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.

The Road Signs of Leadership in Action

I recently returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It is an incredible place rich in culture, natural beauty,  archeological history, delicious food and fantastic weather. But that isn’t what this blog post is about!

My partner Andy and I have spent a lot of time in Latin America during our lives.  I think it is fair to say that the “rules of the road” and common courtesies that we experience while in our vehicles in the United States generally don’t apply.  I would say that more often, it is every driver for him or herself.

As a pedestrian, you adjust and prepare for sprinting across the street when it appears the coast is clear, regardless of whether there is a light in your direction or not because that rule doesn’t often apply.  If you are a Californian and you are accustomed to stepping off a curb to see all vehicles jam on their brakes to allow you to cross, you need to hit the delete button because that behavior could result in a visit to the hospital.

This trip something changed. In fact we noticed as soon as we arrived, cars were following traffic laws, cars were stopping when we crossed the street. We looked at each other and both acknowledged something had changed.

We then spoke to an American who had been living in Oaxaca for 10 years and she said, “yes, the city has made a concerted effort to make driving more civilized and it is working.” We asked “How?”  She said, “They put up these Yield signs that said, ‘1 x 1, First you then me’.”

Oaxaca Traffic Sign
“First you then me.” – new traffic signs in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I saw this sign and watched drivers do just that…..”First you then me.”  I thought to myself, “This is leadership right here on the streets of Oaxaca City!”  I am a believer in the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. It is easy to remember and it is globally transferable.

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

  1. Model the Way: Do what you say you will do and others will follow.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Streets where traffic moves smoothly and cars share the road with pedestrians.
  3. Challenge the Process: Take initiative to do something innovative like put up new signs.
  4. Enable Others to Act: Trust that others will follow if you foster collaboration. This only worked because everyone collaborated.
  5. Encourage the Heart: Create the spirit of community, celebrate success. As pedestrians we were thrilled when drivers waved us across the street.

Have you seen leadership in action while walking down the street? Share your story!

What’s Goverance Got to Do with It?

Over my twenty years in the nonprofit sector I have held different seats at the governance table.

As a member of an all-volunteer organization, I’ve experienced serving on a board that worked essentially as the staff. As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I experienced a relationship with the board as my boss. While serving as a board chair, I was the leader of the board. In my professional work as a consultant, I am brought in to support boards in reaching their greatest potential.

What have I learned based on my experience in each of these roles? Your organization is only as healthy as your board.

governance wordle

When boards and board members are working in coordination with staff, the organization has leveraged the talents, and resources of 10-20 more people…for free!

When boards and board members are not working in coordination with staff, the organization stalls out.

I have seen the latter dysfunctional situation often as both a board member and as a consultant.  In these situations, staff start to work around or ignore the board, viewing the board as “a necessary evil.”  Board members wonder why the Executive isn’t “doing as they say.”

So what are the key elements to an effective board-executive partnership?  Although it was originally written for the corporate sector, the work of David Nadler, Beverly Behan and Mark Nadler, published by the Harvard Business Review on Building Better Boards, is a timeless resource for building engaged boards.

Key Elements of an Engaged Board

1. The Mind-Set: Board-building is an ongoing activity, continuous improvement means annual self-assessments.

2. The Role: The board needs to be an engaged partner with the chief executive and playing the correct role for each situation. Is it a fiduciary role, strategic role or generative role? This resource explores the role of Governance as Leadership.

3. The Work: Identify the areas where the board can add the greatest value and focus attention here.

4. The People: The right people are not merely based on technical expertise but other competencies related to programs, external environment, quality of input and style of interaction.

5. The Agenda: Agendas dictate the work of the board. “show and tells” kill board meetings and crowd out time for serious and important discussions. Boards need to find ways to engage with the organization outside of official meetings so “show and tells” during meetings can be limited.

6. The Information:  Boards can be left in the dark by either too much information to digest or information malnutrition. I have seen board tomes of 300 pages! Don’t only be a “recipient” of information but seek it out.  Board members should be encouraged to collect and share information that they have identified externally.

7. The Culture: Robert’s Rules of Order are great obstacles to an engaged board. Use them sparingly.  Engaged board cultures are characterized by candor, willingness to challenge thinking (respectfully), camaraderie, and teamwork.

Where is your board in getting it right?  Take a look at some of the other great resources on nonprofit governance or contact me to discuss next steps in building an engaged board.

Blue Avocado
Nonprofit Quarterly

How to Design Opportunities for the 21st Century Volunteer

Volunteerism in the U.S. has changed significantly over the last 50 years.  In 2012, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that 64.5 million people volunteered in the previous year.   In previous research conducted in 2008, the largest change in the hours spent volunteering was in the 20-24 year old age group.  In the most recent report in 2012, the people aged 35-44 were most likely to volunteer.

For volunteer programs to be successful moving forward, they must be designed to appeal to these demographics. What does that mean? Between juggling full-time work and starting a family, younger volunteers need fun and flexibility.

Volunteer opportunities need to be broken down into small pieces. “Episodic volunteering” is a term used to provide smaller, more manageable commitments.  Microvolunteering is even less time commitment. This allows individuals to offer minutes of their time to help organizations.   Sparked has developed a internet based platform that allows individuals and organizations to solve problems online in real-time all over the world.

So how do you design a volunteer program for the 21st Century volunteer?

1. Break it down: Provide short-term opportunities.

2. Ask yourself: How can we use the internet?

3. Find that Perfect Match: Align the interest of the volunteer, the organization and the client being served.

4. Make it fun!

Do you want learn more about effective volunteer engagement? Watch this presentation I recently gave at the University of Wisconsin, Communiversity Series, in Madison.

Or explore these other resources:

Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources in the Community (McCurley & Lynch, 2011)
The Volunteerism Bibliography
Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action
Corporation for National Service
Virtual Volunteering Project
Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement

Is Your Organization Built to Last?

Recently I partnered with Forward Community Investments in hosting a webinar on organizational capacity building and strategy development.  In this time of constant change, nonprofit organizations need to think about building capacity to remain relevant in the field in which they operate.

800px-Cairo,_Gizeh,_Pyramids_of_Kephren_and_Khufu,_Egypt,_Oct_2004What are the key steps to building your organization to last?

1. Assess current organizational capacity.

Capacity refers to intentional, coordinated and mission-driven efforts aimed at strengthening the management and governance of nonprofits to improve performance and impact.

2. Start at the top.

Focus on your organization’s mission and vision.

3. Know Thyself.

Analyze your organization’s business model; focus on geography, customers, programs, and funding.

4. Know the market.

Your organization doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Map out where you operate and who you compete with.  What trends will impact your organization?

5. Build on your strengths.

What differentiates your organization from others in your market? What makes you unique? Build on that.

6. Make decision-making explicit.

Identify criteria for testing strategic options. Create a structure for discussion with board and staff.

7. Develop strategies to answer the biggest questions.

What are the most important questions facing your organization right now?  Draft strategies that answer each question.

8. Develop implementation plan.

You’ve defined the big questions facing your organization and created strategies to address those questions.  The last step is bringing strategy to life.  Document how you will implement the strategies that will build an organization to last.

Check out the webinar.  Or if you want to chat about building your organization to last, Contact me today to get started!

Calling All Change Makers

Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, LLC (VGCC) partners with organizations and individuals to make meaningful change in the world. Whether you are navigating change on a personal, professional or organizational level, VGCC services will guide you to your vision.


With over 20 years of experience, Certified Coach and Consultant Mary Stelletello will help you reach your goals. Contact Mary today to learn how Vista Global Coaching & Consulting is right for you.