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OK, see, I get it! It's been a LONG time since my last entry. Why? I got busy, of course.

Let's tally up my excuses:
3 grants due November 15
1 grant due December 1
Totaled my car (oops)
Playing catch up in January
5 grants due in February (four done, one to go)

That's a pretty full list. Any of it sound familiar? We in the small shop have a lot to do, and of course we all still have family obligations as well. And yet, we KNOW perfectly well that we have to find the time to blog, to update our profile on Facebook, launch an email newsletter, and maybe even tweet.

So, now that we're well into the new year, let's make a resolution together: somehow, we are going to find the time to do this new media thing. Here are my thoughts on how those of us who are always trying to do a million things at once can manage. 

1. Set achievable goals. I started out thinking I would be able to blog weekly. You've seen how well that's worked for me! Instead, I am going to set a goal of monthly posts, with more frequent updates on Facebook. Instead of trying to find an hour a week, find ten minutes.

2. Schedule the time for new media, just as you would any other appointment or task. I'm starting to think that this stuff is as important, maybe more so, than some of the tasks that we've always considered essential. Yes, you still need to work on that grant, but maybe you don't need to do something else.

3. Pick what's going to work for you and your audiences. You don't have to do everything. If you're trying to decide where to start, I'd suggest a Facebook page for your nonprofit. It's free, and doesn't take much time to set up. Also, every page looks pretty much the same, so you don't have to worry about competing on design and "flash." Your board will be impressed, and you can decide where to do from there.

4. Do less with less. If you have scarce time and resources, you can't do more. You need to cut back. Sounds obvious, but somehow we've all fallen into this belief that somehow we can achieve more with the same resources. The U.S. government reports huge growth in corporate productivity in December 2009. That means that people in the workforce are being pushed about as hard as they can be. I'm sure you can relate. From the "non-essentials" list that you created from Part 1 of this post, pick one thing to drop. There's your 10 minutes to work on new media.

5. Find some part of new media that you enjoy, and make it a priority. This is one I have to remember myself! Somehow we always manage to find the time to do things that we enjoy, whether it's working with clients, talking with donors, checking our email, or watching TV. If you resent a task, you won't push to get it done.

I have some other thoughts, too, mostly having to do with mobile devices and the role that they will play in our work... but I'm saving that for next month. Really. I promise.
mission_components.gifToday I worked with a great group of board members of a lineal descendant society that owns a 300+-year-old farmstead. They called me in to help them refine their mission statement, feeling that it didn't accurately reflect who they actually are and what they want to achieve in the world.

Sure, I said. I can help. Mission development happens to be a favorite gig of mine. People are usually pretty positive and eager to be energized. It's great fun when I can help them pull together a few words and bam! all of a sudden they have a focus for the future.

For the past six months, people have been wondering if the current economic downturn is the same or different from anything we've seen in the past. In other words, is this a "business cycle dip" or the next Great Depression? I've told folks that I don't know the answer, only that these times we're in don't feel like anything I've been through in the nonprofit business, and I've been doing this since 1991. But I'm starting to have some glimmers of understanding.

First, mission is essential. We've always said that, right? But mission has come to mean more than just a clean, catchy mission statement. It means offering unique services of value to specific people who will be effected positively in specific ways. It means impact as well as outcomes. You've gotta answer the question, "And why should I care?"

Second, expansion is not the road to sustainability. There is a lot of overlap and duplication in the nonprofit community; this is not good, especially in a sector that doesn't like to talk about competition. If we try to expand and drive another group out of business, we may in fact succeed in killing ourselves as well. The name of the game now is focus, focus, focus.

Lastly, we have to figure out how to keep going effectively, not simply limping along with less. We have to be ready to cut loose whatever's dragging us down, and really, really, really be willing to accept change and roll with it. Darn, that's hard. But it can also be fun.

My group this morning went from a passive, safe, secure, and very private mission statement to one that "opens the door of the house," to quote one board member. Now they're free to walk outside and look around. While I was leaving they were actually cheering - not for me, but for all the hard work they had done, and about the prospect of a brighter future that they have control over.

