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."

Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm back

I'm back from a three week vacation and excited to be growing Evergreen Leaders again.

Three weeks away has given me time to reflect on the broad picture and make course corrections. I've decided to create a new category of posts, CEO notes, to include more about my work with Evergreen Leaders. I'm not abandoning posting about each of the 7 paths; I'm simply making a commitment to write more based on who I am and the day-to-day challenges of launching a nonprofit start-up.

Before I went on vacation I made a presentation to the board of a potential client that wants to do a capital campaign to launch a theater conservatory. I'm excited about the possibility of serving as the campaign consultant and at the same time keeping my hopes in check.

When I launched EGL, I did not know I would spend as much time marketing and fund raising as I am. I also did not know I would spend as much time as I have on the wilderness path trying to discover what treasure nonprofits need that we can offer.

The board and I started out conceiving of EGL as a leadership training organization. As we worked with nonprofits we've discovered they are much more eager to pay for fund raising consulting with its immediate promise of increased income. Leadership coaching and training have a long payoff. I haven't given up the leadership training but we're taking a longer route to get there. More later on the longer route.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Work free space

I am off for three, work free, weeks in Minnesota and New York City.

I love working. At the same time, heading up a nonprofit start-up like Evergreen Leaders takes a lot of creative energy. Over the years, I have discovered that if I take a good vacation in the summer, when I get back to work I suddenly have a creative burst that helps me move through intransigent issues that have been a drag on whatever organization I am leading at the time.

Earlier this morning I did a post on Rhythm Path basics. I'm off to create space in my life for that creative burst that will shape my work with Evergreen Leaders when I get back.

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The rhythm path basics

If you sustain high positive energy on an extremely demanding job, you almost certainly have predictable ways of insuring that you get intermittent recovery. Creating positive rituals is the most powerful means we have found to effectively manage energy in the service of full engagement.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz

Principle: Organizations and individuals thrive on daily and seasonal rhythms.


Shriveling: “To be productive, we override the natural rhythms of life.”

Thriving: “To be productive, we ride the natural rhythms of life.”


¨ Organizational structures support rhythm of challenging work and renewal rituals.

¨ Staff workers are honored for developing positive energy rituals that balance stress and recovery.


¨ Staff workers are highly productive.

¨ Staff workers do not burn out.

¨ Organization is known as a great place to work.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Treasure path basics

When potential clients and potential staff knock on your nonprofit’s door, they are looking for a treasure. You need to know the answer to two questions. What are they looking for? What will they find?

Rich Foss

Principle: Organizations thrive on the treasure of meeting deep human needs and being a great place to work.


Shriveling: We value the bottom line above all else.

Thriving: We value transforming lives through meeting deep human needs and we value the people who produce the golden egg.


¨ Our board clearly defines our treasure--who we offer our golden egg to and what their transformed lives look like.

¨ The right clients knock on our door in desperation and hope looking for the treasure we offer.

¨ Staff members are free to develop best practices to produce the golden egg.

¨ Board and staff operate from basic human values such as trust, openness, respect, and responsibility.

¨ All who work together to produce the treasure--board, staff, clients, donors, funders, suppliers, and partners--are honored.

¨ Each person is treasured based on their unique qualities and needs.


¨ Clients’ lives are transformed.

¨ The board measures the effectiveness of the organization based on clients lives being transformed.

¨ Everyone knows their job is important because it helps produce the treasure.

¨ Everyone is recognized for good work.

¨ A culture of honesty, respect, responsibility, and quality work.

¨ Every person feels cared for by their supervisor or someone in the organization.

Check out this quick summary of the 7 Paths.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Humble hierarchy path basics

Decisions are like gold. Share the gold.
Rich Foss

Principle: Humble hierarchy leaders have little personal ambition, an unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and a passion to create space for all to thrive.


¨ Shriveling: Leaders use power to benefit themselves.

¨ Thriving: "We constantly focus on transforming the lives of those the organization serves and creating decision-making space for the voices and talents of all to produce the treasure."

Organizational behavior

¨ Majorities and minorities lead together.

¨ Leaders create open systems to share information and decision-making.

¨ Everyone has access to the information they need to make good decisions.

¨ Everyone, including service recipients, is involved in making crucial decisions.

¨ Supervisors and co-workers involved in hiring decisions.

¨ The organization humbly learns from critics inside and outside the organization.


¨ Good decisions are made based on shared information.

¨ Barriers of race, gender, disabilities, etc. are overcome for the benefit of the entire group.

¨ Everyone’s talents are used to produce the organization’s treasure.

¨ Everyone, including service recipients, enjoys making decisions to help the organization produce the treasure.

¨ The organization constantly uses feedback to thrive.

¨ Radical trust takes root within the organization.

Check out this quick summary of the 7 Paths.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Coaching trail blazers

Coaching trail blazers
April 5, 2007 issue of 7 Paths e-letter

“Dad, I didn’t get the Community Foundation grant,” my daughter, Hannah Hackworth, said in a phone call last week. “That’s the eighth grant I’ve applied for and didn’t get.”

I love to coach trail blazers, those folks like Hannah who head off into the wilderness, determined to find collaborators who will co-create a new nonprofit or a new program.

