We met Irene Facciolo at Nonprofit Management Summer Camp. Irene is a musician and actress, an architect, and an educator. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Arts and Learning (CAL) in Montpelier, a consortium of several nonprofit organizations devoting to maintaining a thriving art, music and art education community in central Vermont.
CAL is its own nonprofit, and operates as an umbrella organization for participating arts organizations. This is the story of how they leveraged their collective power to buy a home for the arts, (21,000 square feet of home in downtown Montpelier), and serve as a model for other nonprofits.
Hi Irene, thanks for joining us. How did you come to be involved in this collaboration? What was the spark that led to you all purchasing a building?
I got involved in the Center for Arts and Learning through one of the member organizations, the Monteverdi Music School. My daughter was taking piano lessons with one of the faculty members and then the director of the music school asked me if I would be interested in joining their board. I joined their board four or five years ago.
The Monteverdi Music School board was approached by a couple of community members, Paul and Peggy Irons. They were taking classes at the Summit School of Traditional Music and renting space in the same building as us. Paul and Peggy have experience with commercial buildings, and had the idea that we might be able to purchase the building and have it serve a permanent home for all of these programs.
We laughed, thought it was a nice idea, but as a poor nonprofit didn’t really feel we had the resources to buy a building like this. Paul and Peggy were persistent, and we started looking at the finances to see if we could afford to operate the building. We got together with the TW Wood Art Gallery and the River Rock School and formed an informal group that began discussing the real possibilities of what purchasing the building would mean, how we would do it, and what our collaboration would look like. We formed a board from these conversations and then an organization (the Center for Arts and Learning) with the State of Vermont as a 501(c)3. From there I joined the board of CAL.
How did you finance the building?
We explored lots of different options for funding the purchase of the building and they all had a lot of red tape and bureaucracy involved. We eventually went the simplest route, which was bank financing through the Vermont State Employees Credit Union. The affordability really hinged on the three organizations advertising and including a number of other organizations and rental spaces in the building. The founding members pay “member contributions.” While keeping it affordable, we use rent from the other organizations and individual artists to contribute to the operating budget. It is the main income stream that helps us maintain the building and run it.
How long did the process take?
It was about three years from when we formed the board to when we finally purchased the building. We did a lot of talking and a lot of figuring out. All the organizations have the same goal. Not the same resources, but the same goal, a permanent, downtown location for their nonprofit organizations. They all want to be part of Montpelier, and all loved the idea of creating a special center that can be more than the sum of its parts.
What were your priorities once you opened the space?
My number one priority has been to keep it affordable for artists and other creative people. I don’t want to create a renovated space that is too expensive for people to afford. Number two is to have programming either through the center itself or through the member organizations that will bring people into the building so that it’s a very lively building. We want the building to be more and more active. Thirdly is to renovate the building. One half of the building is from the 1930s and one half is from the 1950s. The Diocese built and maintained the building, but it hasn’t been upgraded in 20 years. Only a third is handicap accessible. There is energy efficiency work, handicap accessibility work, and deferred maintenance. Raising the profile of it visually is important. It’s a plain building and doesn’t have some of those beautiful natural architectural features on the outside. We’re going to have to work to make it more beautiful.
These organizations came together around this shared vision, but how is the organization structured now? Does each organization still have their own board of directors and staff? How is everyone connected in this collaboration?
Each organization is it’s own nonprofit with their own board of directors. The structure is that each of the three member organizations send two members of their board to join the Center’s board. We’re talking about changing that and expanding it, hoping to include outside members on the board. The power of this whole structure is that we are inclusive and right now it feels too narrow to me.
Beyond the space, what else has happened because of this collaboration?
I have been hired as the executive director. We have written two grants so far to upgrade the facilities, have gotten one and are waiting to hear on the other one. A lot of programming grants require us to be handicap accessible so we need to tackle that first. We would really like to become partners with organizations around us, like the Senior Center next door, the Studio Arts Center in Barre, a group from Waterbury, networking on all organizational levels, reaching out and seeing what other places do. We don’t want to duplicate work, but learn from how they collaborate.
Hindsight is 20/20. Is there anything you wish someone had told you before you started this process? Any advice you have for folks considering it?
One thing I wasn’t accustomed to was how much talking you have to do to make a collaboration happen. I come from the for-profit world, and I’m not used to all the variety of approaches to making something happen. I’m used to someone having funds and then hiring me to the job. In this collaboration we didn’t have the funds, we didn’t know what we were doing, and we had to figure out the vision and how to agree. It’s a very different model of working together than to have a client. The board is essentially its own client.
