Monday, January 29, 2007

Being nonprofit and entrepreneurial

It's not online yet but the February issue of Inc. has an interesting interview with Second Life founder Phillip Rosedale. Second Life is the virtual reality world that became a phenomenon in 2006.

I'm still a little queasy about venturing onto Second Life but other businesses and nonprofits are so one of these days...

I was more interested in some of Rosedale's approaches to running Linden Lab, the company that created and runs Second Life. At first they simply told their engineers to e-mail everyone in the company what you are going to do that work, then work on it, and then e-mail everyone how you did it.

That system has evolved into a huge database of "stuff to do. You choose your own work from it."

"I am pretty critical of traditional business styles," Rosedale says. Me too.

Companies encourage their people to be entrepreneurial. "But the way you are really entrepreneurial," Rosedale says, "is that you have to set your own strategic direction. That's what entrerpeneurs do. You have to take risks and you have to be held accountable."

Even though Evergreen Leaders is a nonprofit I get to be very entrepreneurial. Each week I e-mail the board what I call Monday Morning Coffee and in it I describe what I am going to do that week and how my work went the previous week.

When you get to choose your own things to work on your naturally choose to do things that fit your talents.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Beyond mission statements

If a mission statement is the headline, what's the story?

For several years I have taught individuals and leaders how how to write brief powerful personal and organizational mission statements. I've even created a two-page "A guide to developing your organization’s mission statement" that my daughter, her director, and colleagues used to create a mission statement for Urban Jacksonville (Jacksonville, FL) whose mission is to: Honor elders, promote independence, and encourage families through service and support.

A well written mission statement is like a headline. It packs alots of information and punch into a few words. But a newspaper or magazine would sell few copies if it consisted of only headlines.

To describe the treasure that your organization has to offer clients, staff, board, donors, and funders, you need more that a mission statement--you need stories.

Secular and religious nonprofit leaders can learn from Diana Butler Bass who for three years studied 50 vital mainline Protestant churches to see what made them vital. Her research led her to write two books and one of her many observations in a recent Alban Weekly caught my attention:

Throughout my research on vital mainline churches, both clergy and congregational leaders were storytellers. They knew their own faith stories, they knew the stories of their congregations, they knew their tradition's stories, and they knew the larger Christian and biblical stories. They exhibited ease and comfort in sharing these stories and invited others into a variety of stories in natural and authentic ways. In the process, they opened paths for other people to learn and tell stories of faith. And they ably moved between personal, congregational, and biblical stories to create worlds of spiritual and theological meaning. They intuited the power of story to rearrange people's lives...

To move beyond your organization's mission statement you need to tell the stories of your nonprofit--stories of how your organization was founded, stories of lives transformed by your organization and stories of what your staff have done to transform lives.

If your mission statement is the headline for your nonprofit, then the stories you and your colleagues tell are the treasure.

To get your free copy of "A guide to developing your organization’s mission statement" e-mail me at

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Not serving but serving better

When I set my 2007 goals for work as CEO/Teacher's Assistant I had a nagging feeling that something was amiss. I like setting goals because they give me a sense of accomplishment but something in me was resisting goal-setting even as I did so.

Then I read a Fast Company article about a typical Toyota plant in Kentucky, where "What is so striking about Toyota's Georgetown factory is, in fact, that it only looks like a car factory. It's really a big brain--a kind of laboratory focused on a single mission: not how to make cars, but how to make cars better."

Later in the article another quote caught my eye: "What happens every day at Georgetown, and throughout Toyota, is teachable and learnable. But it's not a set of goals, because goals mean there's a finish line, and there is no finish line. It's not something you can implement, because it's not a checklist of improvements. It's a way of looking at the world."

Something clicked. At Evergreen Leaders we teach the smart and friendly systems path is one of the 7 paths organizations use to thrive. But there is no such thing as a perfectly smart and friendly system.

Currently I am producing Evergreen Leaders' first annual report, a system that corporations have used for years to report to stakeholders on the previous year and plans for the next year. Looking at it through the Toyota lens, next year I'll have the opportunity to produce a better annual report.

In fact, after I produce the first annual report I can use 2007 to improve the way that I gather the information to use in the 2007 annaul report.