Years ago Terri Barton, executive director of Urban Jacksonville, a Florida nonprofit that has served elders and their families for over thirty years, recognized that older Americans often have unmet mental health needs.

For instance, the suicide rate among older adults in the United States is 50 percent higher than all other age groups.

Three years ago Hannah was hired to coordinate a mental health assessment and referral program for Urban Jacksonville. Through her work she discovered an unmet need for a community process to address to the well being of older adults who have severe mental health disorders, medical problems, and complex life domain needs. Such folks are at risk for suicide, homelessness, incarceration, exploitation, neglect, hospitalization or long-term care placement.

“At the heart of the problem,” Hannah says, “our current health systems are highly fragmented and a source of utter confusion” for elders who often find themselves interacting with numerous doctors, hospitals, home health agencies, senior programs, etc.

Hannah’s solution is not to create a new nonprofit but to create a new way for existing nonprofits and governmental organizations to meet the mental health needs of older adults.

Concord, New Hampshire has developed a model community process that Hannah wants to adapt for Jacksonville, a much larger city. Through the model nonprofits “wrap services around” the individual, through innovative, community-based and comprehensive coordinated services.

This week she hosted a meeting of 31 government and nonprofit leaders to identify the gaps in mental health services to elders and to begin to lay the groundwork for the wraparound program in Jacksonville. On the way out of the meeting a Jacksonville official said, “I’ve been working for the city for thirty-one years and this is one of the best meeting I’ve ever been to.“

As a nonprofit trailblazer, Hannah faces the same challenges as business entrepreneurs who search for partners and pitch investors for the funds they need to launch their business.

At my suggestion, she contacted someone in the Community Foundation who worked with her on another project. Rather than ask why she didn’t get the grant, she asked for help in improving her application. Next Tuesday she has a meeting with a foundation official who will help her improve her application.

Hannah, like other nonprofit trail blazers, has wandered into the wilderness with a clear vision of the treasure--how to meet a crucial unmet need in the human community.

She’ll keep searching for companions to co-create the treasure of wraparound community process for elders with mental health issues. And when she finds them together they will do what none of them could do alone.

Wisdom for the week: Nonprofit treasures are created one conversation at a time.

Fare thee well, Rich

My neighbor's labor of love

My neighbor's labor of love

March 22, issue of 7 Paths e-letter

Last summer Sarah and I stopped in at a neighbor’s farm on a Sunday afternoon. Dan was cutting granite pieces for the fireplace in the lodge he’s building. The lodge is located in a wooded area next to a pond with a fountain.

Recently I asked Dan how the lodge is coming along. He said that he has decided to sell it. “I like to build things and I realized that I don’t want the hassle of running a retreat center,” he said.

“It’s been a labor of love,” he added.

For a couple weeks that phrase--it’s been a labor of love--has surfaced periodically in my thinking like a fish leaping in a pond.

I grew up in a family where men used their hands in their labors of love. My father was a farmer and a lumberjack; my seven brothers are machinists, electricians, loggers, builders and an electronic communications specialist.

I was the odd man out in my family, the one who was never good with his hands. Then I became disabled and making a living with my hands was out of the question.

Fortunately I discovered a labor of love that fit me perfectly--working with words. I began hauling words out of the woods to carve them into stories. I began stacking words in the shape of poems.

Five months before I called a group together to found Evergreen Leaders, I launched this e-letter. Writing to each of you is a labor of love.

My neighbor knows what he loves to do. He loves to build things. He had been dreaming of building this lodge for years, he said. He could have made a mistake and thought because he built his dream lodge, he had better run it.

Someone is going to purchase and cherish my neighbor’s labor of love--someone who loves running a retreat and meeting place. People will come a great distance to enjoy the craftsmanship of my neighbor and the hospitality of the new owner.

Wisdom for the week: Make your work a labor of love; organizations thrive on craftsmanship.

Fare thee well, Rich

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fervently calling a soldier a hero

One day several year ag0, shortly after America began a policy of torture as part of its response to 9-11, I suddenly had a sick feeling in my stomach. What will this do to the men who do the torturing? What will it be like when they return to the USA?

Now this Washington Post story describe the tortured lives of torturers after they return to the USA. Torture, it turns out, is not a smart a friendly system that brings about the treasure of democracy.

It seems to me that one way we as a country deal with our guilt over sending young men and women to distant lands to kill and maim and be killed and maimed is to fervently call our soldiers heroes. The story aptly described that when you are suffering for what you've done in war, being called a hero doesn't help.

A humble man does not cut a soldier off by calling him a hero. He istens.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Doing more for a cool planet

To produce a treasure you need a smart and friendly system. Seth Godin rightly points out that humans have a powerful impulse to do more. So what's a smart and friendly system to get us humans to produce less carbon emissions to reduce global warming? Here's Seth's take:
  • let's figure out how to turn this into a battle to do more, not less. Example one: require all new cars to have, right next to the speedometer, a mileage meter. And put the same number on an LCD display on the rear bumper. Once there's an arms race to see who can have the highest number, we're on the right track.
Seth is on the right track. We need to put in place smart and friendly systems to achieve the treasure of a cool planet.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Riding the waves: Using the rhythms of life to be highly productive.

