Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trash Your Management Style

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I do a lot of Interim Executive Director jobs. Basically, an organization that is in a transition period between chief executives brings a consultant, such as myself, in as a temporary leader to help them through tough period, be it a merger, or a financial crisis, or just a pause to strategize between EDs.

Recently I was having a meeting with the board leadership of an organization that is considering hiring an Interim ED, and one of the questions they asked me was, "What is your management style?"

That's a typical and harmless enough interview question, but I always wonder how other people answer it. Do the micro-managers actually admit to enjoying looking over the shoulders of their staff as they work? Do the hands-off people really sit there and say, "I just trust that staff is performing"? I've seen many "experts" give the advice that you should answer this question to match the company's style (if they're command and control, you be too).

But my answer is usually more zen-like: my style is to have no style. Or, rather, the manner in which I prefer to manage is a far distant runner-up to the manner in which the employee needs to be managed.

For an example, let's take two of the senior managers who reported to me in my last interim assignment. Both highly intelligent and extremely capable, creative, and motivated. But very different people with very different needs.

One was new to her position and was still very fresh out of college. While she was full of great ideas and eager to implement them, she was also uncertain in some situations and in need of a mentor. She felt best knowing that we had a set weekly meeting where she could go over her plan for the week and get any input she needed. Of course, if she had questions in between, she'd also be welcome to pop into my office and go over any pending issues, and I'd also casually check in with her as we went about our week.

On the other end of the spectrum was the manager who'd been in her job for about a decade. Still loving her job and always excited about new ways to improve services, but very comfortable in how to go about it. For her, having a regular meeting scheduled (yet another meeting!) with no set agenda other than "what are you up to this week?" would be an unpleasant distraction. As long as she know she could come to me with questions or issues as they came up, that was enough.

Of course, some people prefer to be left alone, but really need supervision... but I'll save those stories for another posting. The idea is that the best "management style" is to be able to put your own preferences aside and find the best approach for any individual employee and situation.

At least, that's been my experience. How about you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simple Answer: Boredom and Burnout

I was just checking Twitter, and saw a question from @GailPerrync: "In general, only 1 in 10 donors keep on giving indefinitely. Why?"

Well, I'm sure Gail has her own well-researched reasons why, but the answer that popped right into my head was, "Boredom & burnout; not being shown how their $$ led to progress."

Think of it, year after year, you've been giving a particular nonprofit. And, year after year, their appeal letters have been pretty much the same. The children are still hungry, the water is still filthy, and they're still asking you for another $50. When does it get better?

It's been said a thousand times before, by many more famous nonprofit consultants than myself, but donors prefer to invest in success than to be guilted into giving, yet again.

Do the appeals your organization is sending out make these mistakes? Or are you first explaining what progress you made since your last ask, the results that money led to, and what exactly you'll be doing with the next donation? Did you remember to thank the donor, and let them know how instrumental they are in your continued success?

Or did you just tell them how awful everything has gotten, and expect them to still be paying attention?

Join the conversation over on Twitter - I'm there as NonprofitKenG.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Managing Expectations Begins with Your Members and Clients

From Guest Blogger: William Biggs. William is Communications Officer for Safe Haven, Inc., in Thomasville, Georgia, a free-lance communications and strategy consultant, and in his spare time, a part-time graduate student. View William's LinkedIn profile, or email him at william AT safehaveninc DOT org.

The first opportunity to perform a task does not always succeed. When it does, the next opportunity should become easier and hopefully more successful. Funding requests work the same way. This opportunity arrived at my request with deadline approaching. I have always enjoyed writing and most of my prior writing was for either personal relationships or financial analysis.

In this case, the task required a major re-write to provide the HIV humanitarian organization the best chance to receive crucial yearlong funding. Delivering food and humanitarian care for people affected by HIV and AIDS in South Georgia is important. It is clear this population needs quality, nutritious food and the donor was willing to provide it - for the right project.

The non-profit's executive director was certain the project needed $27,000 and was reluctant to push for more. The project's purpose, scope and numbers show much more is needed - $77,000 to be exact. The shocked director asked how she would justify such a request.

Seventy-seven thousand dollars ensures the project's success but chance of funding decreases as amounts increase. A lesser amount would probably receive funding but unless the amount is sufficient, the project has a 100% chance of falling short. We decided the donor may not provide the requested amount but we went with it because it was the smallest amount that could succeed.

Our write-up considered all the parties: the donor, the target population and us. Your organization is probably very similar. Both of us want the job and must balance, and manage capacities and capabilities - on paper and when the project is won.

Celebrate when the check arrives because the work begins when you deposit the check. In this case, the check did arrive - at 100% of request.

