Saturday, September 23, 2006

Breakfast with Dave

Dave directs YSB, a nonprofit organization that helps children and families succeed. With a staff of nearly 80 working in several counties, it’s a challenge for Dave to be in touch with the stories of lives being transformed by the staff of the organization.

Recently I’ve been consulting with YSB as they develop an annual fundraising program. Part of my work has been to help them discover the treasure--the stories of lives being transformed--the organization has to offer donors. Dave realized he needed to meet with the staff and uncover the stories.

His solution was sheer humble hierarchy genius. He decided to do Breakfast with Dave. He is scheduling times to go to each office, meeting with staff in 25-minute intervals. He brings with him all the ingredients to make omelets and his omelet maker. He asks each staff person what they like in their omelets and that’s what they get.

While the omelet is cooking he asks, “What case are you most proud of?” Then he listens.

Evergreen Leaders humble hierarchy path is based on the principle that “humble hierarchy leaders have little personal ambition, have an unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and create space for all to thrive.”

When Dave was first promoted to executive director of YSB he negotiated a salary lower than the normal executive director salary because he said if he was making that much money he’d be embarrassed to come to work.

The first Breakfast with Dave was announced by memo and e-mail but when the day came he discovered no one had signed up. He promptly called staff in that branch office and invited them to breakfast individually. Dave may have been humble about his salary but he has an “unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves”. He knows he needs to hear the stories of lives transformed as part of creating an annual giving program to support their work in helping children and families succeed.

YSB staff often work with children and families in crisis. It’s easy for staff to feel like they go from crisis to crisis. Yet when Dave asks, “What case are you most proud of?” he is giving them an opportunity to recall when they and the organization are at their best in transforming for children and families.

One of the first staff member that he had breakfast with told him about a fourteen-year-old girl they had helped find a foster home. When she was older she entered a beauty pageant and as part of the pageant she described her wonderful experience in the YSB foster home.

Dave had his first story of transformation.

Smart and friendly spinach

If you've been listening to the USA news lately you know that there's been an E. coli outbreak that's been traced back to spinach from a three-county area in California.

USA farmers are alway trying to develop smart systems for growing and marketing their crops. California spinach growers developed a smart system, banding together to cooperatively process and market their spinach. It was a smart system because it reduced costs and increased demand for spinach.

But organizations thrive not only have smart systems but smart and friendly systems. The spinach marketing system did not prove to be friendly because it spread E. coli, sickening 166 people in 25 states. The E. coli bacteria have been traced back to nine possible farms but because the spinach from all the farms are combined, it has improved impossible this far to pinpoint the exact source.

"There is going to be a need to examine the system -- what's working, what's not working. At this point I wouldn't want to rule anything in or anything out," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer for the FDA's Food Safety and Applied Nutrition branch.

The dominant system in the USA involves trucking fruits and vegetables all over the country. That's how tainted spinach from three counties in California made people sick in 25 states.

But trucking food from vast warehouses is not the only system.

I live on a farm that, for the most part, uses a smarter, friendlier system. Grow it and then market it locally through farmers markets.

Farmers markets are a smart and friendly system for getting your spinach. Most farmers markets require sellers to grow the produce what they sell. That means that while you may pay a little more at a farmers market, that friendly man or woman you're buying from is the farmer who grew the spinach. And it wasn't combined with produce from dozens of other farms and trucked half way across the country.

I'm not a farmer but I've enjoyed eating Plow Creek produce for many years. Today for lunch I had seedless watermelon. I know Neil and Jim who grew the melon.

Now that's a smart and friendly system.