"How are you doing?" I asked my daughter, Hannah, in a phone call last Friday at 4:00 p.m. I knew she was is in the middle of preparing a big grant due next Wednesday. She'd been working on it all day and planned on working through the evening.

"I'm bogged down," she said in a weary voice.

"Hannah, I have a good idea. Do you want to hear it?"

"What?" she said in a flat tone that let me know that the last thing she wanted to hear was one more good idea."

"Take a 15 minute walk and when you get back you'll think much more creatively,"applying the rhythm path to her situation."

"I'll take a break in a few minutes," she said, still sounding weary.

About 8:00 in the evening I called and she sounded re-energized and was making good progress.

Later, after she was home, I asked her if she had gone on a walk. She had not only gone for a power walk but on the walk she had used her Blue Tooth to talk with her 11-month old daughter and her mother who was taking care of her baby. The exercise and connecting with two people she loves was just eneough recovery time to give her the energy to work another five productive hours.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Starting over

Since co-founding a nonprofit three years ago (Evergreen Leaders) I've been a beginner at one thing after another. Even things that I've done for other organizations have me feeling like a beginner when I do them for the first time for EGL.

I've helped other organizations raise millions but today when I e-mail the board to tell them we need to raise $15,000 to create a website that can host a complete set of plans for annual and capital campaigns for other nonprofits, and serve as part of a platform for a book on nonprofit leadership, I feel like a beginner.

Reading Michele Martin's How to be a beginner was exactly what I needed as I wrap up my day this evening. Here are two good quotes:

  • Part of learning and growing, I think, is getting comfortable with being a beginner.
  • Be willing to fail publicly. This is the hardest one for me. I prefer to fail quietly, behind the scenes, not in front of an audience. But you don't get feedback when you always fail alone, so sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk where people can see you.
You can't get to the treasure unless you go through the wilderness.

Check out Michele's "The Bamboo Project Blog."

The kindness economy

The kindness economy

As I twisted the gas cap on my Dodge Caravan a well-dressed stranger, a seventy-something lady, came around the gas pump and said, “Could you show me how to do this? My husband died and I don’t know how to fill on gas.”

“Yes,” I said, and I followed her to her car.

“I have to learn to do this,” she said, as I coached her to twist the black gas cap and then pull it free. Next I showed her how to lift the nozzle from the pump and to select a grade.

“Won’t the gas come out if I push the button?” she said pointing to the button to select a grade.

“No,” I assured her, “the gas won’t come out until you squeeze the handle on of the nozzle.” Then I showed her how to insert the nozzle and lock the handle into the on position.

“My husband died and he always filled on gas,” she said as we waited for her tank to fill. Then I showed her how to hang up the nozzle and taught her how to turn and press the gas cap to lock it back into place.

Then I drove to Chicago to pick up Sarah from the airport. An hour early, I stopped at an Aldi near Midway Airport to shop for a few groceries. At Aldi you insert a quarter in Aldi shopping carts to unlock them and to use them. When you finish with the cart, you return it, relock it in place, and get your quarter back.

I’ve always thought that was a smart and friendly system to encourage folks to return their shopping carts to the stall. Only this time when I relocked the cart, it did not release the quarter. I tugged at it but with my arthritic fingers I could not get it out. Finally I abandoned my efforts. As I turned, a thirty-something dark-haired woman approached the carts.

“Someone’s going to get a free cart,” I said. “My quarter is stuck in this one.”

“Let me look at it,” she said. As I watched she struggled with the quarter. She tried several different ways to release it. Finally she freed it and handed it to me.

“Nothing is free these days,” she said. “Not even a penny.”

Then she took a cart into the store and I returned to my van to contemplate her words, “Nothing is free.” But, as I think about teaching the new widow how to put gas in her car and the young Hispanic woman rescuing my quarter, I realize that each was given freely and received. There is an economy to kindness apart from money.

Our financial economy allows nonprofits and activist organizations to pay salaries, to purchase goods and services, and requires the tracking of funds. Yet there is a deeper economy that nonprofits depend on--the flow of strangers helping other strangers.

Wisdom for the week: At their best, nonprofits run on an economy of kindness among strangers.

Fare thee well, Rich

7 Path of Thriving Organizations, #103, March 1, 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Eliminate what?

4. Eliminate management, organization charts, job descriptions, and hourly wages.

I enjoy people who approach life from less than standard approaches. I’ve regularly made suggestions in the organizations I’ve been apart of that have led people to look at me askance.

A good friend of mine recently sent his son to talk to me about his career because, as he told his son, “Rich thinks out of the box and some of his ideas are downright hare-brained.”

So far in Bakke’s Joy at Work Top Ten I’ve been enthusiastic. But I must admit even I, when I read “eliminate management”, was taken aback.

Bakke’s #4 touches on one of the 7 paths that I’ve written about before--the smart and friendly systems path. Every organization develops systems. The trick is to dazzle people with your organization's smart and friendly systems.

Most nonprofits have management, organization charts, job descriptions, and categorize staff as hourly or salary. Each of these is so much a part of companies and nonprofits in the USA that we never stop to ask whether they are smart and friendly.

