Point of Reference Sensitivity in Visitors: How It Affects Your Cultural Organization And What To Do About It

Data suggest that it's good to to be the first organization that someone visits... but what if yours is Read more

Millennial Data Round Up: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know

This is what you need to know in one, single post. Millennials are a hot topic. While I consider "millennials" Read more

Experiencing Millennial Discussion Overload? Here Are Four Things to Remember

Cultural organizations need to reach millennials and that means talking about it – but that talk doesn’t make other Read more

Audience Access: The Reality For Cultural Organizations To Embrace for Solvency

The first step in the evolution toward more sustainable cultural organizations is embracing the reality of "access" and reviewing Read more

Three Data-Informed Reasons to Love Gen X Visitors to Cultural Organizations

Thank you, Gen X. Just… Thank you. Let's be honest: Generation X is squeezed in between two large, noisy, Read more

Five Famous Proverbs That Are NOT About Running a Nonprofit (And Three That Could Be)

True in life? Maybe. True in running a nonprofit? Nope. Sometimes we get so used to hearing certain phrases and Read more

Leadership

The Phrase That Effective Leaders Never Say

Hint: It’s not “This is how we’ve always done it!” But it is another poor excuse for avoiding necessary change.

We all know that “This is how we’ve always done it” is an infamous kiss of death mindset for organizations. But today, there’s one sentence that might even be worse when we take into account the connected, information-accessible world in which we live. Today’s “Fast Facts” video highlights this deceptive phrase and talks about why it is so dangerous.

Nobody likes click-bait, and I 49% apologize for deploying it. That said, it is worth taking a time-out to think about this phrase, how often it is said, and what is really happening when leaders say it. 

Seth Godin said, “The best way to thrive in a world that’s changing is to change.” But for cultural organizations to truly embrace change in our new world of data and connectivity, there’s one sentence that we all need to stop saying – and the reasons why are similar to the reasons why “This is how we’ve always done it” is dangerous. Here are three reasons why this phrase (revealed in the video and at the bottom of this post) is dangerous for organizations:

 

1) This phrase is used to avoid thinking critically about audiences and strategic operations

Today, connectivity is king. When leaders say this sentence, they are usually denying trends and market data that may prove beneficial for the leader’s organization. Having access to large-scale market data can be a terrific benefit for organizations today. It helps us figure out what the market actually wants and thinks. So when a leader uses this phrase as an excuse to write off trend data, then the leader is robbing his or her organization of an opportunity to think critically about its own audiences.

Another reason why people say this phrase is to get out of doing their job. It can be used to dodge responsibility and volley accountability to other leaders or departments. However, some of the most important duties within organizations are intertwined today, and they are everybody’s job. Essentially, this phrase can simply mean, “I am lazy.”

 

2) This phrase is an indicator that a leader is not open to change

The second reason why this phrase is dangerous is because it’s usually said by someone who thinks that they are open-minded to change…they’re just not open to the idea of change being discussed. (Often, this is because the idea of change being discussed is difficult for the leader to implement – or may even suggest a poor previous strategy or act by the leader.) This phrase seems to be a sign that a leader is trying to “will away” trends and deny the direction in which the world is moving.

Consider this: In 2012, more photos were taken than any prior year of human history. It was also the year that Kodak filed for bankruptcy. I wonder how many times executives saw digital photos on the horizon and defensively stated this phrase.

 

3) This phrase tends to be said by the very leaders whose institutions need it NOT to be said

Lastly – and unsurprisingly – this phrase is dangerous because it tends to be said by leaders of the very organizations that need to learn something from trend data (or something else) most urgently.

A big reason why we tend to use this phrase is because many are still using internal perspectives rather than market perspectives, and thus thinking about their organizations from a point of view that doesn’t truly exist for our target audiences. For example, leaning on nonprofit status is a bad excuse to deny data, because we know that the market is generally sector agnostic. How well you execute your mission is more important than your tax status, and, today, businesses are highlighting public service as well.

 

So, what is the phrase?

The most dangerous phrase

There is usually a lesson – and it’s generally worth considering, regardless of the situation. In order to change, organizations need leaders who are open to change. And people who are open to change don’t say, “That doesn’t apply to me.” They ask themselves how it does apply to them and what they can learn from a finding. Here’s why:

Leaders seek lessons

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Nonprofit Leadership Has Evolved: Why Executives Should Be More Like Conductors

Nearly everything has changed in today’s digital world – including the most important duties of executive leaders in successful organizations.

Check out today’s KYOB “Fast Facts” video for three key insights that leaders need to effectively lead in today’s connected, evolving world.

Because I love metaphors and because this post deserves a revival…

Today’s evolved world demands that executives play the role of symphony conductor rather than first chair of an instrument within their organizations. In other words, the days of the executive as expert practitioner have past. It’s more important than ever that executives “conduct the symphony” rather than getting lost in the weeds (a place that – let’s be real – some executives have been known to camp out)!

In this bad metaphor of executives as conductors, the role of the CEO is to make sure that all of these departmental orchestras develop a cohesive symphony that is consistent with the organization’s overall values and objectives.

Today, organizations need conductors because even the most renowned first chair requires a maestro. Indeed, many of the most successful executives have long been playing the role of “conductor” – and this skill has never been more valuable or in-demand. The world moves too quickly for executives to be “expert” at everything in their department or organizations – and successful executives benefit by orchestrating the collective talents of their entire team to achieve success.

