This month we are taking a moment to say YAY! We don’t do that very often. Okay, I think we’ve only done this one other time in our 18 years at Foraker – that’s when we launched our book, Focus on Sustainability, A Nonprofit’s Journey. So, for the second time we will pause for a moment and celebrate the launch of our new website. I hope you will take some time to explore it because, after all, we built it for you. First, what I hope you notice is it’s still us – serving as your support, your Partner, and your friend in strengthening your mission from the inside out. I hope you see yourself and what you want to do, whether it’s finding a network of support, or diving into your next plan, or working on building a skill as a board or staff member. I hope you feel inspired to take on a public policy challenge facing our sector, or hear your own voice amplified around issues that matter to you. I hope you find not only what you need but what you want from us.
This is the third time since we opened our doors in 2001 that we have updated the website. Thankfully, technology has leaped ahead and we can do much more with a website than we could 17 years ago. That said, you won’t find shinny distractions in our revised site. We opted for simplicity to describe the complexity of our work. To be sure, the tabs have changed to make the options for engagement clearer. But more than anything, what has changed is our understanding of you – the nonprofit professional, volunteer, and board member who is looking for support.
Like you, we know this is a big undertaking and one not done lightly. You likely have a project like this. You know the ones – they are big, they take a lot of time, they take some money, and more than anything they take digging deeply into expressing what matters most to both your internal team and to the people with whom you are communicating. Maybe for you it is also a website project, or articulating your purpose and values, or crafting any number of plans, or maybe it is about launching a new service or a collaborative effort. What all of these need for success is clarity.
This kind of clarity comes from knowing the answers to some fundamental questions: Who are we talking to, who is our audience? What do we want to say? Why do we want to say it? What is the best way for our message to be heard? These questions and their answers are also the basis of every successful communication strategy. Unfortunately, way too often we jump into projects without first diving into these questions. Instead we start by talking about the way we will deliver our message. Those conversations often go something like this: “Hey, let’s do a newsletter.” Or “Let’s write a letter and send it to everyone.” Or “Let’s create a website.” Newsletters, letters, websites etc. are simply vehicles for our messages but without knowing the answers to all the other questions, we are likely to miss our goals. Why? Because likely when we start with the deliverable, we end up creating something that is great for us, but not right for our intended audience.
Audience, after all, has to be specific. And “the whole community” doesn’t count as a focused audience. I see the temptation to say: “The whole community needs to know about us.” Or “If the whole community knew about us then…” Perhaps I am the bearer of bad news, but unless we can be more specific about the “who” is in the “community” and “what” we want them to do when they hear the message, then we will spend a lot of time, money, and energy for little return.
Imagine instead gathering your team and starting the conversation not by asking: “What are we going to do?” But “Why do we want to do it?” The magic word in this new question is “why.” Knowing our “why” dramatically shifts the conversation. There is a great tool to use called the “Five Whys.” This is truly one of my favorite tools in the tool box. It is simple to use, but so rich in results. The simplified version of the way it works is to start with an idea and sincerely ask “why.” Then once you get that answer, ask “why” again. With every “why” the answers should likely dig deeper and more clarity will surface. The true magic of the “Five Whys” is that the process helps to uncover assumptions, it moves away from the simplistic answer and it gets down to what truly matters. A note of caution: if you and the team find yourselves giving a simple answer or circular answer – stop and regroup. And commit to digging more deeply into assumptions. That round robin can sound something like this: “We need to raise more money. Why? Because then we can do more things. Why? Because more things will help us generate more money etc.” Stop – go for clarity.
Sometimes I think of this process as “asking a better question” or certainly “asking a different question.” An example of how this might look happened recently when I was talking with a CEO who was feeling stuck. Her board was MIA on a key issue. She had tried her regular path of communication. It didn’t work. As we talked, she realized she needed to ask her board members a different question and she exclaimed: “I know that I am not asking the right question when I can’t solve the problem.” Indeed, if we can’t solve our problem or see our way forward then we are likely asking the wrong question to get us where we need to go. We talked about her “whys” and she figured out that she needed to take the challenge in front of her and pivot her question to get to the “why,” which was the core of the problem. She was getting stuck at her first interpretation of the problem and not seeing the real issue she faced. Of course, clarity does not always solve things right away. There is still plenty of work to do. We have learned this in our website project and maybe, like you, our fellow CEO has a journey in front of her. The good news for all of us is that with clarity comes action and with action comes results. Just like her, we can all do that. We can stop. Breathe. Gather our team. And dive more deeply. Ask the better question. Question our assumptions. And know our “why.”