But none of the standard organizational practices were handed down by God as part of the Ten Commandments and thus we are free to ask if they are smart and friendly systems. Do they really help your nonprofit transform the lives of the people you serve and do they really make your nonprofit to be a great work place?

While trying to create a fun work place at the energy giant, AES, Bakke noted that dividing workers into salary and hourly divided people which does not make for a fun work place. Bakke went on a campaign to put everyone in his company on salary. Of course, that’s against the law. The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in the 1930s to protect hourly workers and to ensure they were paid overtime for work over 40 hours a week.

Bakke made working on a salary such a great system for workers, that almost everyone, including union workers, voluntarily joined the salary system. As a built-in safe guard, and to keep the company out of legal trouble, workers eligible under law to be hourly, could switch back to hourly any time they wanted.

Former hourly workers often discovered that they could work less hours and still get paid the same.

Do your systems, including managers, really make your nonprofit a smart a friendly workplace? If not, eliminate them and come up with smart and friendly systems.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What makes a fun workplace?

3. Attempt to create the most fun workplace in the history of the world.

Bakke in Joy at Work says that in AES, the energy giant he co-founded, he discovered the key to a fun work place was decision-making. Getting to make decisions is great fun and under Bakke’s tutelage workers had great fun. Machine operators in AES power plants made the daily phone calls to invest the company’s short term investments.

His goal as CEO was to make one decision a year so that the employees of the organization could have all the fun.

Nonprofits and other organizations thrive on trust. When I worked for Horizon House of Illinois Valley Jim Monterastelli showed incredible trust in me. PR was part of my role and Jim trusted me. One day I managed to shoot a photo and do a story that landed on the front page of the local daily news paper. I was so used to Jim’s trust that I forgot to tell him that I had submitted to the paper. The next day he gently suggested that I let him know when I was submitting a story to the paper because he had been at a business event fielding congratulations on a story that he didn’t know anything about.

There’s one other key to a fun work place that Bakke doesn’t mention in his book--getting to use your talents. Gallup Organization defines talents as “recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.” Getting to do those things we do over and over again because their fun and getting to do them on the job definitely makes for fun workplace.

You can find Bakke’s Joy at Work Top Ten here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Who benefits from your nonprofit?

The purpose of business is not to maximize profits for shareholders but to steward our resources to serve the world in an economically sustainable way.

Every organization operates based on certain assumptions. Once I interviewed a bank vice-president for a feasibility study for a capital campaign. He said corporations should not make donations since they exist to maximize profits for shareholders. Individual shareholders can decide whether to donate to charities from their personal funds but companies should not make the decision to donate shareholders money, he thought. Fortunately for the nonprofit I consulted for, the bank made a generous donation despite the V-P’s opinion.

Organizational assumptions taken to the extreme can have devastating consequences. The practice of maximizing profit for shareholders has led to global warming.

In the second of "Bakke’s Joy at Work Top Ten," he balances profit for the shareholder with the needs the world and the need of the company to be sustained economically.

How does this translate from the business world to the nonprofit world?

As part of my work for Evergreen Leaders I recently I’ve begun writing the introduction to 7 Paths of Thriving Organizations, a book on the issues that nonprofits need to pay attention to in order to thrive. As I was writing I began to ponder the assumptions that Evergreen Leaders is built on. I came up with three that balance the interests of everyone affected by the organization:

  1. Evergreen Leaders shares power justly between board, staff, clients, suppliers, genders, ethnics, neighbors and strangers.
  1. Evergreen Leaders shows mercy when people screw up.
  1. Evergreen Leaders faithfully carries out its word.

What are the assumptions about who benefits from your work place?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Radical organizations 1

1. When given the opportunity to use our ability to reason, make decisions, and take responsibility for our actions, we experience joy at work. From here.

I grew up in a working class/farmer family whose attitude toward leaders was that they were the folks who didn't know how to do the actual work and made life miserable for those who did.

Now I'm quite sure the leaders of the factories that my people worked in didn't get up in the morning and say, "Now how can I make life miserable for the workers today."

No, the factory managers woke up knowing that it was their job to think and to make decisions and be responsible for the whole shebang while it was the role of my people to carry out the decisions. And then my people would come home and tell stories about the stupid decisions the bosses were making.

Radical organizations begin with the assumption that everyone has the ability to reason, everyone has the abilitiy to make decisions and people love to take responsibility for their actions.

The role of leaders and managers of thriving organizations is to create as many opportunities for people to
think, make decsions, and to be responsible for the results of their actions.

Before Bakke co-founded AES he worked for the US Energy Department, an experience that led him to hate staff positions. Staff people were supposed to do the thinking for the line people. In AES they tried to get by on as few staff people as possible and instead created task forces of workers who did the work ordinarily done by staff people.

One day Bakke's wife was at an AES recognition dinner when they asked everyone who had worked on the budgeting task force to stand up and be acknowledged. A man sitting near her stood up with the others who had been working on the task force.

When he sat down she asked him what his position was with the company. "Security guard," he said.

Now I can guarantee you that the working class people I grew up with would have loved to work for such a company.

