Recently, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with leaders about self-care. Today, I'm specifically thinking about professional development.
When I contemplate professional development, I immediately think of the saying largely attributed to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
You will note his advice is deliberate—before the work starts, he spends a significant amount of time preparing himself completely. Two-thirds of the allotted time is spent developing a tool that will be ready for the task.
Prioritizing preparation does not have to cause you to miss your deadline. In fact, investing more than half of your allotted time to equip yourself can be a recipe for success.
From my perspective, this proverb is a resounding endorsement of professional development.
Which leads me to two questions:
1) Why are we jumping straight into the work?
I suspect our rush to start the work directly in front of us may be due to our addiction to urgency. Being compelled to put out all the “urgencies” (checklists, emails, social media, and unscheduled visitors) provides many of us with a sense of accomplishment. This is actually a physical reaction from your brain firing adrenaline and other feel-good chemicals. However, this comes at the cost of not addressing items that are most important. Self-care is made possible when we spend time working the “important” items instead of the most “urgent” ones that are right in front of us.
2) Why are we swinging a tool that's not up to the task?
Regrettably, we often defer professional development to "when we get the time" or "when we get the money." Sound time management practices tell us that these things don't happen on their own. We have to deliberately make the time and budget the funding. Sharpening the ax is all about working smarter, not harder. If you're a board member, make sure you're protecting a line-item for professional development for everyone—that's staff, your executive director, and yourselves. Seek out grants and funding that will cover the costs of professional development. This is soundly in your control. Own it. Take control and be intentional. Which, by the way, is the best approach for self-care.
What’s your ax? Is it a new hard skill? How about all the soft skills that are so important in our nonprofit sector? Becoming better at our profession accomplishes many things. It obviously impacts the quality of our outcomes, but also has a significant impact on our self-care.
Work that falls within your skill set also is done more quickly (sooner diagnosis of issue, less trial-and-error) and is done under less stress (because of your increased confidence). Working within your skill set is also a major contributor to job satisfaction. So identify an area of your work that needs to be refined or built. If you add sound time management and increased proficiency at your work, you are well on your way to the work/life balance we crave.
In response to the need for intentional and deliberate professional development, Nonprofit Network is offering intentional focus to all executive directors:
Nonprofit Network Executive Director Academy
The Academy is a 8-month cohort of 15 (or fewer) ED's who have been in their job for under 7 years. The cohort will meet monthly for training sessions, and will apply the information in real-time between each session.
If you're interested in a cohort for EDs who have been in the field for more than 5 years (or if you're a new ED but are not free for this season's cohort dates), let us know! We'll add you to the wait-list for the next relevant cohort!
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Setting priorities. But isn't it all important? Let's envision a world where all of the important tasks have been accomplished and only the least important things are delayed until tomorrow—or are even dropped from the to-do list entirely.
Would you feel less stressed about your organization’s future? Would you feel more accomplished about your day? Would you feel more in control of meeting your organizational mission?
There are several techniques for setting priorities and working more efficiently. The first step in all of them is to stop doing something.
Stop being re-active.
Stop going with the flow.
Being aware that the “most urgent” item, whether it’s the pinging of your phone or the next item on the list, is not the most important item. It is your first step towards taking control of your time. Once you reach this point in your journey, it’s all about task analysis and adopting the techniques that agree with your style of work.
Need more ideas on how to accomplish this? Feel free to contact me and we can talk through the process of setting priorities and identifying systems and techniques that work for you.
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According to the US Census Bureau's 2017 report, near 40 million Americans live in poverty. 40 million. Does your organization serve those in poverty?
One tool to begin this important journey is the Bridges Out of Poverty framework.
Nonprofit Network is licensed to bring Bridges Out of Poverty to your community in a variety of ways. We consistently present introductory workshops that are open to the public. Join us October 2nd. We strongly encourage you to attend.
If you'd like to have a conversation about how we can train your organization in a customized session, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. Your work is so important to the 40 million Americans living in poverty, and I am eager to explore how Bridges can improve your outcomes.
