Paying your NGO staff enough?

Canada’s charitable sector has long been expected to undergo a massive turnover in Executive Directors and other senior staff over the next 5-10 years. In order for not-for-profits to successfully recruit and retain outstanding staff, it helps to  know what the ‘going rates’ are in the sector.  Charity Village recently published its first comprehensive survey of staff compensation in not-for-profits across Canada. At $97, it represents the first comprehensive Canadian survey of its kind that I’m aware of for several years, and could be gold to NGOs planning their long-term sustainability in terms of passionate, skilled staff. Click here to order the report.

Four Solutions for striking the media “brand balance” in coalitions

Sharing media profile is one of the most challenging issues many coalitions face. Here are solutions coalitions I’ve worked with have used to strike the balance between maintaining a strong internal collaboration, and maximizing media profile for a shared issue.

For non-profit organizations working in coalition, picture this all-too-familiar scene: you’re sitting around the table hammering out the key messages of a major news release, carefully crafting the lead quote and framing the sound bytes, stats and background information into a snappy, compelling 1-pager. But then the tensions start to build: whose organizational representative gets the lead quote? Whose name or names and contact information get listed at the top of the page for reporters to follow up with (assuming you’re not going to make the mistake of listing 10 different spokesperson contacts on the release)? And it’s not just news releases: individual spokespeople and organizations get profile through the authorship of op-eds or letters to the editors, blog postings, and on their relative prominence as contacts in story pitching or briefing letters to the media or in media advisories.

Here’s the thing: in most cases, if one of your members has a gigantic brand profile (think: WWF or Greenpeace), they are most likely going to generate the MOST media interest and follow up, every time.  Which is the whole point of the release…right? But it’s not always so simple in practice.

In fact, coalitions are faced with balancing multiple goals. One is obviously to maximize the profile of a critical public or policy issue. Another may be more subtle, but of equal or even greater strategic importance: to maintain the internal strength of the coalition itself. Coalitions can strategically be worth more than the sum of their parts simply because they are coalitions. The particular mix of groups may represent unlikely allies working on (and therefore adding credibility and profile) to a joint issue; or it may show a surprisingly unified position across a sector; or it may simply represent strength in numbers. Keeping a coalition strong may be a major component of the overall strategy. And that means having open dialogue about issues of power, privilege, and the meaning of true collaboration.

I’ve worked with dozens of coalitions over the years, and have seen at least four solutions that real-life coalitions use to balance issue profile with the maintenance of trust and goodwill within the coalition itself. In each case, success relies on a clear agreement, set out in advance and often in writing, about which approach the group will use.  In brief, here they are:

  1. Rotate organizational brands: simply track and rotate which group representatives get the most prominence across a range of media initiatives. One approach is to rotate the lead for every initiative (“you get the lead for this release, and I’ll get the next”). Another variation is to rotate the leads over time; e.g., group X gets the lead for stories from March-June, group Y gets the summer and Fall, and so on.
  2. Focus on geographic relevance: highlight the member groups with the greatest regional relevance to a story. For example,  if a story particularly affects the East Coast, then the Atlantic groups will lead on it.  If it’s a national or international story, the coalition may first highlight one of the international members along with a regional group, but the active pitching and follow-up would be done by regional groups to their own regional media.
  3. Highlight expertise and/or legwork: highlight the member group or individual with the greatest expertise on the issue, and/or those who simply did the most work on this particular story or event.
  4. Highlight the group with the greatest media profile: finally, coalitions may decide to simply aim for the biggest bang for their bucks when it comes to the media profile side of their work, and consistently highlight the groups and individuals in which the media will be most interested, in order to maximize media coverage.

None of these options is mutually exclusive. Coalitions may choose to rotate smaller stories in principle, but for one or two major stories in a year, simply focus on gaining maximum coverage. Or, they may rotate the media profiles in their advance media planning (ie, as they set out the communications and media events they will proactively generate over the next year), but have a nimble sub-committee determine who leads on sudden “response-required” stories on a case-by-case basis (“nimble” being the key word; otherwise, this approach is risky!)