I was so inspired that I knew I had to formulate our own mission statement, so here it is:

Musevue360 helps nonprofits think critically, plan effectively, and achieve lasting results.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

DIY or Not?

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Hello from a long hiatus of entries! My apologies for the gap; we were experiencing technical difficulties all around, meaning I've been sick and various computer-related issues have cropped up. But enough of that. Let's talk about your nonprofit.

A question that nonprofit organizations frequently ask, or ask themselves, is, "Do we really need to hire outside expertise for XYZ project? Can we do it ourselves faster, better, and more cheaply?"

That's a really great question - and the answer is, "It depends." (I wish I had a nickel for every time I've said that!") Basically, opting to DIY or not is matter of making choices. These can be simplified into the following series of questions:

Do you have a lot of time? If so, then you may wish to explore doing it yourself. If you're in a hurry, employing outside expertise may be the best way to maximize efficiency. Be aware, however, that the process of locating the right people to help you also takes time, and if you're right on deadline, doing it yourself may be your only option.

Do you have the needed skill set on staff (including your volunteer pool)? Here I mean the people who really know what they're doing, who have the necessary training and temperament for the job. If not, how difficult is it to bring the people you do have at your disposal up to speed? If you need technical or legal expertise that isn't on staff, stop here and go hire someone. The same is true with trade skills such as plumbing and electrical work. It doesn't pay to mess around with legal liability, health and safety issues, or other critical areas (such as technology) if you aren't really sure of what you're doing.

Do you have or can you find the financial resources needed to hire outside professionals? You may be surprised to find that this isn't the first question to ask. The reason is that your top goal should be getting the job done, rather than saving money. I'm assuming that this project, whatever it is, is strategic and important. If it's not, forget about it for now. Your resources of time, energy, and funding are too stretched already to be thinking of "wouldn't it be nice" projects. If you don't have the money on hand to hire someone, finding it may be easier than you think. Most funders understand the need bring in expertise, and you may have the makings of a great grant request here.

Are you willing to compromise on quality, redirect resources from other projects, buy needed tools, and/or put in extra effort to make the project happen in-house? The graphic above effectively illustrates the kinds of choices that you may have to make in order to be successful doing something yourself. If you need satisfactory but not outstanding results, by all means consider doing it yourself. Do you have staff that are underutilized? They may be very happy to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities. Do you simply need to buy some special software or other equipment that you will use regularly? These may be good investments in the long run. On the other hand, it's not smart to buy expensive tools that you're only going to use once.

Finally, could your project benefit from a second opinion? There's a reason why doctors aren't supposed to treat themselves or their family members. Being too close to something can limit your perspective and impair your judgement. Sometimes what your project really needs to be successful is an outside viewpoint, even more than a specialized skill set. It's near impossible, for example, for an executive director to successfully lead an organizational assessment. He or she is simply too wrapped up in daily concerns, occasional disagreements with the staff or board, and a personal agenda to be able to truly step back.

Now, I now what you're thinking - I'm the consultant, of course I'm going to say hire someone from the outside! In many cases, such as those I've outlined about, doing that is the best option. In others, DIY is the way to go and I will tell you so. My goal is to help you make the smartest decision given your individual circumstances. There is no "one" right choice,

Have you had experience with DIY consulting? I'd love to hear about it, and your fellow readers would too. Please share your story with us, and thanks!

Foxes in Wells

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My husband was reading Aesop's Fables to our daughter in the car the other day (on my iPhone; the juxtaposition of ancient and modern was brilliant). Fox in Well.jpgI'm familiar with the big ones - Tortoise and the Hare, Sour Grapes, etc. - but he read one that I hadn't heard or at least didn't remember. It went like this:

Once, due to an unfortunate mishap, a fox fell down a deep well that he was unable to climb out of. Eventually, a goat happened to walk by, looked down the well, and said, "Friend, what are you doing down there?"

The fox replied, "Haven't you heard? There's going to be a great drought and when it comes I will be here where there's water. You should come down, too."

So the goat jumped down the well. Immediately the fox sprang onto the goat's back, and by jumping off his long horns, managed to climb out of the well. "So long, friend," the fox said to the goat as he went on his way.

