un. 30, 2011 - In the Beginning was the Leadership
One of the clients of my consulting business is a large community foundation with lots of money to give away. In their eyes, the money has been a curse as well as a blessing—this foundation has pounded many resources into non-profit organizations requesting funds, often without much of a measurable return on its investment.
Often, requesting organizations are like that: they are well-meaning, and often comprised of folks who are passionate about a cause. They have energy and ideas—sometimes even brilliant ones. What they frequently DON’T have is the organizational structure to implement the ideas and the long-term vision to keep those initiatives going until the goal has been met.
Let’s say an organization has a game-changing idea, gets some funding, and happily scampers off to bring electricity to the light bulb. Maybe for a short time the bulb even glows. Then, gradually, it dims. Who thought about paying the ongoing power bill? Or changing the bulb when it dies? Was there a budget for needed long-term resources? A sustainability plan?
Probably not. A year or two later, we find it’s dark in here, and people are stumbling up and down the stairs just like they did before the light bulb was installed.
My client with the money said, “This isn’t good. We are not making a difference with our resources. Nothing has changed.” In response, the foundation built in some requirements for getting the money:
1. There had to be a demonstrable need
2. Nobody else was filling that need
3. The requesting group had to have performed a structural evaluation. Did it have the capacity to fill the need being described? Did it have a clear mission and a strategic initiative?
4. The project needs a business plan.
5. The requesting group needed leadership skill and commitment.
Then the foundation said: if an organization needs help meeting those requirements, we’ll provide that, too. We’ll help community organizations get stronger, and then we’ll give them some money to do their work. Our real mission won’t be the money, though: it will be helping the groups get stronger. Our money is just an incentive for building a strong service sector.
The take-away point here is that the foundation recognized its true mission statement—not to give away money, but to grow strong organizations. Having declared the mission, the group could then move ahead to carry it out.
The second lesson is that in planning to build strong organizations, the foundation began with training the leaders of the organization. I know, I know: in the Realtor organization, every level has a leadership session-- States, some regions, the NAR, many local boards. Incoming leaders are shipped off to conventions, retreats, seminars, and motivational ‘tent meetings’. Their heads spin.
I’ve been to more of these meetings than I care to think about—usually with new leaders who are enthusiastic and committed to ‘making MY year a memorable one’. Unfortunately, leaving one’s stamp on the association’s passport isn’t really what it takes to create an exceptional organization or carry a long-term game changing project to completion.
The training my client requires for leadership of organizations requesting funding involves specific leadership skillsets:
· An introductory seminar which covers assessing and building an organization’s capacity, management roles, effective meetings, legal responsibilities of boards, life cycles of the association, state and federal law and IRS requirements, income sources and expense measurements, best practices in similar associations, and 10 basic responsibilities of board members;
· An online assessment of the capacities of the organization, and a discussion of the results;
· Development of an association mission statement, business model, and strategic plan.
It’s only then, says the funding foundation, that an organization can begin to apply for our financial support. Envision, if you will, a community which has many non-profits (my small rural area has over 2,000), and the majority of these organizations have leaders and staff with access to the training and resources I’ve outlined.
The interesting part of this solution, though, is that the foundation’s process begins with a trained leadership and staff—not with the money or the strategic plan. Many of us have had the experience of hiring a consultant to conduct an audit, present findings, and write a plan. We’ve spent a lot of money to acquire some dusty pages on our bookshelves and we’ve subcontracted out the process to a distant ‘expert’. As a result, the Mission and The Plan are relegated to a checklist of ‘to-do’s’ managed by a paid assassin (the CEO), and far from the hearts and minds of the organization’s leadership resources and energy.
Leadership recruitment and training is the most important investment an association can make.: it should appear as a line item in an association’s budget and an entry in its annual calendar. Without good leadership, no project or program will be successful and no association will become exceptional (or even satisfactory). Good leadership skills are not a gift from God, either: they are a collection of tools and techniques which can be taught and learned.Get busy.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
In the Beginning was the Leadership : Off Stage