7 Keys to Leadership Communication: The Art of Knowing When To Stop Talking

imageFor a long time I have believed that there is an art in knowing when to stop talking. Who among us hasn’t had the experience of thinking: If I had just stopped talking about 2 or 3 sentences ago?? As a leader, this is especially true when we are asked for a direction, an explanation or a question (especially if it is a yes or no question). There really is no need to begin our response with The Book of Genesis, right?

Whether we are leading a staff, an army of volunteers, communicating with funding sources or a Board of Directors, the following are some of my essential observations about good leadership communication:

  • Be Clear and Direct    thHLDPVWFBHence, The Art of Knowing When To Stop Talking. Be clear about the message and convey it as succinctly as possible. Say it in as simple language as possible and avoid grandiose language. Avoid “triangular” communication, which can lead to problems. For example, triangular communication is involved when the director needs to deliver a message to Mary but instead delivers it to Sam, who may or may not convey it to Mary the way it was intended. Like “whisper down the alley”, communication can become inaccurate or get off topic. Be sure that the intended recipient of a message receives it directly.

 

  • Listen    th40A well-documented fact, successful and effective leaders listen. We cannot obtain information from people, departments or entire organizations if we do all of the talking all of the time. Skilled leaders know how to engage and facilitate others to do the talking in order that they may obtain the information they need. As Mike Myatt of Forbes says, Shut-up and listen!

 

  • Have an Agenda    Think ahead a bit about the beginning, middle and end of the th4communication. It is best to say or write up front in the beginning what the message is about. People tend to remember the beginning and, of course, how something ended but the middle part is more easily forgotten. For these reasons, introduce the intended message right at the beginning, use a wrap-up or summarizing technique at the end and place less critical or salient points in the middle of a message.

 

  • Always Be Respectful    th9O2GBEBKA key part of being a leader, be as upbeat and positive as possible in all communications, especially when having to deliver an unfavorable message. This may not always be easy to do especially in the face of conflict or adversary but at the end of the day “burning bridges” and destructive relationships will not benefit anyone or further the mission.

 

  • Non-Verbal Body Language   Be mindful of non-verbal body language. Our lips may be saying one thing but our bodies are saying another! When communicating a message, keep in mind things like thMPVRUEUOsitting behind a desk (power and control), standing over someone (intimidation) and – worst of all – crossing the arms (non-receptive, closed). Sometimes non-verbal body language speaks louder than the words we use.

 

  • The 5:1 Rule    Simply put, the 5:1 rule is that for every “constructive” message, there needs to be 5 positives. th3AEO8NAUIt is easier for leaders to praise rather than criticize: Although you need to gain speed in completing your daily reports, you are on time, dressed appropriately for the job, you are respectful to consumers, they look forward to seeing you and you have a great attitude!

 

  • Technology   Gone are the days when we dictated letters and someone else typed them for us. Today, if we need a letter, we type it ourselves – and more likely, we email or text it. In the age of electronics, it behooves leaders to use their smart phones and iPads wisely. Add Facebook and Twitter into the mix and we th27have a virtual jungle of communication with staff, Board members, funding sources and volunteers. In addition, know the preferred method of communication of the audience. This may translate into the same message being broadcasted by several different methods (e.g., website, email, Facebook) if the demographics of the audience are diverse. While many of our older donors prefer to receive their newsletters and annual reports in printed copy, the Gen X crowd wants to be texted or tweeted. Know how to best communicate with the intended audience.

 

References:

Myatt, Mike (April 4, 2012). 10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders. Forbes. Retrieved on August 4, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/04/04/10-communication-secrets-of-great-leaders/

Craemer, Mark (December 29, 2011). 10 Tips to Improve Workplace Communication. Seattle pi. Retrieved on August 4, 2014, from  http://blog.seattlepi.com/workplacewrangler/2011/12/29/10-tips-to-improve-workplace-communication/

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Fiscal Sponsorship: An Overview

th32An overlooked concept in the world of non-profit organization financial management that does not appear to have hit its full stride yet is that of fiscal sponsorship. In a prolonged and challenging economic downturn, it may be a good time to look at it more closely. Prompted by the increase in the number of non-profit organizations seeking IRS tax exempt status (e.g., following the widespread devastation of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina), fiscal sponsorship refers to the use of existing, established organizations to achieve similar or overlapping missions thGTJ6SAFIrather than forming new organizations. Essentially, a ‘fiscal sponsor’ is a non-profit, tax exempt entity that acts as a financial sponsor for a project, committee or another organization that may not yet have received its tax exempt status with the IRS. In recent years, fiscal sponsorship has become more widely known in areas of human services, environmental causes and artistic endeavors.

