Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jobseekers: Quit Looking to Nonprofits to Nurture Your Soul

I'm compelled to confront. I'm hearing a lot of people talking about wanting to transition into the nonprofit sector because they've had it with their soul-sucking for-profit employer. They want to feel better about what they do and while I don't begrudge anyone satisfaction with how they spend their working hours, I do ask people to start reframing their thinking.

There are as many nuances among the cultures of nonprofit organizations as there are among those within the for-profit sector. It becomes dangerous to lump them together, expect that they all feed the soul when in fact there are many, many mission-driven or purpose-led companies within the for-profit sector that feed the heart as much as the head.

Answering the question of fit is as much looking inside one's own expectations, desires and intentions as it is examining the culture of the potential organizations. The nonprofit sector can be immensely rewarding, it can also be as intensely crushing as for-profit environments -- with similar and with very different reasons.

My suggestion regarding fit is to start with the qualities you seek, what you wish for your legacy and ask focused questions of potential employers to discern what might work best for you. Research online, request informational interviews with people publicly identified as a stakeholder with the organization, and be true to your own intentions. Good luck!
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Monday, November 09, 2009

Help People Become Engaged by Engaging Them

People often wonder how to help staff become more engaged in their jobs ... I suggest reframing the proposition. Less about how to help them become more engaged and more about creating the means to engage employees in conversations about how their positions connect to the purpose of the organization and the organization's intentions in providing service to its customers. Ask them what it means to be engaged (or passionate) and then listen to what they have to say, implementing the ideas that work within the corporate culture. Perhaps asking them to identify challenging moments they've faced or could face and framing a group problem-solving session for how it could be resolved, redirected, etc. Map out ways that victories at their level link to the bottom-line and help the company achieve its financial targets or the organization advance its intended impact. A key consideration is celebrating moments that reflect what you want to see because positive reinforcement and celebratory recognition are crucial.
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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Social Media & 24/7 Employees

Employers are expressing frustration about lost productivity in the era of social media, and research bears it out. Yet, there is an opportunity to refocus that frustration by engaging employees and aligning their actions with the purpose and intentions of the employer. When people are engaged in and about their work, the social networking sites become an outlet/distribution vehicle to extend the brand and the sales reach. If employers subscribe to the concept that employees represent them 24/7, social networking becomes a more interesting (less frustrating proposition) ... provided everyone is clear on the intention, the core message and the authentic actions they can/are taking.

Thanks to Frank Horvath for sparking this post.
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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Critical Role of the Board Chair (and more)

Alice Korngold in her Fast Company blog posting offers an excellent outline for how an effective Board chair carries forward her/his duties. Creating that culture of expectation and execution is critical for ensuring that the Board of Directors is helpful to the nonprofit, rather than a hindrance.

I would suggest that her list offers solid guidance for anyone considering any position on a Board. It also offers an opportunity for one of my favorite questions of nominating committees ... if you wouldn't hire that individual to provide leadership within your company, what makes them an excellent candidate for serving on the Board of this nonprofit?
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Workshop Announced: Better Board Meetings

Better Board Meetings will be held Thursday, November 12. I'll be leading the workshop from 9-11AM at Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Board meetings are intended to be productive in moving the organization forward. Too often, staff members end up spending days preparing for meetings that are less than effective in achieving those ends. Workshop attendees will walk away with tools to change the structure of Board meetings, making them more efficient and engaging.

Topics will include:
  • use of a consent agenda,
  • four no-fuss ways to improve your next meeting and
  • four questions to ask for making your Board meetings better over the long haul.

Cost: $40. You can pay at the door or via invoice. Substitutions are allowed; no-shows will be billed. Download a flyer or register online via e-mail.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Strategic Planning is Sound

I've been seeing a lot of articles and offerings lately telling people that what's needed is "an alternative to strategic planning" -- and it saddens me. Rather than carving out "alternatives," what if we focused on simply doing strategic planning more effectively. After all, by calling it something else, we're opening the door for greater confusion (and more apples to nuts comparisons among requests as well as responses).

By discounting the value of conversations about mission and purpose, we lose sight of the core concepts that are intended to connect diverse sets of people around shared objectives. By diminishing the nuances between sectors and types of organizations, we undermine the very cultural complexities that make the sector and the organization distinctive. By dismissing "strategic planning," we lose a framework of systems and processes that can make things more effectiveness.

I've also been around long enough to know what goes around, comes around... I watch enough reality television to understand that one day it's in and the next day it's out. Yet, too many people are being led astray and down unproductive pathways by those who change the language and fundamentally diminish the effect.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Better Branding Starts with Intentions

If you want to be one of the "big boys" don't settle for "child's play" that unintentionally shapes your critical initial impressions. Be clear about your intentions, objectives and needs so as not to be swayed by people whose intentions are serving a different purpose.

This can be particularly relevant when organizations start asking for free or reduced creative services. There often has to be more at stake for the creative professional than a feel-good contribution, particularly when the process is intended to be efficient and beneficial for all parties. Since creative for creative's sake may win awards but usually doesn't influence stakeholders ... even free can come at a substantial cost. So, proceed with caution --- and more importantly, clarity.
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Moment for Clarity

It took a moment of vulnerability for me to clarify my personal philosophy -- which guides me in business and in life.

Among a group of peers, all seeking to demonstrate professional success, we were given a blank sheet of people and 30 minutes to map our values and start drafting our personal vision. Put our name in the middle of the sheet. Draw a spoke for an essential value. Create one-word branches clarifying the value, identifying links between spokes as they arose. Then, assess all the information and craft a vision. For example, one of my spokes: openness. The branches captured openness in relationships, in ideas and for new experiences. New experiences resulted in knowledge and growth. Growth linked to the branch of another spoke: well-being.