Here are three reasons why the need for conducting skills has never been greater (Again, check out the video for an overview):

 1) We are in the midst of a revolution

The Digital Revolution is so named for a reason – nearly everything has changed. To ignore this unassailable fact is to actively refuse to evolve an organization to keep pace with the surrounding world. Further compounding the challenge of the revolution is that fact that it’s still happening. For example, Facebook algorithms change and the very tactic that works best one month can hurt your organization’s success the next. New technologies create new advertising efficiencies.

It’s several full-time jobs just keeping up with the various aspects that go into a department. For instance, at IMPACTS, we are increasingly observing smart, forward-thinking organizations “outsourcing” aspects of their advertising strategy to more expert practitioners. This is not a knock on internal expertise – it is a compliment to the self-awareness of organizations that recognize the functional impossibility of maintaining expertise in an increasingly esoteric, evolving space. The advertising world is incredibly dynamic – it takes true experts who live and breathe it every day – to work with maximum efficacy. Increasingly, it’s simply too much for an individual working for one organization (without a grasp on the broader industry and without devoting significant resources to keeping up with day-to-day changes) to optimize an advertising plan.

Organizations increasingly need real experts. And organizations need executives to hire these experts and trust them. Executives and directors may benefit by realizing that – as awesome as they may be – it is unrealistic to think that they need to be more expert than the experts they’ve hired when it comes to today’s constantly-changing details.

When a leader plays the popular, “Now explain every aspect of this new thing to me while I fire back with actually-irrelevant, pre-digital revolution logic” game, the organization loses. If you’ve hired a good person, the only things a leader needs to consider are: “Will this work?” and “Does this fit with our organizational values?” and “Does this bring us closer to achieving our goals?”

 

2) Someone needs to preach to the choir

Sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it? In today’s world, though, it’s increasingly necessary. One of the most important roles of a good executive is managing successful internal communications.

It’s difficult for conductors to successfully conduct when the sheet music hasn’t been distributed to the musicians. Worse yet, it’s even more difficult to sound like a brilliant symphony without hours of practice. Yet, in a rush to engage external audiences in our fast-paced world, organizations regularly underestimate the critical importance of taking a moment to get everyone on the same page. This is increasingly glossed over, and yet this is arguably more important than ever given our real-time, digital world!

Reputation plays an important role in an organization’s success when it comes to garnering support, and managing reputation is a duty that every department – and the CEO and Board, of course – must work to carry out in concert. A good executive communicates purpose and reinforces the “why” of the organization within their respective department and organization. Without this, nobody plays the same song at the same pace. Without first aligning internal messages – a function of relentless communication – it’s impossible for staff to successfully communicate externally.

 

3) You cannot rule from the mountaintop while stuck in the weeds

And today’s weeds are thicker and taller than ever before. Our world demands that leaders develop a wider view of the institution and how it is perceived in order to develop strategy and confidently maintain an agile organization. If a leader is spending a disproportionate amount of time on one aspect of the organization (or one department), then they may miss the larger, more important, “big picture” aspects of the overall performance that they are supposed to be conducting.

More constantly-evolving areas of expertise (as we have in today’s world) mean more details with which executives may unknowingly distract themselves. Real leaders don’t hide in the weeds – especially when their organizations need them most.

The opportunity here isn’t to simply encourage leaders to stop micromanaging. The opportunity is to clarify structures and roles to meet the opportunity of an evolved world. 

 

Today, successful leaders are conductors – they bring talented musicians together, communicate the song for everyone to play, and work hard to create beautiful music.

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of updates and information, follow me on Twitter

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Influencing Leadership: Three Findings to Effectively Communicate with Cultural Executives (DATA)

Influencing Leadership at Cultural Institutions

Here’s a data-informed peek at what influences leaders in cultural institutions.

I’m in the business of cultural sector evolution and – given that the cultural business model is in need of an update – we at IMPACTS have been looking at how the opportunity for evolution may be best understood. We work directly with many industry leaders (the Chiefs, or the “Cs”), and recently had occasion to scour the minds of these executives in order to better understand how they obtain information, and the roles that various information channels play in influencing their executive decisions. Potentially innovative, groundbreaking ideas risk dying on the vine if they aren’t understood and supported by an organization’s leadership. We wanted to find out more about how to keep that from happening.

The data below is from a survey of 306 executive leaders working at nonprofit visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums, aquariums, cultural centers, theaters, orchestras, zoos, historic sites, etc.). The study identified the primary information channels that executives use to inform their decision-making processes, and further measured the relative trust and influence that these same leaders ascribe to the various information channels. These values are quantified on an index value basis – a way of assessing and comparing these measurements in relative terms (i.e. an information channel with an influence value of 200.0 is 2x as influential in the surveyed leaders’ decision-making processes than is an information channel with an influence index value of 100.0).

The findings of this study are relevant to anyone whose profession requires influence, motivation, and collaboration with or among leaders.  If we know what informs and influences leaders, then we can more effectively communicate with, and, in turn, influence leadership. Before you can change the world, you likely need to change some minds. Here’s data that will help:

 

1) Timeliness matters

KYOB IMPACTS - Sources of information  for cultural leaders

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s easiest to reach fellow leaders via the information sources that they are actually using.

Books and manuals generally have some influence power and are perceived as trustworthy and relatively influential sources (more on that in the charts that follow). This is frequently because book publishers employ credibility protectors such as fact-checkers, researchers, and editors, so leaders often regard this information channel as an expertly vetted, reliable source of information. But, it also takes time to write, edit, publish, and distribute (not to mention read) a book. That may be why the data suggest that leaders aren’t primarily relying on books and manuals for information (which they reference for information approximately 3.5x less often than they do online daily news sources). So, yes, books are potentially influential – if you can get the leader to read the book!