Perhaps ideal for start-up organizations or those that want to accomplish time-limited charitable projects, the fiscal sponsorship of a larger, established organization can thCAP8GAXGprovide often costly administrative “overhead” functions such as office space, payroll, employee benefits, fundraising, publicity, legal counsel and training assistance. Some project developers may simply want to test their ideas out in their fields of interest before taking on the task of applying for tax exempt status with the IRS. There are many kinds of sponsorships; however, chief among them is grant-seeking sponsorship largely because foundations and government agencies [always] fund organizations and disallow making grants to individuals. In effect, the fiscal sponsor organization may receive grants and donations and even engage in other fundraising activities on behalf of the project, manage those funds according to their intended uses as well as document the progress of the project. Choosing a thL5AMP8X8fiscal sponsor largely depends on the nature or purpose of the project or committee and how consistent it may be with the mission of the larger organization. In addition, choosing a fiscal sponsor also needs to take into account the reputation of the larger organization in the community, its own financial health as well as its relationship with its funding sources. In other words, how attractive will the proposed sponsor organization be to potential funding sources for the project in subsequent grant requests? Aside from the local community, many national organizations have sprung up expressly for the purpose of providing fiscal th467N86XNsponsorships; for example, Tides in San Francisco, and many directories are available online. Moreover, the opportunities for a social cause or project to attract more attention and increased funding is somewhat greater in a fiscal sponsorship through the “cross promotional” benefits of an association with the larger, established organization. According to Gregory Colvin – a leading tax law expert in fiscal sponsorship – additional models of sponsorship include direct project sponsorship, independent contractor support, group exemption and technical assistance. For more detailed information about each of these models of fiscal sponsorship, please see Mr. Colvin’s book, Fiscal Sponsorship: Six Ways To Do It Right (Study Center Press, 2006).

Like many management decisions, entering into a fiscal sponsorship relationship is not a casual decision and does not come without some potential pitfalls for both the non-profit and the proposed project. A fiscal sponsorship arrangement needs to be thERW0I7W9formalized in a written contractual agreement or memorandum of understanding between both parties, typically specifying who will be responsible to do what and when. A memorandum of understanding – which, it is recommended, be reviewed by a tax attorney first –  clearly addresses the terms and conditions of the project management, including the scope of the project, timeframes and deadlines, employment issues if necessary and the authority of the th821KA897 project, to name a few. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for an established non-profit organization is that it will assume all of the legal liabilities, tax requirements and regulatory compliance of the project in a fiscal sponsorship agreement. Conversely, on the side of the project or committee seeking fiscal sponsorship, there may be a perceived lack of independence in the project when it is administratively managed by others. Additionally, that established non-profit thHD9NNX8Borganization is not going to give away their administrative time for nothing. The sponsoring organization can and most likely will charge administrative fees, which in itself need not be a bust for the project because the administration fees can be built directly and transparently into the budgets of grant requests.

Clearly, the choice of a social cause or project to seek fiscal sponsorship from a larger, established non-profit organization is a highly individualized and case-specific one. While some organizations and projects may view this kind of relationship as cumbersome or intrusive, others may thrive on it or choose to continue indefinitely in a sponsorship mode. Still other projects may receive enough valuable insight and guidance to launch their own non-profit organizations.

References:

Colvin, G. (January, 2013). Brushes With the Law. Fiscal Sponsorship.com. Retrieved on February 5, 2014, from http://fiscalsponsorship.com/.