The exercise itself was both an affirmation and a discovery process for me, but the forthcoming moment of vulnerability was key. I was required to talk through my map with another person from the session. The listener was supposed to determine, based on my inflection, pace and nonverbal cues, which elements were most influential in defining my personal value structure.

We paired off. My partner went first, and I provided my perspective on her presentation. Then, I launched into explaining my map. But, when I was done, my listener apologized to the effect of: “I’m not sure I can help you because you talk passionately about each item. You seem to embrace everything as an opportunity to apply your skills and grow.”

Her apology was my insight. In that moment, I discovered two things – a vision and a philosophy. The four-word vision that resulted from that exchange still guides my actions still today. I seek to embody passion and growth. And, I do it knowing that collaboration is key. I don’t believe we can achieve improved results by staying within our own minds and experiences. We need the pushing and pulling that comes from talking with people of different backgrounds, opinions and values.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Workshop Announced: Engaging Your Board

Engaging Your Board will be held Thursday, October 15. I'll be leading the workshop from 9-11AM at Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

A non-profit Board can be among its most powerful assets -- when used correctly. Too often, Boards end up listening to committee reports and focusing on typos in the minutes, rather than providing the oversight and insight needed for the organization to remain viable amidst changing conditions. To address this problem, your board members need to know and understand the importance of their responsibilities, and you can help with concrete tools and techniques to convert even things like fundraising into rewarding tasks.

Topics will include:
* Why Board members engage and why Board members fade
* Intentions versus actions: understanding the value of alignment
* Re-focusing related to fundraising
* Steps for energizing your board

Cost: $40. You can pay at the door or via invoice. Substitutions are allowed; no-shows will be billed. Download a flyer or register via e-mail.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

Communiversity on Collaboration

Excited to be facilitating a Constructive Conversation on collaboration to kick off the University of Wisconsin Center for Nonprofits 2009-2010 Communiversity series.

We're taking a fresh approach to the typical lecture style and facilitating an interactive session intended to engage attendees to share their insights and input on concerns, opportunities and requirements for successful collaboration in our community.

Setting the stage will be insights gathered from registrants and others through a short survey:

If you're in the neighborhood of The Pyle Center on September 22 from 4-6PM and have a few hours to dedicate to connecting with colleagues and community members, join us. Registration information was at
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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Missions Don't Talk, People Do

Missions don't talk, people do. So, how your people articulate the mission and represent the organization's intentions can be the difference between feast and famine. It can make or break that impression you seek to leave with stakeholders. Step back and consider what tools you have in place or what conversations you've had with people about that key message you want to share with people in order to spark some needed action or what traits you want to emphasize through your actions in order to reinforce the organization's value and position. Become intentional in building a brand and become clearer in your intentions. Then, watch your organization move forward and advance its mission.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

A 5-Step Communication Formula

There are models for nearly everything these days, and communication is no exception. Since where there is one model, there are usually others, use them as a reminder of good practice. This five-step model builds on people's need for empathy and repetition, and it can be used to develop a presentation for a group or a response to a question.
  1. Empathy. Demonstrate that you are listening and that you care about other people's input.
  2. Conclusion. State your premise, the short message you want the audience to remember when they leave.
  3. Responsible Actions. Provide supporting details to show how your conclusion is justified and true.
  4. Restated Conclusion. Tell them what you told them (your premise) so they'll remember it when they leave.
  5. Future Actions. Share the hopes or plans for the future to emphasize your long-term interest.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Say it, Live it, Be it

Words are powerful, particularly when they align with action. Be clear on how your organization wants to be positioned and remembered, then consider how you are the critical element in making that impression a reality. How you live your life is the foundation for your organization's image and for your image as an employee of that organization. For mission-driven and forward-thinking organizations, you will likely help align the organization's impression with its intentions by listening intently, thinking innovatively and delivering with your heart and soul.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Show You Care to Connect With Your Audience

Credibility goes a long way in connecting with an audience. Research shows that 50% of your impact on an audience is all about you. It is how you show your concern and demonstrate empathy. Empathy involved listening more than anything else and requires that you listen for the question underneath the questions so that you can connect with the emotion of the audience. You don't have to agree with someone to emphathize, you do have to acknowledge their concerns. For instance, "I appreciate your concerns," "It is fair for you to be upset," etc.
The next time you are speaking to a group, talking with staff or dealing with a stakeholder, remember that people do no care how much you know until they know how much you care.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's the little things by Rodney Coates

I was inspired by these words from Mr. Coates, and he graciously agreed that I might share them with you here.

It seems that every time we pick up the local paper or turn on the TV -- the news, for those working, continues to be bad -- layoffs, furloughs, reductions in salary, budget cuts, plant shut downs, and the curtailment or suspension of services and programs. With all of this bad news, it would be easy to assume that it's all about the Benjamin's. While money is tight and while the economy continues to demonstrate its fragility --what people provide as employees is far more than what we can quantify economically. It is, in fact the intangibly and incrementally small sacrifices that many employees provide which is at the core of any corporate, institutional or community success.

All too often, when we look at success we fail to recognize or even reward the little things that so many employees do under the radar. What is success if not the policeman who helps the little old lady cross the street, the fireman who climbs the tree to retrieve the family cat, or the teacher who sits with a troubled child. Success is the nurse who reads to the comatose patient, the janitor who stays late to allow the kids to play an extra few minutes in the gym. It is also the coach who gives life lessons, the clerk who reminds us that we paid too much, it is the secretary who brings in homemade cupcakes, the agent who meticulously keeps our records, and the mail person who rain, sleet, snow, or hail makes sure that the mail gets delivered. And yes it is the delivery person, the trash collector, the cable installer, and the telephone operator --who smiled even when they were being disrespected, fixed the problem even when the problem was caused by us, and who worked diligently in some of the most difficult of circumstances to provide service to us. All of these servants, and those who are not mentioned here, should get more than a pink slip when times are hard, or ignored when times get better.