The moral is, never take advice from someone in difficulty.

Good point. Right now, the nonprofit sector and our economy in general is littered with foxes in wells: institutions led by smart people who somehow weren't paying attention and got into trouble. And before you start thinking I'm being sanctimonious, let me say that we've ALL done it. Perhaps we were hoping something else would happen; perhaps we were concentrating on other things when, bam, there we were at the bottom of a well. (I once fell into an open sewer grate in Chang Rai, Thailand, but that's another story.) The point is, there are a lot of institutions out there in difficulty. How do we view their advice?

The nonprofit sector likes to share success stories, but rarely if ever do we analyze case studies of what went wrong. I've been to many seminars and workshops in which people and institutions tout their smart new approaches, but I can't recall seeing the "a while later this is what really happened" follow up session. After all, the fox could probably have survived for quite a while, albeit thinly: he had access to water and there was probably a rat or two to eat once in awhile. But is that success? There are certainly cases where the people and institutions have received a bailout from a friendly but unwise goat, but did they learn from the experience? We ought to, at least.

So, my thought for the day is threefold: watch out for wells; don't jump in without an escape plan; and look at the whole situation before deciding to follow advice. 
A colleague and friend of mine is currently nursing a parent through what is canning.jpgprobably the final illness. As often happens in these situations, my friend has spent a lot of time talking with her parent about the past, about shared experiences, and what life was like for earlier generations of Americans. I was struck by the fact that my friend's parent liked to reminisce about life during the Great Depression - not to recount tales of horror and deprivation, but in a positive way. "People were just decent to each other then," this older person remembers.

Now, I don't believe that anyone longs to be hungry, impoverished, or anxious, but I can definitely see what my friend's parent means about decency. The past six months have seen the media shrilly panicked about The Global Financial Crisis, and I know many individuals and nonprofit organizations are really hurting. I myself am a statistic of the New Economy. However, I've gone from being panicked to realistic: we will all be making do with less. And I've also seen heartwarming instances of people helping each other out. Families are being brought closer; the stigma of joblessness is gone, and nonprofits are not somehow miraculous expected to buck all the major economic trends to turn in stellar financial performance under any circumstance. 

We're also rediscovering "lost" skills. Apparently there is great new interest in things like canning, knitting, and do-it-yourself repairs. I've even taken up sewing, and if you know me you'll know that that's a major accomplishment. It's a very old adage that necessity is the mother of invention, but I'm seeing organizations thinking more creatively about sustainability and yes, survival than they have in years.

What is your nonprofit doing these days? How are you reacting to the New Economy? Are you feeling positive or discouraged? I'd love to hear from you.

The Best Laid Plans

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plancycle.gifMice, men, and bloggers seem to share a characteristic: we make plans that may or may not happen. I extend my apologies to my readers that I didn't have anything new up last Friday.

I spent last week recuperating from a severe neck strain that landed me in the ER for an evening and resulted in some pretty heavy medication for several days. I needed to meet some deadlines before the end of the week, so Friday morning came and went without a post. But as much as I wish I could do it all, I just can't, at least not all the time.

It occurred to me that that's true for all of us as individuals and institutions. Sometimes we just have to slow down, detour from, or hold off on plans that we've made in order to accommodate new circumstances. (I can imagine many of you thinking right now, "Well, duh, that's what the past six months have been about!") In some cases I can think of, varying from an original plan turned out to be the wisest and best idea for me personally and for some of the institutions I've worked with.

Now, I'm all for planning. It's what I do for a living after all. Planning leads to intentional outcomes, and that's a good thing. The best plans are the ones that can be firm enough to provide guidance and flexible enough to allow for change. Plans are by nature never complete, and never reflect reality absolutely. They are visions of a reality that you are trying to achieve. If you are dedicated to the planning goal, you will achieve the objective, but you may not get there in exactly the way you thought you might.

So, I ended up posting on Sunday night instead of Friday morning. Hey, this way you have something to read with your start-of-the-work-week coffee. See, things have a way of working out in the end.








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