Your organization has the money, the staff and a plan. What could go wrong?

The funding win places you as an incumbent and incumbents usually win. The donor has not called, written nor even hinted of any concern so there cannot be much need for concern, right?

Our organization learned the hard way after we won a $100,000 grant the next year for a new project from the same donor. We followed the agreement exactly as the donor required, tracked successes and challenges and reported to the donor. One success should lead to another and we applied to repeat the successful program.

Here is a recap of my conversation with the director:

"What do you mean we were denied?"

"We were denied."

"Wow. That hurts."

"We provided everything the donor required. What do we do?"

It turns out it is what we did not do. We did not anticipate and we did not exceed.

We made the mistake but prevented its transition into failure. New procedures communicate meaningful and tangible expectations and results to donors and members. This is work but it is worthwhile.

How we turned lessons learned into results:
  • Each member relationship starts with a two-party agreement
  • We value member input and seek their input twice monthly
  • Simple and thorough documentation validates mutual needs and successes
  • Revised the information cycle to begin and end with our members
Every relationship is a cycle and each stakeholder needs at least one more stakeholder to survive and succeed. Our members are our end-users just as your members are your end-users. Without their input, a great project may receive funding one year but maybe not the following year. Ask your members how they define success before you begin your next project.

Copyright 2010 William Biggs

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Reading the Fine Print on Micro-Donations

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we're seeing pink everywhere to remind us of that fact. Many charitable organizations are involved in this effort, and many have entered into cause marketing agreements with various corporations to receive donations on products sold with the pink ribbon logo. Donations are mostly small, such as $0.10 for purchasing specially marked packages of Dannon Yogurt, to several dollars on a new pink Kitchenaid blender.

Cause marketing is not new, but it's certainly been receiving more and more attention. One recent survey found that "Mothers and Young People Are Most Likely to Buy Products Tied to a Cause." Certainly, they make the purchaser of the product feel good about their choice, and certainly it makes the producer of the product look like a good corporate citizen. But how effective are these arrangements for most nonprofit organizations as fundraising vehicles?

There's no question that such co-marketing agreements work well for certain large, national organizations, such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure. They are "The" breast cancer charity to many people as a result of their leadership in cause marketing. But how about your local food pantry?

As a result of writing this blog, barely a week goes by when I do not hear from a marketing organization that would like access to my readers to promote "a fantastic new way to raise money for your cause." Typically, it involves the nonprofit selling some product or service, unrelated to their mission, and keeping a small percentage of the sale. "This product sells itself," I'm always assured in these emails.

You'll notice, I haven't been passing those along to you. It's always been my opinion that these small-scale cause marketing agreements are a distraction. Grassroots organizations need to maximize their interactions with their supporters, and squandering those contacts with a sale they only keep a small portion of comes at their loss, no matter how good the product might be.

I also believe it's misleading the donor as well. If I were planning on giving you a $25 donation, and you sell me a $25 item, in my mind we're done. I've given you the budget I had for you. That you are only keeping $3.75 of that $25 doesn't occur to most donors. Selling instead of raising not only distracts, it decreases your potential donations.

Here's my rule of thumb:
"When you ask for small donations, you'll only get small donations."
You can quote me on that.

But this subject comes up for me today as a result of Twitter. This morning, my twitter feed was full of warnings to "read the fine print." It turns out that it's not so easy being pink, and consumers are starting to catch on that "cause marketing" may be more marketing and less cause.

Many of the tweets were forwarding on that "Just because you bought the pink blender doesn't mean you made a donation." The fine print indicates that you must first register your product on a certain website before Kitchenaid passes along any of their profit to Komen.
See the fine print? just because you bought the Pink blender ... on Twitpic
And Dannon Yogurt? You also need to enter a code from each package lid on the website for your ten cents to pass through to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. And, they'll only pass on the dimes up to a maximum donation of $1.5 million.

Of course, $1.5 million is nothing to sneeze at, and going Pink for October is wonderful for raising awareness of Breast Cancer. But as a cautionary tale for small, locally-based nonprofits, it's instructive. Before entering into any marketing agreements, read the fine print. Both from your organization's perspective, and from the point-of-view of your donor.

How much money are you really likely to raise? How much staff time is it going to take? Would you raise more from your list with a simple ask instead of a sale? Is the product something you really want to be associated with? Are there maximums on donations? Any loopholes or gotchas that might prevent you from collecting all that your donors think they've given you? In the end, who will benefit more, your organization or the company you were promoting?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Continuous Improvement for Nonprofits

From Guest Blogger: Brian Leitten. Mr. Leitten is an experienced non-profit leader and consultant, chief executive and attorney.  He provides consulting services nationally to non-profit leaders from his office in Port Orange, Florida.  He can be reached at Leitten Consulting -

Non-profits need to practice the principles and techniques of continuous improvement (CI).  Better yet, they need to make CI part of the fabric of their organizations.