There was a time when our economy was in far worse shape than it is today, when we found more creative and sustained ways to show our gratitude. In the past we were more willing it seems to share smile, a thank you, and even the occasional apple for the teacher, the chicken for the pastor, or the box of candy for the mail carrier. In little but significant ways we demonstrated how much we truly appreciated all the little things that so many people did for us.

It is obvious that we have never been able to pay for all the little things that so many dedicated, loyal, and caring persons do for us on a continuous basis. These are the people that diligently serve, educate, protect, and inspire us. So, in these times of economic upheaval let us take time to value, reward, and acknowledge the little people. A smile, a kind word, a thank-you cost so little, but will mean and say so much. Try it and see, I guarantee that regardless of economic instability -- our communities will be enhanced.

{Rodney D. Coates is professor of sociology and gerontology at Miami University. He can be reached at}
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Use a Bridge To Make Your Point

Our actions are a bridge between intentions and impressions. A 'bridge formula' to answering questions should be part of your strategy when you're representing your organization. It works well in a media interview, as part of a panel discussion or during a meeting. Even when you think you're in an impossible situation or you are talking about a sensitive issue ... follow the formula:
  • listen to the question
  • answer the question
  • give a bridge
  • state your message
It allows you to answer a question directly and still emphasize what you wanted to say. Bridge phrases include: "however," "but/and," "what I do know," "what I can tell you," "our primary focus," etc. So, the next time someone asks you a question, give the formula a try. Just remember to answer the question and make sure your message is somehow related to the question!
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Solid & Stellar Leadership

Solid leaders have the ability to communicate a clear vision with explicit expectations. Stellar leaders then engage stakeholders (internally and externally) using the tools of technology and respecting individual working styles to move the organization forward.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

A Recipe for 'Brand Evangelism'

Take one part clarity, mix with equal parts curiosity.
Let rest until consistency rises.
Add two handfuls of commitment.
Mix well with communication until conversations occur.
Look for connections.
Season as desired.
Share with others and remake when needed.

Thanks to Ryan Drumwright for sparking this post.
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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Selling Social Media Within Nonprofits

As you look to make the pitch for social media within your nonprofit, a few threads arise:

1. There is value for social media, if the organization is ready for it. Get the house in order. Start with the basics. Go one integrated step at a time. Know what you want to get out of the endeavor, tie the "sell" to the outcome.

2. Social media can't be ignored. It needs, however, to be used effectively and communications experts may be just the ticket to achieving positive returns on any investment. Use it to connect with your target donors, go where they are, not necessarily where you think you want to be.

3. You can lead the way and target new channels, if you have a clear and consistent message you are prepared to support with the investment of time, talent and/or treasure to get it out there in a timely manner.

Above all, remember that social media requires strategy in order to be effective and it must be integrated into your larger organizational objectives as a potentially powerful distribution channel.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Calling All Mission-Driven Organizations: Send Questions

When giving a presentation or making a pitch, I'm at my best when responding to questions. It lends focus and allows for the audience to make a better judgement call about whether or not the information might help them move forward. Those on the receiving end have often heard me say that I can talk for hours on the topic at hand, but without their questions, it might all just be interesting talk rather than helpful insights they can leverage when they walk out the door. So, here's the thing... What are your questions related to:
  • organizational development
  • mission-driven leadership
  • nonprofit structure & governance
  • strategic planning
  • communications
  • ideology & identity
  • brand building
  • fundraising & development
  • nonprofit collaboration
  • stakeholder engagement
  • capacity building
Post them here as a comment, send them to, tweet them to @melanieschmidt ... Together, we can advance greater clarity in how to enhance mission-driven organizations and help the people connected to them engage more effectively.
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Avoid These Strategic Planning Missteps

Following are three easy-to-avoid missteps in strategic planning ...

1. Thinking strategic planning is a one-retreat sort of solution. Rather, strategic planning is a *process* from vision to strategy to planning through reality checks to implementation. Successful strategic planning integrates a way of thinking and a model of engagement into the organization's culture.

2. Not taking ownership for the planning, the process or the outcomes, instead connecting it (intentionally or otherwise) to the consultant. Outside perspective is vital when facilitating and crafting a framework for progress, yet it's long-term usability and success hinges on internal commitment to moving it forward.

3. Limiting the engagement to a small few. Greater success can be yours when your open some or all of the process to a larger majority of those affected by or influencing the ability to make progress.

Thanks to Roger Phelps for sparking this post.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Tweets Affect Your Brand

Twitter can be captivating, fun and affirming. When framing the tone of your Twitter profile (which shows your listing of tweets), remember your reputation. When you're tweeting on behalf of an organization, stay true to your organization's voice, tone and intent. When tweeting for yourself, consider how you are presenting yourself. You never know who might be reading ... An interesting litmus test can be to review your profile through the eyes of someone who might hire you for job or a promotion. What do your postings say about you and your commitment or contribution?
Thanks to Peter Abraham for sparking this post.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Brief Break

My thanks to Jody Glynn Patrick of In Business for the challenge of taking a break to compose a 60-word story (title and all). It was a good exercise reminding me about point of view, storytelling, creative license and the fun of writing outside of work. My submission is below, you can read more at the IB Update site.

Gazes & Grills: In a moment, I lift my gaze and our eyes lock. He, clinging to the wire basket getting his evening’s fill of suet; me, striving for perfect grill marks on our evening’s protein. Stopped, we assess. Neither moves. Both seeing the short distance yet feeling a shared purpose. Each happy to allow the other’s pursuit of food.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Making Change Actionable

When 'the ways things have always been done' is no longer working for you -- or your organization. Forge a new path. Get beyond business as usual and pave a new way toward greater success.

Refocus and recharge based on an honest assessment of what's desired, what's doable, what's in the gap, what needs to happen to get from now to next year, and how you'll know if you've achieved. Engage stakeholders by seeking and delivering clarity around expectations, curiosity about different ways to achieve success, commitment to a path of action and communication that connects those involved/affected with intention and action. Align people around the purpose and put the systems in place to support their success.