Colvin, Gregory (2006). Fiscal Sponsorship: Six Ways To Do It Right. San Francisco: Study Center Press.

Guide to Fiscal Sponsorship. Foundation Center.org. Retrieved on February 5, 2014, from http://foundationcenter.org/getstarted/tutorials/fiscal/conclusion.html.

Fiscal Sponsors. Council of Nonprofits.org. Retrieved on February 5, 2014, from http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/resources/resources-topic/fundraising/fiscal-sponsors.

Give Thanks

th31With the universal season of giving upon us, it is the perfect time for the non-profit community to give appropriate thanks to their donors and volunteers. These are some of the strategies that I have learned about acknowledging donors and volunteers over the years:

  • Report the news! By and large, donors appreciate hearing news about organizations that they support. Or, at the very least, they like to hear about the activities of a non-profit; for example, our child care program went on a field trip to a museum last week. More important, donors like to understand the results or outcomes of their contributions; for example, the organization served 1,500 homeless individuals with hot meals last month.

 

  • Be timely! There is nothing worse than sending the acknowledgement of a gift six thCA33TA4Imonths later – and after the donor may also have forgotten it! This can only serve to remind the donor not to donate again. Prompt and efficient responses to all gifts is a simple way to increase the likelihood of long associations with donors.

 

  • Treat all gifts with gratitude and respect – no matter the size of the gift. Whether a donor gives $5, $500 or $50,000, all thCALXDFKIgifts need to be acknowledged appropriately. According to Kivi Leroux Miller of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, 65 percent of first time donors do not make a second gift. Ms. Miller explains that donors want a simple, prompt and a meaningful thank you letter with some communication about how the donation was used.

 

  • Volunteers are donors, too! In many non-profit organizations, volunteers often perform critical and invaluable functions. At an average national “value” of $22.14 thCAE2BC6Kper hour, a volunteer who frequently gives freely of their time, talent and energy can quickly add up to the equivalent of a salary that an organization is not paying. Volunteers need to be thanked and acknowledged at every opportunity we have.

 

  • Hand-write notes. Despite the era thCA9B039Dof technological sophistication, people still like to receive hand-written notes! Rather than the officious form letter, hand-written note cards demonstrate personalization and the value of a relationship with a donor or volunteer. I have even hand-written the first names of donors and wrote personal notes in the margins of the officious form letter! This is especially true for donors or volunteers with whom we have personal and social relationships.

 

  • Put their names in writing. In general, people also like to see their names in writing, which can also help them feel that their contribution is valued by the organization. Whether it is in a printed newsletter, on the organization’s website and/or on lists of particular levels of giving, donors do tend th4to check that their names have been listed in writing! However, discretion should be exercised in “publicly” listing the amount of a donation. That is, public acknowledgement is typically understood at the time of soliciting the gift – e.g., the ‘president’s circle’ of $10,000 and above donations will be included in the annual report. Of course, if a donation is designated as ‘anonymous’ upon receipt, the donor does not want to be publicly acknowledged and that needs to be respected.

  • Plan a special event. Finally, another method of acknowledging volunteers and donors is to hold a special event around them or a holiday in order to thank and recognize them. Popular in volunteer management, some organizations use the concept of a volunteer luncheon; for example, to thank and recognize the people thCAJYS28Kwho help them every day. The same idea can be utilized with donors (and potential donors) and can include a tour of the organization or its facilities. A special event for this purpose need not be elaborate and can be as simple as a meet and greet, light refreshments or a social mixer. While having a breakfast or lunch does have costs associated with it, many businesses in the community are willing to make in-kind donations to a non-profit in order to help them thank their volunteers (and it’s good advertisement for their businesses!).

 Happy Thanksgiving!

