September, 2016

Why Are We Solving the Wrong Problem?



What if you’re trying to solve the wrong problem?

Think about it.

Your organization could be hammering away every day, working hard on projects, spending down grants and newer even come close to solving the real problem.

It’s a horrifying thought, isn’t it? But it’s more common than we’d like to think.

Here are some reflections about this curious phenomenon:

All organizations are geared to protect the status quo. Funding, staffing, public relations all align to support the status quo. That makes sense (except when it doesn’t).

Boards of directors worry about change. Maintaining fidelity to the core mission often becomes the responsibility of the board of directors. And they take that job seriously.

Sometimes we don’t know how to do what is needed. So we do what we know. Change in human services or community development isn’t as simple as swapping out one machine for a new one. Mindsets and skill sets have to be changed and that is often very daunting.

The accountability connection is stronger between the organization and its funding sources than between the organization and its customers. Meaning what? Meaning that an organization will generally pay more attention to funders’ interests.

Funders increasingly drive the solution train. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Both. Funders have a macro view; they have access to broader data and deeper thinking. That’s good. They also have distance; they are a long way from problems as they exist on the ground (that’s where you and your organization live). That’s not so good. It means that while they might be seeing a problem, they aren’t feeling it. There’s a difference.

Community input is hard to get and, often, hard to take. It’s a sturdy organization that can handle regular exposure to community evaluation and input. It is so much easier to believe that you represent the community than to frequently go back and check. Few organizations are this brave.

Any of this hit home with you? Ever think that maybe you’re doing good work but still missing the mark? Maybe if the problem you are trying to solve continues; if you don’t see significant changes from your efforts, you ought to rethink your approach. Maybe it’s time to rethink everything, from the ground up.




Maybe It’s Time to Overthank


Jan Portrait 3 (2)“Is your board absent or just useless?”

An acquaintance started a conversation with me this morning by telling me that her board of directors was useless. This is a pretty common claim. I hear it all the time. But the question to me is: are your board members absent and useless or showing up and not knowing what to do or how to do it?

There’s a difference. When board members find every possible excuse not to show up to meetings or to carry through with simple jobs, that’s a problem of interest and commitment.  Maybe they joined the board by mistake, maybe they thought the organization is doing something different from what they’d envisioned, maybe they’ve gone on to a new issue, a new cause. People are fickle. This week’s big issue may have won their heart away from your organization. You never know unless you go ask them.

Sometimes, you can win back absent board members. Sometimes, you just have to kiss them goodbye.

But what to do about the other type: the board members who are not absent but are pretty useless when they show up.  Now nobody is truly useless. Just by showing up, a person demonstrates a certain level of interest and commitment. It’s not easy for the normal person, working a full schedule, managing a family and other obligations, to come to meetings. But that’s what we expect: be there every time and be cheerful about it!

How do you help ‘useless’ board members become useful? Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask them. Ask them about their skills and their work history. Ask them what they’re good at. Better yet, ask them what they’d like to get good at! Ask them where they think they can fit in. Little or large – appreciate every idea.
  2. Revamp your menu. Telling board members that you want them to fund raise will make them break into hives. I’ll tell you that right here. Don’t do it. Tell them you want them to post a specific message on their social media. Ask them to sell 10 tickets to an event. See if they’ll bake for a party or get one of their friends to donate their talents. Be specific and small. Little doable tasks. That’s the ticket to building capacity.
  3. Love them up. I’m of the school of thought that no one gets appreciated nearly enough. So I am an ‘overthanker.’ I thank people in emails, I send them notes, but, most important, I thank them in public. That’s how you show people what you value – by thanking them. All that thanking also inspires other people — to also be overthankers and to do things that will inspire overthanking. Trust me. I’m right about this. I’ve seen this unfold a million times.

‘Useless’ board members don’t have to stay that way. If they show up, that means you have something to work with. Try my three ideas and let me know if they work. And remember especially to overthank!