Agreement and true buy-in are key.  Given that collaboration itself is often the core strategy for any coalition, it only makes sense to invest early in frank and open dialogue about the brand profile options, and ensure the whole group is really aligned with the final agreement, well in advance of any media maelstroms.

Digital philanthropy: Study shows organizational websites trump social media & giving portals

A landmark U.S. study outlines the most effective approaches to digital philanthropy.

Almost all the charities I work with either have fully developed social media strategies, or plan to develop and implement them in the next year.  Many are wrestling with how to integrate fundraising into all of their outreach and communication efforts. Nowadays, that includes fundraising using social media, as well as using third party websites such as Canada Helps.

A landmark seven –year (2003-2009) U.S. study by the cause marketing organization Network for Good and U.S. fundraising leader True Sense offers some groundbreaking analysis about the most effective approaches to digital philanthropy.

Some of their main conclusions:

  • The majority (over 64%) of charitable on-line giving comes via non-profit websites
  • Donors who give to those non-profit websites give the most over time, and start at the highest level
  • Donors giving via third party giving portals and social networks like Facebook start at the lowest level and give less over time
  • Most giving happens during work hours, especially 9 – 5
  • A third of all giving happens in December; giving also spikes during disasters

The upshot:  solid fundraising strategies tend to be multi-pronged, and there’s no good reason to not use multiple approaches to connecting donor’s values and passions with your organization’s services.  But if your staff or volunteers are strapped for time or skills, clearly your organization’s own website donation portal should be your top focus.

To see the whole study, including easy-to-read charts, see http://www.onlinegivingstudy.org.

Leadership, conflict resolution & “Process Work”: Upcoming workshop

Interested in building your skills around conflict resolution, leadership and organizational effectiveness?  From January 14 – 16, 2011, veteran trainer and coach Dr. Stephen Schuitevoerder, President of Portland’s Process Work Institute, is coming up to Vancouver to  offer a unique seminar focused on leadership and a deeply compelling approach to group conflict called “Process Work”.  The workshop is called “Organizational Excellence: The Cultivation of Effective Leadership.” It promises to offer a highly experiential approach to skill development around leadership, organizational health and group conflict.

I’m particularly drawn to and curious about Process Work, or “World Work”,  because of it’s deep focus on the potential  for social transformation through conflict and group dysfunction, combined with its analysis of power and privilege.

My interest was particularly sparked this past Spring, when I received some startling confidential feedback on a confidential participant survey after I co-facilitated a 4-day leadership training. This one participant suggested that I am conflict averse. Me??!! Conflict averse?! I’m a skilled facilitator, dammit – I’m great with conflict!  I stood up, outraged, glaring at the computer. But after huffing indignantly for a few moments… well, I noticed that I’d been huffing indignantly for a few minutes.  That’s a sure sign that something hit home, right?

So, after calming down, and gently setting aside my Inner Xena for a few moments, I realized that indeed, there have been cases where I, as a facilitator, have squirmed uncomfortably when a group is in the throes of a heated conflict – especially when some of that heat is cast in my direction.  Those moments can be both terrifying AND present enormous opportunities for growth and learning (I’m not just saying that, I swear). And it got me thinking more deeply about how we may respond differently to different kinds and layers of  conflict – and how committed I am to continually building my ease and comfort with “sitting in the fire” of conflict, whether it’s about facilitating a challenging conversation about race and privilege, or getting our kids to pitch in more proactively around housework.  I do believe that conflict, held with skill and positive intent, is essential for social change. As James Surowiecki lays out so compellingly in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds,  mixed groups of people with different backgrounds, skills and points of view are vastly more intelligent, collectively , than homogenous groups of like-minded people.  The challenges we humans have created for ourselves are so complex and multi-layered that monolithic group-think is potentially disastrous. AND… diverse viewpoints in a group context often lead to conflict. Handled with skill, conflict can be immensely useful, healthy and productive. Handled poorly, it can lead to subtle and overt forms of violence and undermine key relationships in seconds.