Don't overthink. Don't overdo. Keep it simple and keep it focused.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Engagement as a Brand Indicator

Depending on how you present yourself, respond to others and adapt to changing circumstances, it would seem quite likely that an organization's brand is based in its engagement model --- insomuch as that model reflects the core ideology and impression the organization intends to reinforce among stakeholders.

Effective brands deliver a consistency in tone, message, presentation and action across mediums and interactions. They are borne from engagement and they connect on a sensory level, providing an idea of what to expect. They have an intention about them that is clear, consistent and understood. Extraordinary brands take it to the next level. Reflecting the organization's ideology, they inform the actions taken by not only the organization but also those who become its stakeholders & advocates. Plus, they adapt to changing conditions while remaining recognizable within contemporary standards ... all the while making the necessary connections among what people sense, what people experience and what people share.

Thanks to Mark Herbert for sparking this post.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Social Media Success Starts with Strategy

The most successful social media endeavors occur when the organization recognizes that social media is a distribution channel rather than the be-all-end-all communications solution. Social media success means integrating the various platforms into the rest of the outreach/communications plan and dedicating time/resources to keeping them fresh.

Social media can be a big distraction for many resource-strapped nonprofits (many of whom don't have dedicated communications or outreach staff). A few questions that can be helpful for the nonprofit in setting the stage:
  • How does the social media platform complement other efforts?
  • Does using social media allow the nonprofit to streamline other things it is doing?
  • How will you leverage the culture of each social media platform to reinforce your intent?
  • Do you have an effective Web site to reinforce your online presence and reinforce/validate the messaging you are sharing?
  • Do you have a messaging strategy to ensure focus of intent, purpose and desired outcome across platforms?
Experimentation is a great thing and social media is one of those areas where the field of experimentation is quite vast -- and fun! Nonprofits should be experimenting, trying different things, talking with stakeholders (donors, funders, clients, employees, etc) about how they are working ... but not at the expense of its strategic intentions for moving the organization (and the mission) forward.

Thanks to Chuck Zdrojowy for sparking this post.
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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How Relevant is Your Strategic Plan(ning)?

Strategic plans can be incredibly beneficial in moving an organization forward. The process through which they are created can be enormously helpful in refocusing and recharging staff, Board, volunteers and other stakeholders --- particularly at times of transition, stress or challenge. So, I'm curious ...

Thanks, in advance, for taking the time to answer the quick survey. Stay tuned for what the results reveal...
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Excite Your Employees

What excites employees about their organization is the opportunity to get excited about their organization. For instance, employees can get excited when they see authentic leadership that fosters an environment which builds on individual strengths toward a shared goal, encourages tolerance & adaptability, and celebrates achievements in diverse ways. Employees seem to get excited when they have a clear idea about the direction of the organization, the freedom to be curious about different pathways to get there, commitment to sound & respectful decision-making and open communication toward those ends. I know that when I was someone else's employee, it was exciting to make the connection between what I was doing in my role with how the organization was moving forward and making strides toward what we wanted to accomplish.

Thanks to Manolo Santos for sparking this post.
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Friday, July 03, 2009

Overcome the Distraction of Uncertainty

Don't let uncertainly throw your organization into a downward spiral. Face the uncertaintly head on ... acknowledge it, then refocus and simplify.

Refocus on the organization's core purpose, the changing circumstances and the desired achievements. Build from strengths and be brutally honest in the discovery. Resist the urge to circle the wagons and limit the conversation to a few; rather, engage your stakeholders in the conversation. Make them part of the discovery and help them see themselves in the solution. Create a framework for progress that is simple: easy to understand, focused and short. Something on which people can build and within which there is the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. And, do it quickly. Make a commitment to recharging the organization and dedicate some time to make it so. You won't short-change the process by moving swiftly, though you might realize more success faster and more frequently by taking action!

Challenging times call for more clarity, curiosity, commitment and communication. Regain focus by accepting you may need to refocus and use uncertainty to your organization's advantage by letting it spark some curiosity about new ways to achieve success. The resulting conversations can yield necessary commitment that you can communicate clearly and consistently to your stakeholders, demonstrating progress along the way.

Thanks to Octavio Ballesta for sparking this post.
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Engage People for Sustainable Progress

Nonprofit organizations live and die by their stakeholders -- by the people who give their time, talent and treasure to advance the mission. The people who are around for the long-haul and in the tough times. Engage them. Don't rely on a one-shot report or consultant solution, both of which become too easy for people to disregard in challenging times. Use a process that engages your stakeholders. When they invest some of themselves in the process, in the ideas and in the solution, they feel greater responsibility and ownership. When the challenge has become clear,  they've offered ideas about how it might be overcome and then realized the need for a commitment to action, that’s gold. That's a model for sustainable progress.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Communication Count-Down

When looking to convey your intentions, think about your actions. Before you start talking about something, consider whether you are clear on why you’re talking and what you’re saying. Take a moment and gauge your confidence in having explored different avenues and engaged creative thinking about new ways or alternate approaches. Reflect on how you have engaged people and how committed they are to whatever it is that’s about to be said. Look at your language and dissect your delivery to make sure it will connect and convey as intended. That's it! Four, three, two, one ...
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Focus on Mission

Challenging times bring significant opportunities for organizations that are focused and ready to adapt. Organizations that focus on their core purpose, explore beyond business as usual and find ways to engage their stakeholders will be better positioned to survive and thrive. It’s a 360-degree responsibility for all those connected to a mission-driven organization.
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Friday, June 12, 2009

Engage People to Seize Opportunity

Finding a way beyond business is usual is possible. Seizing opportunities is something you can do. Because it doesn’t have to be complicated or resource-intensive. It simply has to be clear and it has to be an understood need. Making it happen becomes even more likely when you reach out and engage other people involved with or affected by the matter at hand.