*Graphic credit: University of Michigan; https://poverty.umich.edu/about/poverty-facts/
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Executive Director ~ Regina@nonprofnetwork.org
It was one of those board meetings—the kind that makes you question if you are the right person for the job, if you have the stamina to continue, if anyone in the room has even been listening for the past 6 months to anything you’ve said and if working at a “for profit” is an option.
You know—one of the those meetings.
I think all Executive Directors experience one of these meetings. They have happened to me. And even though they don’t happen frequently, they do happen. And they create an indelible memory.
So what do you do the day after? How do you recover your momentum?
Here are five steps that can help get you back on track after a bad board meeting.
Step 1: Seek Perspective.
Reach out to a trusted peer. It helps to debrief with a mentor and friend. Feel free to do this over a glass of wine a craft beer or an ice cream sundae. Vent, but also listen for the root causes for this bad meeting. Sometimes, reflecting with a peer who can ask good questions will reveal something that could have been done to prevent it, other times not. Remind yourself of all the things you love about your job—decisions made in the heat of the moment are rarely the best.
Step 2: Go Back to Your Roots.
Consider all the things you do that have made you successful, all the best practices and pearls of wisdom that got you here. Often, when I am coaching a frustrated ED, I ask them what they have done in the past to ensure board meetings go well and they realize that they have forgotten good habits.
Step 3: Review with Eyewitnesses.
Reach out to your board members for support. They were there—they saw it happen. Start with your Board Chair. Review the events, ask for feedback, ask for suggestions. Make a plan.
Step 4: Acknowledge and Accept Roles
Have an honest, open conversation with the key players about your experience—and theirs. Be willing to accept responsibility and the role you played, but also be willing to be tactfully and compassionately honest about their role. This needs to be a healthy conversation—use all of your crucial conversation skills (use “I” statements instead of “you” statements that can feel accusatory, focus on information that is data-driven, presume positive intent of the other party, refrain from incendiary language, and provide solutions).
Step 5: Call Out the Elephant.
Don’t sweep it under the rug. At your next board meeting, start by saying, “We had a rough meeting last month. I’d like to re-frame the conversation, share the steps I and some of the board members have taken in the past month, and let you all know that where we are today.” Everyone experienced the same meeting on different levels—ignoring the reality that an uncomfortable or unproductive conversation has occurred breeds resentment and negative conflict. Addressing it directly can help the whole team be better and stronger.
Use the opportunity to illustrate how we recover from a bad day, that we all take ownership and that we can all forgive and be a better team.
Find yourself reeling from a tense meeting? We can coach you through the steps and help you equip yourself to navigate the conflict like a pro. Call today to set up a conversation with a member of our capacity building team.
I came across a great blog post awhile back about global issues and potential solutions. The content was fascinating, but the title had me hooked before I even began reading: Empathy: The Missing Link to Solving the World’s Most Pressing Problems.
As community builders and problem solvers, I believe empathy is our most important skill.
Empathy is the link between self and others, because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we are feeling it ourselves. At its simplest, empathy is awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. And empathy is keystone in the human-centered design concept.
Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It’s a process that starts with learning directly from the people you want to serve and designing a solution as you immerse yourself in their lives. That’s what Bridges Out of Poverty helps you do—it enables you to develop solutions to help people get out of poverty by understanding 1) the world from their eyes, and 2) the lessons they have learned about living in this world.
There is already so much data that counts the number of people who live in poverty, are unemployed, need food, need shelter— but data can only tell a small portion of the story. Bridges Out of Poverty provides a larger perspective and shares another side of the story to build that critical empathy between decision-makers and the communities they serve.
Nonprofits exist to accomplish community change. To do this, we need to influence behavior and we need to change the way that minds work. But how do we influence behavior and thought processes? Nonprofits collect all sorts of metrics that illustrate issues, problems, and solutions—but it is not enough to communicate in numbers. We need to communicate with humans by gathering stories. Testimonies are essential in our work to address social problems because testimonies embody the data that we collect. They also help to build empathy.
Let’s break this down the process of building empathy:
Currently, Nonprofit Network is conducting a series of focus groups with people who live in extreme poverty. The stories we gathered in these groups, on the behalf of a local community service, have the potential to make a measurable impact on the community agencies work. Decision-makers are using these testimonials and experiences to identify different training needs, improved methods of communication, and innovative solutions.