The annual report and the smart and friedly systems used to create it can be improved ever year.

So your nonprofit is not in the business of serving elders or people with disabilities or the homeless but your organization exists to serve them better.

I suspect that simple change--not serving but serving better--could have a profound impact on your organization from this day forward.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A new way to elect our president

Last night I read The Atlantic Monthly article on Unity08. These folks may have come up with a smart and friendly system to elect our next president.

The 59 Smartest Orgs Online

Nonprofits are scrambling to find smart and friendly ways to connect with their supporters using the web. Learn from the best.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The hard part is to stay with it

Sometimes you come across a passage in a book that is worth returning to again and again. A couple years ago my daughter gave me Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year.

People who are drawn leading nonprofits intend to do good. In her 90th year Granny D, Doris Haddock, walked across America to bring attention to the need for campaign finance reform. The she wrote her memoir. Recently it's been published in paperback. Here's the passage:

...when you take on some leadership responsibilities in the world, you must accept the fact that you will change lives. Your intention is to do good for everyone. But you will change lives in ways that you cannot fully control, and sometimes things will go terribly wrong. The hard part is to stay with it and not give up trying to do good in the world. But my, it is hard when tragedy and defeat come visiting, as they do. If love is your motivation, and if your respect the people you serve as your moral equals, you will do more good than harm over a lifetime--by far. But you will do some harm, and it may haunt you when you take a walk in your old age.

That's the humble heirarchy path.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spotting dangerous leaders II

7 Paths for Thriving Organizations, # 98, December 14, 2006

“I was dangerous,” Len Corti, a retired Fortune 500 executive, said to me as we ate lunch in a small cafĂ© in Utica, Illinois, “because I believed in what I was doing.”

Len and I met in the mid 1990’s when I was directing a capital campaign and he was a volunteer leader of the Special Gifts division of the campaign.

As he and I drove from town to town meeting with potential donors, we became friends--despite the fact that my driving scared him. He still calls me the “Tiskilwa terror” after my hometown and my driving.

We completed the campaign in 1997 but we still get together with lunch. I love hearing his stories from his career.

At our last lunch he began talking about a point in his career when he was raising money from investors for business start-ups. That’s when he said, “I was dangerous.”

“Tell me more,” I said, puzzled by the comment.

“I really believed in the start-ups and, because I really believed, I raised money but that doesn’t mean the start-ups were necessarily good investments.”

Since our lunch I’ve pondered Len’s comment. It’s not only business leaders who believe and are dangerous but also nonprofit and church leaders. Not all leaders are dangerous but certainly enough that we all ought to be wary of leaders who really believe in what they are doing.

I really believe in what I am doing. Almost four years ago I called a group of people together and we founded Evergreen Leaders, a nonprofit whose mission is to help other nonprofits and churches thrive through consulting and training.

In addition, I am one of the leaders of Plow Creek Fellowship, a Christian communal group. Last Saturday night I had dinner with a young couple, inviting them to consider joining our commune. After I painted a picture of my vision for the renewal of our 35-year old commune, I said with a laugh, “Either I’m a man of faith or I’m delusional.”

All leaders are persuasive. How do you know whether a person is a good faith leader or some who is dangerous in their beliefs? There are no guaranteed answers but here a few things to look for:

  1. Are they humble when someone challenges their vision? In my experience leaders who are defensive and attack critics eventually prove to be dangerous.

  2. How are their relationships with those closest to them? People are themselves with those they are closest too. Grand visions and putdowns of one’s spouse, children, or parents make me nervous.

  3. Are they eager to learn from those around them? Even the most visionary leader is not as smart as the group they lead.

  4. I’d love to hear from you. How do you know whether a person is a good faith leader or someone who is dangerous in their beliefs?

Wisdom for the week: 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.

Fare thee well, Rich

Monday, January 01, 2007

Changes in your npo's ecosystem

Business 2.0 highlights the 15 most significant innovations, events and launches that are planned for the 2007. The event most likely to create more misery and more work for nonprofits--gambling on your mobile phone. The best event for developing countries-10 million laptops in the hands of the planet's poorest children by the end of 2007.

Last night I watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Nonprofits need to join the business community in dealing with global warming. Thin-film solar panels may be in the future of your nonprofit.