In a 2016 interview about the Gates Foundation’s gender equality work, Melinda Gates spoke about the Foundation’s assumption that women would benefit from some of its investments. In agriculture strategy, for example, the Foundation assumed that “if we got a great new drought-resistant seed and we managed to get it distributed in the system, we just assumed that it would reach female farmers.” However, because women do not interact with agro-dealers “that’s a false assumption… so if you don’t develop specific programming to ensure that seed gets in a woman’s hands, then the extra income [generated by higher-yielding crops] goes into her husband’s hands.”Read More
Kirk Adams, President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, recently reminded us of the gravity with which successful leaders and board members must approach their responsibilities to the nonprofits they serve. At the Helen Keller Achievement Awards Gala in June, Kirk began his opening remarks by stating that he viewed his role at AFB as a “sacred trust.” Kirk’s appreciation for the magnitude of his responsibility, reflected not only in his opening statement at the Gala but also by his skillful guidance of AFB since May 2016, spurred a more general reflection on what it means to be a leader or board member at a nonprofit.Read More
There’s a saying by the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: “The function makes the organ.” It refers to the ability of organisms to provide organs or capacities to their offspring that enable them to adapt and survive in the environment in which they will live. By this biological principle, some butterflies and insects look a lot like the flowers they inhabit, birds can imitate other animals’ sounds to protect themselves from predators, and giraffes’ necks grow so long that they can reach fruits and leaves on canopies. Taking Lamarck’s statement and applying it to organizational dynamics, we can understand what leadership means, how leaders provide what the organization needs in order to accomplish its mission and navigate the fields it serves, and how leaders can achieve a greater impact through their organization’s work. ...Read More
There’s an old fable about a small village that fell upon hard times. The harvest season wasn’t as fruitful as the villagers had hoped and the days were getting shorter and darker. Where once the villagers had shared in feasts and festivals, each family was now protective of their meager food stores as they prepared for the winter ahead. Two strangers passed through town one day, hoping for a bite to eat. At each door they knocked on, they were told that there wasn’t anything to share, that the town had nothing. The travelers sat in the town square, dismayed. It was then that one of the travelers saw a large stone on the ground – nothing special, just a cold, grey rock – and they were struck with an idea. ...Read More
Some people believe that leaders are born, while others think that individuals can learn to be leaders. But no matter how leadership skills are gained, there are always ways to improve. And that’s a topic that I’ve been interested in throughout my career, whether it be helping college students consult to nonprofit organizations, technology company employees serve customers, or community college presidents improve student success. So during a recent engagement for the National College Access Network (NCAN), a membership organization that helps underrepresented middle and high school students aspire to, apply to, enter, and succeed in college, I sought to learn more. ...Read More
There is an old saying that most of us know: “You can’t put a square peg into a round hole.” Well, what if you make adjustments to the peg and/or to the hole. Eventually, it’s got to fit, right? This is the challenge facing many non-profit organizations that provide a robust service in somebody else’s space. For example, many early stage organizations in the youth development and educational enhancement space see early success working in a particular school or partner setting or two… or three. And, with the success, there is a desire – by staff, by Board members, by funders – to replicate the impact in other settings. ...Read More
Recently, I facilitated a discussion at one of my current clients. It was the first of a series of conversations set up to develop the organization’s theory of change or, as I sometimes call this existential process, the “Why are we here?” project. One of the staff members asked a question that I have heard regularly from many of my clients: “How essential are we to our partners?” ...Read More
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