Episode 1: Case, Culture & Courage
Robbe Healey kicks off Nonprofit Expert with a series of questions and ideas to prompt serious discussion and radical change within nonprofit organizations. We’ll dive deeper into each topic in future episodes, but for now, Robbe takes us through connections between case, culture, and courage. Listen to learn how they can serve as the foundation for thriving, trailblazing nonprofits.
Categories: Nonprofit Expert Podcast
Episode 1: Case, Culture & Courage TranscriptPrint Transcript
Robbe Healey: 0:03
Welcome to Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect. My name is Robbe Healey and I’m pleased to be with you today as part of Nonprofit Expert, the podcast presented by DonorPerfect. As we were talking about and planning this conversation, Read More
Robbe Healey: 0:03
Welcome to Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect. My name is Robbe Healey and I’m pleased to be with you today as part of Nonprofit Expert, the podcast presented by DonorPerfect. As we were talking about and planning this conversation, which will have several follow-up sessions with wonderful experts, I think about things in threes. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think about things in threes and for me, when we think about our work as development professionals, I first think about our case for support, then I think about the culture in which we work and then I think about the things we might need to change and the courage to do that. I suspect we would all agree that without a really amazing case for support, the work we do can be limited not impossible, but limited and by the end of this conversation, I’m hoping that you’ll see how I’m connecting our case, our organizational culture and the courage to change things if and as we need to. So we’re going to have deep dive conversations with several guests to really talk about how to move the needle, how to really make things work better so that we can fundraise for our missions even better. I think, if you’re one of those people like me, there’s so much information coming into our desks, our emails every day it gets a little bit overwhelming. And over the past three years, of course, we’ve been thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on each of us as individuals, as professionals and, of course, on our nonprofits. But in my opinion, a lot of the things we’re navigating today started before COVID. They got amplified by COVID, but COVID didn’t cause them. So if we’re thinking about an excellent case for support, how that ties with our mission, how it achieves the strategic goals that our boards have set for us, I think looking at this in a holistic sense is more important than it ever was, and the baseline is the case for support. Early in my career, I think I didn’t really understand the scope and scale of the case and remember taking a workshop where the guy said, of course, once you finish your case, you never get done with it. And I’m like, seriously, how can that be true? You create the action plan and you act on it. Well, of course he was absolutely right, because it has to stay fresh. And as we think about the work we do, the people whose lives we change and the donors who invest in that work, the case is what knits that together and how do we create that we don’t sit in a vacuum in an office at a keyboard figuring it out. No, we have to take our cue from the strategic plan and, as we look at the case and our development plan, we’re operationalizing the board’s vision of our organizational strategy. Board sets the strategy. In my experience I don’t know about you, but in my experience this comes as a surprise to some of them, if not many of them, and it’s not because they can’t do it, but because we really haven’t invited them in to that role, that dialogue, that conversation as we work with boards to really define and articulate the strategic plan. I think one of the things that holds us back is that many of the people on our boards, in their day jobs they don’t actually develop strategy. They are tacticians just like we are. They’re implementing the work of the organization for which they are professional staff. So their expertise, their bandwidth is in operationalizing tactics. So that’s the skill they bring to us and as we step back and we invite them, we ask them. We require them to develop strategic plans. Sometimes they’re a bit out of their comfort zone and most adults in my experience don’t really like that. So as we want them to get out of operations and work in their lane, their strategy lane. We, as the professionals, can support them, and as we do that, we’re looking at what’s holding them back. How can we support them? And if they’re not really jumping at the chance to do it, what is it that’s holding them back? Do they need more training? Do they need a guide, a coach? What is it that we need them to do in order to provide the roadmap for us that lets us build a strong case, identify the donors who will work with us, tell it in imaginative and compassionate ways, so that people understand the change that they can help us achieve? I think well, I’m smart enough to know that most development officers can’t walk into a boardroom and say okay, guys, it’s time for you to up your game and develop a strategic plan. In fact, many of our executive directors or CEOs probably can’t do that either as a direct run. So how do we infuse the culture of our work with the work necessary on the board governance side and on the staff side? And the way that work is unfolding in any of our organizations is a reflection of our culture, a reflection of our organizational culture. When I started my career working for the Girl Scouts right out of undergraduate school, frances Hesselbein was the president and CEO and Peter Drucker had brought management by objectives to corporate America and Frances loved the model. And when I was a young new executive, that was the first kind of model culture model that I was exposed to. And one thing that really stuck with me that Peter Drucker had across the board in all of his work was that culture, each strategy, for breakfast, every day, and I think we’re all living proof of the fact that he was right then and he’s still right now. The best strategy fails if our behavior and our cultural expectations don’t align or are stalled. So if we look at our own organization’s culture, if