Monday, September 17, 2007

We've moved

The 7 Paths blog has a new home.

Evergreen Leaders now has a completely revamped website and the 7 Paths blog has migrated to the new site. You can now follow this blog at

See you there and while you're there, feel free to explore the new site. You can learn more about Evergreen Leaders, find tools for annual and capital fund raising campaigns, and watch us grow the site as a resource for folks who want to help their groups thrive by using the 7 Paths.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What frustrated donors want

Small business owners are tired of being hit up continually for donations. The topic came up in a conversation I had today with Illinois State Senator Gary Dahl. "There's a golf tournament almost every day during the summer," he said.

What's the alternative?

Annual campaigns.
Four years ago I helped a nonprofit stop doing special events (yes, they did a golf tournaments, dinners, and a dozen other events) and launched an annual campaign. Dahl served as the first chairperson of the campaign.

The organization kept their popular Christmas appeal and then organized volunteers from the business and professional community to meet in person and ask the person for a pledge for the year.

In four years, the nonprofit doubled it's income from the face to face solicitation phase. And the business and professional people were delighted because they knew that at least one major nonprofit in the community was going to ask them only once a year.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The principle of the the thing

"There is no policy in the handbook forbidding a supervisor from living with someone he or she is supervising," the young supervisor said.

She was right. She was also inadvertently pointing to the flaw of using policies as a management tool.

The supervisor at a community nonprofit faced a housing crisis and she faced who solved her housing problem by moving in with a male staff person whom she supervised.

When the program director discovered her living arrangement, she transferred her to other department so that she would no longer supervise the staff member she was living with. The supervisor objected to the transfer and pointed out she was violating no policy.

That's the inherent weaknesses of running an organization by policies. You can never create enough policies to cover all the crazy things people will do. It would be better to have a few principles, one of them might be, avoid conflicts of interest with anyone that you supervise.

Here’s a quote that expresses what I think about principles and policies:

A principle is just a commonly held guide for thinking, behaving and making decisions. You can manage a process or a machine with regulations, rules, and procedures, but if you want the best chance to capture people’ latent potential, then you start with principles that people “own” and help create.*

Principles can be smart and friendly.

* From “My Unfashionable Legacy” by Ralph Sink, Strategy+Business Autumn 2007. Click on Magazine tab, find the Autumn 2007 issue, and then scroll down and click on the article. You may have to fill out a free registration at the site but the article is worth it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Grandeur from rude nature

For the past week Sarah and I have had a young woman living with us, testing the outdoor life by working on the Plow Creek farm. Mandy, a young woman who grew up in a Chicago suburb, gets up at dawn to join several other folks who grow, harvest, and market berries and vegetables.

This morning Mandy asked me where Labor Day came from. “I think it was started by unions to honor workers,” I said.

A little research revealed this gem: “Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those ‘who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.’” The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City.

I grew up among farmers and who carved grandeur from rude nature. Even though I became disabled in my late teens and moved from the working man world to the white collar world, I am still shaped by growing up among people who worked for a living.

As I’ve been working with a web designer to build a new Evergreen Leaders website, I’ve often thought of my father building a new barn in the early 1960s. Almost all of our neighboring farmers decided they couldn’t make a go of it and moved away from their farms to work in factories.

In today’s post on Labor Day, Seth Godin contrasts the hard physical work of manual labor with the hard work of today–taking risks. My father knew how to do both, work eighteen hour days physically and take the risk of building what at the time was the most advanced dairy barn in Minnesota. Godin describes perfectly the risk he took:

  • Today, working hard is about taking apparent risk. Not a crazy risk like betting the entire company on an untested product. No, an apparent risk: something that the competition (and your coworkers) believe is unsafe but that you realize is far more conservative than sticking with the status quo.

Dad took the risk of building that barn, a risk that made it possible for him to raise ten kids on that farm and still be living on the farm 21 years after he retired. Apparent risk is also a way to create grandeur from rude nature.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fundraising as a mangement function

While taking a break from revamping the Evergreen Leaders website, I check out other nonprofit bloggers. I recently discovered Rosetta Thurman's blog, Perspectives from the Pipeline.

Two of the principles mentioned in a post from fundraising school caught my attention:
  • Fundraising is essentially a management process.
  • Whoever spends money in your organization should be involved in raising money for it.
The revamped, interactive EGL website will be both a resource for nonprofit leaders and fundraisers. At first I saw them as two different foci but as I've worked on the site I see how much they fit together as Thurman pointed out.

I chuckled when I read "Whoever spends money..." It takes leaders and a system to apply that principle.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Frie green tomatoes and nonprofit leadership

A little after noon today I stopped at the park where the local farmers market does business. I talked to vendors and customers, taking notes for next week's column for our small town's weekly newspaper.

At the Coneflower Farm booth, there were red, yellow, and green tomatoes. I'm familiar with red and yellow varieties but who would want to buy green tomatoes in August? If it were late in the fall and the tomatoes were picked to prevent freezing., I could understand a customer might buy them in hopes that they would ripen. But August? I asked Dennis Zehr from Coneflower Farm about the green tomatoes.

"We sometimes get requests for green tomatoes from customers who want to make fried green tomatoes," he sad. "Usually it's later in the season but I had accidentally knocked these two loose from a vine. I brought them along in case someone wanted green tomatoes."

The best vendors at farmers markets get to know what customers want. It's a business with low margins and the best farmers grow the produce that the most of their customers want and also keep an eye out for what the least of their customers want too.

As someone with a disability who has been on the receiving end of nonprofit services and also spent a career in nonprofit leadership, I know that clients of nonprofits want both the most and the least treasures from a nonprofit.

Patients want the doctor to do a great job on their hip replacement surgery and a day later, when they turn on the call light, they want a personable nurse's aid to help them turn over in bed.

Who's more important? The doctor or the nurses' aid?

Almost everyone would say the doctor is the source of the greatest treasure (that new hip) and yet it's the nurse's aid who spends more time with the patient and is likely to know the patient loves fried green tomatoes.

A leader who wants his or her nonprofit to thrive must cultivate an organization that produces big treasures and little treasures.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A road-tested vision

In the next few weeks this blog will migrate to a completely revamped Evergreen Leaders web site. Yesterday I began to work with a web designer on the new site.

Our original site was developed by an intern, Kevin Behrens. He did a great job given the fact that Evergreen Leaders was a vision that had not been road tested.

The vision has been road-tested. Now we're ready for a new site that can translate the road-tested version of EGL online.

As I reflect on the road-testing of my vision for EGL the last three years, I wonder what prompted me to launch a new nonprofit in my 50's. I've answered that a number of different ways. First, it's been a call from God. Second, it fit's my passions and talents. Third, I think nonprofits that serve low and moderate income people need our services to help their nonprofits thrive.

As I've founded EGL I realize I have a lot in common with entrepeneurs. Recently I read a column in Inc. Magazine that quotes The Theory of Economic Development published in 1911 by economist Joseph A. Schumpeter who says that entrepreneurs have:
  • "...the will to conquer: the impulse to fight, to prove oneself superior to others, to succeed for the sake, not of the fruits of success, but of success itself…There is the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one's energy and ingenuity."
I don't recognize within myself the impulse to fight or prove myself superior but I do recognize within myself "...the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one's energy and ingenuity."