Data suggest that more timely information channels win the day when it comes to providing value as an information resource for leaders. Consultants/industry experts, peer-to-peer communications, and especially daily newspapers and blogs are timely by nature. Timely information sources are likely to be more right-now relevant than sources with more labored publication processes.

In addition to books, industry publications (often published periodically) and conferences (typically occurring annually) struggle to meet the timeliness requirement that agile leaders demand of their most important information sources.

 

2) Experts are far more valuable than participants

KYOB IMPACTS - influence of sources for cultural leaders

Perceived expertise is a significant driver of influence. Daily newspapers are definitionally timely – and the perceived prestige, credibility, and expertise of publications (think The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, etc.) inure to the benefit of their journalistic staff. There’s a high level of trust and influence embedded in these brands despite the fact that the web allows nearly anyone to be a “reporter” these days. Sources perceived as expert – such as industry experts, consultants and industry executives – dominate influence on leaders.

KYOB IMPACTS - Trust of sources for cultural leaders

Conversely, sources based heavily in participation don’t perform nearly so well. Not everyone who participates in something is an expert. This may be a challenge for industry publications and conferences – they often feature far more participants than experts. More heavily participation-based (versus expert-based) sources often supply unfiltered noise in the already-noisy world of an executive leader…a circumstance that may be the opposite of helpful in the eyes of the “Cs.”

I wonder if – as the most effective leaders increasingly play the symbolic role of a conductor within organizations – the influence, trustworthiness, and go-to value of professional staff will increase. That’s a tide that may necessarily turn as cultural organizations evolve: Leaders may need to trust the (increasingly nuanced and specialized) experts that they hire in order to simply run their organizations.

Fun fact: Leaders right now utilize printed newspapers far, far more frequently than the general population. Nope, it’s not because printed newspapers are different than online newspapers in terms of content – it’s because today’s head-honchos are generally educated Baby Boomers who simply still prefer getting their news in print.

 

3) It’s a small world after all

What leaders say to one another is far more influential than what non-peers say to leaders. This is evident when observing the high impact of peer-to-peer communications and industry experts. Leaders seek out and listen to other leaders.

While this may be slightly disappointing for non-Chiefs, I urge these future leaders to look at the very bright side of this finding: If you can influence a small group of leaders, then you may be able to influence the entire sector. Hopeful? Perhaps. But identifying this narrow band of very specific influencers could prove enlightening for both current and future leaders alike – especially considering the imperative to evolve the way that many nonprofits do business. Think of other relatively small groups of folks who knew one another and changed the course of history. The Beat Generation. The Lost Generation. The Cultural Institution Reinvention Generation? Perhaps change in this sector is not so different. Or, perhaps I just want an excuse to include references to both Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald in a post.

Ours is not a kingdom, it is a collaboration. To influence leaders, we must compellingly communicate a point of view…and it’s easiest to do this when we communicate in consideration of leadership’s most preferred, trusted, and influential information sources.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Image credit: Scientific American

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

Why Your Organization Needs You to Build a Personal Brand

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably the kind of person who already knows that professional resumes have transcended the boundaries of a sheet of paper. They’ve transcended beyond our LinkedIn profiles and seeped into everything that we do… because much of what we do (and what happens in the world) is online.  Information about you is online whether you put it there yourself or not. There are pipl and spokeo profiles that can give the heebie-jeebies even to people who are quite certain that they do not exist in an online space… and those are just online white pages. Combine that with industry news, social media profiles, and public records… and someone can find out a good amount about you and your interests.  Think you can benefit by NOT being online? That may indicate that you have not done anything worthy of recognition within your industry- and that’s not usually a positive perception either.  You very likely exist online and therefore already have an online reputation (a lack of an online presence says something, too). You can let that reputation go unchecked or you can manage it. Many people argue that you should manage it- and for very good reasons. If you’re a museum or nonprofit professional, there’s another good reason to manage your personal brand:

Because during this particular time of social media evolution and frequent Facebook change-ups, your organization needs you to have a personal brand.

An online reputation is often called a personal brand. For many people– especially nonprofit professionals who do not work in marketing– the idea of having a personal “brand” feels somehow insincere or contrived. It’s not. In fact, the best personal brands are authentic and transparent.  Personal branding means knowing what people are saying about you, being diligent and conscientious, and helping to paint an accurate picture online.

And (contrary to a possible knee-jerk misconception associated with the word “brand”), personal brands aren’t always self-serving. In fact, when it comes to museum and cultural nonprofit professionals, developing and maintaining a strong, personal brand can be an incredible asset for your institution.  Professionals with strong personal brands carry their social missions into their online identities and can be incredible assets for telling the kinds of stories that spawn change. 

Thanks in large part to the rise of social media, the traditionally-stark line between peoples’ “personal” and “professional” lives has become blurry online. Last week, I gave an overview of some museum professionals who are successful in not only representing their museums in an online space, but in moving those organizations forward in online engagement through their own personal brands.  Though we always represent the institutions for which we work, some museum professionals go beyond merely “spreading the word” about their cause by actively blogging, tweeting, and engaging audiences online to strengthen both their own and their institution’s brand. There are a lot of great resources out there to help you establish a personal brand. But why do it? Here are four, important ways that personal branding and becoming engaged online helps strengthen your organization in the long run:

 

1. Personal branding increases your organization’s reputation, a key discretionary motivator for visitors. Through a recent, large-scale study on museum awareness, attitudes and usage, IMPACTS has found that perceptions of a museum’s reputation plays a very important role in whether or not a visitor will decide to attend a zoo, aquarium, or museum (ZAM). In fact, reputation is a top-five influencer for the U.S. composite and it is one of the top-two driving motivators for the average high propensity visitor at a ZAM. In sum, managing a ZAM’s reputation is critical to achieving visitation and reaching the organization’s financial bottom-line. A good way to increase an organization’s positive reputation is to align it with someone who already has a positive reputation. The brands strengthen and lend credibility to one another. Let’s give a written fist-bump to a side-step of the transitive property here: if a person working for a nonprofit is perceived to have talent, then the nonprofit is perceived to have talent.  A goal of personal branding is to manage your online reputation and paint yourself (ergo, your organization) in the best light possible. Brand management is reputation management.