My father has an 8th grade education. He would never have been given major thinking and decision-making responsibility in most organizations and yet he designed and oversaw the construction of one of the most advanced dairy barns in Minnesota in the early 1960s.

Are you giving everyone in your nonprofit the ability to think, make decisions, and experience the joy of being responsible?

People love working for radical organizations that give them the opportunity to be at their best.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Radical organizations--an intro

Dennis Bakke, an American businessman, and Ricardo Semler, a Brazilian businessman, have been the two biggest influences on my thinking about what it takes for a nonprofit to thrive. Both have pursued radically different approaches to organizations than the corporate norm.

I first read Semler's Maverick: The World's Most Unusual Work Place in the early 1990's and his The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works last year.

Semler's Maverick was a liberating book for me, to say the least. In the early 1990 the Christian intentional community I am a leader of, Plow Creek Fellowship, went through a crisis. Maverick was the right book at the right time as I and my fellow communitarians renewed our organization.

Last year I also read Bakke's Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job. Like Semler, Bakke and the company he co-founded, energy giant AES, took an approach of radical trust in employees and giving employees incredible responsibility.

Bakke's website features Joy at Work Dennis Bakke's Top 10.

Read all ten, get Semler and Bakke's books, and follow along as I post my reflections on each of Bakke's top ten.

As I reviewed this post I realized that I was not totally accurate. Jesus of Nazareth is a bigger influence than either than Semler or Bakke. It's taken quite awhile to realize how radical an organizational leader he was because I was acculturated in the church, a generally conservative institution.

Perhaps I will weave a little of Jesus' edginess into my reflections on Bakke's Top 10.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Teach your children well

Teach your children well
7 Paths
#102, February 15, 2007

Occasionally I wonder how 7 Paths e-letter readers apply what they learn in their work. I caught a glimpse recently in a conversation with Heather Munn.

Last summer Heather taught about 40 AIDS orphans in a summer program in a one-room schoolhouse in Jos, Nigeria.

When she finished teaching in the summer school she began to teach literacy classes which opened her eyes to an issue she had been reading about in Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development.

Education is valued very highly in Nigeria and yet there is a shortage of teachers. She realized that there is a treasure in Nigeria that is not being used--literate mothers who have less than a high-school education but could teach their children to read.

Because these mothers are poor they assume they cannot teach their children to read. As Heather described in one her e-mails last fall, “They know they are not "Educated People". And only Educated People can teach. They believe they are incompetent and helpless in the area of education. They believe that only teachers teach, and teachers are trained in a teacher-training school; they, unqualified, untrained, cannot hope to teach.”

Heather created a program, Teach Your Child, to address this issue. She set up a class to teach four mothers how to teach their children to read.

Recently Heather, back from Nigeria, stayed with Sarah and I over a long weekend. She had been reading the 7 Paths e-letters and realized that she needed to use the smart and friendly systems path to create Teach Your Child. She created “track sheets” that described each step in teaching your child to read and allowed mothers to track their child's progress. For instance, track sheet three instructs the mother how to use the Simple Words Page. At the end of the instructions the mother is asked: . “Can he read all the words easily and correctly?” and the mother circles: “No, Still learning, or Yes.”

Shortly before returning to the states Heather did a seminar for fifteen people, teaching them how to run Teach Your Child classes.

Heather isn't done with creating smart and friendly systems for Teach Your Child. She plans on using the open source model, posting Teach Your Child on the web so that anyone with access to the web can download the materials and Teach Your Child materials and even add to the materials.

If you'd like to know more about Teach Your Child, you can e-mail Heather at

Wisdom for the week: Use smart and friendly systems to produce your treasure.

Fare thee well, Rich

No need for another book on leadership

No need for another book on leadership, 7 Paths #101, February 1, 2007

“This world does not need another leadership book,” I thought in the fall of 2005 after an hour of browsing through the management and leadership sections of a major bookstore chain.

Two years earlier I had helped found a nonprofit, Evergreen Leaders, whose mission is to help nonprofits thrive. I was on a continual search for resources we could use in our consulting, coaching, workshops, e-letter, and blog. During those two years I browsed the leadership and management sections of bookstores every chance I got. I had found plenty of good books.

But after two years of reading, teaching and writing about leadership I was getting tired of the model of leader as hero.

Organizations thrive on a lot more than leaders. As Marshall Goldsmith, corporate America's preeminent executive coach, said in a Fast Company column, “Long-term success is created by the 40,000 people doing the work -- not just the one person who has the privilege of being at the top.”

“If you read the literature,” Marshall also observed in the same column, ‘you'll see that much of it exaggerates -- if not glamorizes -- the leader's contribution.”

“What this world needs,” I thought that day in the bookstore, “is a book on the 7 habits of highly effective organizations.” Not a very original title, but a seed was planted.

In June 2006 Stephanie Grimes, the president of Evergreen Leaders, and I went to a two day workshop of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey studied success literature and through his research he identified 7 habits of effective people and also the principles, paradigms, behaviors and results linked with each habit.

As I was writing in my journal on other issues the morning after the first Covey workshop I kept interrupting my journaling to jot down I ideas for the paths of thriving organizations. In the months since I’ve used my 25 years of experience in nonprofit and church leadership as well as years reading leadership and management books to revise and polish the 7 paths. I also added notes on the principles, paradigms, behaviors and results linked with each path.

