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The Evolution of Urgency

“There’s more sense of urgency in the for-profit segment than in the nonprofit segment, and it should actually be the reverse.  There is more to lose in the nonprofit segment.”  

This succinct understatement comes from Paula Schneider, CEO of Susan G. Komen and former fashion and apparel CEO.  Ms. Schneider certainly has the experience to back her comment - in both sectors. 

Urgency in the fashion industry is about making money.  At Susan G. Komen we see one of the best models for raising money and urgency around a cancer that will kill 41,000 women in the U.S. this year.

With urgency comes money for both of these two very different endeavors.  Where's the urgency in nonprofit organizations?  I've watched this question now for years and know it's evolving.

Nonprofit services, especially human services, are grassroots by nature. 
The urgency is for the next person through the door.  Real people, real needs, in real time.

The evolution is showing up as a new understanding of true costs, including the importance of high quality management and leadership.  The urgency evolution includes the need for better compensation, for entrepreneurial approaches such as building capital for taking new risks instead of waiting for public funding.

For the people running nonprofit companies, a shared urgency between the people in need and the drive to build the business is the mark of the evolution of urgency.  Don't give up on either, give them both more steam and see it grow.

You Are the Best HOPE

The best hope for reducing division and tribalism in our country right now lies in the nonprofit sector.  

You -  the people who are dedicated to the ARTS, to HEALTH, to CHILDREN and to DAILYDIGNITY - hold a  common belief that separation from one another is an illusion - we are all connected.  

Identity politics and economic class separation delivers tribalism.  We have our tribes and our common enemies.  How many people do you know well who voted for “the other side” in 2016?  The rift between tribes is very real right now.  Most of us can say that we have not seen our country more divided in our lifetimes.

But people working in nonprofit causes hold two seemingly contradictory beliefs in the same hand:
- “nobody’s perfect,” we all have challenges, and

- “we’re all perfect,”  beautiful sparkling crystals inside a rough exterior. 

And these beliefs grow stronger through action.   As behavior change precedes changes in attitude, behavior patterns build and fortify attitudes and beliefs. 

Whether you’re a volunteer, a long term professional, or just starting out –

Keep doing what you do and re-commit to it at a human-to-human level. 


John Lennon sang “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  

And of course what’s true for life is true for the life of an organization in spite of our wish that goals and structure and execution make it different.  What happens to the big ideas, the big goals?

The bestselling book The 4 Disciplines of Execution teaches that the “whirlwind” (otherwise known as the real-work or the day-job) is the enemy of big ideas and new activities. 

What percentage of your energy is consumed by the daily momentum, the stuff coming at you from outside, the urgent but not always important? 
Maybe 95%? 

Failing to attend to urgent things bites you quickly, not attending to important things – the big goals – has a slower corrosive impact. 
When urgency and importance clash, urgency wins every time.

We spent some time reviewing the 4 disciplines of execution in an Executive Roundtable this year and one point became quickly apparent to the group: 
Slowing down or pausing the whirlwind isn’t possible – or desirable. 
Good things and important things happen in the whirlwind, it’s the life force of the organization.  And like a river, it flows even when you’re not watching it!

But we need to understand and critically observe the whirlwind in order to know what’s actually happening – then we can become the expert in seeing the difference between urgent and important, and giving time to the important.

The goal is 20%:  spend 20% of your time, consciously and consistently, on the important-not-urgent bigger goals and you will make them happen.
Leaders know the difference between urgent and important, and pay attention to both.  Watch the whirlwind from both inside it and outside it and carefully cultivate the 20%.

Restoration is good for the soul

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...and my soul is what I have to give! 

 “Any travel plans this summer?” I asked my friend at a networking event.  He’s a nonprofit exec for a neighborhood service agency on the east side. 

“Yes, trying to schedule two weeks together – I haven’t done that in years, it’s hard.”  It can be hard, and I remember the point in my career that I learned that it is far too valuable to give up. 

Two weeks to prepare to get away and the last 3 days of that is frantic.  Three days at the beginning of the trip recovering from the preparation days, and another three days on the end traveling home and getting mentally ready to go back.  On a true two-calendar-week trip of 16 days that leaves me ten sweet days in the middle – detached, distracted, unplugged, untethered.

"By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing:  self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. "                       

 Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Parker Palmer calls self-care “good stewardship.”  We are each a unique gift to the world and must care for that gift.  I’m doing it this month and I’m happy about it!   if my photo-sharing helps trigger some stewardship for your gift I’ll be even more happy.