 

2. Personal branding allows the organization to reach more targeted audiences with increased credibility. ZAMs have high propensity visitors. That is, people who are most likely to visit… and they have relatively specific profiles. All nonprofits have these specified audiences and it is up to the organization to know who these people are, where to find them, and what these people like to do so that they can be most effectively engaged. Effective, broader marketing strategies target these high propensity visitors. However, maintaining a personal brand alongside the institution allows you to engage other audiences or more closely target a subset of your high propensity visitor. This may be an audience of industry professionals (if you’re the CEO), an audience of history buffs (if you’re a curator), an audience of mommy blogging friends (if you’re a mommy-blogging PR rep), or an audience of Gen Y socialites (if you’re the well-connected visitor services intern)… You catch my drift. In other words, building a personal brand allows you to connect more personal friend-circles with the things that excite you about your profession. In this way, professionals are important evangelists for the causes for which they work. Word of mouth marketing is powerful, and positive messages to the inner-circles in which professionals are personally involved allows the organization to reach a targeted group with more built-in credibility.

 

3. Personal branding increases opportunities for transparency and provides an alternate avenue for engaging storytelling. Just look at how some top CEOs are using Twitter; they do it with their own style and authenticity… and that’s why it works. They lend a tone and message to their organization. This can be an especially terrific asset if your organization has a more formal, less-personal informational Twitter account. Tweeting about your day-to-day life (to an extent… too much of this looks solipsistic real fast…) shows folks online that the organization’s leader is a living, breathing, relatable human being with hopes, dreams, desires, a sense of humor, and sometimes-terrible spelling skills. A professional with an online presence can also be an avenue for telling engaging, personal stories. Putting a face, or a storyteller, to a story can make a big difference. A quick favor to branded professionals who engage on their organization’s Facebook wall: disclose your relationship with the nonprofit in your comment, or it looks like you are playing us as fools. Love always, the online community who will chalk up “untrustworthy” points for organizations that try to play us (whether they mean to or not). 

 

4. Personal branding can inspire earned media. Twitter users are three times more likely than other social media platform users to be critics (think Yelp reviewers) or creators (think mommy bloggers). From that perspective alone, personal branding with relation to your organization has a huge benefit: instead of one, faceless account Tweeting for a cause, online advocates can tweet from their personal accounts, increasing opportunities for earned media. This is strongly connected to reaching new audiences and increasing reputation. Earned media often functions like word of mouth marketing— it is media for which the organization did not have a monetary transaction. It is often organic and timely. Having advocates online, whether they work for the nonprofit or not, creates opportunities for securing earned media. Branded professionals can be seen as go-tos for information on cause-related information. This happens organically and it can be heaven for the organization if online employees are advocates of the mission… but it can backfire faster than the Formula Rossa roller coaster  at Ferrari World with staff members who may be online and are unaware of the important role that they play in word of mouth marketing for the organization. (A solution here? a social media policy).  In sum, earned media is an important aim for online engagement, and developing a personal brand can help your organization increase the likelihood of spreading word of its mission and inspiring this kind of media.

 

What can museum professionals do to get started on a personal brand? There are a lot of terrific resources out there. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, but it sure is a good place to start:

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 3 Comments

“You Have to be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”- One-Line Lessons on Leadership

I will be graduating from the University of Southern California next Friday with my Master of Public Administration (MPA). I am pleased to report that, even with real-world experience prior to entering graduate school, my skill-set has been sharpened and the items in my professional toolbox are polished. I am thrilled to re-enter the workforce and meld my formal and informal experiences in areas of management, evaluation, economics, communications, strategy, and leadership.

Though I’ve done it before, I generally try not to write about my own personal thoughts and experiences. This is because, as my former Program Evaluation professor says, “a sample size of one does not a significant finding make.” Here– and in life– I am going for significant. That said, I think the lessons I’ve learned in graduate school are indeed significant, and I am delighted to share some bite-sized morsels.

…I’m the type of person who takes physical notes in class. I’m also the type of person who holds on tightly to professors’ well-articulated verbal gemstones about leadership, and I tape them shamelessly above my desk at home. Yes, much like eleven-year-olds reserve space on their walls for Justin Bieber posters, I reserve space for phrases like, “The best way to create change is to take away the barriers to change.” It’s nerdy, but I’m a graduate student (for 10 more days…)

Here are my very favorite one-liner lessons from graduate school. A vast majority are attributed to Dr. Robert Myrtle, my professor of Strategic Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, but there are other key, formative professors’ words here, too, such as Dr. Peter Robertson and Dr. Donald Morgan). I’ve added descriptions were context is need to strengthen the relevance of the quote.