References

Nonprofit Marketing Guide by Kivi Leroux Miller, “Nine Clever Ways to Thank Your Donors”, January 18, 2012. Retrieved from:

http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/resources/fundraising/nine-clever-ways-to-thank-your-donors/your-donors/

Independent Sector, Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time, “National Value of Volunteer Time”, Summer 2013. Retrieved from:

http://independentsector.org/volunteer_time#sthash.GuLh713d.dpbs

So You Want To Start A Nonprofit?

thCAF5CM34The proliferation of non-profit organizations across the United States has been well documented for years. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute, in the ten-year period from 1999 to 2009, the U.S. saw a 31.5 percent increase in the number of registered 501(c)3 public charities, totaling more than 1.5 million nationwide (2010). That percentage increase excludes foreign and government organizations. In my state of Pennsylvania alone, Non-Profit Stats reports a whopping 72,725 registered charitable organizations (2013).

The numbers are even more significant today because many non-profit organizations in communities throughout the country are often trying to carve out their existence in fierce competition with one another for stagnant pools of local monies as well as they are facing reduced if not eliminated private and public funding in a poor economy.thCAIWFVQO

My recent introduction to a very worthwhile start-up non-profit in the Lehigh Valley, PA community reminded me of the rigors of starting a new non-profit organization. The following are just a few highlights of the many, many “hoops” through which a fledgling non-profit is required to jump:

  • Determine the need and sustainability. Before hanging a sign on the door and printing business cards, determine the need for a non-profit serving the proposed mission or purpose in the community. Are there other organizations already established in the local community that serve the same purpose, goals, population or issues? If so, there may not be a strong commitment to a “duplicate” th25organization starting up. More important, determine the sustainability of the proposed non-profit among the community. Who will fund it? Is there enough interest and money in the community to support the organization on an ongoing basis? Research corporate and government funding opportunities that are good matches with the mission of the organization and visit with local, private foundations in order to introduce the idea of a start-up non-profit, gauge their interest, and get to know them.
  • Determine the type of tax exempt status needed. Perhaps the most widely thCA8H6AI8known, the 501(c)3 non-profit is an IRS tax code that permits certain tax exemptions to charitable, educational, scientific, religious, etc. organizations. Other tax exempt codes have been established for civic leagues, child care and social welfare organizations; for example, that have varying disclosure requirements and contribution allowances. Currently, I count 34 different IRS tax exempt codes!
  • Establish by-laws. The by-laws of a non-profit define how the organization will function and conduct its business thCA2UG3JWin the community and typically address issues like board governance, terms of service and lines of authority within the organization. Consultation with legal counsel – or at least review of the by-laws – is highly recommended at this stage of the process.
  • Select a board of directors. What does this particular non-profit need in terms of the community representation on the board of directors? In general, organizations usually need financial, legal and human resource experience. thCAJ8QCJEAdditionally, people tend to gravitate to what they know best so it is typical; for example, to see organizations with an educational purpose with teachers and school district administrators on the board. Make it a goal to diversify the board of directors as much as possible. While there is obvious value in keeping similar people together, diversification in the board increases the richness of experience and expertise that a board of directors can provide to a non-profit.
  • Develop strategic and fundraising goals. The management and board of start-up non-profit organizations are strongly encouraged to engage in some level of strategic and fundraising planning. How will the organization be funded? Where do management and board members expect the organization to be financially and programmatically in a year? In three years? In five years? A strategic plan is eventh28 more important to start-up non-profits especially because in the absence of a proven, successful track record of results it is one of the key items to be shared with potential funders to demonstrate that the organization has been formed with forethought, expertise and a business plan.
  • Request tax exempt status from the IRS. This is really the “big kahuna” in forming a non-profit organization. An organization is not considered not-for-profit until the IRS deems it so with a “Letter of Determination” (see bullet above about types of tax exemption). thCAGJ23S9Without it, an organization may not legitimately solicit funds as a non-profit and donors can not make tax deductible contributions.
  • File state articles of incorporation. Typically granted from a Department of State, incorporation refers to the thCAT51N9Kabsorption of state law under the specific protections of the U.S. Constitution.  That is, the U.S. Constitution shall override all state constitutions and state laws. For organizations that plan to incorporate, this is a key step that may occur in conjunction with filing for tax exempt status with the IRS.
  • Establish record keeping and financial accounting systems. Establishing board approved, financial and internal management procedures and protocolsthCAZOQ79X early in the game; for example, financial statements and reports as well as board meeting minutes, is advisable. Who will be responsible for maintaining records and financial accounting?
  • Obtain liability insurance. Like any other business, non-profit organizations are susceptible to legal risks and start-up organizations are advised to obtain liability insurances. Again, consultation with an attorney familiar with non-profit organizations can be very valuable in selecting Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance as well thCAOF3FUUas general professional liability coverage.

