Archive for the ‘community development’ Category

What’s Your ROT – Return on Trust?.

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Collaboration. It was the hottest “buzz word” of the last decade — And if you ask ten people to describe it, you could get ten very different answers.  Collaborations are going to be a driving force in building stronger relationships and stronger communities. In the new decade we are in the “perfect collaboration storm:” energy around our “community visions”, enormous critical community needs, myriad of new nonprofit organizations, and desire for greater impact. This can only happen if we work together.  Our community is whole and interconnected; we can’t create a powerful vision in silos.


Jump start your collaboration efforts by asking powerful questions.

“What is the highest potential for our collaborative relationship (organizationally AND individually)?”

“If this collaboration is successful, what is possible for our organization, our relationships, our community?”

Create a vision to begin the collaboration because, the real work (and joy) is as much in the collaboration PROCESS as it is in the final destination.  As Rosebeth Moss Kanter states in her compelling article, The Enduring Skills of Change Leaders, “Years of study and experience show that the things that sustain change are not bold strokes but long marches — the independent, discretionary, and ongoing efforts of people throughout the organization.” Collaboration is an intentional process rooted in TRUST, COMMITMENT, PURPOSE, and SHARED VISION.  Since the word “collaboration” is ubiquitous, descriptions of difference models are helpful, so I have highlighted some of the most prominent ones below (from least to most formal):

COALITION An alliance, especially a temporary one, of people, or organizations formed for a specific goal and specific set of objectives. A coalition is joint action where each organization or person operates in their own self-interest. A coalition is a coordinating effort, joining forces together for a common cause. The relationships are informal and each organization operates separately.

COLLABORATION A mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve results they are more likely to achieve together than alone. (Michael Winer & Karen Kay, Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining and Enjoying the Journey) There is a commitment from organizational leadership; a shared vision; a mission and set of goals (both Process and Impact); and a process to evaluate impact.

STRATEGIC ALLIANCE An agreement between two or more people or entities stating that the involved parties to achieve a common goal. Strategic alliances usually make sense when the parties involved have complementary strengths.  The purpose of an alliance is to (1) achieve joint strategic goals, (2) reduce risk while increasing rewards and/or, (3)leverage resources. This term is usually used to describe a nonprofit/business relationship and is used to describe a host of activities from sponsorship to cause related marketing to social marketing.

JOINT VENTURE A separate legal entity formed by two or more parties to undertake economic activity together.  The separate entity may be purposefully created as a partnership, limited liability company or corporation (either for-profit or nonprofit).There must be a legal entity. If there is no legal entity for the joint venture, the partnership is a strategic alliance, and not a joint venture.

MERGER The legal act of combining two or more separate corporate entities into one corporate entity with a single governing body.

1. Create a Collaborative Intention– A successful collaboration is an intentional collaboration. People respond to the others around them, if the leadership is really committed to the success of the collaboration that enthusiasm is infectious.  If we engage with a commitment to creating what is possible, people are energized. If we show up with, “let’s get this checked off the list”  “the funder asked us to do this” or “we are mandated to do this, let’s just get through it”  that is exactly what you will get – something to get through.
2. Create a CULTURE of Clarity Mutual Respect and Trust – Start every collaboration with the end in mind.  Questions to ask:
  • What is our vision for this collaboration?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • How will we do it?
  • How will we hold ourselves accountable?
  • How will we measure our success, impact?
These five questions are a great starting point.  Create a space for for everyone’s voice to be heard  and that all “elephants in the room” are honestly identified and discussed.  Create a set of group values that will guide your group’s work (examples: candor, confidentially,humor, active listening — and describe them!).  Most importantly, commit to creating a safe enviroment for people say their truth. As James Tamm and Ronald Luyet express in their book Radical Collaboration, “Awareness + Honesty + Openness = Truth.  To truly collaborate you need to be both 1) more than a little vulnerable and 2) aware – aware of the content, tone of voice and body language.  People listen, however when our content is not congruent with the tone of our voice and body language, people won’t respond.  The impact of tone and body language is more powerful than words.  Creating a culture of candor and honest pays off. And, every strong collaboration has conflict. Healthy conflict and a commitment to actively listening to where someone else is coming from is essential to building collaboration.
Politeness is the poison of collaboration – Edwin Land
3. Be Intentional about Goals and Accountability – Ensure that your meetings create a “commitment to action.” Ensure to allow for flexibility.  Collaboration is a fluid process.  If you have a less formal (non-contractual) agreement  craft a Memorandum of Understanding, just to make sure everyone is one the same page.  And prior to every meeting create a formal or informal agenda that includes:
  • The obvious: place, time, date, directions
  • A list of who has committed to attend
  • Time for a check in (everyone participates!) Some sample questions: How have we moved closer to achieving our vision/outcomes? What are we proud of? What is the most important thing you think we need to accomplish during the meeting?
  • What issues will be discussed during the meeting — What will the group be doing and is it for information, discussion or decision?
  • Summary of actions from previous meetings
  • A summary of achievements to date, and,
  • A section to record what actions the group committed to during this meeting.(Review and clarify the Action Items)

4. Develop a Process to Evaluate The Collaboration’s Progress – Michael Winer and Karen Ray recommend both a Process Evaluation and a Results Evaluation.  You can create one on a single sheet of paper, and some of the questions can include (but are certainly not limited to) Process: What did we set out to accomplish? What milestones did we meet and what helped/hindered their accomplishments? How did we create a communication process between members/was it successful? How did we live the organizational values that we created? Where could we have improved? Results:  What were the desired community benefits and how will we know we were successful? What activities did we do? Who benefited and how?

