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Learning to Say No! A Non-Profit Primer (Innovation Within Non-Profits Part III)

by Tiffany Crosby on 01/22/16

don't say yes when the answer should be no

Have you drifted from your mission or values: check your funding?

Do you want to guarantee that you will drift away from your mission? Chase indiscriminately after funds and people. Funds come with strings attached; so do people. That marquee foundation that you must get in your portfolio of funders may have their own idea about your mission, programs, and operations. That person that you must have as a champion or board member may have their own idea about your mission, programs, and operations. 

Before you go chasing after funds and people make sure that their vision and values match yours. Make sure that their release of funds, time, or energy is a result of their passion for the cause and not because they plan to exert control over what you do (or don't do) or how you operate. 

Needing money or people is not an excuse.

Now, you may be saying, "but we need money". Trust me, I understand the plight of non-profit funding. I know what it's like to wonder whether there will be enough funds to stay in operations six months from now. I understand how tempting a large grant may seem. However, I also understand the dire consequences of drifting away from your mission and/or comprising your values in the pursuit of that mission. I've seen non-profits lose their way far too many times and it pains me. 

Spare your people and protect the good work they do: Say NO

It pains me to see non-profits suffer from an identity crisis. It pains me to see people stressed out and frustrated because the demands on them are not realistic. They're trying to meet expectations set upon them by others that don't understand the true underlying issues or the programs that will be effective in dealing with those issues. These are good people. They're there because they care. And there's nothing more frustrating when you care then to be rendered ineffective regardless of how well-meaning the intentions. That's why it's dependent on your, the non-profit leader, to learn to say no.

Say No In Love But Without Apology

If you believe in the mission and believe in the organization's culture and values, then learn to say no in love but without apology. Say no to ideas that pull you away from your mission. Say no to programs that will cause your focus to drift regardless of how well-funded the program. Say no to people that want to come in and change your values. Say no to grants that require you to operate in a way that's inconsistent with your organizational values. Embracing innovation, which non-profits need to do in this dynamic environment, shouldn't change the essence of who you are. Your mission remains. Your values remain. Your programs may come and go, but you must stay grounded in your primary reason for existence or cease existing. So learn to say no!

Innovation Within Non-Profits (Part II): 5 Cultural Misfit Cues

by Tiffany Crosby on 10/27/15

Innovation has become the business buzz world. Every one wants it but no one wants the risks and costs associated with it. Innovation, by it's very nature, breeds failure. You will have many more failed attempts than successful attempts. Is the culture of your non-profit organization ready for that? If you're not sure, answer these 5 questions to see where you at on the innovative culture spectrum.

 1. Are you prepared to start programs on a pilot basis AND end them if they are not successful?

2. Are you ready to give employees permission to experiment with a critical process?

3. Are you willing to act as a catalyst to change including handling vocal naysayers and resistant board members?

4. Do your systems allow you to rapidly redeploy resources to different programs or services?

5. Are you willing to lay everything on the table (i.e., no sacred cows) AND do an honest assessment of effectiveness?

If you can answer yes to all five of these questions, then you have a solid foundation on which to build an innovative culture. However, if you've answered no to anyone one of the five, then you have some additional work to do before you can fully embrace innovation.

Why is this important you may ask. Just take a look at the economic realities surrounding non-profits. There are less overall resources and increasing needs. Non-profits can get any leaner than they already are; in fact, many need to make additional investments in people and infrastructure. So, if you can't cut costs -- what are you to do? Innovate, innovate, innovate.

Are you ready?

Innovation Within Non-Profits (Part I): Is Your Mission Blinding You?

by Tiffany Crosby on 09/12/15

Mission, Soul, Purpose, Core
The Necessity of Innovation

Non-profit organizations are tasked with solving some of the world's most pressing issues. Whether they've sworn to tackle poverty, homelessness, human sex-trafficking, human health issues or other societal ills, their challenges are formidable. These organizations need the best and the brightest. They need people that:

  • Are willing to look for opportunities where others only see problems.
  • Are willing to challenge long-held assumptions.
  • Ask what if instead of rehashing what's already been tried
They need people that are innovative risk-takers. These are people that believe that it's their mission to change the world. They're not discouraged by negativity or criticism. They're ready to take on what seems to be impossible.

Unfortunately, many non-profits are not set-up to welcome and embrace the very people that they need. They have systems that discourage innovation instead of encouraging it. There's a reason why, just like the profit sector where disruptive innovation occurs in start-ups, novel approaches to societal issues arise from new non-profit organizations or social enterprises. This blog series will tackle the issues affecting innovation in non-profits, beginning with mission.

The Challenge of Mission Statements

Part of the issue can be traced back to mission. Mission statements while useful can also be blinding. The purpose of a mission statement is to state why you exist. It works in conjunction with a vision statement that states your desired end state or what your organization seeks to accomplish. Mission statements are meant to be short, ideally one-sentence. They shouldn't define the what or how. As soon as that happens, you've put on blinders that can block your ability to identify new ways to approach the issue.

Drilling wells may not be the best way to address the issue of cleaning drinking water. It's certainly an option, but it's not the only course of action. It doesn't belong in a mission statement. Building homes may not be the best way to address the issue of homelessness. It's certainly an option; however financial literacy or job readiness may be more important. Statement the activity that the non-profit needs to do is akin to stating that a business needs a certain system or application. It's an innovation no-no.