You have successfully purchased the building and completed that aspect of your shared vision. What are you taking on next?
I’m hoping that the space can be used more as a facility focused on arts and education, and that we can get funding for programs that bring people in the door, like expanded music workshops.
One of the jewels in the physical plan is the space where the gallery is now; the old elementary school portion. We would like to be able to provide a multipurpose space so that outside groups can come in for performances. There are a lot of groups in our area that utilize the schools, and it’s not always a good financial deal for the school. I would love to be a space for rehearsals and for performances. I’m not interested in creating a space that is elitist or competing directly with our neighbors. I really want to fill a need that is out there that hasn’t been filled yet.
Welcome, new students, staff, and faculty, and welcome back, to those returning! We’re so excited to see the campus teeming with life once again! We’ll open for the Fall semester on Sunday, August 30th at 12:30pm and look forward to seeing new students with their peer adviser groups on Sunday from 1-3 pm.
You probably know that once the library opens for the semester, we’re open 24/7 until after the Fall Finals period. You can come in, study, socialize, borrow/return books, work/print/scan/copy in the computer lab, have a cup of tea, or do whatever else you wish (subject to the College Handbook and the Library Honor Code, of course) whenever it tickles your fancy.
There are certain things, though, that you can only do when staff are on duty. These include: borrowing reserve readings; borrowing DVDs; picking up holds or interlibrary loans; and getting into the Plan Room.
Staffing will be a little atypical during the first couple days of the semester:
- Sunday, 8/30: 12:30pm – 5:30pm
- Monday, 8/31: 9:00am – Noon; 1:00pm – 4:00pm
- Tuesday, 9/1: 9:00am – Noon; 1:00pm – 4:00pm; 6:30pm – 11:00pm
- Wednesday, 9/2: 9:00am – Noon; 1:00pm – 4:00pm; 6:30pm – 11:00pm
- Thursday, 9/4: 9:00am – Noon; 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Thereafter, our Service Desk schedule for Fall 2015 will be:
- Sundays: 12:30pm – 5:30pm; 6:30pm – 11:00pm
- Mondays-Thursdays: 9:00am – Noon; 1:00pm – 4:00pm; 6:30pm – 11:00pm
- Fridays: 9:00am – Noon; 1:00pm – 4:00pm
We’ll always list changes to our schedule — building or Service Desk — on this blog, in the Town Crier, and on the library’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. If you ever have questions (about hours, staffing, or really, anything at all!), please stop by, email us (firstname.lastname@example.org), or call x221 (802-258-9221).
We are looking forward to working with you this year!
by Zon Eastes
Imagine a framework in which groups of Vermont creatives share ideas—in real time and virtually, at a number of places in the state. Or imagine a framework in which mutual goals leverage support—legislatively and financially. Or think of a context in which peer-to-peer learning is encouraged and evaluated, thus supporting individual or organizational capacity building.
The Vermont Arts Council, currently marking its fiftieth anniversary, has been partnering with other Vermont agencies to frame up the Vermont Creative Network (VCN). The fifty-year moment provides any organization with a poignant opportunity to look at, say, the next fifty years. And that is what the Arts Council is doing this year.
As VCN is still emerging, here’s a long-ish tagline: Vermont’s extensive creative and cultural assets plus ingenuity and a collective spirit equal the Vermont Creative Network: fueling a healthy creative economy and quality of life that we all enjoy.
After initial network concepts were tested on nearly two dozen Vermont thought-leaders, a tour of twelve communities across the state produced next-step ideas and carefully considered concerns for the network. Discussion sprang from a Results-Based-Accountability-inspired outcome statement: Vermonters have a right to live in healthy, vibrant communities with engaging opportunities to learn, work, and prosper.
We met with about 750 Vermonters in this process. Forums were structured so that participants addressed three questions about their communities: Where are you now? What’s your vision? What are some specific steps that would ensure your vision? After report-outs, concepts and values were organized by participants under naturally occurring headings—like Communications, or Marketing.
All thoughts, scribbles, and ideas have been retained, nothing has been lost in this process and all of the input that we have received is highly valued and appreciated. Additionally, an online survey has been completed by 150 Vermonters.
Back in the office, we analyzed the information we have collected and agreed as it organized itself into six central areas of focus:
- Leadership (human investments)
- Resources (technological and space investments)
This small list will likely become the Network’s Action Agenda—a guidepost for the intelligence, energy, and sentiment provided by so many Vermonters working in the creative sector and economy.
