Thursday, May 1, 2014

Online Assessment Tools for Identifying Organizational Issues

Nonprofit Leader,

As an Executive Director I often wanted to know how well my board and staff understood our organization’s mission and vision, and if they were being clarified well enough.  I needed to assess the awareness of my board of how critical their understanding our programs and networking was to the organization and to our position in the community.  
Each time I looked over an organization’s financials and fundraising, I found areas needing improving, and fundraising issues that the staff and board had not recognized had changed over time.  It was that process of discovery and analysis that helped me revitalize several stagnant nonprofits and help them thrive. 

It was the fresh perspective of an outsider that made the difference.  In many cases a consultant is hired to show an organization’s leaders what they have been missing and help them make the right changes.  Some of the leadership and/or staff may recognize the issues, but may not be able to be the agents for the needed change.  Thus, the third-party consultant is engaged.  But how do small, struggling under-funded nonprofits afford the rates for an experienced consultant?  They can’t, and so they keep struggling through tough organizational issues, ineffective programs, staff turnover, disconnect with the community, and loss of funding as a result.  And what are the options for well-run organizations to take an occasional fresh look at their organizational dynamics and leadership?

It was recognizing these issues that led me to create several online assessment tools that provide the data nonprofits need to get the overall view of their organization and start recognizing the needed changes to make.  By limiting travel and time of on-site interviews we reduce the cost and still provide a needed summary analysis to help an organization: 1. understand the stage in their life-cycle, 2. examine Staff-CEO-Board relationships, 3. measure their fundraising effectiveness.  

By developing anonymous surveys administered online, I have been able to assist a number of organizations of various age, size and budget.  The survey results are graphed for ease of understanding, and a brief, interpretive assessment is provided of potential action steps for further considerations.  The next steps are up to your organization’s leadership and funding capabilities.  You may decide to engage me or other advisor to help you move forward.  In any case, you will have this very important data with which to help change your organization for the better.

I invite you to take a few moments to examine my website and my background, and the four levels of low-cost assessment analysis tools I offer at www.CharisNP.com.  Whether you decide to engage my services beyond the surveys is completely up to you.  I am available to you to discuss how these can help your organization and help you lead quality change.
 
Serving together,

James K. Lewis, m.a., ccnl, cfre®

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Road to Better Health March 12, 2014

Dear Ministry Leader,
As you focus on God's plan and priorities for your life, have you considered how to protect your mind and body so that you can stay happy, healthy and remain in the ministry you love?

Ecclesiastes 12:6 calls the human brain the “Golden Bowl” and instructs us to serve God before it’s “broken.”

Recently the leader of a national ministry (who also teaches at a nearby Christian university) was terminated from both jobs due to poor judgement and mental confusion caused by "sudden" dementia. He and his wife are heartbroken because they intended to stay in ministry together for another 5-10 years. With what we know about neuroscience it’s very likely this devastation was avoidable and certainly postponable if together they had make diet and lifestyle changes at least 10 years before the disease was actually noticed.

FACT: Dementia actually starts developing during our 30s and 40s.

Accelerated by inflammatory diets, toxins, trauma, unhealthy lifestyle choices, un-managed stress and genetic factors—unhealthy brains become progressively diminished by Dementia. Just as concerning, however, are projections that the number of people with Alzheimer's will triple in the next few decades.
The Narramore Institute appreciates your ministry and cares deeply about your health, your happiness and your longevity of service. That’s why I created the Road to Better Health 2014 luncheon for RM leaders on March 12th in Pasadena.

You’re going to love this event because the content is so relevant:
LIVE BETTER AND LONGER
 AVOID LEADER DERAILMENT
 ENJOY MORE PEACE OF MIND
 SAVE YOUR BRAIN

I’ve invited Christian psychologist and author Dr. Earl Henslin (“Brain on Joy”) to share the latest and best ways to deal with depression, anger and other damaging emotions. A friend and mentor to many Christian leaders, Earl is passionate about harmonizing the brain with the soul.

Then, I’ll be discussing the myriad of health benefits that occur when you lower chronic inflammation. In fact, you learn the secret to reducing your risk for sudden heart attack death by up to 90%.
FACT: Every 34 seconds an American has a coronary event.
1/3 to 1/2 of heart attacks occur in persons with "normal" cholesterol.

Our last speaker is veteran Rescue Mission executive Rev. Jim Lewis. Whether it’s waking up in the middle of the night wondering how to meet this week’s bills, a concern about the welfare of a troubled staff member or a family concern, Jim will share some invaluable insights on managing daily stress and avoiding derailment.

I know how hard you work and the sacrifices you make every day to save others. So please join us on March 12, 2014 for a wonderful time of fellowship, renewal, to hear Christian speakers while enjoying a healthy and delicious lunch.

See you in beautiful Pasadena!
Kevin Narramore, Ph.D.
Narramore Institute, 844 Colorado Blvd. Suite 202 Los Angeles, California 90041 949-874-8000

Please CLICK HERE to register because space is limited. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Assessing Proper Board Oversight Limits Culpability


This article by Eugene Fram, author of "Policy vs. Paper Clips" is a good overview of critical board roles in providing due diligence. Too many nonprofit boards don’t realize their culpability for CEO performance. Appropriate oversight will provide for proper monitoring and fully understanding organizational issues.