The bulleted items above are only some of the issues that need to be addressed by a start-up non-profit organization. Depending on the organization, additional items that may need to be addressed at start-up include: personnel policies, unemployment compensation, withholding taxes for the IRS, filing for state sales tax exemption status, and registering with state Bureaus of Charitable Organizations.

References

  • The National Center for Charitable Statistics at The Urban Institute; Quick Facts About Nonprofits, Custom Report Builder (2013). Retrieved from:

http://www.nccs.urban.org/

  •  Nonprofit Stats; Distribution of Charities in the U.S. (2013). Retrieved from:

http://nonprofitstats.com/

  • Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO); Nonprofit Resources, Forming a Nonprofit (2013). Retrieved from:

http://www.pano.org/Nonprofit-Resources/

lead-er-ship: (n.) a person who guides or directs a group

th20I have always said there is more to being the boss than being bossy. A lot more. I think there is a tendency for us to confuse – and it is easy to do – the ideology of leadership with the act of supervision. Clearly, many situations and tasks need supervision; however, leadership is a bigger, broader picture than telling someone when and how to do something. Consequently, there are great supervisors who would not necessarily make great leaders and vice versa. Leadership comes in different sizes, shapes, colors, styles and gender – and at times from the most unlikely of places. Leadership styles aside – and there is an abundance of self-surveys available on-line and in any bookstore to help us figure out which particular brand each of us subscribes to – the following are several ideas for consideration about leadership:

  • Leaders have passion and vision. thCA042G37A leader not only has passion and dedication to the mission of the organization but also a vision for the organization beyond what is happening today or this week. He or she has a vision of how the organization’s mission will be played out in the next year as well as five years from now and uses many resources to guide the organization toward that vision.
  • Leaders focus on relationships. Leaders appear to know everyone because they understand the inherent value of relationships – both within the organization and in the community at-large. Good leaders do not readily “burn bridges” and they are skilled at networking and maintaining relationships even in the face of thCA8NY9DMadversary.
  • Leaders listen. Leaders also understand the art of listening to the other people around them (community stakeholders, staff, board members, partner organizations). Rather than frequently arguing their own agenda, leaders are more intent on listening to others in order to determine from whom their strongest support is coming in order to guide the organization toward the vision.
  • Leaders maintain poise and grace under pressure. A leader maintains positive energy even during trying circumstances. Contrary to the boss who seems to think that yelling, tantrums and blame are the only ways in which to get something done, a leader maintains personal dignity as well as that of the organization and rarely displays a disorderly response. thCAF169LIWhile ‘Fear Factor’ may make good television drama, it certainly has no place or benefit in non-profit management. Perpetual negative responses (or interactions) tend to diminish others’ confidence in one’s ability to lead.
  • Leadership develops leadership. Conversely, a leader bears the self-confidence in his or her own leadership such that other staff in the organization are encouraged to develop professionally. Leaders are comfortable in their roles. He or she not only supports and welcomes professional development but is also wise to consider his or her own succession at some point.
  • Leaders accept change. All of us have most likely experienced difficulty with th13change at some point in our lives. On the other hand, change is necessary and good. Leaders not only accept change, they often flourish with it, making change work for them and their organizations. Moreover, leaders effect change in order to guide the organization toward the vision for it.
  • Leaders lead. Plain and simple: Supervisors supervise and leaders lead. Finally, a leader who transgresses into others’ roles within the organization is not likely to thCAZVYZ05be as effective and efficient in facilitating the bigger picture development of the organization as one who clearly communicates  vision and goals for the organization. Leaders understand the hierarchy of the organization and how best to navigate it.