Next comes our strategic planning process. Nine Vermonters representing diverse creative sector voices will gather to establish 8-12 key goals in support of our working population level goal. And taking another cue from RBA, each goal will reveal a set of strategies and measures. This document will guide the Network through its initial phases of growth. We will also be considering how we can use the Collective Impact rubric to generate ideas, energy and results for Vermont’s creatives, their communities and their economies.
VCN is pleased to announce its inaugural annual gathering and conference, the Creative Network Summit, to take place at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, on November 4 and 5. Workshop sessions, keynote addresses, networking opportunities, and more are on the schedule.
The work of the Vermont Creative Network is inspired by several highly effective models and best practices: the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, Collective Impact models, and Results-Based Accountability, to name a few.
The Council’s Network partners include the Emergent Media Center of Champlain College, Common Good Vermont, the Vermont Department of Libraries, and the Vermont Downtown Association, a program of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The Network is currently funded by the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation.
On July 24th the Center for New Leadership at Marlboro College hosted the second annual Nonprofit Management Summer Camp. 55 nonprofit “campers” converged on Brattleboro from far and wide, representing Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Washington DC, Maryland, and Vermont. For many, this was their first time attending a Marlboro event.
Campers spent the day making new professional connections and taking part in high-impact workshops. Topics included Breaking up the Meeting, Creative Ways to Gather Data, Difficult Conversations, Volunteer Management, Online Fundraising and Crowdsourcing, and Leading From Your Strengths. Most importantly, perhaps, campers learned the Vermont handshake and that excellence in nonprofit management can be a whole lot of fun.
The team at the Center for New Leadership is already looking onward to next year: Save the date for The Third Annual Nonprofit Management Summer Camp on July 29th, 2016.
Who are you Rob? What do you do for work? And what’s this we hear about yaks?
I am a Mad River Valley based writer, musician, historian, perfesser, and Vermont’repreneur. My day job? I teach communications, new/digital/social media, journalism, and environmental studies around greater Burlington at UVM, Champlain College, and Saint Michael’s College and, of course, Marlboro College down in southern Vermont when they invite me. And yes, I moonlight as a yak guy – having raised yaks here for six years on a farm, I now am co-proprietor of our YakItToMe mobile BBQ wagon during the May – October months. Find us on Facebook at YakItToMeVT.
What programs do you teach in at Marlboro?
I am teaching what I call “story coaching” at Marlboro, which is orchestrating a conversation in which I show professionals how to learn how to harness new digital and social media tools to share stories about their organizations doing good work in the world.
You are presenting at the upcoming “Active Learning Symposium” in Burlington on August 18th. What is Active Learning?
It has become the norm for today’s students to arrive with two or more mobile devices and 24/7 connectivity. Instead of discouraging or “controlling” this access to information, emerging pedagogies are embracing this change in ways that enhance and engage students in new ways. I will share examples of new strategies in action in international studies in China, using apps to create digital conversations and other ways to leverage mobile technology to expand beyond the classroom. This session will also be interactive, and participants should be prepared to bring their own devices and experience an example of this work first hand.
How does Active Learning inform your teaching style?
I try and get all of my students to be as “hands on” as possible – reading and discussions are all well and good, but tackling RELEVANT issues by becoming a publisher of stories, a producer, whether it is blogging, using social media, or picking up a mobile phone or video camera, makes learning come alive. For example, in my UVM policy course last spring, we explored the thorny question of Vermont marijuana legalization through readings, films, and conversations with the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative (VTCC). Students read the Governor-commissioned 2014 RAND report on options for legalization, prepared and presented public position presentations on the various options, and produced a final paper in which they advocated for a specific option based on our class research. In our Public Communications class, meanwhile, students learned how to market a local event that they themselves co-curated. We called it the “Burly Ama-Slam,” an amateur music series at the Skinny Pancake, and I assessed student marketing teams on how many folks they got in the door through their varied marketing efforts – just like a real world professional experience.
Where can folks learn more?
Visit our Action Coalition for Media Education web page (ACME at www.smartmediaeducation.net). We have a whole host of information and free resources for 21st century media literacy education and related learning. And contact me any time at email@example.com.
Find Rob on Facebook and Instagram as DrRobWilliams, Twitter @freevtyakker, and YouTube as robwilliamsmedia
What brought you to Windham County?