we’re really honest about that, you may be thinking. Well, it’s a blinding flash of obvious. If the culture isn’t working, we don’t have the platform that we might have to do our best, highest work. But understanding how to get our arms around what our culture is now and where the opportunities are to evolve it to where it could be, where it needs to be, that becomes our starting line. That becomes the starting line for our action plan. So I wonder if any of us have really taken the time to step back and think about what our organizational culture is. Is it traditional? Is it progressive? Is it inclusive? Is it more exclusive? Is everyone invited to conversations? Are there a select few people? So if we’re going to get on the culture upgrade bandwagon, how do we make sure we get everybody on the same bandwagon? How do you get everyone to the point where they agree? This is where we are today and this is where we’d like to be. So, simply stated, culture reflects our organization’s core values, and I’m not talking about mission, vision and values, those curated, beautiful words that reflect how we would like, how the vision we have of a world that we have an influence over, but the values that drive us every day. And culture, then, is the way the work actually happens. And in looking at our true organizational culture, it’s our shared values, not our value statement, and in a very healthy culture they could be virtually identical. But if they’re not, where’s the disconnect? And how can we create an organizational culture that truly supports a thriving philanthropy program? And to do that, we have to know where we are. We have to know what lane everybody’s in. I know we talk a lot in the sector about silos, and I hope you would agree. Silos are restricting, they’re closed. We can’t see each other, from each other, silos, and they tend to limit us. They really tend to hold us back, because you get in your silo, you’re working as hard as you can, but you’re kind of unaware of what’s going on outside. I like to think of us as traffic lanes, and we’re in Philadelphia. Today I drove on the School Kill Expressway to get here and it’s got two lanes and a breakdown lane. So if we think about board, we think about staff, we’re in our respective lanes. Sometimes we’ve moved over to the breakdown lane. Sometimes we need to give each other hand to get back in the flow of traffic. Sometimes we pass each other, sometimes we’re traveling exactly the same speed. The fact that we have lanes doesn’t mean we can’t see each other, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we aren’t mindful and interactive with each other. So, traveling in the same direction of travel, knowing how we change lanes, support each other, pass each other, travel at the same speed that, I think, is really important for moving our culture forward and having respect for who should be out in front at times and who needs to maybe wait for somebody else to catch up. So as we look at how to define our lane and our culture, I often like to look at our budgets. What do we say is important to us and what do we actually spend our organizational money on? What’s in our expense budgets? What are we investing in? What’s in our revenue budgets? Where are we anticipating the revenue will come from? Because if our budgets aren’t aligned with our values, that’s a clear sign that we have some adjusting that we really need to do. So I would urge you to take a look at what are we investing in, who are investing in us, and are we aligned with where we aspire to be, where we say we are? That, in turn, then, reflects our true values not our value statements, but our true values. The work in the nonprofit sector is supported to up to three revenue streams, and if you’ve listened to any of my conversations before, you know my standard. Three are operating revenue, that’s the money we charge people for the service we provide Public funding contracts, and I am on a one-woman crusade to not call them government grants. I want to say grant to be the word for private foundations. I know government grants is correct, but I like to call them public funding contracts because that’s precisely what they are. So we’ve got operating revenue, public funding contracts and thirdly, philanthropy. And of course philanthropy has individuals and organizations, but it doesn’t include government public funding contracts. So, as we are looking in our philanthropy lane, how is that rolling up into our programs? So does our budget take equal advantage of all of those revenue streams? And we’re all smart enough to know not every nonprofit can leverage public funding contracts and not every nonprofit can leverage operating revenue. It really depends upon your mission and your sponsor. So if we think about this and we look at where our opportunities are, if for some reason, you’re not maximizing those, we’re exposing ourselves to unnecessary risk. And I wonder often, do we help our boards understand that by not leveraging each revenue stream to the best of our capacity, we’re really exposing ourselves to risk? And it’s my experience that many board members are very aware of risk management and can really relate to that as a path that we would like them to think about. And that gets us back to the case for support. If we integrate into our cases, what services are being funded by operating revenue, if any, what services are being funded by public funding contracts, if any, and what’s the role of philanthropy in achieving the change we want to see in our space for the people who are our call to action. So if we have very inclusive participation, if we have broad and diverse funding audiences, we are probably being much more relevant in our space and in our engagement than if we’re being more narrowly focused. So, thinking about risk exposure and thinking about how you answered those questions, is that a place, is that a point of entry for a conversation with your board leaders about how to expand this horizon and help them expand their thinking? So if we need a culture adjustment, how do we do that? How do we tee that up and how do we work with our boards to expand their thinking? And in between, how do we work with other executives in our organizations to help them feel comfortable with expanding the thinking and participate in that with us? So if you’ve heard me talk about stages of organizational growth, board