The world may not need another leadership but I do think it could use a book on the 7 Paths of Thriving Organizations. I’ve begun work on the introduction and the first two chapters. When they’re completed I’ll outline the remaining chapters and then second hire an agent to market the book. I’ll keep you, the readers of this e-letter, informed.

While for-profit businesses and families benefit from using 7 Paths, my passion is helping nonprofits thrive. Every day people in deep need turn to nonprofits for hope. My deepest hope is that countless nonprofits will use the 7 Paths of Thriving Organizations to meet deep human needs and to be great workplaces.

Wisdom for the week: When organizational life is tangled, complex and frustrating, you need a path or seven.

Fare thee well, Rich

The delicate balance of power and tall grass prairie

The delicate balance of power and tall grass prairie, 7 Paths #100, January 18, 2007

Leading a nonprofit organization is a delicate balance of personalities and performance, values and vulnerability, commitment and creativity, power and humility.

One day in late December 2006 when I was thinking about how being a humble leader can help an organization thrive, I rolled into a gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center located in a beautiful old building in downtown Chicago.

One piece in the gallery in particular, a video playing on a small screen, drew my attention. In the video a young artist, Victoria McOmie, dressed in a stocking cap and coat, walked across brown, wintry-looking grass and approached an abandoned chicken coop on the Ragdale Foundation grounds.

The Ragdale Foundation, a nonprofit organization, provides inexpensive residencies for artists and writers in an old mansion north of Chicago. At any one time there are 12 artists and writers living and working there. The exhibit, to celebrate Ragdale’s 30th anniversary, featured pieces done by artists while in residence at Ragdale.

McOmie had collected pieces of wood and plants and created an installation by arranging them in the coop in a pattern based on balance. The camera follows her inside and pans the collection of material balanced in the coop. Then the camera focuses on her as she crouches next to a long, stem of prairie tall grass balanced on an unseen object. Gently she blows on the head of the tall grass--you can see her breath--and the tall grass gently moves away from her, then back again; she blows again and the tall grass moves away, then back. I sat mesmerized; never once did she blow too hard and disrupt the delicate balance of the long stem.

McOmie’s installation seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for leading a nonprofit. McComia created a work of art out of an abandoned chicken coop, dried weeds, fallen branches, and broken bits of wood. Nonprofits often work with people who have been abandoned, neglected, and are on the margins of society.

Yet nonprofit leaders, like McOmie, have the ability to see potential in otherwise overlooked people. And they create organizations that thrive on a delicate balance between clientele, staff, board, donors, funders, and regulators, and the community

And when it’s done well it’s a thing of beauty.

Wisdom for the week: Humble hierarchy leaders create space and balance in which the unlikeliest of folks thrive.

Fare thee well, Rich

2007 in your memoir

2007 in your memoir, 7 Paths #99, January 4, 2007

As we begin 2007 I think about Doris Haddock, otherwise known as Granny D, who on January 1, 1999, at the age of 89, starting in Pasadena, California, began a walk across America in support of campaign finance reform.

On February 29, 2001 and 3200 miles later she walked into Washington, DC. Actually she skied the last 100 miles along the towpath of the C & O Canal in Maryland. In Washington, DC she was joined by 2200 reformers including several congressmen as she walked to the Capitol to press her case for campaign finance reform.

A year later the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 also known as the McCain-Feingold Bill, was passed into law.

A couple years ago my daughter Hannah gave me a copy of the memoir that Doris wrote after her walk, Granny D: Walking across America in my 90th Year. I read it and was deeply moved.

The seed for a Doris’ journey was planted one evening in her hometown of Dublin, NH, when she was complaining to Bonnie, the leader of a study group that Doris belongs to, about how the rich were taking over and “you can’t get elected unless you have a million dollars.”

“Well, Doris, what are you going to do about?” Bonnie asked.

“Me? For heavens sake, what can I do?”

“Well, what can you do?”

She organized her friends over the next two years they collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions for campaign finance reform and they sent them to the New Hampshire senators. One responded with a form letter calling unlimited campaign contributions a form of free speech and the other senator never even bothered to respond.

She felt like a woman scorned.

Rather than giving up she decided to walk across America in support of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. She walked and talked to all the reporters curious about a 90-year old woman walking across America.

At one point in her corporate career she was the second highest paid woman in New Hampshire. Yet, when she wrote her memoir after her walk, she never mentioned her career until near the end and then it was to say that she guessed that her career was not important compared to her public service on behalf of campaign finance reform.

In 2007, do something to make this a better world, something you will be proud to include in your memoir when you are in your 90s.

Wisdom for the week: Humble hierarchy leaders believe that powerlessness can be overcome by persistence.

Fare thee well, Rich

Note: In my last issue of the 7 Paths I invited folks to offer their own suggestions on how to spot dangerous leaders. Two responded. You can check out their thoughtful comments here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nonprofits should give without trying to get

Nonprofits can learn from marketing guru Seth Godin's father who has been a successful manager and entrepreneur and he's always given without expecting in return.

In a recent blog post Godin notes that most companies and marketers give in order to get. The same can be said for nonprofits.