GM: I grew up in Connecticut and first came to Vermont as a skier. I fell in love with this area and moved here over a decade ago because of the warm and friendly people, the abundance of nature, and the atmosphere. It just felt like this was where I was supposed to be. Living in Vermont has solidified my love of gardening and being outdoors and has inspired me to become a beekeeper a few years ago. Of all the things I do, that’s what people remember about me the most.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
GM: The Certificate in Nonprofit Management was definitely the spark that gave me the idea to start this in the first place. I took the Certificate as a way to assess if I should pursue a career in the nonprofit sector – to explore options, learn more, and to get a solid foundation. Something Andy Robinson said in one of those classes stuck with me. He said, “if you are considering starting a new nonprofit, ask yourself if you would serve an unfilled niche, or if are there already other organizations that are doing the same thing. Should you start something new or partner with existing organizations?”
It made me step back and think if perhaps instead of starting a new organization I could help existing nonprofits better fulfill their missions with the knowledge and skills I already have. That was the spark that made me reconsider starting a new nonprofit. Would a new organization do more good, or would I be diluting the impact, donor base, and momentum of organizations already doing the same thing? There is already so much great collaboration among our nonprofits in Windham County. I thought about how I could have the most widespread impact on many organizations, then decided to start Gail Friday.
What does Gail Friday do?
GM: I saw a need for nonprofits and small businesses to have more help with backend business tasks like using data and assessments, data visualization, and grant writing and reporting. For example, there might be a fundraising opportunity that requires data collection or compilation. It would be great for an organization, but they could miss out on it because they do not have the time, the budget or the staffing to get it started. So I saw a need for organizations to be able to hire someone on a project basis to take advantage of opportunities and make them successful. It is a low-risk way for an organization to take on a new endeavor. If it is successful, and depending on their short and long-term needs, they can continue Gail Friday’s services or hire staff to take it forward.
Tell us more about the data visualization aspects of the business. How do you help organizations?
GM: I focus on data and information management tailored to the unique needs of small to medium sized businesses and nonprofit organizations. That includes surveys and data visualization like infographics. My goal is to provide information and illustration that can be used for marketing or PR, grant proposals, impact measurement, annual reports, and communicating with donors in nonprofits, mission-driven business, and small business. Data visualization is actually very complicated. There are ways that our brains are wired to take in information, and different people have different learning styles. If you present someone with a huge table of three columns and twenty rows you might think it looks manageable, but if you want them to compare different aspects of it, like comparing the largest sources of giving over multiple years’ time, it’s almost impossible for them to do so.
A weather map is a good example of data visualization. In a newspaper you will often see these maps with different colors representing the intensity of something, like the temperature in each town. It’s a way that your brain doesn’t have to think about and compare the specific numbers. You can understand the information just by the visual.
I will work with people to help them see what they want to evaluate, the best way to gather new or use existing information, and then what is the best way to display that information. I have an anthropology and customer service background, so I love people as much as I love data.
You were runner up in the Windham Regional Business Planning Competition in the Startup/New Business Category. What was the competition like?
GM: There were judges for each category who reviewed our business plan based on criteria such as likelihood of success and job creation (whether direct or indirect). The process was very involved and competitive. One of the best things about the competition was hearing that the judges thought that Gail Friday was a great idea, that I should definitely pursue it, and to keep changing it as I go. Learning that my business plan should be thought of as a living document was really helpful. Just because right now I am doing something in a certain way doesn’t mean that it is set in stone. Knowing that I can, and should, keep refining the plan is actually very liberating.
In addition to the Certificate, what other programs have you been a part of at the Center for New Leadership?
GM: I was also a Get On Board Fellow in the Board Leadership Institute, did the Results-Based Accountability class, attended Nonprofit Management Summer Camp, and took the Social Enterprise workshop. If I look at all the Marlboro programs as a whole they’ve really helped me learn the concepts and the tools that will help me use my existing knowledge to help others through my own mission-driven business. Marlboro programs have given me a solid foundation to understand and implement these kinds of services, and most importantly gave me knowledge of the unique needs, concepts, and challenges of the social sector. And have really reinvigorated my passion for working with the nonprofit community. The encouragement and support that I’ve received from the Marlboro community, including leadership and staff and other program participants, has been remarkable. I feel like that’s helped keep me going in pursuing and fine-tuning this idea.