A mission statement that includes the what and how assumes an answer to the problem and limits the ability to think more broadly about the issue. Just as we do in a for profit business, non-profit organizations need to decompose the issues into it's contributing factors. And they need to continue to ask why until that sticky, determining factor (or cornerstone or strong hold if you wish) is identified. 

The True Problem May Not Be Obvious

The answer to why girls aren't receiving an education in certain communities might surprise you. It may have nothing to do with devaluing girls or devaluing education. It may be as practical as needing them to travel several miles, multiple times a day to fetch water. There's just no time. If that's the case, solving the water issue is the first step toward solving the education issue. If you're mission statement says that you're going to build school for girls, it misses the point. You can build these schools, but they girls won't show up. However, if it states that you're going to make education accessible to girls, now solving the water issue fits within your mission because lack of access to clean water is a barrier to accessing education. By the way, building schools also fits within that mission, as does addressing cultural issues. Any factor that serves as a significant barrier to education suddenly fits. The opportunities for innovation within the confines of your mission statement are endless. You now have the flexibility to adapt to changing situations while still be anchored to an overarching purpose.  

So, as a leader of a non-profit organization (regardless of your role), I leave you with this one question:

Does your mission statement allow for innovative thinking?

Having a Mindset For Business

by Tiffany Crosby on 07/25/15

It's been about three months since I published a blog for this website. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you'd noticed that I've accepted a position with the Ohio Society of CPAs as their Senior Manager of Learning.  That may have raised some questions that I hope to answer with this blog.

So What's the Deal with Petra Learning?

During that time, I've redesigned my business to narrow its focus to the non-profit arena. This narrowing of focus reflects the passion that is in my heart for people and the compassion that is stirred in me as I see people struggle. I've been involved and will continue to be involved in bringing leadership to non-profits through participation on their board of trustees/directors. However, I believe that the non-profit world needs and deserves more. They need to have access to business and people development resources that have been out-of-reach. So, that's why I've decided that Petra Learning will bring training, coaching, and consulting to the non-profit world.

What do I hope to accomplish in this endeavor? 

It's my desire to elevate the profile of non-profit organizations. I hope to banish the notions that a career in non-profit is second-class and something that you do once you've made sufficient money to retire in comfort. I want to see our best business leaders drawn to values-based non-profit organizations. We need our best minds at work, collaborating together to tackle our most pressing issues as a society. I want to see young professionals that are attracted to values-based non-profit organizations nurtured and grown into strong leaders. There should not be a trade-off between being mission-focused and earning a sufficient living to support your family. In short, I want values-based non-profit organizations to be amongst our most respected and revered organizations. 

What will this take?

This will take a change in mindset. There are three mindset changes that need to occur:

  • Understand that not-for-profit is a tax structure not a business model. All non-profit organizations need to understand and continually challenge their source of funds. They need to be innovative and forward-thinking. They need to not just understand their costs, but they also need to understand their relevancy and driving factors. Relevancy relates costs back to mission. Driving factors helps you forecast your level of costs. There are some expenses that take non-profit organizations by surprise that shouldn't.    
  • Understand that frugal doesn't equal cheap. Frugality is good stewardship. However, frugality doesn't mean you go for the lowest cost; rather you need to go for the best value. So you may need to pay slightly more but you get a much better return on your investment. That's smart business. And no, I'm not ignorant of the revenue constraints of a non-profit. Every business, whether for-profit or not-for-profit has revenue constraints. No business has unlimited resources. 
  • Investing in your people is not a nice-to-do. As with any organization, your people are your most valuable resource. While you can survive without investing in your people; it's very hard to thrive without this investment. Therefore, investing in them isn't something that you should do when the budget permits. Be frugal, be creative but never, ever stop investing in your people. 
Will you join me in this endeavor by spreading the word about Petra Learning to any non-profits with which you have an association?

Close The Door

by Tiffany Crosby on 04/25/15

When you hear the words "close the door", what image came to mind? 

Did you see a parent yelling at a child to close the door to keep the cold air out? 

Or maybe, you imagine sitting in a meeting or training and someone asks you to close the door to keep the noise out. 

Or perhaps, you thought of a lost job opportunity or a shattered dream where the door seemed to just close right in front of you. 

Or maybe, you mind went to a very specific memory that is unique to you. 

While all of those images are valid, in this instance, closing the door is about walking in humility and taking a welcoming stance with your people. It's about being one of the last to be seated because you were by the door greeting people as they entered. It's about being one of the last to exit because you were talking to people and thanking people as they left. It's about creating an environment where people are comfortable engaging in authentic conversations. 

When leaders are holding real conversations with their people on a regular basis, then closing the door is not a sign of separation or inaccessibility but of engagement. Leaders that are routinely out and about with their people don't need open door policies. 

In fact, these type of leaders tend to close their physical door quite a bit because they've developed a habit of having meaningful performance conversations, of coaching people, and of being available for sit-down conversations. They've learned to be present in the moment. They've learned to shut-out the distractions, turn-off the cellphones, send the calls to voicemail, and listen. 

As a leader, it's may goal to become a person that routinely closes the door; not because I'm keeping people out but because I'm welcoming people in.