When you involve people in a process and engage them with the questioning, they become more involved. Their involvement leads to understanding. That understanding leads to commitment. And, when that commitment is garnered swiftly, then the communication, the actions required thereafter – they can become the focus.

Give it a try. Think about something that will move your organization forward. Identify some key players who would be involved with making it happen. Discern some of the questions that need to be answered or concepts that need to be explored in order to move from idea to action. Find a way to bring their minds together (call a meeting, send an e-mail, use a survey, pick up the phone, whatever works for your timeline and within your resources). Engage them. Excite them. Push them. Pull out the insights.

Then, convert it into some actionable solutions on which the key players might focus for a few weeks. Report progress and discover ways to build on that momentum while adapting to changing circumstances. Don't be overwhelmed by the possibilities, be focused on an opportunity!
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Monday, June 08, 2009

Seize the Day!

Make an opportunity today to re-focus and re-charge. Find one way in which you can change your energy to be about progress and sustainability. If you find yourself thinking about the obstacles in your way, stand up and stretch your body in order to stretch your mind so that you can brainstorm some ideas about how to see it differently. Drill down for a moment or two to find something within your sphere of influence or control on which you can take action. Don't over-think. Just re-think beyond business as usual.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Re-Consider Your Mission

At the core of an effective organization is a clear mission statement. An understood collection of words that drives the organization's intentions, actions and impressions. A shared intention that informs decision-making processes, which can yield greater acceptance even without full agreement.
Yet, the mission doesn't come alive until it is embodied by the people who commit themselves to moving it forward. Achieving that commitment becomes easier when the mission statement uses current language and reflects contemporary circumstances, all while being true to the heritage and traditions from which it sprung.

So, if you haven’t examined your mission statement in the last three years, or since you’ve engaged that new slate of Board members or staff members, make some time in the next 21 days. Approach it with an open mind and the understanding that some words or phrases just may need to change in order to make it more meaningful for those committed to moving it forward.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seize the Opportunities of Challenging Times

There is certainly a lot of doom and gloom these days. Even with mainstream news reporting a turn by the end of this year. It just doesn’t seem real. People aren’t feeling it, or perhaps just not believing it. The challenges are, after all, undeniable.

Yet, I submit there are always challenging times. Even in boom times, people struggle. Organizations are forced to make tough choices about who stays on the payroll, what programs might need to be cut. In the best of times, there are still those without. And, nonprofits know that very well. Nonprofits see and serve it. In fact, the third sector often sees it more clearly than any other. And, in these times, nonprofits must find new ways.

Thankfully, these challenging times also offer opportunities. Opportunities for organizations willing to stretch. Willing to get a little curious. Willing to take an honest and candid look at how they do business and what they are truly intended to impact and achieve.

I’ve had the good fortune over my career to work with and in some pretty incredible organizations, across all sectors and of all sizes, during not-so-good times and when things were humming along just fine.

What I’ve observed is that during the not-so-good times, the organizations that focus on their intended impact, that focus on the people who make that impact and focus on finding a new way – these organizations emerge stronger.

They refocus and they recharge. They prepare themselves for a new way. Not without making tough choices, but they move forward knowing that in the challenging times there are opportunities to make positive changes – to make tough choices rather than reveling in the luxury of avoiding them for one more year.

Thus, it makes now a great time for nonprofits to re-connect with their missions. To take a good hard look at whether or not it still makes sense. To have deep constructive conversations about the future. And, to embrace (or create) the opportunities to make it happen. Thinking of it in a new way: not as things you have to do, but as things you get to do.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't Micromanage the Message

We simply must accept that we cannot control everyone -- a challenge for many, from many perspectives. Yet, really, the best we can hope to do is to be as consistent and clear in our messaging such that people understand it, internalize it and share it in ways that are appropriate with how we intended it. We can only seek to shape actions by being clear and authentic in our own. If you have ambassadors out there, be they in the physical or the cyber world, don't spend energy worrying about controlling them (their message, or their actions); rather, give them the stories, connections, understanding and inspiration to spread your mission to people you might never reach otherwise!
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Friday, May 15, 2009

Boost Your Brand by Exploring Collaboration

Collaborations or partnerships can be great brand boosters. You might enhance people's impressions of your organization simply by the connections they associate with your collaborator/partner. The possibility of that connection might also be the shot in the arm needed to take a look at the brand you've built and either affirm it or evolve it.

Examining the respective brands may also be helpful in the conversation about how the collaboration or the partnership will work. Are your intentions aligned? Are your actions consistent (and appropriately complimentary or divergent)? How do your impressions compare, contrast and help you make progress as an organization?

Worry less about losing your brand in a partnership, think more about how it will be enhanced as a result.
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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

One Voice, Many Tones

Clarity and consistency are critical for effective brand building. That does not, however, mean that everything has to be the same. For instance, organizations with a focused brand framework can still appeal to multiple, divergent audiences. Think of it as creating one voice for the organization, a voice that is consistent in its intention, yet a voice that can adapt to the needs of different stakeholders or the different circumstances within which it finds itself. Consider how you may speak in different tones when sharing information before a large gathering of strangers versus around the conference table with your co-workers. You may seek to leave a slightly different impression. Yet, the impression you want to leave needs to be consistent so that people believe their is some authenticy to what you are representing. So, when you think about framing your brand, think about your organization's identity, consider your target audiences and dig deeply to uncover what impression you want to leave. Narrow it down to two, possibly three, and use them as brand channels for shaping your actions and your communications.
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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nonprofits 'Sell' Mission Moments