After going through the Board Leadership Institute I was recruited to be on the board of the United Way of Windham County. Last week I found out I was voted in with 100% support. I really am honored to serve our community. Now I’m on the steering committee of the Board Leadership Institute, so since I’ve gone through I can come back and help to make it even better.
Cathleen Barkley, Jessica Hyman, Doreen Kraft, Stephanie Lowe, Sarah McCall, Kate Paine, Erika Schramm, Beth Sightler, Rubi Simon, Leanne Tingay, and Rebecca Towne
This June marked the close of the first Chittenden County based Women’s Leadership Circle. “I am honored to have been able to work with such an outstanding group of women leaders in Chittenden County, and I am humbled to have gotten a window into the profound contributions that each and every woman makes in their communities,” said Program Director Kerry Secrest.
Interested women are encouraged to apply for the next WLC in Chittenden County. Applications are due on August 3rd, 2015. Learn more at www.marlboro.edu/wlc.
By Julie Fahnestock, Founder and Sustainability Storyteller at B Storytelling and Marlboro MBA in Managing Sustainability Alum. First published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/create-vision-hanging-your-clothesline-julie-fahnestock?trk=hp-feed-article-title-like
Moving across country can be one of the most stressful times in your life. My husband and I made the move from New England to South Florida in 2014 and I give major thanks for how seamless our realtor made our transition. She helped us find our fabulous condo in two short days and under budget. But that’s what realtors are supposed to do. What made our experience exceptional was how relaxed she was. It was like she was an old, reliable friend I can call at the drop of a hat. So, when I opened my mail box this week and found a generic, cookie cutter, albeit glossy and pricey looking flier from her newly established realty company—called Unique Realty–I was shocked. Nothing about the ordinary, characterless flier communicated uniqueness. I was saddened because I know that her story is about friendship, trust and fun.
And, I get it. It happens to all of us; especially those of us set out to change the world. I call it the to-do list tragedy. It’s when our to-do lists cause us to rush around, and forget to be intentional about our stories. When you’re starting a company it’s tempting to outsource content for your brochures or website, for example, to Fiver (don’t get me started on the atrocity of cheap, generic content of Fiver) or via a cheap template. But you should avoid–no–run, as fast as you can away from this temptation. Because it won’t be you. It won’t communicate your voice, or the change you want to see in the world. And, it definitely will not give you the results you want. (Investing into great content is a business strategy. Great, strategic stories are meant to benefit your bottom line. But more on that in a couple of weeks.) At the end of the day, your story is all you have. It’s how you make meaning, bring your vision to others and how you attract new customers or clients. Don’t let the to-do list tragedy of cheap, generic content be your story. Communicating what makes you distinctive will pay off. I promise.
I’ve touched on how to discover your story in a previous posts and in this post I want to build your content strategy foundation. This activity is used by all types of businesses and is important for us as change agents to incorporate because it merges impact stories and vision with business strategy. If you do just one content strategy activity this month, do this: hang your clothesline. Rumble Marketing coined the idea of “hanging a clothesline.” It’s really just your primary message or the mission of your content and is what shapes every piece of content you create. Your clothesline is defined as the following:
- Your brand or organization’s key message
- The spine, anchor or theme that holds your story together
- The key emotion and the emotional, value proposition
- All collection of your content products (blogs, social media tools, newsletters, even internal documents)
The clothes which hang from your clothesline are your stories. The stories are given the privilege of hanging from your clothesline if they fit within the defined boundaries of the clothesline. If they don’t align with the clothesline or don’t take your customer on the emotional journey intended by your clothesline, they don’t get written, designed or published.
To introduce another term from the emerging world of content strategy, your clothesline begins with an “action-idea.” An action-idea encapsulates how the emotional aspect of the larger story unfolds. It’s an internal, elevator pitch for your story’s emotional progression. What hooks your audience? What will engage them? Your action idea shapes your primary message, the clothesline and guides which stories you publish and which ones you don’t.
To give you an example of an action-idea and how it connects to a clothesline, check out Ben and Jerry’s website. Play around on it. (It’s a fun site, so I’ll give you a few minutes). Can you take a guess at their clothesline? I’d bet it’s something like “Scooping Up Your Values” or “Eat the Ice Cream Which Represents Your Lifestyle.” The action idea or emotional hook which feeds into the clothesline is Ben and Jerry’s goal to make an ice cream lover feel empowered. They want you to choose them not only for their quality, but for their commitments to fair trade, marriage equality and climate justice. Ben and Jerry’s hangs their clothesline, “Scooping Up Your Values,” and creates an emotional journey, taking the user from ice cream to empowerment via their content products and stories.