I started this article celebrating our latest way of serving you and the nonprofit sector—a renewed website. But really, this is just the tangible result of our team asking a lot of “whys.” And because of that process, we have wrestled with ideas, explored our own assumptions, and found another layer of clarity in our work. It is not every day we get to see the results of this kind of work. Whatever the project is you and your team are working on, I hope your “why” is clear and your results are amazing. I hope you will share them with us so we can celebrate with you. Until then, thanks for clicking into our front door. We invite you in to look around and let us know what we can do to make you feel at home.
Mentoring and community for executive directors in their first three years of leadership.
We believe successful leaders are supported leaders. With the Executive Leadership Initiative we have created a safe space where you can find tools and resources to help you grow into your role as executive director. During this program you will strengthen your board relationship, explore management and planning strategies with an experienced mentor, and learn from a network of peers.
Applications are due December 7. The program starts January 30.
Do you want to discover your unique strengths as a leader and how to apply them more fully for better results? Do you understand how your sense of purpose drives your work or connects to mission? We invite you to apply to the Catalyst in Nonprofit Excellence program.
Catalyst is a results-oriented personal and professional development program designed to help you discover your intrinsic ability to create excellence and grow your network of support. With a cohort of peers, you will explore tools that will elevate your leadership.
The series is broken into five sessions that build on each other. Each step is separated by some time to allow you to integrate and apply your learning and prepare for the next step.
Session 1: The Pursuit of Excellence for Leaders – Assessing My Personal Context and Laying the Foundation For More Effective Leadership – What must I know about myself to become a more effective leader?
Session 2: The Wall for Leaders – Clarifying What Drives Me and Confronting Barriers to Effective Leadership – What’s in my way to stepping up fully in life and leadership?
Session 3: The Advancement of Excellence for Leaders – Empowered Ownership, Implementation and Results – How will I move my organization forward to maximize our contribution to our community and the world?
Session 4: Commencement – Celebrate your wins and the wins of your fellow cohort members
Session 5 (6 months after Commencement): The Launch – Implementation, Reflection and Support – How can I reinforce my support network to continue to see positive results?
The program will start on February 6. Applications are due December 7.
There has been a new development in the ongoing efforts to dismantle the Johnson Amendment. Here’s the scoop from the National Council of Nonprofits:
“The U.S. Senate approved with broad bipartisan support its version of a $154.2 billion, four-bill fiscal 2019 spending package that does not include the anti-Johnson amendment language adopted in the House-passed bill. That House provision would effectively prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing the Johnson Amendment against churches for even the most egregious violations.”
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has been appointed to the conference committee working on a compromise budget proposal and she is in position to play a pivotal role in helping protect the Johnson Amendment. We ask Alaska nonprofits to join us in preserving nonprofit nonpartisanship by contacting Senator Murkowski with this short but powerful message:
“Partisanship has NO place in charitable organizations – whether churches, charities, or foundations. Please oppose all efforts in conference to add a controversial anti-Johnson Amendment rider to the Financial Services spending bill.”
Learn more about the Johnson Amendment here.
Congratulations to Carol Gore, President/CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority and member of the Alaska Census Working Group, who has been named chairperson of the U. S. Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee (NAC). Carol, who previously served as vice-chair of the NAC and who serves on its Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, is the only member of the 27-person body who hails from Alaska, a state that poses unique challenges when it comes to the decennial census.
As chair of the NAC, which acts as a critical channel of communication between the Census Bureau and on-the-ground practitioners across the country, Carol will continue to advocate for a fair and accurate count in 2020, especially for historically undercounted populations. And as the only member of the NAC representing the 49th state and its unique challenges, Carol will continue to be a strong voice for Alaska and its especially hard-to-reach communities.
The largest and least densely populated state in the country, Alaska has one of the most difficult-to-count populations in the decennial census. From limited internet connectivity in rural Alaska to language barriers and physical barriers to restricted modes of access to remote villages, Alaska will require special counting methods and sufficient resources to ensure that all Alaskans are counted in 2020
In her time on the NAC, Carol has proven herself to be a fierce advocate for an accurate count in Alaska and has made important recommendations to the Census Bureau that will help improve its operations in 2020. The Alaska Census Working Group appreciates all she has done, and all she will do in her new role, to ensure that the most vulnerable populations and most difficult-to-reach areas of our country are counted fairly and accurately in the 2020 Census.