  •  “People who learn quickly have a competitive advantage”  This was a running theme throughout the program. It is an especially key lesson for nonprofits because they’ve developed a reputation for being slow-moving. What this quote does is place an emphasis on the people. The organization can only change if employees can adjust.
  • “Businesses survive on information, not harmony.” This quote packs a personal message to step out of our comfort zone. Bringing up new ideas, challenging sector boundaries, and asking questions helps organizations and businesses stretch their thinking and gain information. It is through collection of that information that organizations can grow to their potential.
  • “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable” You have to take risks to be a good leader. The idea here is that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing or reaching. If you aren’t growing and you are running operations in an organization, than the organization isn’t growing either.
  • “People who emerge as leaders are people who can manage change.” one professor reminded us that “nobody is going to change unless they see the need for change.” A good leader, he explained, is someone who sees the need, communicates it effectively, creates buy-in, and manages the change.
  • “Master the little things in relationships, because the unaddressed details– like who will do the dishes– will sink you.” This wasn’t just marriage advice dispensed by a professor. It was strategic management advice (and life advice, too). The idea of a partnership or collaboration sounds dandy in many situations. Unfortunately, our professor explained, many higher-ups leave the details dangling without clear direction as to who takes care of issues and how the partnership should be effectively handled by the organizations. Mastering the details is critical.
  • Treat people like they are valued, and they will be valuable.” This was said in regard to managing and leading teams, though I think it stands on its own.
  • “You must find the option that all parties hate equally.” This is about compromising and coming up with new solutions to meet stakeholder’s needs. Finding solutions that all stakeholders love is not very realistic in the public and nonprofit sectors. Also, if the quote was “you must find the option that both parties like equally,” then you’d never remember it. This quote also plays off of our program emphasis on Getting to Yes, a great book on compromise and creative solutions.
  • “Coopetition is when competitors collaborate” There are over 7,000 nonprofits in Los Angeles alone and many of these organizations have similar missions. Coopetition is a word that comes up a lot in classes in regard to strategically managing resources, but also putting a priority on maintaining a competitive advantage. Nonprofits must be able to both work together to accomplish a mission, and also to stand alone.
  • “Thou shalt not B.S. myself.” Organizational strengths only count as strengths if they are seen in the eyes of customers, donors, competitors, and constituents.  I like this quote, though, because it seems to be true of individual strengths as well.
  • “Social capital builds intellectual capital” In the information age, it takes people and connectivity to generate ideas and intelligence. Social relationships lead to new-age innovation.
  • “You need your followers more than they need you.” Leaders aren’t leaders if they don’t have followers and supporters. Achieving great things takes buy-in and participation.
  • “You get power by giving it away.” Don’t keep opportunity for yourself. Having power often means having opportunities and power to give to others.
  • “We all succeed or none of us succeeds…” This is not a quote from class, but a quote from A Dream For One World by Segev Perets, which we read in a class.  Though it would be an outrageous stretch to say that MPA’s run entirely on public service motivation, the desire to effectively carry out a meaningful mission that empowers constituents was a prevalent and key motivator for my classmates. It was the tie that binded us and a thing that we all seemed to understand.
I’m grateful to have learned an incredible amount of information in graduate school these last two years. These quotes don’t even begin to scratch the surface, but they are quick tidbits that I’ll carry with me into my next professional endeavour.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 6 Comments

OnlyUp: The Key to Change is in the Word “Social”

This morning, OnlyUp launched. It is an action-oriented, bimonthly journal about young adults in the nonprofit sector. The online journal seeks to engage the nonprofit sector in conversations related to social change leadership. The first issue features articles from bloggers and thought-leaders such as Allison Jones (one of four creators), Robert Egger, and Akhila Kolisetty and covers pressing topics in the sector. This post presents my first contribution to OnlyUp. You can view the article here.

 

If you’re a nonprofit professional, then you probably come across the word “social” at least five times today. Nonprofit blogs and literature are running wild with terms like “social change” and “social justice.” We’re giving the word the leading position in mash-ups with other buzzwords like “media,” “entrepreneurship,” and “capital.” Not to mention, we’re well aware of its match with “security” and “worker.” It even has connections to topics we cover in school like social studies and social psychology. But are all of these terms linked because they include the word “social”? Does social media, for instance, have anything to do with with social workers? I think it does.

It seems as though the words that we use with “social” are increasingly giving us not-so-subtle clues about key ways to bring about large-scale change in the upcoming decade. It’s as though we are providing our own cheat-sheet to bring about public good and possible solutions are coded within our own daily language.

The State of Now: an Era of Social. Our first clue that change-makers should pay attention to this word is apparent in the definition of the word “social” itself. “Social” means related to society or human relationships. It makes sense, then, that the word would come up frequently during this era of collaborative learning in which we are seeing an increase organic, horizontal workplace structures. Moreover, members of Generation Y (born roughly between 1975 and 2000) are thought to be one of the most social and collaborative generations of all time. These individuals are now making their way up the ladder and securing positions as nonprofit leaders. The generation is said to be team-oriented, and with the rise of instant communication technologies, they are easily and constantly connected to one another.

Barack Obama made a call to service in 2009 and, though often called the “Obama Generation,” Millennials weren’t the only ones who listened. Despite economic hardship, overall corporate giving increased in 2009. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in corporate social responsibility and PricewaterCoopers claimed, after completing a recent report, that a social conscious is a core business value in today’s market. With things like the Pepsi Refresh Project, it’s clear that giving and supporting people is an increasingly important societal value. Science Daily even recently reported that we are evolving into a species built upon the notion of “survival of the kindest.”

