Leadership Feed

Nonprofit Leaders Ride the Rollercoaster

Dr. Susan Raymond on what the recent downturn might mean for nonprofits:

Endowments and funds balances are losing value.  Some foundations tied to failed firms are no more.  “Major” donors may be not so major anymore.  Financial uncertainty is rampant from Wall Street to Main Street.  Uncertainty is certain.

Still, nonprofit leaders must do more than hang on for the ride:

Therefore, the operative need is for strategy, not panic.  In times of turmoil, nonprofits need to step back calmly and revisit all assumptions.  Communications tools must be reassessed for both messages and markets.  Past supporters must be sorted and culled for those who will emerge from the turmoil first and strongest.  New audiences must be identified.  New non-philanthropic sources of revenue must be considered, and the costs and benefits of their pursuit weighed.  Board members must be engaged in the details of strategy, for they will be critical to execution.

Branding as Root Cause of Moral Collapse

"Bailout" as a Failed Brand:

Expressions like "bail-out" imply failure and breakdown - the utter antithesis of the home-grown virtuous American dream of success and foresight.

Arguably from a branding perspective, President Bush's advisors could have come up with a clearer message of intent. Branding experts such as Andrew Bennett, chief executive of Euro RSCG - which claims to be the "largest global ad agency as measured by total number of accounts" - have suggested that the White House should have simplified the president's message.

Others in the marketing community believe that the $700bn proposal should have been sold to the American public in terms of an act of selfless heroism.

In such a case spin-doctors could have repackaged the emergency in the equivalent terms of a movie trailer, according the US National Media Group. The American people would have been presented the image of the kind yet tough New York firefighter daring to face the deadly backdraft - all to rescue the weakened economy from the roaring flames of recession.

We are all brand builders and consumers of brands. We watch the Superbowl for the ads. We welcome the next colossal national failure by critiquing the spin. Let us put brands aside and learn to deal in humiliating truths: that we have overspent our resources, that our polity has been stripped, that our future has been mortgaged, that our ecosystem is mortally sick.  "We have art so that we might not die of the truth," wrote Nietzsche. Today brands serve that purpose better, though at a higher price.

Speaking to Southeastern Council of Foundations

For the past two or three days I have been in Tupelo, MS, with members of the Southeastern Council of Foundations. Spoke twice, first on two case studies on family dynamics; then on leadership, using a passage from Amy Kass's, Giving Well, Doing Good. The leadership conversation to me was particularly interesting. People opened up to talk about diversity, social justice, civic dialogue, differences between Southern and Northern attitudes to wealth, and how we can maintain our respective cultural heritages within a plural society, in which we would disagree, ideally, both passionately and with respect for our shared humanity. A participant brought up King Lear, most of those present admitted to having read it, and off we went talking about the Fool and how truth is best spoken to power. I made new friends, enjoyed great hospitality, and hope they will forgive me my excesses here at Gifthub. (Fools live on, even now, in expectation of the Restoration.)

Of Metrics and Prayers for the Poor

I am proud to say that I know Jeremy Gregg. In fact I had breakfast with him this morning. Here are his thoughts on measuring the success of his work:

I am the Director of Development for Central Dallas Ministries. In some ways, my job is to raise funds for my organization’s efforts to end hunger in our community. In that role, I’ve had the privilege of seeing my organization’s revenues nearly double over the past three years.

Yet this is no achievement.

This is a testament to our failure as a community. Why should the area’s largest food pantry continue to grow each year for more than two decades? Why should neighbor after neighbor need to stand in line to receive food from our resource center? Why, above all, are there more churches in my community than homeless people – and yet so many of my friends continue to have no home? Night after night, they fight for sleep as a brief respite from the reminder that their situation could be solved if only each church in our town would take one of them into their care as did the Samaritan who did not even know of the glory that is our Jesus.

I will confess, I have occasionally left my office in tears because of our “success.”

Jeremy and I are talking about Wealth in Families by Charles Collier and how it might be used to convene a discussion group among our wealthy neighbors about what it means to have a happy, blessed, fortunate, virtuous, or successful life, here in Dallas.

Educating Philanthropic Leaders

LINDSEY McDOUGLE is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of San Diego pursuing a doctoral degree in Leadership Studies with a specialization in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies and Management.  Blogging at Leadership as a Field of Study, she responds to an earlier post a Gifthub on the education appropriate to those who engage in philanthropy. I had suggested that the liberal arts are helpful in helping donors and organizations assess the ends of giving. Lindsey responds:

Although I don't believe that any particular academic program is the most "appropriate" place for a philanthropic degree program to be housed, I would agree (with what Mr. Cubeta implies) that philanthriopic education is so multi-disciplinary that it can ultimatley be housed in any degree program. Additionally, it is very true that those studying in the field must be able to ask questions about meaning and purpose in life; however, I don't know how much it matters whether that occurs through a foudation in humanistic studies or as a integrated component of a sub-field. Nonetheless, it is an interesting article to say the least!

Leadership At The Walls of Jericho

Obama, echoing Martin Luther King, invokes Jericho - the walls came tumbling down when the people heard the prophetic horn and shouted with one voice.  To the many ways in which we are atomized (race, class, gender, political party, geography, religion) add the market mentality: producer in her cubicle, a manager construing a spreadsheet, a consumer wandering the mall, rating agencies with their metrics guiding consumer choice, a stock market with numbers going up and down. Leadership speaks to us in another voice and creates from many what no one can buy or sell. That we do not know this about ourselves, that power is collectively ours to take, simply by raising our voices, shows how well the forces of atomization have done their jobs in the last 40 years.

The Liberal Arts of Leadership: On the Proper Uses of Wealth and Power

Giving_well What have we lost when the Leader, perhaps an aspirant Emperor, or his right hand man, has read Milton Freidman, Leo Strauss, Carl Schmidt, and Machiavelli, but not Virgil,  Lucretius, Seneca and Cicero? Metrics, hierarchy, efficiency, and results (in short, power) must at some point report to wisdom. Perhaps even Freedom like the horse beneath Marcus Aurelius must be responsive to virtue. Giving Well, Doing Good: Readings for Thoughtful Philanthropists, edited by Amy Kass could be considered ornamental, a book to display on the coffee table at Hudson, under the portraits of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Or, it could be considered the rebuke of an ancient tradition rising up, coming to consciousness. Will the satirists, Juvenal, Martial and Horace, make the cut? They did not make it into the anthology. Maybe Amy's next book will be, Ruling Well: Lessons from the Liberal Arts, the Arts of Freedom. Lessons from Aesop? Citizen! Know your place.

I hope the seeds Amy has cast will fall on fertile ground.  If we are to be ruled by the few, let them be wise.

Life Affirming Leadership

Tracy Gary emailed me these thoughts on life affirming leadership:

A life-affirming leader is one who knows how to rely on and use the intelligence that exists everywhere in the community, the company, the school, or the organization. A leader these days needs to be a host - one who convenes people, who convenes diversity, who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our intelligence can come forth.

Margaret Wheatley, RockRose Youth Dialogue Project, World Cafe October 2007

A leader convenes the wisdom of community? (Otafuku, Shinto goddess of mirth, is a gracious hostess, serving sake to friends. Life-denying Demons be gone!)