What’s your clothesline? In what ways does your vision for the world intersect with it? Does it inspire your customers to be change agents? How? Could your services or products be branded as a tool to help people who feel ordinary feel like change agents? How could your brand take them on this journey? When you define your clotheslines and your action-idea, the stories you need to publish will be evident. They’ll feed back into these larger strategies and help you create an engaging brand, a brand which will bring you results.
Don’t give into the temptation of generic content just because you know you need a flier. No fliers are better than generic ones. Ben and Jerry’s knows this. Apple knows this. But, Microsoft? We all know that answer to that. Be intentional. Be meaningful. Be you.
In an issue championing marketing in the mission-driven sector, we would be remiss if we failed to introduce Debra Askanase. Debra teaches Social Media Strategy for Mission-Driven Organizations in the MDO program and truly embodies the concept of teacher-practitioner.
Outside of teaching at Marlboro, Debra works fulltime as the Founder and Digital Engagement Strategist at Community Organizer 2.0, a digital strategy consulting firm for mission-driven organizations. She has also partnered up with Allison Fine, author of the book, Matterness to solve this question: How must organizations communicate so that the stakeholder feels as if he or she matters deeply? And why is that so critical to the relevance and sustainability of an organization? And, if you want a question answered in real-time, you can often find Debra offering insights and advice on Twitter at @askdebra.
Debra was a keynote speaker at this year’s Nonprofit Technology Network Conference in Austin, Texas. Her Ignite presentation kicked off day three of the conference. She shared, “You Can Change Your Story,” her personal story about overcoming a calculus failure. The presentation called on the audience to initiate change in their own lives by changing a story they tell about themselves. Debra is a dynamic presenter, and to date, has presented at over 50 conferences around the world, on issues from strategic social communication to storytelling and social fundraising.
We’ve compiled some great resources from Debra to share with the Marlboro community:
- “You Can Change Your Story” Video from the NTEN Conference
- “Creating Stories That Compel: Video Storytelling For Nonprofits” Presentation
- “Designing Effective Online Campaigns” Presentation
- “Graduates: So You Want To Work In Social Media” Latest Blog Post
by Joe Heslin
Marketing has an (unfortunately, often well-earned) bad rap. But marketing, from a mission-driven perspective, is not only a good thing but, let’s be honest, utterly necessary. So how do you “do marketing” right? Two ideas to keep in mind are authenticity and alignment.
Authenticity is one of those words that gets thrown around so much that it starts to lose not just its punch, but its meaning. Nonprofits are held to a higher standard of honesty and transparency when it comes to marketing—frustrating, maybe, but I think that’s a good thing. At the same time, honesty and transparency don’t mean clinical and downtrodden. A good example of the shift toward authentic engagement has been the move toward storytelling in a lot of nonprofit marketing over the past 5–10 years. These stories bring the mission of the nonprofit to life with examples of how funds and services are making real-world impacts on individuals, families, and communities. With that said, however, there’s been something of a saturation of stories and stakeholders are asking important questions about how these stories scale throughout an organization’s outcomes. A good way to reframe this issue is to see authenticity as connection to mission, honesty of impact, and proof of outcomes. A vital path to this is Results-Based Accountability (RBA), which is a great tool to measure what you did (connection to mission), how well you did it (honesty of impact), and if anyone is better off (proof of outcomes). Combining this with compelling messaging that takes an “inwardly true, externally facing” view of your mission, and you are achieving and redefining organizational authenticity.
Alignment is about making sure that your foundational, guiding statements (values, mission, and vision or VMV) are aligned with your materials, messaging and “pitch.” Mission has long been a board-stamped communication of what an organization does in order to keep them on target with the scope of the organization’s work. The potential problems with this are two-fold. One issue is that these statements aren’t often very digestible, engaging or inspiring to the outside world and, as such, they aren’t terribly useful in building further messaging with which your VMV should align. To test this, think of how you answer the question “Tell me about your organization,” and now read your mission. Do they match in tone and major points? The other issue is that today’s nonprofits need to be agile in their ability to develop new partnerships that are working on topics which are outside of yours but aligned. An example is that it’s difficult to work on homelessness without considering poverty, hunger, and even mental health. In a nutshell, here’s a way to understand alignment: Your values are why you do what you do and why your process, in this work, is intentionally built. Your vision is the end state of your work—if you are successful, what will the world look like? Drawing a line between these two elements, that line should intersect with your mission. This concept of alignment should tell a story of your organization’s inception, current state, and goal. These concepts should now be able to overlay everything you write, present, embody, and say about your organization. If you read the first paragraph on your website, could one intuit your values, mission, and vision? Do those two sets of messaging (VMV and written/spoken communications) reflect and amplify each other? If not, then you need to reconsider how to align them—both among and between them. By seeing the VMV continuum, you also are allowed a level of agility in connecting with and supporting the work of other organizations whose vision of the world is similar to yours, without having to undo or expand your mission and messaging.
