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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.  


Give Up Your Seat

by Tiffany Crosby on 04/25/15

Helping Someone Step Up
When was the last time you intentionally gave up your seat? 

When was the last time that you noticed the potential in someone and decided that the best way you could help them was by stepping down and letting them take the lead?

Sometimes, the most powerful action you can take as a leader is to put someone else in your seat and let them drive. Now, this only works, if you're truly willing to let them drive. That means that you don't dictate what they do and how they do it so that it will be done just the way you would've done it. But rather, you take your hands off and let them lead. Be willing to mentor them but don't force the mentoring. When they come to you for mentor, address their specific needs and nothing more. If they don't come to you for mentoring, then let it go. 

Your goal in giving up your seat is not to earn accolades on your "noble" gestures or "humility". Rather, your goal is to empower the individual by recognizing the person's talent, affirming the individual's competence and lending him or her your credibility so as to position them for success. It's not about you; it's all about them.   

Giving up your seat is not easy. When we've excelled and mastered something, we earn accolades and become comfortable. Giving this up suddenly leaves a gap. Often, filling that gap requires us to take on something with which we don't fill quite as comfortable. It pushes us into new areas of growth. And as a leader, that's exactly where we should want to be.  

Are you ready to grow? Are you ready to help someone else grow? Then look at all the different seats that you occupy and intentionally decide to give one up. Take a chance. Embrace the uncertainty. 

Relationship Series: Tolerance is Not Acceptance

by Tiffany Crosby on 02/17/15

Who among you enter into a relationship with the goal of being tolerated? Can you just hear those wedding vows - I promise to tolerate my husband or my wife for the rest of my life. Or picture your reaction if you were to receive an invite to a wedding or birthday party and instead of saying "you're presence is requested", it said "you're presence will be tolerated" because its a special occasion. 

Yet, within the marketplace, this attitude prevails. Diversity is tolerated for the good of the bottom line. Meeting participants are tolerated because they're buy-in is necessary. Mentees are tolerated by their mentors because it's a formal program with metrics that tie into performance reviews. 

But people don't want to be tolerated, they want to be accepted. You don't have to agree with every decision they make and you don't have to agree with their values, point-of-views, or beliefs, but you do need to accept them as people worthy of your time and attention. This type of acceptance is focused on the person and not the descriptors that we often associate with people. I'm first and foremost a female person before I'm African-American or anything else. Now many will say that they are accepting, yet even as they speak acceptance, their actions indicate otherwise. For example:

- they routinely exclude an individual from the conversation occurring in the room

- they talk over the person, fail to acknowledge what the person said, or dismiss the person's input out-of-hand. 

- they use patronizing terms or seek to explain concepts to you under the assumption that you lack the knowledge or the competence to understand though they may no such attempt with anyone else in the room

If it sounds like there is a bit of passion in this post, it's because I'm speaking from experience. As an African-American female business leader, I know first hand what it's like to have my presence tolerated. I'm keenly aware of when my presence is accepted and when it's tolerated. I also no that I have zero motivation to form a relationship with someone who operates from an attitude of tolerance versus acceptance. The barriers go up immediately. It does become strictly business - feelings are set aside (not good) and it becomes an impersonal exchange from my side. 

My attitude is now strictly transactional in nature. Let's get done with the business at hand so that I can move on. There is no foundation established for a lasting relationship and let chance that I'm going to respond to any type of follow-up or further requests. 

This reality repeats itself far too many times in business and it's costly. It costs engagement, commitment, and cold-hard cash. So, if we want to really move the needle to the point where we have a fully engaged team building rock solid relationships, we have to move past the point of tolerating people and learn how to accept them.