Frank’s Guidelines

A number of years ago, I decided that it was in my best interest to develop a personal statement of management philosophy that would speak to my ideas about managing other people and workloads in the non-profit work environment. My statement – written as a bulleted list that was intended to be telling about my actions as a manager yet somewhat humorous at the same time – was aptly titled Frank’s Guidelines. A single-page, typed document, Frank’s Guidelines has been taken along on interviews and for several years it was tacked on a bulletin board in my office.thCAHRJIJ0

Frank’s Guidelines has been around for quite some time now, occasionally tweaked here and there but substantively the same today as when I first put it together . As I write this, I struggle to remember just how old Frank’s Guidelines is. Suffice to say, I do remember taking it to a job interview in 2001 (I got the job) and it is likely a few years older than that. Nevertheless, here is Frank’s Guidelines – and hence, the springboard and title for my blog space:

  •  Our customers must come first

Plain and simple. If you can’t get behind the mission, customers, or cause of the             organization, there is probably no point in going any further.

  •  Meet or exceed the basic requirements or regulations

I have high expectations of myself and I push myself to perform above the “baseline”.     I also value this quality when I find it in others.

  •  Mistakes are OK as long as they don’t compromise the first two

Everyone makes mistakes. In the majority of cases, the sky does not fall when someone makes a mistake. Get over it, learn from mistakes, and keep moving forward as long as mistakes are not so egregious that they compromise the first two bullets.

  •  I’ll go anywhere or try anything at least once (and as long as it is not illegal)

Essentially, this is creative problem solving and “thinking outside the box”. I am willing to try new solutions to old problems and to take an occasional calculated risk as long as it does not compromise policy, ethics or the law.

  •  No surprisesthCAK68GO9

I like surprises on my birthday but not in the organization. Please do not surprise me with a project that is due today or a fiscal issue that was imminent weeks ago. I also work hard to keep you from being unnecessarily surprised.

  •  Look for the positive in every person and situation

I accentuate the positive, especially in the people who work with me. Everyone wants to be acknowledged or recognized. When I reinforce the positive behavior of others, I have already increased the likelihood that they are motivated to continue to perform positively.

  • Do an honest and clean job

I work with an “open book” mentality such that anyone can stop by to have a look and there is nothing to be embarrassed by later. No hidden agendas. I do my expected job everyday to the best of my ability and go home at the end of the day.

  •  Maintain constructive relationships and the self-esteem of others

This is really about burning bridges. The non-profit community operates on relationship building and partnerships. Once you put a negative out there, it is very difficult – if not impossible – to take it back and typically you reap what you sow.

  • Help other staff to develop professionally

Part of my job as a manager of people is to ensure that they have the resources and tools they need (within reason) to develop professionally. A thriving, capable and efficient staff that is able to problem solve on their feet sustains an organization.

  •  You take the monkey with you

The monkey is a problem. It is OK to come to me with your complaints or problems; however, I hope that in your next breath there will be a suggestion or an idea to resolve that problem. I allow staff to wrestle with their problems in a supportive environment. Again, other staff need to develop professionally.

  •  No whining

Ditto the previous bullet.

  •  I support the team decision even if it is not the way I’d do itthCAIFCF19

As a strong advocate of team building and the team process, it would be hypocritical of me not to support the team decision or to override the team decision. Let’s try it!

  •  I don’t claim to know everything

If I think that I know everything, there is really nowhere left to go, is there? There is always so much more to learn, see, and do. If I don’t know enough about a particular subject or issue, I will tell you that.

  •  Be enthusiastic

Similar to the first bullet, I am excited about the organization, mission, customers and people I work with! I want my enthusiasm to be contagious!

  •  Take the initiative to make things better

Whether I am streamlining a financial report for the Board of Directors, changing the toner in the copy machine, or taking the garbage out, I initiate making a situation better. As the old adage goes, if you see something that needs doing…

  •  Represent us well in the community

I recognize that every time that I step out of the door, I am shaping an image of how the community sees the organization. I always want it to be a positive one!

  •  Have a sense of humorthCACN1QF6

Last – but certainly not least – I have a sense of humor and I like to use humor appropriately in the workplace. More important, I am not afraid to laugh at myself!