What’s in a word? We are in an era in which people, collaboration, and caring for others really counts- and counts even more from one day to the next. Because “social” means related to people and society, it makes sense to look at the things we call “social” with an eye toward how they can help pursue social change. For instance, four seemingly unrelated “social” terms can inform nonprofit leaders of key ingredients for making a difference:

  • Social entrepreneurship: Change will take leaders. A social entrepreneur is a person who recognizes a social problem and summons their ambition and business acumen to create, organize, and sustain a social venture to solve that problem. It’s no question that large-scale change will require several hundred social entrepreneurs (if not thousands). It takes a critical, forward thinking leader to be a social entrepreneur. This is a type of mindset that the sector will likely need to cultivate and empower in order to bring about change.
  • Social media: Change will take collaboration. Social media is providing a basis for information-share and crowd sourcing that can help bring people together to solve complicated issues. This new way of communicating makes it easier to get in touch with people who share similar interests in promoting a cause.
  • Social capital: Change will take people, connections, and compassion. Social capital is the network, spirit, attitude, and personal connections created through social interaction. We “build” social capital by interacting with and relating to people. There’s a connection here to empathy because we are more moved by a cause when it affects someone that we care about. In order for change to happen, we all have to care. And in order for us all to care, we need to be connected.
  • Social psychology: Change will take an understanding of the people we serve, and the people we’re trying to motivate to contribute. Social Psychology aids us in understanding one another. If the goal of large-scale change is to help people, then we must understand these people’s needs and emotions in order to be effective. Moreover, we must understand those who similarly give and choose not to give to our cause. In the private sector, companies are always aware of their external economic climate. Nonprofit leaders must keep a finger on the pulse of the social climate as well.

Leaders navigating the nonprofit landscape looking for the buried treasure of social change need not feel discouraged. Our own language is providing us with possible keys to this treasure as society opens up to embrace a turn toward the social. As best practices grow even more powerful and efficient, nonprofit leaders will be armed with the connections, compassion, community, and communication tools to spread the word and support one another in achieving social change.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

3 Smart Reasons Why Nonprofits Should Hire Candidates with Personal Brands

Recently, there’s been talk among nonprofit millennials about how personal branding might negatively influence the potential for an individual to be hired…. even though personal branding will make you better at your job. The idea is that nonprofit HR folks may note the strength of a candidate’s personal brand and take it as an indicator that a candidate may be more concerned with their own brand than the organization’s brand. Overlooking a candidate with a strong personal brand because you’re worried that they will care more about themselves than the company is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Some of that worry is practical. Members of Generation Y (a large portion of those with personal brands) don’t feel the same level of personal connectivity to their jobs as Baby Boomers and Traditionalists that came before them. In fact, members of Generation Y aren’t as likely to consider their organization of employment to be as integral an aspect of their personal identity, and Gen Y has different workplace motivators. Is that a bad thing for organizations? Maybe. But the world keeps moving and we are entering a future that is ruled by information, ideas, and an entrepreneurial mindset. A big part of that is keeping a fresh perspective.

 

1. Personal branding is indicative of an Institutional Manager– which is the kind you want to hire. In the popular Harvard Business Review article, Power is the Great Motivator, David McClelland and David H. Burnham identify three types of motivation: power, achievement, and affiliation. Arguably, of these three, candidates with a personal brand fall into the desire for achievement category (there are over 50 million blogs so power isn’t as direct, and personal branding doesn’t necessitate a need-to-please, especially since controversial posts often get the most traffic).  The Institutional Manager is identified as the most effective organizational leader and is someone who is highly motivated by both power and achievement. On top of this, the authors found that for folks with balanced power and achievement motivation, then “stories about power tend to be altruistic.” This is more than an ideal manager; it’s the ideal nonprofit manager. This ideal leader is driven by achievement motivation; the same kind of motivation driving those with personal brands.

The opposite of the institutional manager is the personal-power manager. This is the kind of manager that people think they are weeding out if they cut out candidates with personal brands. These candidates are only motivated insofar as the organizational operations result in personal power. The personal-power manager has high power motivation like the institutional manager, but has low achievement motivation. Not only is personal branding indicative of an institutional manager because it necessitates achievement motivation, but it is directly at odds with literature on the personal-power manager.

 

2. Personal branders allow you to tap into a tribe. Speaking of power motivation, we nonprofiteers have that, too.  According to popular blogger and author, Seth Godin, what we all want is to change things. Nonprofit employees, arguably more so than private sector employees, want to change things. Many of us believe strongly in large-scale change or we wouldn’t be working in the sector. What Seth Godin argues is that leaders spread ideas about change by leading tribes. Tribes are silos of interest and Godin argues that tribes will change the world; “It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas.” People with (good) personal brands and a message usually have a tribe– or a group of similarly interested folks who are interested in or agree with their message.

Especially for those interested in nonprofits, personal branding is often about connecting people in order to create change. When you hire a person with a personal brand, you’re signing on their tribe. Your organization will be a key part of their ideas and learning, and that person will share their lessons and passions for your organization– and likely its mission. As a slightly related side, word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful kinds of marketing.  Social media is a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing and if you’re signing on someone and your organization is becoming part of their personal brand, then they are recommending you to their tribe.

 

3. Personal branders are social-tech, brand, and community conscious– and you likely need these areas of expertise in your organization. People on social media are constantly connected to other people, and they often know what’s going on in an industry thanks to their networks. A successful personal brand utilizes social media. If you hire someone with a strong personal brand, then that candidate is likely knowledgable in at least three areas that are important in the business world right now: social technology, branding, and community.

  • Social technology: This person knows how to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other sites to spread a message– or at the very least they’ve had experience with spreading a message.
  • Brand: If the candidate has built a strong brand on their own, then they’ve developed branding skills that can be utilized by your organization. There’s a lot to learn here: the proper amount of transparency, tone, and the way to think about brands in this era of the social media revolution. Hire someone who knows and you’ll save time on trial and error.
  • Community: As mentioned above, a good personal brand is about building a strong community and getting the attention and respect from the right tribe. This person knows how to connect with other people through the Internet; a skill that will become increasingly desired.