The issues in our communities are complex and thus require complex, multi-faceted solutions. It is when we build empathy and a better understanding of those whom we serve that we can begin to fully address the issues at hand. The first step is simply to listen.
What are you doing to capture stories of the people you serve?
If the demographics of your donors, board members, staff and clients don’t reflect the average make up of your community, your recruiting, hiring and fundraising practices may not be geared to include everyone. Nonprofits can sometimes fall into a homogeneous trap. Board members look and think the same. Staff looks and thinks the same. Donors look and think the same. And sometimes – without intention – the design of our services exclude rather than include.
Being an inclusive organization that values diversity doesn’t “just happen”. Like every other best practice, organizations must be committed and diligent to have good habits. If you are intentionally an inclusive organization, you will naturally attract donations from a diverse population, your board will be diverse in skill set, education, race, income and culture and when you post positions, you will have a diverse set of applicants to interview. If you don’t attract diversity, I suggest you examine your practices for any that may be exclusive. Invest in and prioritize strategies and practices that address inequities. Embrace diversity and inclusion.
Nonprofit Network strives to be a model of inclusion. We believe that bringing diverse individuals together is essential to effectively address the issues that face current and prospective partners.
by Regina Pinney - Executive Director
Want to explore more on this topic? Check out our webinar: Diversity and Inclusion Around the Board Table
We have been teaching Bridges Out of Poverty for five years—this includes many organizations and over three thousand individuals—and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Participants leave with a fresh perspective and a series of concepts that they can readily implement in their daily work. After training the "front-line" is now equipped to build stronger relationships with the families they serve and improve the success of their programs by taking small steps. One participant's plan had been incredibly straightforward and doesn't cost a penny: "Develop relationships before approaching with paperwork/forms."
That's the thing that makes Bridges such a powerful program—the resulting "next steps" are simple and actionable, but have the potential to revolutionize your program's outcomes and success. Nonprofit Network is able to customize this program to meet the needs of any organization, ranging from country hospitals to city police departments to grassroots programs and organizations. Here is just a glimpse of the organizations we've trained in Bridges Out of Poverty in the past years:
If you'd like to learn more about the Bridges concepts, please join us for a FREE upcoming event in Jackson. We have two "Session One" introduction events to Bridges Out of Poverty upcoming in August & October and a "NEW" Session Two event; Strategies to Move This Work Forward In Your Organization on October 15th!
Bridges Out of Poverty FREE Community Sessions (generously sponsored by United Way of Jackson County) is a great way to "get your feet wet" in the Bridges material—your only regret will be that you didn't attend sooner!
In the meanwhile, please reach out with any questions you have about the value and the content of Bridges. We can also bring this training to you in a variety of ways and will customize it to meet your needs. Nonprofit Network exists to serve you.
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Dr. Katena Cain
Nonprofit Management Consultant
Nonprofits are in the business of making their communities healthier, stronger and more enriching for all of its members. Whether they are involved in health care, the arts, civil rights, religious activities, or any other worthwhile charitable cause, nonprofits influence the quality of life for people in the communities they serve. Organizations that value diversity – racial and ethnic diversity, as well as diversity in age, ability, thought, planning processes, and recruitment strategies – are stronger.
Research suggests that employees who view their organization as being supportive of diversity and inclusion also tend to have higher levels of engagement. Highly engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organization, be an advocate of the organization, its products and services, and contribute positively to the bottom line business success.
So, what does an organization look like when it has embraced diversity, inclusion and equity?
Building an Inclusive Team
Having a diverse candidate pool to hire from is primary and critical – you can’t become a diverse organization if you don’t have diverse applicants.
Posting your position in the same places will get you the same candidates. Positions should be posted and advertised in a wide variety of places, including community boards, cultural community groups, local ethnic and community newsletters, and associations and organizations that serve ethnic communities. Your efforts should extend beyond the standard. Also, does your front line position REALLY need someone with a Master’s Degree? Make sure that you are hiring for attitude and training for skill.
Changing your recruitment habits may improve the candidates you attract. Don’t forget to provide additional training around diversity and inclusion – retention is critical! If you haven’t been successful in retaining a diverse workforce, you may need to look at your inclusion policies and practices. How can I do that you're thinking? Contact me today!