Growing competition in the nonprofit sector demands that nonprofits know what they are 'selling' in order to capture donations, grants, volunteers, sponsors, staff, etc. Those who seek to translate 'corporate marketing' into the nonprofit world can become too focused on trying to differentiate the experience of giving. There are certainly nuances but the baseline reasons are typically the same. Think instead about whom you are trying to influence. Then, think about the mission moments that will connect them to your organization. Create a file that captures the connection with a funder, with a sponsor, with an employee, with a volunteer. Service recipient stories and impact statements are great supporting detail as well, but remember that your stakeholders are a diverse bunch bound together by some unifying belief in your purpose. So, seek to find the ways in which you can connect their deep beliefs with your cause, reinforce it by sharing the different kinds of connections that have been made. Help them scratch their itch. Lose sight of how you deliver on your mission, it becomes blurry for others as to how they can be part of it.
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Make Your Creative Work For You

If you are going to invest in creative campaigns, make them work for your organization. Connect the creative to the essence of your mission, culture and identity. Connect it in a way that bridges your stakeholders to the future and compels your audience to take a desired action. Think about how to leverage the campaign or the development process to engage stakeholders. Determine how best to take the ideas, information and outcomes back to the people from whom they were solicited in order to gain ground. Perhaps take them to new people from whom you'd like comments solicited. Even if you didn't get it quite right (from their perspective), you might gain valuable respect and a few more ambassadors for your cause.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DIY: Strategy + Brand Integration

If you aren't fortunate enough to go through an integrated process for developing the framework for your strategic planning and your branding, take the time to build the bridge yourself. Pull out the strategic plans, steep yourself in the ideology, internalize the values. Know how your organization defines success and for what it is being held accountable. Then, build the bridge to your branding process. And, if you're not certain about the strength of your organization's vision --or your brand-- use an engaging process to strengthen it.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tie Branding to Business

Tie branding to strategic planning and strategic decision-making and your changes of success increase exponentially --not just in the efforts themselves but also for your pursuits. Take branding out of the world of all things soft and fun, and put it inside the objective world and language of business. Leverage the fact that you have access to the stakeholders and bring them into the process so you can connect to their language when talking about organizational objectives.
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The One-with-One of Strategic Planning & Branding

It is a little known fact that effective organizations link strategic planning and brand development. The two disciplines truly do go hand-in-hand. Branding is simply the public manifestation of the internal planning intentions. In parallel worlds, you can connect the mission with the identity, the vision with the tagline, the values with the messaging framework, the strategic plan with the creative brief, and the action plan with the outreach. Another way to look at it is a one-to-one blend, a layering of strategic planning and communications, actions and impressions.
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Monday, April 06, 2009

Effective Organizations Bridge Intention & Action

When you engage people, you help them understand --from the inside-- what is is you're all about. You bring them inside the brand. Thgey ver thing that generates a common understanding of intent. An effective ideology, an effective strategic plan and an effective brand builds the bridge between intention and action. It uses everything at its disposal to be sure that people understand what's expected and that they deliver on it consistently in a way that connects with the intended audience ... be that audience internal, external or a combination thereof.
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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Build a Brand Path

In our overly connected world, where now people tweet as frequently as do the birds, expanding the concept of branding beyond logo development is imperative. Seize the opportunities you have as an organization to shape the pathway of a constituent's experience. For instance, what happens the moment the customer dials the toll-free number to the music they hear when they're on hold, to the words they hear being spoken by the automated 'on hold' attendant or when they land in a voice mail box and how they're treated when they connect to a human. In this ever-faster world, you'll need to increase deposits into your brand bank account in order to avoid eradication by a withdrawal, the effects of which might spread like a virus.
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Build a Brand Bridge Between Internal & External

Branding connects people. It connects them to ideas, to experiences, to programs (or products) and to each other. Since you do have the opportunity to build your brand, be clear with your people how you intend for them to connect with the outside world. Work hard to help people within your organization understand and connect with the emotion and the message you want outside people to remember. Forget the internal, forget about the external.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Branding as a Daily Endeavor

You have the opportunity to build your organization’s brand every day. As a leader in your organization, you have a particular responsibility to be mindful of your words, actions and attitudes because they shape the way people around you (inside and outside the organization) respond.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Engage Stakeholders in Your Discovery

Consider engaging your external stakeholders in your strategic discovery process. Not as a focus group, but as real-time participants. We've had great experiences inviting specific target audiences into specifically designed parts of the process. They mix in small groups with the organization's leadership, management and staff. It builds the relationship, it expands the perspective and it deepens the data from which the resulting frameworks are created.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Three Central Values Connect to Branding

Brand development offers an interesting connection to what Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, named the three central values of life: the experiential, the creative and the attitudinal. Frankl defined the experiential as that which happens to us; the creative as that which we bring into existence, and the attitudinal as our response to the experiential circumstances.
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Connectors Win

Author Dov Seidman asserts that in a connected world, individuals and organizations that make the strongest connections win.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Gratitude + Openness + Curiosity = Happiness

New research by Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University, provides much to think about for improving your effectiveness and that of your organization. He points to gratitude as the key for happiness and further suggests that men are more challenged in feeling and expressing that gratitude. Kashdan says, "“The way that we get socialized as children affects what we do with our emotions as adults." It also affects how we interact and how we use creativity as a problem-solving tool.

For some, as we get older and more socialized, it becomes more and more challenging to spark curiosity and openly share ideas. Thus, the more we can do as organizational leaders to create safe spaces for people to rediscover those abilities, the more effective our organizations can become. The more celebration we are able to infuse into our environments, the higher the morale and the better our organization's productivity. And, the more we can do to achieve consistency in those actions, the better received they will be.
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Engagement Might Create Brand Ambassadors

Brands are built by organizations and shaped by their stakeholders. They live in the shifting circles between control and influence, and my bias is that organizations typically maintain majority control over their brands -- even though adapting it can be like trying to turn a freightliner in a channel {possible, but only under the right circumstances}. Yet those who believe in the need have an opportunity. They can be proactive, they can explore possibilities, they can be clear about their intentions and they can engage people.