 

While there may be a tendency to think that job candidates with personal brands may be personal-power managers, the tendency is often unfounded. This is not to say that there aren’t a few bad apples in the bunch, but if a person would be a personal-power manager, there are likely hints of this in their personal brand. Instead, it may be helpful to think of personal branding as a resume of the future; folks can often control their personal brand much like they write their own resume. Social media is already helping organizations hire employees more intelligently. Looking for candidates with personal brands that match your organization’s goals and mission may be a key indicator that the candidate has the characteristics your organization not only wants, but needs in order to survive.

And if you don’t have a personal brand, what are you waiting for?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 12 Comments

How Social Media Transforms us From Managers into Leaders

While traditional business literature has identified an aching for leadership qualities in business and government positions, we’ve all come together to exchange ideas in the last few years- likely making traditional leadership qualities more obtainable than ever before.

Ask any MPA or MBA student about the staple literature for every organizational management course they’ve taken and you’ll likely see their eyes grow dull as they recall Abraham Zaleznik’s 1992 Harvard Business Review article, Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? They will grumble the opening words, “What is the ideal way to develop leadership?…” If you haven’t read the article, it outlines mutually exclusive and contrasting qualities of leaders and managers. And if you haven’t taken a class in which the article was highlighted, the first question seemingly every professor asks is, “Which one are you? A manager or a leader?

Here’s the answer: Thanks in part to the social revolution, we are (increasingly) both.

Here’s how managers and leaders measure up, according to Zaleznik’s famous article:

According to Abraham Zaleznik's HBR article "Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?" Managers have less than desirable qualities and leaders are rare.

And here’s how social media and current trends are melding us into leaders:

1) Leaders change what’s possible- and thanks to new technologies, we all have an opportunity to do this.  Zaleznik draws a strict differentiation between a manager and a leader’s attitude toward goals.  For managers, goals arise out of necessities, not desires. Leaders, however, “change how people think about what’s desirable and possible.” Social technologies are increasingly altering the way we communicate, and– in many cases– the ways to use social technologies have not yet been perfected. This provides an incredible avenue for potential leadership, especially for tech-savvy and still-unproven members of Generation Y. Things are changing. Social networks are now hitting more than 50% of the online audience- and there’s a rush to get your online strategy figured out by 2014, when social technologies are projected to capture 165 million users. There’s a need to be filled. Go leaders (everyone), go!

2) Leaders take a personal, active outlook- like you are taking right now as you read this post.  Did you know that there are well over 133,000,000 blogs on the web and more than 346,000,000 people read blog globally? That’s a lot of people putting their thoughts into the world- and most of them are not blogging for money.  Like leaders, these bloggers are taking a personal, active outlook on their industry or interests. The 346 million blog readers are also taking a personal, active outlook as they subscribe to sites and form their own opinions about what they read. Crowdsourcing (that’s a Wikipedia link; I figured it was only appropriate) is growing increasingly common and it is dependent upon people exerting time, energy, and willpower to a problem or cause. Utilizing all of these active leaders on the web has even been championed as a way for organizations to make better decisions.

3) Leaders develop fresh approaches, and we are now armed with more information than ever before. Another quality of leaders– in which managers are again lacking, according to Zaleznik– is that leaders have the rare ability to come at obstacles with fresh perspectives and an ability to increase options. Yes, we are undergoing a social media revolution, but this is occurring in the midst of (or perhaps as a subset of) the much-larger information revolution. Especially in the last 20 years, finding fresh methods to increase options to tackle business problems has become significantly easier. Just hop online and conduct a Google search to discover academic articles and blog posts about techniques being used in any industry. Moreover, not only are lessons regarding your industry of focus shared, but lessons can be easily gathered from other industries allowing folks to gather more information and create these fresh perspectives.  Utilizing this technology comes at little cost and, on a similar note, some of the greatest businesses in history were born out of recessions or times of resourcefulness.

4) Leaders make transparency a value. Consumers love social media because doing it well requires brand transparency (and the web is full of tips for marketers about how to do this); whether it’s an organizational brand or a personal brand. Truth be told,  Zaleznik doesn’t use the word “transparency” to describe leaders. He uses “passionate” and “personal.” He describes managers, on the other hand, as being apathetic, coercive, detached, and frequently using ambiguous words and gestures to avoid blame. When using social media, those characteristics just won’t fly. What does fly is honesty, sincere relationships, and adding value- qualities that align more with leaders in 2010 than with Zaleznik’s managerial qualities. In order to successfully utilize social media, you must have at least some of Zaleznik’s leadership qualities or you’re organization will only have one Facebook fan (Good thing your mom just figured out how to “like” organizations on Facebook).

5) Leaders do not tie their identity to an organization. Leaders and managers possess a very different sense of self,  Zaleznik argues. Leaders feel that they are separate from the organizations that employ them while managers feel their organization is tied to individual identity or purpose.  Right now, we are experiencing a trend toward organizational separateness. In fact, for members of Generation Y, the line between work and life is so thin that the idea of previous generations feeling intrinsically tied to an organization could be considered extreme to them (well, to us).  This is also a generation of multi-taskers with their own ongoing side-gigs that allow them the ability to intertwine work and life by doing the things they love. But Generation Y most certainly isn’t the only generation with side projects and developing their own leadership identities! In fact, Peter Drucker’s (awesome) Harvard Business Review article, Managing Oneself, is not generally considered an HBR leadership favorite for nothing. Social media helps us bridge the gap between work and life and our professional and personal ventures.