But I think nonprofits should give without expecting to get. In fact when I started Evergreen Leaders in 2003 I wanted the organization to adopt a policy of giving 10% of it's income away.

The attorney helping us to apply for our 501c3 was dubious that the IRS would approve such a plan. Our by-laws state clearly that we practice giving away 10% as a way of showing gratitude to God our Creator who we believe provides all we need. We also have a clause that says we'll give the money only to other 501c3s.

The IRS approved our 501c3 application.

Last fall I delivered a check to a charity for their capital campaign that the EGL board decided to give to. No organization that we have given to had ever used our services but it turns out that the organization had lost their campaign consultant in the middle of the campaign. They contracted with EGL to serve as their consultant for the remainder of the campaign.

Did we give to them to get?

No, we gave because we are grateful for a generous God.

As Seth concludes in his post, "Now, more than ever, it's easier to give even when it seems like you're not going to get. The happy irony is that this turns out to be a very effective marketing approach, even though that's not the point."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hire athletes

This issue of Sales Caffeine caught my attention because my two daughters and a son were college athletes--track and cross country, volleyball abd basketball.

Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer walked around his office and asked each person if they ever played sports on a team or competitively. He was surprised to discover "that the people who had played sports were among my best employees."

"If you’re an employer," suggests Gitomer, "you may want to look past job experience, and read deeper into athletic experience. It will give you greater insight as to the life skills of a person, not just their job skills." Check out why athletes make better employees.

The joy of teaching

Last Monday night I taught a one hour course on blogs at our local library. What fun. Three people came to the event. My wife came, not because she has much of an interest in blogs, but she was being nice to me. I like nice.

The other students were a retired couple who knew nothing about blogs other than the term. They were eager students and by the end of the hour they headed home with plans to create a blog this weekend.

Have a passion? Volunteer to teach it at your local library.

There's something deeply satisfying about teaching eager students.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

How a patient changed a hospital policy

In December I did a post about an experience with a nonprofit hospital that had my wife and me furious.

When the hospital, whose slogan is "We care for you", tried to enforce a policy that required Sarah to go home rather than to stay the night with me, I called the administrator at home at 10:20 p.m. and said that if the hospital enforced the policy it would be the last time I used the hospital. The administrator worked the magic that top administrators can do. Sarah stayed the night.

A week later I was back in the hospital with pneumonia. One night I asked if my daughter, a nurse also, could stay the night with me. The CNA that I made the request to said, "I don't know. They're really screwy about such things." When she came back to let me know she could stay she let me know that I "sure was lucky."

I was glad that she made that comment, implying that I was lucky to have the power to pull strings because it helped me ask the question: "Do I want this hospital to be a good for me and my family or good for all patients and families?

After the two hospital stays I began lobbying the administrator by e-mail to change the policy. I knew that both my family physician and surgeon had lobbied him. My family doc encouraged me (and my family) to take it to the hospital board, but I wanted to work first with the administrator.

We exchanged a series of e-mails and he promised to work on it. Then I received this e-mail recently:

Just wanted to let you know that the policy re: visitors staying overnight has been formally modified. In short, a visitor/family member/significant other may stay overnight with a patient upon request as long as it does not impede with routine nursing care or contradict physicians order. Due to space limitations, we need to limit the overnight policy to one person at a time in the room but it is rare that more than one person requests the accommodation.

Again, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

I am proud to use the Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru, IL as my hospital and am grateful for the leadership of Steve Hayes. With a little help from their patients, they really do care for you.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Evaluation as empowering

One of our Evergreen Leaders board members, Lynn Reha, loves helping organizations do self-assessments. My eyes sort of blur and my brain becomes fuzzy when I think of nonprofits doing program evaluation. It all seems cumbersome to me.

And yet I keep coming back to simple questions. Given that Evergreen Leaders' mission is to help nonprofits thrive by meeting deep human needs and being a great workplace, how do we know if we are helping nonprofits meet deep human needs? How do we know we are helping a nonprofit to be a great work place?

I've found a website that makes assessment clearer and easier to think through, Innovation Network.

Through their website they "offers free tools and resources for assessment, accountability, communication, and program improvement." Can't beat that. All you need to do is complete a free registration and you can use their tools.

Also, I like their philosophy: "We believe evaluation can be a form of empowerment. Participatory evaluation empowers an organization to define its own success, to pose its own evaluation questions, and to involve stakeholders and constituents in the process."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My problem with accountability

For some time I’ve had trouble with calls for accountability. I’ve been part of a Christian communal group for almost 30 years and from time to time some folks in the group issue calls for accountability.

I strongly believe in people being responsible and moral but the longer I’ve been in leadership both in our communal group and in secular organizations the more dubious I’ve been of actions taken under the guise of accountability. When I first joined the communal group we had lots of rules and decision-making procedures to help people be accountable. Then one of the founders of the group disclosed a history of sexual misconduct including abuse of children.

He was leading a group that deeply believed in accountability. How could that be? I began to lose faith in lots of rules as a way of accountability.

The other way I’ve seen leaders try to bring about accountability is to call people on the carpet. That sometimes seems to produce good short term results but it doesn’t seem to help people be responsible in the long term.

