

Being a leader, particularly in an executive director position, can be a lonely place. It is important to identify a support network, perhaps a breakfast club or monthly brown bag lunches with fellow executive directors who have the same struggles as you and who can offer insights and support in maintaining your sense of purpose and inspiration.

Preparing for nonprofits of the future.

Because my generation bridges the baby boomer and Gen X generations, I have been fortunate to see the world through glasses with both sets of lenses. A leader’s appreciation of generational work styles is critical to success. Boomers display a heightened sense of commitment, dedication and long-term loyalty to one organization and employ a more traditional leadership style, whereas Gen Xers approach leadership as a flexible, “open source” affair, a collaborative work style that conveys the sense that it is everyone’s business, and we all have to do our part to achieve success.

When approaching leadership with these key themes in mind, you are sustaining yourself and developing your bench strength. You are creating a pathway for the next generation of leaders who will be ready to take over when their time comes if it hasn’t already arrived.

This article was originally published at Causeplanet.org, February 27, 2009.

Is Your Organization Leaderful?

I’m excited to lead a discussion on Leadership Succession Planning for Wegner CPAs Nonprofit Roundtable, in Milwaukee on October 15, and the subject of succession planning has led me to reflect on my past experience as an executive director of five different nonprofits.

Unsurprisingly, not one of those organizations had a succession plan in place before I departed.  In one instance, a successor was named before I departed. In another, I was able to help identify an interim executive director before leaving.

In all of these situations, my departure was disruptive for the organization, not because I wasn’t replaceable, but because change in leadership is disruptive. Having a plan in place would have lessened that disruption.

baton

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services has published many resources on Executive Transition and I have found “Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Nonprofits”  to be a very informative guide to preparing for the inevitable…leadership transition!

Tim Wolfred cites three types of succession plans:

1.    Strategic Leader Development

2.    Emergency Succession

3.    Departure-defined Succession

Each of these approaches start with building leadership within the organization. Disruption is minimized when successors come from within the organization.  Here are some key questions to gauge how prepared your organization is for leadership transition:

1.    Does your organization have a strategic plan that includes staff leadership development?

2.    Is the board evaluating the executive annually? Does it understand the scope of the position?

3.    Do the executive director direct reports receive evaluations and are they solidly performing?

4.    Is the top management team high performing and capable to lead the organization in the absence of the executive?

5.    Are key external relationships shared beyond the executive – with either another staff person or board member?

6.    Do the organizational financial systems meet industry standards and are reports generated regularly for board and staff?

7.    Do operating manuals and personnel policies exist? Are they easily accessible and up to date?

8.    Have top program staff documented key duties in writing and identified another staff person to assume duties in an emergency?

If you answered  “yes” to all of these questions, you are miles ahead of the majority of nonprofits. You can then focus on building the leadership throughout your organization through targeted professional development plans and documented emergency succession plans. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you have a place to start to build the organization’s capacity for transition.

Don’t wait until you or your Executive Director have one foot out the door.  Your organization will be in much better shape if you plan for the transition.  That is the type of legacy all leaders want to leave.

What advice do you have for nonprofits facing a leadership transition?

Launching Leadership Advanced Milwaukee

About 18 months ago, I met with Steve Zimmerman, Principal of  Spectrum Nonprofit Services.  Steve and I both came to Wisconsin from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Previously, Steve had worked for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and I had worked for La Piana Consulting. We met to discuss our perspectives about the nonprofit sector and how we might collaborate.

MIlwaukeeNightSkylineIn sharing his observations of the Milwaukee nonprofit sector, one comment Steve made sparked the design of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee (LAM).  His statement below resonated with me as I’m sure it resonates with many readers of this blog.

“Nonprofits have access to a lot of tools to aid in management, but it takes leadership to utilize those tools to their fullest potential and there aren’t as many resources dedicated to developing and supporting those leaders.” – Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services

I am passionate about helping nonprofits invest in their greatest asset: their leaders. I’ve spent most of my nonprofit career leading various-sized nonprofit organizations and the majority of my consulting work has been focused on designing and facilitating nonprofit leadership programs.  I founded Vista Global Coaching & Consulting with an emphasis on consulting organizations and coaching leaders so they can make a difference in the world.

Since that first meeting, Steve and I designed the LAM program based on a peer-centered learning model.  We met with potential funders to recruit support for our nonprofit leadership program that blends management skill development and leadership development.  Our concept was well received and funding was confirmed in March 2013.  We began recruitment in the end of May 2013 and selected our inaugural class on August 1.

On September 11-12, 2013 the first class of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee Fellows and board members from their organizations will convene to begin their 8-month journey.  In this kick-off session, some of the topics we will explore include personal leadership, the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards, nonprofit organizational life cycles and articulating your organization’s intended impact.

I am honored to be partnering with Steve and this impressive group of dedicated nonprofit leaders to build stronger nonprofits and a stronger community.  A warm welcome our first class of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee Fellows:

Kate Bradley, Education Director, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

Maureen Crowley, Program Director, Charles E. Benidt Foundation

Martina Gollin-Graves, Project and Outreach Manager, Mental Health America of WI

Beth Haskovec, Executive Director, Artists Working in Education, Inc.

Carol Keintz, Executive Director, Next Door Foundation

Amy Lindner, CEO, Meta House, Inc.

Dan Magnuson, Executive Director, Pathfinders

Laura Maker, Director of Development, Diverse & Resilient

Brenda Peterson, Executive Director, Volunteer Center of Ozaukee County

Kim Schubring, Family and Youth Program Director, Bay View Community Center of Milwaukee

Donna Triplett, Director of Development, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center

Is your foundation interested in supporting nonprofit leaders? Are you a nonprofit leader seeking resources?  Contact me today and let’s work together to make a difference in the world.