Follow me on my journey on Instagram @buzz_scott_55 if you want to get a glimpse.  

Can't See the Board for the Trees?

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If you're running an organization with a volunteer board you probably often feel confident that you "get it" 

and other times you leave a meeting feeling completely mystified. 

There are a lot of trees in the forest of nonprofit governance and typically 2 or 3 of those trees will dominate our view at any point in time.  

Maybe the tree you're staring at is a group of wonderful people who love your mission, or a personality that dominates meetings, or maybe it's a bylaw deal like term limits that just can't get resolved.  

Do yourself and your board a favor by taking a look at BoardSource's biennial report, "Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices."

This study uniquely collated feedback from both CEO's and board chairs with over 1,750 responses.  It's compiled with easy to read charts and narrative divided into "what we found" and "why it matters."  You'll find many things of interest. 

Here's a small sample, what the report calls "Opportunities for Reflection" (the note with each item is mine):

  1.  Help your board cultivate a deeper understanding of your organization’s work – Understanding programs leads to mission-based decision making – and enthusiasm, commitment, and reward for board members too.
  2. Create opportunities to build your board’s comfort with and engagement in providing leadership outside the boardroom – We can creatively increase the fundraising, advocacy, and community outreach that is the heart of the purpose of boards.
  3.  Explore and define your organization’s values as it relates to diversity, inclusion, and equity – Expand the conversation about your board’s composition, what does diversity mean for us?
  4. Check in regularly on how well your board understands – and is fulfilling – its roles and responsibilities – You can’t live up to a role (or stay out of someone else’s role) if you don’t get them clear.  So many good things flow from attention here.
  5. Invest in the board’s culture – You have a culture, but it may be fully accidental and partially working against you.  When you read about this you’ll get reinvested.

There are many fascinating findings in this report.  It’s like a drone-view of the forest so you can get your eyes off the trees for a minute!

Locking Up the Phone

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Jack White was in town last week and treated (or cramped, depending on your perspective) his fans with a phone-free performance using locking pouches made by the tech startup Yondr.  With this technology people drop their phones in a soft locking pouch, keep it with them, and get the pouch unlocked only in zones outside the performance area.  The show is not shared with and by thousands of hovering screens.  This has been growing in the entertainment arenas since 2015, Chris Rock used it on his big tour last year, and now courtrooms and schools are picking it up in some areas.  People can’t be expected to control their personal technology (we all know that), so this is a new and fairly low-tech solution.

Of Americans 18 and over, 95% own a cell phone.  Multiple studies in 2017 found that we use those phones around 5 hours a day, obviously for things besides phone calls.  This is a weird time that won’t last (although I don’t know the next iteration of instant communication and connection).  You know those decade-theme parties, dress like the 60’s or 80’s?  When we have twenty-tens parties in years to come everyone will walk around recalling these years with text-neck postures staring at little flat rectangles.

My phone is a distraction, and a powerful tool.  I tried on the newest Apple watch recently and asked “what does it do?’ to which the sales guy replied “Everything your phone does except take photos – but you can release the phone shutter remotely from the watch.”  I realize that when I reach for my phone for one purpose I’m pulled into all the other things it delivers and I don’t want all of those things closer to me (like strapped to my wrist).  Distractions don’t serve my daily or life goals, focus does.   I’m going to spend the next 30 days reducing this distraction – stopping mid-reach, leaving the phone at home, using a watch to check the time, and keeping the thing off the table.  If you’re like me, this is a conversation to join, a habit to break, or an inquiry to ponder. 

Finding the Doorway

 image from a visit to Black Canyon National Park   (sabrina staires )

image from a visit to Black Canyon National Park  (sabrina staires)

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Mary Oliver's   "Praying"


This is indeed a crazy time of the year! 

This poem by Mary Oliver (one of my favorite poets)  has spoken to me many times, about how it doesn't have to be hard or complicated but is about simply pausing.  Paying attention can be all that it takes. Just being outside does this for me. I immediately feel the relief, a release of exiting the daily contest to "try too hard".  

Finding the space to focus takes on new meaning now.  Where is that space, the space that is the doorway into thanks and inspiration?  I have faith that we all can find it. 

Happy Holidays! 


Ever heard of Sunday Somnia

We’ve learned through national surveys the last few years that Sunday night in this country is the night for the worst sleep of the week.  