Process or World Work may offer the kind of self-reflective training and analysis of social transformation, power and privilege I am presently hungry for in my own development as a facilitator and coach.  My first exploration began this past June, at a facilitator’s training workshop on Deep Democracy and Process Work offered by Julie Diamond and Gary Reiss, also of the Process Work Institute. This coming workshop in January promises to be similarly self-reflective and experiential.

If you want to read more about Process Work or World Work, here are a couple of books that were highly recommended to me:

To register for “Organizational Excellence: The Cultivation of Effective Leadership“, January 14-16, 2011 in Vancouver, contact pamschmidt1@gmail.com.

Briefing notes: Making Face-to-face meetings count with solid preparation

I just got off the phone with one of my coalition clients, as we committed to planning our next meeting together well in advance. There is nothing like well-organized face-to-face meetings for collaborating, bonding and pooling a group’s collective brain-trust and creativity. But as we all know, meetings can have a Dark Side. If done poorly, meetings can suck a group’s life force; I swear they can! And they can squander money. Consider a two-day meeting of 15 non-profit members, each receiving a salary equivalent of about  $25/hour. It costs a whopping $6,000 for their time, and that’s before even considering food, travel costs, facilitation fees and venue rental.

Solid preparation is one of the keys to ensuring that that $6,000 of face-time is invested well. That means doing as much pre-thinking about the meeting overall, and specific topics within it, as possible. Anything that could just as easily be addressed via email, should be.

Obviously a well-designed agenda is the first step to making the most of valuable face-time.  For larger group meetings, when there isn’t time or budget to contact each participant individually, I often use an on-line survey, like SurveyMonkey, to get a sense of agenda priorities across the whole group.

And I always have the client group do a quick P.O.P., clarifying the Purpose, desired Outcome and best Process, both for the overall meeting, and for each agenda topic.

Another key tool I’ve been working with for several coalition clients is the classic Briefing Note. If you do government relations, the concept will be familiar: it’s a tightly-written 1-2 page document aimed at bringing extremely busy decision-makers up to speed on an issue quickly. A briefing note typically includes key background facts, analysis, options – with well-considered risks and benefits for each – and recommendations. A decent template for writing government-focus briefing notes – for example, the format a Ministerial Assistant might use when informing a Cabinet Minister about essential elements and possible responses to an issue – can be found here; just check one of the “background” buttons to download a sample.

Briefing notes are also useful for extremely busy non-profit or coalition members. When well-crafted briefing notes are circulated (and of course, read) in advance, they allow groups to skip past the preliminaries or simple updates – which can easily be done via email – so they can dive right to the heart of a meaty agenda topic fairly quickly.

The concept is pretty straightforward, but here are a couple of structures that I’ve seen work well for teams and coalitions:

 

1. Briefing notes for decision

Topic: include the topic, date, authors’ name

Purpose:  “For Decision” (ie the group will need to consider the issues raised in the note, in addition to others that may arise, then make a decision about how to proceed)

Background: (include a summary of key facts, including main actors, major events/activities to date, analysis, public opinion data, highlights of media coverage and framing to date, etc)

Options: 2-5 possible courses of action, including a brief assessment of the pros and cons for each.

Recommendation: proposed course of action, and the rationale

2. Briefing notes for information/updates

Topic: include the topic, date, authors’ name

Purpose:  “For Information”

Background: include a summary of key facts, new/emerging trends, new analysis, etc

Activities: clarify key activities to date as they relate to the overall strategy

Results: clarify the outcomes and results to date based on the activities

Outstanding questions: here’s where the group can get important ‘heads-up’ about unclear issues

Next steps: note upcoming decision points, key actions/events others may need to be aware of

Briefing notes can be used for other purposes as well. I’ve worked with groups that use them to prepare their colleagues for a brainstorm or idea-generating session: sometimes a smaller team just really needs a larger pool of creative thinkers to ensure they have a robust pool of ideas and strategies.  Then those ideas can later be explored and tested outside of the meeting. These kinds of creative sessions can be really invigorating for a team, too – a stimulating shift from more business-like or process-focused topics.