This is a little heady, maybe, but nonprofits need to be clear and true to their multiple stakeholders. In the scope of this post, I don’t have time or space to talk about the powers of compelling and impelling messaging and how important to mission-driven work they are. At the same time however, if the foundational work of authenticity and alignment aren’t in place, all the nifty phrasing in the world will feel clunky and awkward to the people who most need to hear you.
Joe Heslin is a consultant at the Center for New Leadership. He works with nonprofits, schools and social entrepreneurs to build and extend their mission, values and vision. Much of his work in the nonprofit sector has involved bridging the staff/board gap to find common, compelling messaging for internal and external stakeholders.
The Fall 2015 class of the highly regarded Certificate in Nonprofit Management course will take place in Rutland and Brattleboro. This 80-hour series helps nonprofit leaders develop the essential skills needed to strengthen their organizations and achieve their missions.
“Fridays became a gift to myself – time to step away from the day-to-day and invest in thinking and learning that I knew would help my organization succeed,” said Tara Kelly, the Executive Director of Rutland Area Farm and Food Link and a 2010 Certificate graduate.
Classes meet for ten consecutive Fridays, 8:30am to 4:30pm, beginning in late September. Various sources of financial aid are available to support nonprofit participation in this program. To find out more about the Certificate in Nonprofit Management, please email Program Coordinator Kim Lier at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach her at (802) 251-7690.
Registration is open at http://nonprofit.marlboro.edu.
This week Marlboro College Center for New Leadership announced the second annual Nonprofit Management Summer Camp: a one-day retreat for nonprofit professionals in beautiful southern Vermont. Participants have the opportunity to choose two tool-based and interactive workshops. Eight workshops are included in this year’s program, including Difficult Conversations, Online Fundraising and Crowdsourcing, Creative Ways to Gather Data, and Volunteer Power.
Camp will take place on July 24th, 2015, from 9:00am – 4pm at the Marlboro College Graduate School, 28 Vernon Street in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont. A $75 registration fee includes two workshops, lunch, and ample networking time with other nonprofit professionals. Interested individuals can learn more and register at http://bit.ly/NPMsummercamp.
“Summer Camp is my favorite day of the year,” says Marlboro’s Organizational Development Specialist Hillary Boone. “It’s where we prove that excellence in nonprofits can be fun, and in fact, it should be.”
As we prepare for our second annual Nonprofit Management Summer Camp, I am reminded of our motto, “proving that nonprofit management can be fun, and in fact, should be.”
I like it because I wrote it, but also because I totally believe it at my core. I am at my best, most open, connected, and creative self when I am having fun at work. When a staff meeting involves a great joke, when solving a problem together makes me lean over the table with excitement, when a presenter engages with the audience by getting a big laugh–these are when I build good relationships with my co-workers, feel safe to think big, and work becomes more than punching in and punching out on the time clock.
But is that a universal experience? Am I right? Or am I just a stand-up comic devolving each and every work environment into a distracted, amorphous and unproductive wreck? I wondered if I was wrong, if “nonprofit management is serious, and in fact, should be.”
By virtue of working at Marlboro College I have access to individuals who are studying adult learning in real time. I asked Associate Dean Sean Conley for his thoughts on the matter. He shot back a quote, and a whole lot of research. John Dewey, an American Philosopher (and Vermonter) writes, “To be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal mental condition.” Sounds like having fun while working.
Through the research I learned that there is a place for play in adult learning. According to “Exploring the contribution of play to social capital in institutional adult learning settings” by Pauline Harris and John Daley, play helps to create adult learning communities. Through play adults are able to invite and nurture dialogue and increase trust in the group. It invites adult learners to bring their own experience to bear and to share that experience with one another. Play creates spaces where flexibility, diversity and inclusivity of ideas and people are valued. It encourages adult learners to reach beyond their group to access other people and resources. I would argue that these moments together and spaces for innovation are critically important in a sector like nonprofit management, where (like it or not) we have to work together, and the very context in which we do business is changing all the time.