Leaders are traditionally thought to be rare and hard to come by. But it has never been easier to be a leader than it is right now. Times are changing and perhaps we’ll even find ourselves in the opposite position in 2042 than we were in in 1992: aching for more analytic managers than awe-inspiring leaders. Or the entire idea of a manager will become irrelevant as organizations become more organic and self-governing… or leaders will evolve to be people who can walk the line between do-er and thinker… or something else will happen as our business practices evolve. Either way, the clear-cut line between the contrasting characteristics of managers and leaders is blurring. Not only are we called upon to demonstrate both skill sets on a day-to-day basis, but we simply must be both managers and leaders in order to compete with our similarly talented peers.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Trends 2 Comments

The Nonprofit Leadership Deficit Won’t be as Bad as We Think

The Bridgespan Group released a study in 2006 revealing that we’ll need a staggering 640,000 new nonprofit senior managers by 2016 (that’s 2.4 times the number currently employed) to fill the leadership gap left when baby-boomers retire. We talk about this all the time. Thomas Tierney has famously driven the subject home: we’ll have to recruit the equivalent of “more than 50% of every MBA graduating class, at every university across the country, every year for the next 10 years.” And, according to the study, we’ll need 78,000 new senior managers in 2016 alone. That’s a lot of people!

Though we rightfully take this study very seriously in the nonprofit world, the deficit will not be this bad. The study is only three years old, but it is already outdated because it assumes that the nonprofit sector will function in the exact same way in 2016 as it did in 2006. Though there will most likely be a gap when baby-boomers retire and it is in our best interest to mentor and train emerging leaders, here’s what we need to remember about the deficit prediction:

 

1. Nonprofits will always evolve to maximize their allocation of resources (or, the world keeps moving):

  • Public, private, and nonprofit sectors will need to defy the most basic rules of economics in order to hit the high numbers on this leadership deficit. For instance, according to the study, we’ll need an extra 2,000 more leaders than we do right now just because there will be more nonprofits- and nonprofit organizations have larger senior leadership teams than for-profit companies. Organizations will evolve based on their needs; that’s economics. They will learn how to appropriately allocate their resources. If there’s a leadership deficit, nonprofits will think long and hard about their existing capabilities before spending excessive hard-earned resources trying to attract an unnecessary and endangered nonprofit leader.
  • The study predicts a relatively steady increase in numbers of nonprofit organizations throughout the decade following the publication (2006-2016), but the recession took a toll on nonprofits in 2009 and 30% resorted to layoffs- which means that there are fewer nonprofit employees now than there were at the start of 2009. Tierney admitted in his 2006 article that things could happen to lessen the number of nonprofit organizations, but the fact remains that something has already changed the projected numbers.
  • 9,000 nonprofit leaders are predicted to transition out of the sector in the next decade, but the study does not take into account senior managers that might be transitioning into the sector. It’s not a no-entry zone; people will want to be coming in. At some points the nonprofit sector may be more or less popular, but let’s assume that over the decade 9,000 leaders (the same amount that transitioned out) will transition into the sector. Though those transitioning out should certainly be added to the number of leaders we’ll need in general, there’s no certain deficit here. It’s the way the world turns.


2. We are entering an era of social responsibility and a desire to make a difference (or, enter: Generation Y)

  • Will there be a smaller supply of people to fill the roles left vacant by several thousand baby-boomer retirees?  Yes. A shorter supply of leaders, though? Probably not. Generation Y is itching to make a difference, and they have the (nontraditional) skills to do it. With the onset of a new generation and a different kind of leader, it seems natural that trends assumed by the article will change– and even if they don’t, we’re looking at a generation who prefers to work for the social good. Tierney dedicates a portion of his article to the projected difficulties of recruitment during the deficit, saying that organizations will need to spend more to compete with for-profit businesses to recruit the best and brightest. In today’s world, though, many of the best and brightest are already dedicating themselves to social change.


3. If the need won’t go away, then neither will the support (or, as long as there is cancer, we will be fighting it.)

  • Entrepreneur magazine says “find a need and fill it” is the first basic step in building a successful company. It’s not a new idea. As long there’s a need– such as a need to fight cancer (1.4 million people die every year in North America) or a need to strengthen our education system (70% of eighth graders cannot read at grade level)– then there’s an opportunity to raise or make money to fill that need. Tierney describes the ultimate consequence of the deficit, “While the sector stumbles, the deepest suffering will be visited upon the millions of people who rely, directly and indirectly, on the services that nonprofits provide and the social value they create.” This is only true if our society is wholly unable to respond to the deficit in every sector. And even if this is so, some nonprofit missions simply will not be ignored in society. Nobody wants to stop fighting cancer.

Though there may be fewer leaders, they will evoke change if they are good ones. Weak nonprofits that are unable to find effective leaders will consolidate to strengthen heartier nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits will increasingly team up with businesses to get their word out– and if everyone knows that nonprofits are failing, then intersectoral partnerships will benefit both collaborators: there’s money for the nonprofit’s cause, and even greater corporate social responsibility attributed to businesses that strengthen them.

This is not to say that there won’t be a deficit at all. 18,000 leaders will be retiring out of leadership roles before 2016– but we must approach the problem with more than an eye to what nonprofits must do to cultivate new leaders. We must consider that this deficit will affect the way that the civic sector operates as a whole. If even the conservative findings of the Bridgespan Group’s study are true, then nonprofits will suffer. They will find ways, however, to evolve to operate most efficiently and they will shut their doors if they cannot survive due to mediocre leadership, which may decrease mission competition and ultimately strengthen society’s ability for social change.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 1 Comment