You can bring those internal stakeholders right into the process from the beginning. You can engage some of your external constituents at key moments to let them know how much you value their input and perspective on what you’re trying to do. Bring them in, engage them, get them committed to some ideas and they could become some of your most powerful brand ambassadors.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Build Brands by Building Bridges

When traveling through corporate America, the one department that never seems to be at a loss for people willing or eager to provide critiques is … marketing. Everyone seems to become an expert pretty quickly. There is a certain comfort level people have about sharing ideas related to marketing. They’re quick to comment about how that headline just doesn’t work for them or that pricing structure is out of whack, yet hesitant to question the revised schematic on filtration systems shuffling through their own department. It’s an interesting dilemma for most marketers. A point of frustration for some. A field of opportunity for others.

These are definitely the days for proactive, responsible marketers. For the kind of professionals who take responsibility and work to move things forward. The kind of savvy person who adds another “P” to the marketing mix by leveraging psychology. A leader who understands that building bridges inside and outside of the organization means building a stronger brand that generates better returns. Happy engaging!
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Focus on Substance

In challenging times and when facing tough issues, it's easy to get distracted or overwhelmed by a flurry of possibilities, opportunities or actions.

A focus on substance can help. People often spend their time thinking about how to make something sound good rather than focusing on the substance that will make it good. Rather than taking the time to articulate an intention, they throw out scattered ideas and bemoan a lack of direction. Rather than offering leadership or thoughtful direction on moving forward, they focus on word choice and paragraph order for what others suggest. It may feel like progress or what is needed to move things forward, but it lacks a clarity and commitment that are essential for the organization to make sustainable progress.

Next time you are about to embark on a project or feel like you're spinning your wheels, focus on articulating substance with a few guiding questions:
  • are you clear on the intention?
  • do you know how you want the 'it' to advance your mission and build your brand?
  • have you determined success?
  • how have you pushed the envelope?
  • have you articulated the details that support the 'it'?

Clarity and commitment in these areas will help you communicate in a way that connects with the people who can help you make progress and move forward.
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Friday, February 20, 2009

A Process for Effective Fundraising

A process approach to fundraising can help you organize your effort for greater success and maximum efficiency. Begin by assessing your starting point. Align your purpose and your people. Then, move forward with confidence. Each step offers greater focus and progress toward your goal, ultimately allowing you to leverage the campaign to move the entire organization forward. It also gives you a thoughtful roadmap for your next initiative. See what we mean?
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ideology + Identity = Basis for Branding

The fun part about branding is that there are a lot of different approaches and you simply need to find/adapt the one that works best for your organization's culture.

We find it is helpful to use small group dialogue and interactive processes to get stakeholders thinking and talking from the organization's perspective about who they are, what they want to achieve and how they are going to get there. Combined with other insights, it helps set the stage for a framework that outlines the mission, vision and values of the organization. This ideology then drives the identity involving the tagline, logomark and the brand framework, which includes traits, color, typography, key messaging, tone and application. All of this information becomes the basis for the 'brandsition.'

Key concepts for the ideology:
  • What is your core purpose?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What will guide people in their actions?
  • How does it lead to a framework for progress?
  • How will people connect with it?
  • Why does it matter? 
Key concepts for the identity:
  • What does it look like? sound like? feel like? act like?
  • What is the main point? the critical emotion(s)?
  • How will it reflect a vision of success?
  • What should people believe as a result of their connection with it?
  • What matters? Why does it matter?
That information can then be distilled into a brand framework. We believe that such a framework becomes a platform for consistent communication when captured more like a coloring book than a rules manual. It provides clear guidance on how to live and represent the brand with room for adaptability as needed by unforeseen circumstances. It may even include examples of how the brand might live forward through collateral, materials, events, etc.
If you directly link these phases (distilling the ideology and crafting the identity), you might find there is more commitment to the resulting communications and future deliverables. For instance, having the creative team represented at the strategic planning sessions offers a visible connection for the participants and a strategic connection for the process. Identifying a group of "brand champions" who are trusted by the organization (at varying levels and/or in diverse departments) often strengthens the recommendations that would be presented for decision.

Our hopes for these projects are that the person(s) accountable are able to carry forward a process that allows an effective brand to stem from within the organization's culture and ideology and then blossom due to commitment of leadership and staff that live it forward in how they represent the company. And, never underestimate the value of doing it with a process that is fun, meaningful and swift.
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Corporate Giving: Clarify, Engage, then Give

No matter how you ultimately decide to give back, the search for the right philanthropic act should be an enjoyable and rewarding activity. Once you've clarified your purpose, consider your players. If your employees dread having to put on face paint and floppy shoes for your favorite annual fundraiser, consider engaging them to find another way to give back and multiply the good feelings or perhaps doing some of your own homework to discover something that works for you and for them. Once you've clarified your purpose and considered your players, do one more thing: clarify your commitment. Nonprofits count on what you say to plan for their future. Knowing how far and frequent you want to be with your contribution can guide how you communicate with your nonprofit(s) of choice. When everyone is clear on the intentions, everyone can win.
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Corporate Giving: Consider the Players

There are a number of details to consider when thinking about your philanthropic future: give to one or many; give based on a themes or whims; contribute regularly or in one shot; go local or be global; do your own thing or join in with a crowd. That makes it very important to consider the people involved and let them help shape the decisions about where and what you will offer (e.g., time, money, skills, goods, image, etc.).

If you're giving as an extension of your internal culture or are trying to spark employee camaraderie, consider a project that involves teamwork in which you donate time and skills. Connect with an existing cause, like Habitat for Humanity, or establish your own unique endeavor that requires joint planning. When planning something special, employees can really shape the effort. The more internal involvement when deciding, the more internal support you will likely receive.