And there is more. Play also engages adult learners in shared hands-on engagement, enjoyment, absorption and active participation. It opens up avenues of collective thought and intellectual corroboration by valuing intuitive thinking and following hunches and streams of consciousness, and creates a zone where adult learners reach beyond their actual capacitates and work towards their potential. It started to sound like play could help us lose ourselves in our work. I wondered, can play help us achieve a sort of group flow?
Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a deep state of concentration where we both feel our best and perform our best. It’s those times when you lose yourself completely in a task and you really really enjoy it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi started studying flow in the 1980’s. He says that when you are in flow “you know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.” I say “you know you’ve been in flow when you come to your senses and realize you’ve been working for six hours straight and have ten seconds to make it to the bathroom before you pee your pants.”
We are more productive when we are in flow, and researchers are interested in figuring out how to trigger the state. I found a list from Steven Kotler, the author of the book “The Rise of Superman.” Outside of putting yourself in mortal danger, there are a handful of things you can do to trigger flow. Four are psychological, three environmental, one creative, and a whopping NINE are social, triggering more group flow.
The whole list can be found here, but things that caught my eye include good communication, familiarity with one another, equal participation, and always saying yes to amplify each other’s ideas, to create momentum and togetherness. They mirror the very same conditions that play is shown to nurture in communities of adult learners and make another case for cultivating play in the workplace.
In conclusion, if you are striving to become a learning organization, if you value inclusivity and diversity of people and ideas, if you want to be happy because you go to work, not in spite of it–then play can be a part of that equation. It’s up to us to strike a balance in which we’re not having fun at the expense of our mission, or avoiding getting serious when the situation calls for it. Knowing when and how to incorporate tools that inspire play, fun, and flow is the next step. We’ll be figuring that out together at Nonprofit Management Summer Camp 2015.
Hillary Boone, MSM is Organizational Development Specialist at the Center for New Leadership at Marlboro College. Hillary has trained and coached organizations across New England in the use of Results-Based Accountability (RBA). She has presented her work nationally and internationally and is a member of the Vermont Accountability Group steering committee.
In her free time, Hillary is a stand-up comedian and host of the Moth StorySLAM in Vermont. She serves in leadership roles on the board of the Pride Center of Vermont, the Milton Mentor Advisory Committee, and the Divas Do Good initiative.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk about finding happiness:
- Steven Kotler’s Slides on Triggering Flow:
- “Exploring the contribution of play to social capital in institutional adult learning settings” by Pauline Harris and John Daley: http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgiarticle=2276&context=edupapers
“Boards have a REAL purpose…board membership is a serious responsibility and provides a chance to contribute meaningful to the organization AND the community at large.”
“Rubrics are not as mysterious as I had feared.”
“I learned simple ways to talk about complex topics: the table diagram, quadrants and life cycle model.”
“The ‘why’ is very important and you must keep coming back to it.”
“I was reminded of the role that bias, habit, and fear play in communication and conflict.”
“I learned useful financial ratios that I can use to tell stories about what my organization is doing (good or bad).”
“It is important to develop board members; we need to think about what skills and characteristics are needed on our board and write a ‘job description’ for new board members to help us find the right people.”
What are these people talking about?
They are describing some of their key take-aways from the inaugural Board Leadership Institute that met for a series of eight workshops this spring. Each workshop was led by a regional expert on topics ranging from Organization Life Cycles and Board Roles and Responsibilities to Conflict Resolution, Fiscal Responsibility & Fraud Protection and Fundraising. Six Windham County boards sent pairs of board members to participate in the workshops with twelve Get On Board fellows. The Fellows are young professionals who are interested in contributing to our community through board service for a local nonprofit.
On May 14th, the series culminated in a high-energy Board Matching Event where Fellows and community members had the opportunity to talk to representatives from 20 area nonprofit organizations. Excitement and enthusiasm were in abundance at this event and connections were made, not just between organizations and potential board members, but also between the organizations. “It was great to have the opportunity to connect with my colleagues at other organizations. I didn’t anticipate that but it was so nice to be able to make connections with my peers.” reported one participant.
The Center for New Leadership plans to offer the Board Leadership and Get On Board Fellows program again in the early spring of 2016.
Kim Lier is Nonprofit Programs Coordinator at the Center for New Leadership.