Then last Sunday night I read Bill Harris’s post on Accountability, systems, and loop gain. He developed a computer model to uncover the reason a particular organization had a problem with its ability to manage its expenses. Using the model he was able to test what types of reports would best help managers to manage expenses. Once they determined the best report to give managers the problem was reduced by 95%.

You can read the post and his associated article for the details but I resonate with his observation:

The model shows a most interesting lesson. In a poorly designed system, high management pressure (high externally-imposed accountability) made things worse, while low accountability actually made things better. In a well designed system, management pressure really didn't matter so much…

I also strongly resonated with his conclusion: “Management's primary job is to create systems that work well, not to push people to do well.”

Now I’m wondering how to improve our communal systems so we need less leadership pressure.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Global risks and your nonprofit

Thanks to Deon Binneman's blog , I just checked out the World Economic Forum's Global Risks 2007 report.

One of the 7 Paths nonprofits use to thrive is the ecosystem path. The path is based on the principle that organizations thrive on healthy, improvisational relationships with their environment.

A shriveling organization defends its border against the world but a thriving organization sees its external borders as creative points for discovering the healthiest ways to improvise with reality around the organization.

The Global Risks 2007 reports indicates how the ecosystem your nonprofit operates in may shift, requiring you to improvise. Here are the 23 "Core” Global Risks they've indentified in the world economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological ecosystem:


• Oil price shock/energy supply interruptions
• US current account deficit/fall in US$
• Chinese economic hard landing
• Fiscal crises caused by demographic shift
• Blow up in asset prices/excessive indebtedness


• Climate change
• Loss of freshwater services
• Natural catastrophe: Tropical storms
• Natural catastrophe: Earthquakes
• Natural catastrophe: Inland flooding


• International terrorism
• Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
• Interstate and civil wars
• Failed and failing states
• Transnational crime and corruption
• Retrenchment from globalization
• Middle East instability


• Pandemics
• Infectious diseases in the developing world
• Chronic disease in the developed world
• Liability regimes

• Breakdown of critical information infrastructure (CII)
• Emergence of risks associated with nanotechnology

These litany of risks are scary, especial when the introduction of the report says, "Expert opinion suggests that levels of risk are rising in almost all of the 23 risks on which the Global Risk Network has been focused over the last year – but mechanisms in place to manage and mitigate risk at the level of businesses, governments and global governance are inadequate."

The basic premise of Evergreen Leaders is that nonprofits exist to meet deep human needs and to be great workplaces. Nonprofits that have healthy, improvisational relationships with their environment will have plenty of deep human needs to meet.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Naps are good

We human beings are built for a rhythm of good hard work and good recovery time. After about 90 minutes of concentration we do well to have a bit of recovery time.

Now a study shows naps are good:
  • In the largest study to date on the health effects of napping, researchers tracked 23,681 healthy Greek adults for an average of about six years. Those who napped at least three times weekly for about half an hour had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks or other heart problems than those who did not nap.
I'm off to take a nap.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"I made a mistake"

In a recent post on the Organizational Development Network list serve leadership coach Ann Kruse noted that she is “fascinated by Hillary Clinton's decision to avoid the word 'mistake'
with regard to her vote for the Iraq war.”

Ann offered a variety of explanations for Hillary’s action including gender and power issues. I’d like to offer another. As someone who became disabled as a teen and then has held a variety of leadership positions all of my adult life I am aware of the tremendous pressure on leaders to be capable and self-assured and, at the same time, I am aware that leaders are as vulnerable as the next person.

I learned to survive and build on the experience of being physically disabled by being open about the emotional trauma linked with the experience. When I began my career as a leader, I felt internal and external pressure to be the strong, capable, self-assured male. At the same time being capable and self-assured is only part of my story since I need to ask for physical help regularly and I am physically and emotionally vulnerable to an unpredictable disease.

To be an integrated leader I try to be both capable and acknowledge my vulnerabilities. Even the most powerful leaders and organizations are vulnerable. Take the USA. The USA is clearly the most powerful country in the world and yet we are vulnerable and make mistakes. Both Vietnam and Iraq show that when we invade another county we are militarily vulnerable to
insurgencies. Our political leaders spend a lot of energy denying our vulnerabilities and mistakes.

While I try to be capable and self-assured as a leader, I assume that I will make mistakes and I make it a point to readily admit my mistakes. It takes a lot of energy to deny mistakes. I also make it a practice to meet three times a year with two mentors who are separate from the organizations I lead. I share my emotional vulnerabilities as a leader, husband, and father
with them. It takes a lot of energy to ignore ones vulnerabilities.

I feel sympathy for Hillary Clinton who, to put it mildly, is under extreme pressure to show herself to be a capable, self-assured person in order to be elected. At the same time, running for political office at that level makes one extremely vulnerable.

From an organizational development perspective we as a nation demand strong, capable, leaders and, as a consequence, we get leaders who deny our nation’s vulnerabilities and their own mistakes.

A humble hierarchy organization learns from critics inside and outside the organization. It’s tough to lead a world power from a humble hierarchy stance making it difficult for a world power and its leaders to admit and learn from their mistakes.