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Distractions are everywhere…especially in an office setting. From the sounds of phones ringing, speakerphone conversations and copy machines printing to the sun shining brightly through your office window…sometimes it can be difficult to stay focused at work.
So what can you do to remain on task and avoid distractions?
Seven Tips to Stay Focused at Work:
1. Clean your desk. If your desk is cluttered, take a few minutes to put things away and organize it. This will give you the space to focus on the task at hand.
2. Dress professionally. Dressing in professional attire may help you stick to business. Here’s an interesting article from Forbes that explains how alertness is affected by what you wear.
3. Plan ahead. Map out your next day before you leave work at the end of your shift. When you arrive at work the following day, you will know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it.
5. Put your cell phone away. Move your cell phone to a place that is out of sight. This will prevent you from checking it every two minutes. Only check your phone during your breaks or lunch hour.
7. Reward yourself. After achieving an important goal, reward yourself with a cup of coffee or five minutes of browsing the Internet. Rewarding yourself may give you the motivation to get a jump start on your next project.
It’s no secret that workplace distractions can hinder your productivity. By using these tips, hopefully you can stay a little more focused and accomplish great achievements. Tell us what some of your methods are you use to remain focused at work?
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Decision making is the core role of a board of directors. So why do so many boards spend more time sharing information that could’ve been an emailed report instead of having high level, crucial conversations that lead to strong decisions?
You might be amazed at how many board meetings I have been a part of in the past at which zero decisions were reached. Or maybe you’ve experienced this also. Are your board meetings consumed with verbal reports on the status of this issue or that project or how this person performed during the last 30 days? Informing—while incredibly necessary—is not a good use of your short time together as a full board. Spending board hours giving verbal reports is, at best, barely beneficial and, at worst, a danger to your mission.
Instead,share data with board members before the meeting via the board packet. Provide those would-be verbal reports as written reports and give your board multiple days to read them and come to the meeting prepared..
Empowered board members assemble to make decisions. However, empowerment requires the members to come already informed. Prior access to data not only makes decisions easier to settle, but also more likely to stay made as well. Board decisions made without solid data have a tendency to make the deciders less confident that their conclusions are correct and will ultimately bring the issue back in front of the board to wrestle again in the not-so-distant future. Examining the issue once and reaching a solid decision that stays made is the best process to build momentum in the organization.
Board members are recruited from the community not for their ability to be updated, but rather so they can use their life skills to reach the best decisions that benefit the organization. It is a misuse of this valuable human resource to assemble simply to hear a report. The misuse is even more egregious if the entire meeting time is about reporting out data. Leaders view their roles differently when they associate board time with reaching solid decisions; one effect of transitioning to a decision-centric board agenda is better attendance.
Imagine a board meeting at which every member is in attendance and already fully informed as to the status of programs, finances, staff and committee efforts—they are empowered by the most relevant data and with full participation of all voices around the table. That is the scene where the mission of your organization is about to be moved forward. Conversely, assembling all these valuable human resources so that they are merely more informed than they had been 90 minutes ago does not advance the mission any further and sets the stage for people to see their board participation as less relevant, or maybe even optional.
Do you know where your board is on the Decision-Informing continuum? Here’s an exercise for you to conduct that will gather data to confirm your assumption:
Review the board minutes from your most recent three board meetings. Take note of time spent informing and time when decisions were discussed and conclusions reached.
Then, at your next board meeting, record how much of your time is spent informing members as to status of finances, staff efforts, program progress, or committee activities, and compare that number with how much time is spent discussing issues and data to reach decisions.
The closer your results are to mostly decision making, the more movement you will see towards mission fulfillment.
Continue this process each month, refining your agenda and practices until the majority of your regular board meetings is spent discussing and making decisions. Make the meeting entirely about decision making and that mission fulfillment will be even more observable.
The transition to conduct decision-centric meeting begins by deciding to change. Then you follow up that decision with new processes and a transition to a meeting agenda that reflects your new direction.
Want to discuss this transition in more detail?
Give Tom a call at 517-796-4750 or click the button below.
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