5. Celebrate Success!– Make sure to celebrate your accomplishments.  Invite people from the community to your meetings to talk about the impact your work has had. Invite leaders/Board members from partnership organizations to talk about the impact the collaboration has had on their work. Have a party.  Make a toast. acknowledge everyone’s efforts. Engage in ALL four of the key components for successful collaborations: PLAN, IMPLEMENT, EVALUATE, & CELEBRATE!

The theme of my next series of Blog Posts will be collaboration. I am interested in hearing about YOUR collaboration experiences?  Successes? Opportunities? Missed Opportunities? “Real World Applications?” — Please take a minute to share your experiences, I would love to hear them (and use your wisdom to share with others!)

(And, on a special note, Community Driven Institute Friends –THANKS for everything!)

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The Board Experience

Ask people about their experiences on nonprofit boards, and answers can be downright jaw-dropping, “The meetings aren’t productive,” “This wasn’t what I expected when I joined the board,” or “I don’t see how these meetings make a difference”.  We join boards to make our communities healthy, vibrant places, to use our time and talents to support causes we care about, and to become part of a network that shares our passion about issues important to us.

A troubling new norm is developing — we start believing this “rather dull” experience is what we should expect. Many people tell me, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”  Although, I believe that’s not the way it has to be.

This norm is that it a rare experience for  a board member (or CEO) who thinks prior to a Board meeting, “I can’t wait to go to the meeting today, I expect to be inspired and energized.”

I think about this a lot.  I have spent the last 20 years serving on numerous boards representing of all types of organizations — local, municipal, regional, and national.  I have  also served as a CEO to four community organizations and have worked with some extraordinary people.  And,  I have the joy of engaging in the extraordinary Board meeting where everyone said, “Wow that was great, we accomplished so much, I can’t wait until we meet again!” In short,  I have left board meetings  exhilarated  and I have left board meeting exhausted.  Given the choice,  I will pick exhilaration any day!

Often we  leave Board meeting feeling like the greatest accomplishment was “we ended on time.”  For a room full of intelligent, committed people this is deflating.  This doesn’t happen because the people aren’t committed, it happens because often the structure isn’t designed to focus on the most important issues. We approve the minutes, give reports (and more reports), and bemoan the budget situation.  We don’t spend much time on the “good” stuff” — what have we been doing right for the community, for our organization, for our clients? And, how can we do more of it even better?

Highlighted below are 10 tips for making Board meetings more engaging, productive and enjoyable.

1. Focus on the most important issues.  Plan to discuss the most critical issues first. What do we need to discuss/accomplish to move our mission forward.  Support this by: placing the organization’s mission and vision on the top of every Board meeting agenda. This keeps members focused on the key reasons they are there; to support the mission and vision the organization has for its community. Start each meeting with discussion about the most important issues on the agenda first.

2. Determine if it is Decision/Advice/Information. When discussing important issues, clarify how you are asking members to respond.  On each agenda item note: 1) does this issue need a decision, action or vote 2) does this issue require advice or guidance, is this an issue that the organization is seeking collective wisdom to make the best decision, or 3) is this an agenda item that is for information purposes, to inform and educate board members.  Again, place the most important issues on the top of the agenda. (“Act” and “Discuss” first, “Report or Information” second).

3. Create Opportunities for Creativity, Imagination and Vision. If the rule in real estate is location, location, location, the expectation for Boards is vision, vision, vision.  Create opportunities for the board to spend time focusing on vision; the vision they have for the community how the organization is meeting this vision. Ask them, what is the legacy you want to leave?

4. Create an Outcome Measurement Matrix. Create a chart  updated  at each meeting informing the Board about how organization is doing in critical areas: program and impact, fundraising, financial health, Board of Directors engagement, human resources and risk management/compliance.  Use a matrix or dashboard metric to show process on  quantifiable measurements.  Color code progress to goals (red=act; yellow=watch; and green=celebrate). Use the matrix  to focus on important areas without searching though pages of reports.  An excellent example of a good dashboard is available on the Blue Avocado website (www.blueavocado.org).

5. Change it up. Host meetings at different locations and consider incorporating different formats into the meeting agenda.  If there is a major issue that needs discussion, break people up into small groups for 10-15 minutes, then have groups briefly report back.  This gives everyone a chance to engage in the conversation.  When people engage, people commit.

6. Include Stories and Testimonials at Every Meeting. Stories are powerful.  Include at least one story about someone affected by the organization at every meeting.  People want to hear about people. Share the stories of those who benefit from your organization’s great work.   Testimonials are inspiring and give members stories to tell when they go out to fund/friend raise for your organization.  Stories give members the information they need to serve as champions, ambassadors and advocates for your cause.

7.  Build Trust. Create trust by creating a culture where confidentiality is respected, engagement is encouraged and final decisions are  presented to the community with “one voice,” Ask members to leave negativity and cell phones at the door.

8. Spend twice as much time discussing as reporting. Create opportunities for people to engage, deliberate and contribute.

9. Reflect and Evaluate. Take time to reflect. We tend to plan to implement and miss the opportunity reflect and evaluate is an important part of the process: (plan-implement-reflect).  Conduct an evaluation of the Board at the end of the year.  During the year provide feedback cards for optional thoughts and comments. If members have feedback there is a venue to share comments with the board leadership or CEO.

10. Celebrate! Annually (or more often!) share the organization’s accomplishments with the Board. Ask members to take part and share what they think are the greatest successes.  Take time during every board meeting to celebrate at least one major accomplishment and take time to acknowledge the excellent work of individual Board members and staff who have gone “above and beyond.” Celebration and focusing on the positive can have a contagious reaction that impacts the organization, board and staff.  Make sure to take time to celebration the organization’s accomplishments.

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