At its essence, CI is a repeatable process for improving processes.  While CI was principally developed in the for-profit world, it has broad application for non-profits.  Every operation is and will remain a collection of regularly repeated processes.  CI embraces the philosophy that those processes are ripe for improvement, even if they have been improved in the past.  Practically speaking, I’ve never met a process that can’t be improved by at least 15%.  That is a very significant number, translating into 1.2 freed up hours in an 8-hour work day.  CI not only frees up time that can be applied to other value-added functions -- it eliminates waste; reduces errors and mistakes; and improves quality of service – all desirable outcomes for a successful non-profit.  In any economy, non-profits need to run efficiently.  In the current down cycle, even more so.

The philosophy of CI is built up over time.  To instill it into an organization and make it last, the direction must come from the top down.  Active senior management involvement delivers a clear message that change is good and that experimentation and even occasional failure is okay and encouraged.  Management must also make it clear that improvements that result from CI will not result in job losses.  A solid promise that displaced workers will be retrained or reassigned to other value-added jobs is critical. 

At the same time, CI success comes from heavy involvement by those who know the processes best.  In the majority of situations, those who work the process daily know where processes fall short and where improvements can be made.  They may not have volunteered their observations or solutions in the past because they weren’t given the chance to; because they didn’t feel comfortable making suggestions for change; or because they feared they would eliminate their own jobs.  Over time, dedication to CI dispels these concerns and starts weaving CI into the organizational and cultural fabric.

CI comes in many different forms.  Individuals can work alone to improve their processes, using their own initiative and driven by the desire to make their work lives better.  Several employees can come together to start a project to address common issues and problems.  Projects work particularly well when it is recognized early in the process that the likely solution will require a time gap where someone separates from the group to build a critical tool(s) needed to complete the project.  Structured events represent the highest level of CI involvement.  They are scheduled in advance with a high level of awareness and recognition across the organization.  Events work well where rapid improvement that might otherwise take weeks or months is desired in a short time frame.  Events create focus and critical mass teams that can bust through barriers and deliver immediate results.

An example will illustrate the improvements that can be achieved through CI.  I’m just finishing a project with the FREE Foundation, a Virginia non-profit that collects and refurbishes rehab mobility equipment and gifts it to uninsured and under-insured individuals in need (

FREE is currently expanding its services to two major metro areas, Richmond and Hampton Roads.  Gifting is expected to more than double in the coming year.  Chapters report gifting and outcome data monthly to the parent organization.  The current process extends over one week each month and involves substantial hours of rework (re-entry of data) and inspection (review at the parent organization).  Realizing that this wasted time will grow with the expansion, FREE sought to improve the data reporting process before the new chapters came online.  A team of four (two involved in the monthly data reporting process, myself and the Foundation President) studied and mapped the current process, evaluated alternatives and laid out a plan to implement a significant improvement.  It was decided to build an online data collection and reporting tool that would allow each chapter to enter their monthly data remotely.  Once the data was entered, the tool would instantly roll up the chapter data into an organization-wide report.  As new data was entered every month, it would roll up year-to-date and quarterly statistics on gifting and outcomes, at the chapter and organization levels.  No data re-entry would be required.  Results would be instantaneously available.

I was assigned the task of building the tool.  Once a working model was ready, it was made available to the team for online testing.  Real-world data was entered and improvements were suggested and errors identified.  Several versions of the tool were built and tested.

The results reflect the value that can be created practicing CI.  The one-week period that was required each month to see final reports was reduced to a single day.  The parent organization and the chapters had instant access to all of the data.  All eight hours of data rework/re-entry and half of Executive Director’s inspection/review time were eliminated, simultaneously improving the quality of the data entered.  Outcome data entry, which was typically delayed by several days due to the priority of gifting data input, can now be scheduled as convenient and rolls up instantly.  The online tool incorporates training notes at the exact points where data is entered, further reducing data entry mistakes and errors in interpretation of data.  Color coding is incorporated to insure that each chapter enters its data in the correct locations.  Before and after process maps can be viewed at

In summary, CI is an extremely useful process that can add significant value to any non-profit.  Senior management needs to understand CI and make a visible commitment to support its implementation by everyone in the organization.  Over time, CI can become one of the fundamental tools that drives ongoing organizational success.

Brian Leitten, guest blogger, can be reached at Leitten Consulting -