I’ve also seen briefing notes used to shape the way a group provides face-to-face feedback on a key strategy or funding proposal. This can be helpful when real dialogue is needed, so that trade-offs can be explored in more depth. Circulating a proposal to a series of individuals via email or googledocs just won’t allow for that kind of synergistic, collective reflection and discussion.

Well-crafted briefing notes require a fair bit of work and discipline on the part of the presenter. They also require discipline on the part of participants – who need to commit to reading them in advance. But over and over I’ve seen individual and collective thinking sharpened considerably with this kind of pre-work, allowing groups to do what they do best – think creatively, dig deep, explore trade-offs and shared values, and find collective solutions to complex problems.

“Managing” social activist staff: two upcoming workshops

Managing” social activists…. Does that sound like an oxymoron, or what!?  Working in the not-for-profit sector for 20 years, I’ve noticed that the biggest messes many leaders face stem from a lack of skill in managing their people. Managing teams is especially tough when both the (often reluctant) managers AND the ‘managees’ are trained, if not fundamentally driven, to question authority and status quo power structures.  Two upcoming workshops – one on the West Coast of B.C., and one in Washington, D.C. – can help.

First, the fabulous  Deena Chochinov, a veteran organizational development consultant (among other skills) is leading a 2-part workshop on Talent Management on May 7th and May 14th in Vancouver, BC. As she explains, “This high-impact skill-building workshop will guide you through the key drivers and steps for creating a motivated, inspired and responsible workforce that will survive and thrive in these challenging times.” See http://www.hollyhock.ca for details.

On the other side of the continent, a workshop in D.C. addresses HR (human resources) and social activism in particular.  The Management Assistance Group is offering a 3-part workshop on Managing Real People, Managing Change, especially for social justice organizations. It’s being offered out of the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., starting with a full-day session on May 11th.  See http://events.constantcontact.com for details.

POP everything! Strategic planning in 30 seconds or less

P.O.P. – Purpose, Outcome and Process – is one of the snappiest, most useful planning tools I know. And it’s completely scalable – from planning a 10 minute phone call to organizing a campaign.

One of the simplest, snappiest and most useful planning tools I know is one we teach at Rockwood Leadership Institute.  It’s a sweet little acronym called “P.O.P.” – standing for Purpose, Outcome and Process. Given the state of my memory, I  lunge at anything this easy to remember.  And this fast. Sure, it may take a bit more 30 seconds sometimes, but it’s still pretty snappy and massively effective.

Here’s a snapshot of P.O.P. And really, it’s so straightforward, this is all you need:

  • “Purpose” answers the question “why
  • “Outcome speaks to “what” – the vision of what success will look and feel like when you ‘arrive’
  • “Process” speaks to “how” – the specific steps involved in getting there.

Straight from the Source
The “P.O.P.” model was devised by brilliant leadership consultant (and fellow Rockwood trainer) Leslie Sholl Jaffe and her partner Randall Alford.  As they describe it, “POP is a useful tool for a multitude of the daily activities leaders find themselves faced with: meeting agendas, campaigns, difficult conversations, unplanned calls and conversations… As you can gather from the list, POP is scalable, it can be used for large, long term projects, regular weekly staff meetings, a meeting you attend or a call that comes in that has no agenda, coaching/mentoring sessions…”

Case in point: Workshop Design
Last week I met with a small team of folks designing a workshop within a larger conference for immigrants and refugees.  We started by stepping back and asking: what is the overall purpose of this workshop? Why now? Why here? How can it advance our particular focus on supporting skilled immigrants and refugees in the job market? Then we asked: if this workshop were wildly successful, what would the outcome be? In other words, what does success look like, in concrete terms? Only then did we address the process – the specific format, agenda design, room set-up, breakout size etc.

Cart before the horse…
All too often, action-oriented social justice and not-for-profit leaders jump straight into planning the process of calls, meetings and entire projects – without first nailing down a clear sense of the purpose and outcomes. In practice, it’s vastly more effective to “go slow to go fast”.  Even doing a quick “POP” for simple tasks, I’ve found, can save hours of time, and help ensure that your  creative energies are aligned and vastly more effective from the start.

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