The board must recognize their responsibility as an independent arbiter of facts, without prejudice. It may be that the board's monitoring of the CEO is minimal or non-existent, which puts a level of onus on the board for an escalating issue. Sitting down with the CEO to gain insight and discover what support he or she needs should be the first step when any issue is brought to the board's attention.

Your board and your community (which you represent) are too deeply invested to allow for a lack of proper oversight sidelining your CEO – and potentially your organization’s mission and vision. Remember, your role with the CEO is a partnership!

As a nonprofit consultant, I'm particularly cognizant of the issues raised by this article. I've heard that among the membership of just one national nonprofit association, in the last year there have been about 12 member organizations that have gone through tumultuous leadership shifts, with this being the primary issue.

While the board must step in when appropriate, there must be policy and procedure in place that is closely followed. Only when serious ethical or fiduciary malfeasance is found should a board step in directly.

Developing, protecting, and reconciling the relationship with their sole employee, the CEO, is their primary job.

In light of these concerns, one of the first assessments I recommend is a board survey to highlight any governance and policy issues or disconnect with the CEO. In a majority of my cases so far there have been indicators of a need for board/CEO training in monitoring and policy creation. Every effort at deepening the relationship and trust with your CEO will pay dividends.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When do you need a consultant?


 
Numerous issues in a nonprofit organization rise to the occasion of requiring paid outside assistance. These involve acknowledging you’re facing something larger than your in-house skill set can handle alone. Accepting that help is needed is the first step in any weakness or dysfunctional behavior – whether of a person or an organization.

Sometimes a struggling organization just needs help transitioning to its next stage of growth. Perhaps a well established organization needs help re-inventing itself. Facing reality is the most difficult when leaders and staff are deeply ingrained in the present organizational culture. It becomes even harder if the leader is a founder or long-term CEO, where he or she may be sensing a loss of control or that recent changes are becoming overwhelming. A lack of positive organizational dynamics keeps many dysfunctions hidden, and people are unwilling to be the one vulnerable enough to upset the apple cart.

Consulting with outside professionals isn’t limited to the need of addressing serious issues . . . most leaders could use regular coaching with peers and/or professional consultants. But some circumstances call for more serious consideration for outside help:

Strategic Planning. This process can require an anonymity that an independent consultant allows. Often I’ve found a key staff or board member who admits to not being sure of the direction or even of the organization’s mission and vision. In one case it was found that a new board member wasn’t aware of the organization’s religious core principles of faith. Appropriately laying the foundation before discussing strategy is critical to success. 

Analyzing fundraising effectiveness. In such a volatile economic landscape, it can become comfortable for an organization to stay the course with tired or limited funding appeals and stale communications. Organizations tend to stay with old metrics and “shot-gunning” rather than using new tools to target a segment of their donor base who are more likely to respond to different types of communications. E-commerce is still only effective in a small portion of demographics, and it is key to understand when and how to phase that in.

Closely aligned with fundraising is an understanding of an organization’s publics – those who can control or limit an organization’s ability to flourish. Many times an organization has “blinders” and they are not aware that they’ve grown myopic in their programs and vision. I’ve seen organizations atrophy due to ignoring the reality of their external context and relationships. This is where familiarity breeds contempt; stakeholders who once supported and helped form the organization can, if ignored or taken for granted, become the worse critics.

A most serious issue that desperately demands immediate assistance is internal organizational conflict due to a lack of unity in mission and vision. It's critical to quickly re-establish clarity of mission and unity between the leaders and the staff or board. This requires outside intervention. But choose the consultant carefully, as this requires a professional who is able to decipher the organization’s deeper cultural and personal issues – not merely personnel or HR issues that are on the surface. The former is ripe with personality clashes and broken trust, while the latter involves organization policy and procedure – which may need addressing, but is not the root cause.

I will mention briefly the need for a consultant and/or interim management through a period of crisis leadership change. Addressing this will require a separate blog, but it's most critical to contract with outside assistance rather than use internal staff in such a case.

These are just a few areas of concern where an independent third party will be able to increase awareness, broker unity, and ensure the stability and sustaining of the organization’s mission. Don’t wait until you realize the need – develop relationships with those you trust and who will be ready and willing to intercede within your organization when needed. While these resources may be costly, you will save time and money with the judicious use of consultants. They will be worth it to the organization, as you will gain much more than you spend. They may be reported as an expense, but they are an asset to any organization.