If you're looking to improve perceptions, consider a cause that links to your mission and business focus. For example, a computer company might donate hardware/software to a national literacy organization. Or, a design firm might volunteer time to dig out flower beds at a community center. Think about who is involved, what makes them tick, what you want to accomplish and then make a list of possibilities. What organizations might fit your bill?
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Maximize Your Networking

It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. If you’re not building a strategic network, you could be missing out on opportunities to advance your business and career. So how does one balance networking with an already unbearable list of daily demands? Set a plan and focus on quality rather than quantity.

Here are five easy steps for turning contacts into assets:

1. Make a Connection. When meeting someone new, establish a link back to you. Do you have a friend or colleague in common? Have you read an article in which the person was featured? If so, let them know. By warming the door, you immediately connect with them and lead them into a conversation.

2. Ease the Situation. Most people can detect the networking vibe from a mile away. Let your contact know right off the bat that what you’re looking for are ideas and advice. Professionals will feel respected, let their guard down and offer more valuable information.

3. State your Purpose. In two minutes or less clearly state your objective. Are you exploring ways to advance your career? If so, give a bit of information about your background and future goals. Are seeking out new customers? Talk about your current customer base, your success stories and how you’d like your business to grow.

4. Engage your Contact. Ask your client for feedback. Actively listen to what they are saying. If anything is unclear or if you wish to learn more, ask them. Now that you have them in front of you, make every second of their (and your) time count.

5. Get More Bang for your Buck. As you thank the contact for their time and exchange business cards, be sure to ask if there is anyone else they recommend you contact. Each contact you make should expand by at least one so you can continue to grow your network.
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Planning Pointers for a Great Event

With so many things to keep in mind when planning an event, it can sometimes seem insurmountable. Yet, when you have the right tactics in toe, planning a great event is not only possible, it can be enjoyable, too.

1. Make a plan. Your first step should be to clarify why your organization is holding the event. Once you determine the purpose for your event, set the goals and budget. With these elements defined, it is easier to extract all the details needed to achieve your aim and layout a timeline of the steps to get there.

2. Get people excited. Attitude is everything in event planning. The mood of the hosts, speakers and attendees will make a huge difference. Make sure the invitation and other correspondence attract, intrigue and excite guests. Generate buzz. Create a publicity plan where applicable and contact appropriate media to alert them of photo/interview opportunities.

3. Plan for the worst. Be sure to crash test the event. Scout the location beforehand, check all the equipment, confirm reservations, send a reminder to attendees and taste the punch. One of the best things you can do when planning a successful event is assume that nothing will go as planned.

4. Expect the best. Success requires a lot more than a smooth function. Sufficient parking, proper lighting, appropriate thanks, comfortable seating, a clear view of the speaker, and chocolates on the chairs are just a few of the accents that distinguish a good event and great event. These "little" things add up to make a big difference in making your event a hit.

5. Unwind. Evaluating the event while the details are still fresh is essential. Provide a questionnaire to attendees, and write down any pluses, minuses and insights of your own. Express your appreciation to all parties involved and as a final touch, send a picture, program or note to those who could not attend. After the clean up and lock down is complete, kick up your feet with some leftovers and congratulate the team on a job well done.
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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Give and Get of Corporate Philanthropy

Surviving challenging times requires a reliance not only on your own fortitude but also on your connections with community. Demonstrating support for others can improve your image, your attitude and your bottom line. Whether you call it social responsibility, philanthropy or community relations, consider giving back an opportunity to get even more.

If you're giving back in order to celebrate a milestone in your business or to foster greater teamwork among your employees, think about how you can connect your action(s) to your motivation(s). Perhaps you devise a fun way for employees to be part of the selection process or you set up a matching program where you'll do a dollar match for your employees' donations of time & talent. Maybe it's all about making the action a celebration in itself to bolster pride in the values of the business.

If you're giving back because of forces around you, think about ways you can integrate it internally and make it a big deal. When approached by nonprofits needing assistance, consider the request thoughtfully and be sure it aligns with your corporate ideology. There is nothing wrong with making sure that your charitable acts result in more positive thinking in, by and of your company.

Understanding your motive and clarifying your purpose allows you to be authentic in your actions -- and that's good for everyone.
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Let the Process Drive the Participants

Letting participants drive process can result in confusion. It can undermine the credibility of the very process that is needed to move the organization forward.

Set the tone from the beginning. Identify your list of participants. Make notes of their preferences for times, dates and the order of things. Then, stop. Take a breath. Contact your facilitator. Find out what dates work for him/her. Talk about the psychology of the meeting start times and ending times. Figure out how food and space do or don't play into your scenario. Identify 2 or 3 options that work for the purpose of the process and then contact your participants.

Putting their needs ahead of the needs of the process can actually diminish your (and their) overall effectiveness. Once the parameters are set, then let them drive the ideas!
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

From Ideas to Action

Two blips on our radar screen indicate we need to prepare for a shift from ideas to action. In November, this country elected a pragmatist. In December, Bruce Nussbaum declares the death of "innovation" and the birth of "transformation." As new values take shape, my hope is that we embrace that shift by respecting both ends of the spectrum -- by connecting ideas with action rather than simply throwing one out for the other. The process between each might be the riskiest and most rewarding opportunity we have.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A logo does not a brand make

Don't be confused that you are marking property when you think about branding for your organization. Your organization does not belong to you alone. And, a brand is not a logo.

An organization's brand is a collection of experiences. Since an effective brand is a collection of consistent experiences, set a goal to foster, nurture and shape that collection of consistent experiences across your targeted stakeholder groups.

Start from your ideology (mission, vision, values) to shape your intention. Nurture it through your identity (logo, tagline, messaging). Foster it through every interaction and every communication put forth by every representative.

From visible communication materials (brochures, reports, advertisements) to gatherings of all sizes (galas, events, meetings) and the things you can't touch (attitudes, tone, manners) -- it all matters.

Bring people into the process. Help them understand the value they bring and the responsibility they share. Engage them so they can engage others effectively to build your brand and advance your mission.
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