source often talks about the three stages of evolution that boards go through a very approving stage where they react and re-adify to our plans. A stage where they partner with us and a stage where they then become really confident askers and supporters of our work, and our staff on the operations side do the same thing. Stage one they think fundraising is our job. Stage two they realize if we partner together, we can raise even more money. And stage three, where they realize if everybody is all in, the work is much more successful and we can really maximize our work because we’re integrating as many investors, including our donors and public funding partners, and operating revenue sources in an appropriate manner. So how do we bring this up? And this is where courage comes in, and I’m smart enough to know if you walk into your boss’s office tomorrow and say so. I listened to this podcast and this chick, robbie Healy, said our culture needs a reboot. So, as of today, your job is to reboot our culture, because our culture is holding my fundraising back. I suspect that that’s a career limiting, if not a career ending. Move on your part. So I don’t advise that, but I do advise thinking about where are your natural allies and you probably have them, you probably have them among your executive team and you probably have them on your board and how can you begin, in a gradual and thoughtful and appropriate way, to raise awareness of risk and culture and case and how they blend together, to have a new dialogue, a new conversation around how we can really create a culture that doesn’t support the development program but supports the mission. That’s our call to action. So how do we think about this? So we’re talking about behavior upgrades. I don’t think you ever change your culture overnight. I think what you can do is begin to change the behaviors that you expect of everyone, and if you’ve ever tried to change a personal behavior, you know if you set your goals too high in the first place, you crash and burn and nothing good happens. So a gradual role into new behavior is something that can let you begin to do the work in a way that feels safe and accessible. And as you do that, occasionally you’ll have to take a pause, but you’re never going to step back. When you need to take those pauses, you will simply do that. So, as you think about changing your culture. What are the ones that you need to change first? What are the behaviors that you need to change first? And it might be revisit, revisiting a stale strategic plan. It might be revisiting position descriptions for the board or the staff and if and how people are responsible and tied into working with you. It might be expanding a circle of influence that you have by looking holistically at people represented on your staff, people represented on your board, people who are parts of the conversation for planning the way you do the work. One of the things you’re going to need to think about is who takes the lead on this and who’s in the supporting role you might be thinking about. How will you know what it works? What are the benchmarks? What are the guideposts that you’re aiming at so that, as you achieve those incremental guideposts, you understand that you’re on the right path? When are you going to step back and say we thought this was the right path. We might need to relook at that. So the Neuro Leadership Institute issued some model the PHS model of change, which is priorities and habits and systems and I think their model gives us a real way to look at how do we structure this eventual culture change action plan that will roll up into strategy that will give us the best possible base for support for our philanthropy case. So, priorities what really matters? What really matters now and how do we work through that and, of course, that will evolve over time. Habits what are the institutional habits we’ve had? If they’re holding us back, which are the ones we’re going to sunset and what are the new ones that are going to take their place and those become those behavior changes over time? And what system can we create that allows everyone to feel part of and accountable for this new glide path that we’re going to have? So, as we continue these conversations over these next few podcasts, I’m going to be inviting individuals to talk with us about culture and culture transformation and how they’ve worked in their organizations to tee up really successful culture changes, where they started, how they figured out the starting point, how they got to where they needed to be and, perhaps most importantly, how they’re sustaining the energy and the process and the progress over time. We’re going to talk about courage. Who were the people who had the courage to say, quite frankly my dear the emperor has no clothes. And how did you do that in a way that was safe and transformative, so that you could be appropriate in bringing up the conversation and also create a glide path that allowed people to feel empowered, not attacked. And I think that becomes the really operative issue how to empower people to have the courage to do this work without feeling like we’re telling them they’re wrong, they’re bad, which, of course, is not what we want to do. And then, lastly, how do we weave this new organizational culture and practice into really creating a launch pad for an even stronger case for support, so that the work we do in the world will be even more successful, because the investors were inviting to work with us, can see their passion and their aspiration in our work, which is exactly what we want to be able to do in our development plan. So, case and courage and culture I hope you see the connection between the three and I hope you’ll look forward to joining me for our future conversations so that we can have a better idea of how our case succeeds and where it might need to be improved, the culture we have in our organizations and how to really refine that, and the courage to start the conversations so that we can execute the change that we really need in order to evolve the organizations that we love, because without love for organization and our mission, we’re holding ourselves back, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to do that. So thanks for joining me today for this conversation and I look forward to continuing this dialogue with our distinguished guests.Read Less