For more information on choosing Consultants:


Friday, July 19, 2013

Rights of the Individual vs Community

In light of recent conversations related to various rights being questioned as being in the community's best interest, I will make a brief comment on the veracity of the individual over the community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer brings critical thinking forward for us today. Claiming one's rights is counter to the self-renunciation we find in the Sermon on the Mount (Discipleship) . . . but we are to fight for the rights of others (Ethics), which – rather than renunciation – is a form of transforming initiative. I think that's what America's founders had in mind with the Bill of Rights as they set forth protection from an oppressive government – in order to provide for free personal and corporate (community) responsibility. That individuals would act with respect toward the benefit of community was part of their ethic . . . an ethic which has been tempered in our post-modernism. (I will preemptively add here related to the slavery issue: some Founders were proactive for the inclusion of extending rights to all, while others surmised that it would cease of its own accord given time and economics). The question remains for us: how to balance the rights of the individual and community. Bonhoeffer’s writings may provide some clues. From “Life Together” to “Letters and Papers from Prison” we glimpse the possibilities of community.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Sales Pitch


[One of our speaking modules from 1990]: Years ago friends of ours were lured to a sales presentation by the guarantee of winning a prize; either a microwave (that's what they wanted), T.V., refrigerator, etc. You've heard of those before.

If they bought a life-time supply, $2500 worth of soap – that would clean everything from the car to the dog – they would also get the prizes free. What a sales pitch! Someone went to great lengths to sell soap.

Back in 1978 after we were married my wife and I read Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot. You may know of it – the story of her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other men who were speared to death by the "Auca" Indians in Ecuador. They were martyred in 1956 while trying to take the Gospel to this unreached group. 
The actual reassembled remains of Nate Saint's Piper on
display at  MAF's headquarters in Nampa, ID

This story has been the initial motivation for thousands of people over the years to get involved in missionary service. And so it was with us. The death of committed missionaries led to our choice of a mid-life career change with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Later, while attending a class at Wycliffe's support center in North Carolina, we all shared about how we were led into missions work. All ten of us had read Shadow of the Almighty. No promise of a washer, dryer or microwave . . . nothing to keep the dog clean. But we wanted to be involved in giving the Word of God, whose message received in faith, will cleanse the souls of those who have, as yet, never heard that Christ died for them.

That's how we were introduced to missions. We didn't know what that commitment would lead to, but we made it. If we'd known what we would go through later, I hope we would have had the fortitude to stay with it.

2013: Well, we did stick through it and continued to serve - and have since in various ministries. Now I found myself back at the origin of our missionary quest. As I arrived for an interview at MAF's headquarters today, I came face to face with an element of that story of 1978 when we read that book, and others since. What an emotional moment as I stood in front of what has been for thousands a call to give our lives in Kingdom service. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mailbox Missionaries


Overhearing a conversation between my wife and me about bills and our limited funds, our 9 year-old daughter piped up, “Maybe there will be a check in the mail today for $200!”

In 1989, after being accepted as approved missionary candidates with Wycliffe Bible Translators, it was recommended that I get further training in avionics and acquire my FAA General Airframe Mechanic certification in order to better serve in Communications – my technical support missionary position would require installation of radio equipment and antennas on aircraft. Having recently left my position with Eastman Kodak as a Field Engineer – and its relatively secure salary and benefits – our family of 6 was residing in East Tennessee while I attended Moody Aviation.

But while we were only approved candidates, we could not raise financial support through Wycliffe until this course was completed and we were ready to continue our Wycliffe training. So, we had written our friends, explaining to them our quest toward missionary service, and left it to the leading of the Lord through them for our personal support . . . we were now “Mailbox Missionaries.” 

Later that day the mail was opened and there was, indeed, a check for $200; the faith of a little girl and her family was fulfilled and strengthened. Through these vignettes of God working through His people, we were able to trust that our support would be realized and His work would go on as an extension of those who supported and prayed for us.

Such is the plight of para-church ministries and nonprofit charities that do not receive government funding, but rely primarily upon the generosity of donors in order to provide critical relief and services to the remote, disadvantaged, victimized, homeless, poor and needy. This work is only possible through the partnership of others who sense the call to reach out and fulfill the command of God to treat these people as we would the Lord Himself.

Many bemoan the numerous pieces of mail that tend to flood our mailboxes. But I realize that educating the public on services ministries provide and the opportunity for changed lives is often the only way the average person will know of that work. Many times I’ve heard donors make the comment, “I didn’t realize you did all this”; and this from those who have been supporting the organization for years!

Public concern for the percentage of donated funds used for solicitation is warranted. Interested donors can check out charities on websites such as Guidestar.org and review nonprofits’ 990 reports. If a 990 is not available, it is often an indication that the charity is reportedly operating as a church, and therefore not required to file a 990. Donors should carefully consider religious charities transparency in reporting information such as program, administration, and fundraising ratios as good stewardship of their giving.

However, the mechanics of fundraising and accountability should not be allowed to overshadow the ministry accomplished by small charities that exist primarily as “Mailbox Missionaries.” The response envelopes that come in the mail each day are the lifeblood of critical services and can often limit the ability to sustain ministry. When you consider supporting a ministry beyond your normal church tithe, consider if that organization is utilizing every inch of its facilities, every donated penny, and every offered prayer for the service of others and to the glory of God.

And the next time you see that envelop in your mailbox, remember a little girl and a young missionary family whose faith was answered through someone responding to a need. The possibilities that your support provides toward the faith of the organization and those individuals and families that benefit are endless. Your investment is an extension of the church’s responsibility to reach out to a needy world – and often, it is through a response to a piece of mail.