Anxiety and dread about going back to work Monday.  We’ve also heard repeatedly that people quit their boss not their job, and Gallup reported in 2015 that half of Americans surveyed had left a job to improve their overall life.  

Loving work instead of dreading it is a function of several key things, top among them is the boss and the team you're on.  Patrick Lencioni challenges leaders with this:

“I want you to realize that while you are leading this team you are having a bigger impact on peoples’ lives than you may ever have.  You change the way they go home at night, the way they treat their families and friends, you effect their self-esteem and that’s going to carry over through their life.  Your ability to build a good team and help them feel a part of that team might be the most altruistic thing you ever do.”
Good teams can build people up and help them overcome all kinds of normal work challenges. 
In a recent meeting with a leadership team I am supporting I watched an individual practice vulnerability-based trust with his team by sharing an insight he had about the way people perceived him in the workplace. 
It had dawned on him in one short conversation that some people experience him as authoritarian, even a bully, when his intention is totally different. 
His team, one by one, affirmed both his perception and his intention and praised and supported his desire to adjust the way he presented himself. They pointed out the positives in his work and style. 
This was pretty exciting to watch. 
The energy in the room completely changed. 

You may think of teamwork as a way to get things done, but consider looking at teamwork as the most underutilized route to people’s happiness at workCreating groups that work well together will engage people, support them as individuals and make everyone feel like they are a part of something important. 
The reward is the much-needed meaning and purpose on Monday morning. 

You may even help people sleep at night! 

Temperance Not Prohibition

Temperance Not Prohibition

“The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.” Ross Douthat.

On a bike ride not long ago I spotted a man standing on his front porch, neck bent with gaze downcast on the little flat box in his right hand.  I was triggered, I thought about where my phone was and when I could check it.  I kept riding and thought about the day in the future that a silhouette of that pose will represent this era, the 2010’s.

The compulsion to be connected via this technology won’t kill us exactly but is far from harmless.  Douthat in The New York Times states that it “requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence – your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art – in a state of perpetual distraction.” 

So true, so true.  Last week I was in two meetings, six people in each, two separate days.  In one group, the custom is no-screens, including no phones on the table.  The other group apparently has not established any limits and three people were using their phone, their laptop, or both during the meeting.  One group focused on whoever was speaking, eyes were connected, any notes were taken with a pen.  In the other group, it was hard to tell who was in the meeting or connected elsewhere, attention was scattered, someone left to take a call, people were quickly and continuously distracted by movement outside the glass in both ends of the conference room.

Such amazing tools we have.  At coffee with a friend that same week I was sharing something I was reading and my friend ordered the book as we talked.  While writing about the compulsion of connectivity 5 minutes ago I asked Siri how to spell “silhouette.”

We don’t want prohibition but we need temperance.  Temperance can simply mean “a culture of restraint that tries to keep a specific product in its place.  And the internet, like alcohol, may be an example of a technology that should be sensibly restricted in custom and in law,” (Douthat).  This is happening in families, in theaters, and in organizations and can spread to so many spaces.  We’ll need to work consciously to catch up with the technology that seduces and addicts up (and “alienates and sedates” us in Douthat’s words) but there is a lot at stake – namely the richness of connecting to people we love and the natural world.

“Resist the Internet,” Ross Douthat, The New York Times, March 12, 2017

We Don't Need Another Hero

In today's non-profit world we may try to do it all.  
We want to save at least a piece of the world.

We may not want to be heroes but we're ready and willing. 
In 34 years as a nonprofit executive I watched people suffer for the cause and simply suffer because of the cause.  We call the first martyrdom and the second victimhood.  Both states begin with the best of intentions and because people care.of course.  Most people quickly agree that we don't need more martyrs and victims in our work to improve the world.
And what about heroes, do we need more?  
"Hell yeah, who is going to turn down a true hero?"  Right, because a true hero steps up or steps in without pause when the crisis demands it.  The crisis could be life threatening or the crisis might be group silence when someone should speak up.  The heroes we don't need are people jumping onto exaggerated messes intent on saving the day, self-identified heroes who do their work as solutions-in-search-of-a-problem.  
As a leader in your organization you know your martyrs and heroes, and you don't need any more.  What you want and need are people who genuinely care about the cause and will be a meaningful part of the team that is on it.   Go ahead and name them, support them!