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Three Reasons You Can't Afford Not To!

by Tiffany Crosby on 05/21/16

I get so tired of hearing non-profit leaders say they can't afford to train their people. Either they don't have the budget for training or they can't afford for their people to take the time away need to train. I sometimes wonder though, if they realize what they're actually saying.  

By saying that you can't afford to train your people, you're actually saying that it's okay:

  • For your people to work inefficiently. Technology changes. Less costly and less time intensive methods of functioning emerge. Often, these new methods also improve the customer experience. By not taking the time to learn these new methods, you're depriving your customers of better service. Can you really afford that in light of your mission?

  • For your people to become stale. Changes in the socioeconomic, business, and legal environment are occurring on a regular basis. How do your people not only stay abreast of them but also determine how best to modify their services in light of them without adequate training? Ultimately, you run the risk of providing services that no longer meet the needs of the community or people you serve because you're working from an outdated frame of reference. Can you really afford that?

  • For your organization to have gaps in succession. Far too many non-profit organizations have a gap in leadership. We're riding on a tidal wave of looming retirements and people haven't been groomed to step into the shoes of those that are vacating. There's only so much poaching that can occur, ultimately the buck has to stop somewhere. Someone is left with a critical gap. Can you really afford to be that organization left with a critical leadership gap? Aren't the people you serve with more than that?
I don't know of any non-profit mission statement that says that they plan to do good for the constituent group they serve by neglecting to invest in their own people. But that's exactly the message that you send when you feel to set aside a portion of your annual budget and calendar for staff training and development. 

The reality is not only can you afford to but you can't afford not to. The people you serve depend on it. You may need to get creative on how you raise the funds necessary to cover staff training costs but your people are worth it. And, there is money available for training if you know where to look. So, put your creative wheels to work and figure out how to make it happen. You won't regret it.

Sustaining Motivation and Drive Over the Longhaul

by Tiffany Crosby on 04/17/16

Burnout is a very real issue whether in a for profit or not-for-profit organization. I see it all the time. People start that new job so much energy and drive. They are gung-ho. They are on fire. They eat, sleep, and breathe the mission and vision. They fully embrace their roles and responsibilities. But somewhere along the way, they fizzle out. 

How do you prevent this from happening to you or your team? I'm going to suggest something completely counter cultural. It may even sound rogue. I'm going to suggest that you step away. That you slow down or even stop to reflect, to organize and to plan. Stepping away forces you to reevaluate your priorities. What's important? What do I value? What's consuming my time? What can I or should I let go of? Stepping away forces you to focus on where you're actually focusing your time. It's your time to think about how your thinking and behaving.

Stepping away is not something you can do once. Stepping away is something you need to make a habit so that you can make better decisions on a regular basis. You don't want to just make good decisions today, but over the course of your life. Stepping away is not just critical for maintaining margin in your life. It's not just important for your health - mental, physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual, but it's also necessary for you to have vision, to be productive, and to be able innovate. It's necessary for you to be able to do all the things you need to do to accelerate your performance, and the performance of your team and organization.

If you're experiencing burnout or
If you have no time for anything else on your calendar or
If you have no time for reflecting and planning

Then this is for you. You may not think you can afford to set aside time to reflect and plan, but I'm telling you that you can't afford not too set aside time. So, start small. 

  • Set aside 15 minutes at the end of each day to reflect on the day and prepare for the next day. It takes longer than that to read up on the latest Facebook updates. 

  • After three weeks of daily reflection and planning, add a weekly reflection and planning time. Set aside an uninterrupted hour each week to reflect on the previous week and plan for the upcoming week. Protect this time like you protect the time for anything else that matters to you. And by the way, 1 hour is far less than the time spent watching a football game or other sporting event. It's also less than the time required to watch you're favorite television shows even if you fast forward through the commercials.
  •  After 1 month (i.e., you're about 8 weeks in), add a quarterly reflection and planning time. Plan to set aside a 2-4 hour chunk of time where you can reflect on the previous quarter and upcoming quarter. While this seems like a lot of time, it's really not much different than going to a movie once a quarter.
  • By the end of the year, you'll be ready to do the same for the year.
If you do this, you'll be amazed at how much time you suddenly find to do that which matters. Yes, you'll be forced to delegate some work. And yes, you'll be forced to let go of some commitments. But in the end, you'll find yourself reconnected to the mission and vision and to the passion and energy that fueled you in the beginning. The sacrifice of disciplined focus will be worth it. I promise you.

To read more about establishing a pattern of rest, check out "The Power of Rest". You can purchase this book on

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?