The Executive Director: Simple Guidance for Leaders of Small Organizations

What’s a CRM and Should You Get One?

Posted on June 26, 2015

A special guest article by Kerry Vineberg at Exponent Partners.

Screen shot 2015-06-01 at 8.23.51 AMThere are a lot of shiny nonprofit tech products promising to increase your efficiency. The CRM, or Constituent Relationship Management system, is one you may have heard about.

It’s a powerful database that helps you manage contacts and organizations connected to your nonprofit. This could really mean anything from tracking program participation and donor history to sending emails or recording case notes. Some common CRMs include Salesforce, DonorPerfect, Wild Apricot, CiviCRM, Little Green Light, and eTapestry.

Investing in a CRM is somewhat like buying a Toyota Prius. The true benefits are seen over time: in your fuel (or staff capacity) and financial savings. And maybe the environment too.

For the right reasons, it can be a great unified place to store your data. Plus, you might toss out your Excel spreadsheets for good!

For a small nonprofit, a CRM may make sense in some cases, but not in others…

If you’re considering one, it pays to ask some important questions:

Should you make the investment now?
● What data management problems are you struggling with? Is it hard to send mass emails out? Is it difficult to get one non-duplicated list of all your constituents together? Are you and your colleagues accidentally contacting the same constituents because there’s no central information hub? If you don’t have many of these issues and feel you have a handle on your data, you might not need to change the way you’re doing things.
● Are your business processes mapped out? Are your goals for the system clear and agreed upon by stakeholders? Here’s a detailed article by impartial nonprofit software reviewer Idealware to help. If not, hold off until you have a handle on this.
● Do you have other influential champions of the technology besides yourself at the organization? A CRM will only thrive if the whole organization uses it. If you don’t have influential colleagues on your side, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. If not, take the time to identify and motivate them.

Do you have the right resources?
● Do you have a member of your staff that can dedicate some of their time to the system? Are you committed to devoting ongoing resources to the system (like annual training time and budget)? CRMs typically have a steep learning curve and require ownership to maintain the data, troubleshoot, and encourage system adoption. If not, wait until you do so that you can capably maintain your system.
● Is your data in shape? Do you have a lot of duplicate entries, outdated fields, and so on? If so, you will want to clean that up in advance.
● Do you have the financial resources? Even “free” CRMs aren’t really free, whether you need to invest in training or customization. If not, hold off until you’ve budgeted for it.

Are you ready to get started with a CRM?
● Are your goals for the system realistic? To really understand what is and isn’t possible to do with a CRM, you will likely want to consult with implementation partners. If you’ve gotten this far, here’s a handy checklist for selecting a partner, and a report on planning for an implementation. We specialize in Salesforce solutions for nonprofits, but both resources apply to any CRM.


(A Quick Note from Eric:  8-4-15    I just found this resource that also serves as a great guide to help you and your nonprofit think about CRMs.)


elcyciB sdrawkcaB a gnidiR

Posted on May 3, 2015

Uh, what?

Now, try reading the title of this article backwards, starting from the far right and reading to the left.

It likely took you a few seconds to do that, going letter-by-letter to make the title out: “Riding a Backwards Bicycle”.

You know, you’ve spent your whole life paving pathways in your brain to read from left-to-right. It’s a well-ingrained habit that is difficult to change.

What about another ingrained habit, like riding a bike. What if a bike was set up “backwards” in some way? Could you ride it?

Take a few minutes to watch this entertaining video to learn more. You’ll find the time well-spent and may even want to share it with your friends.

So what does this all of this have to do with strategic planning, leadership, management, and running a nonprofit? A ton.

Essentially, building your organization’s capacity is often about overwriting old habits with new ones. Just like learning to ride a different type of bike.

What are some of those old habits that you might like to change? Try these:
– Writing strategic plans but not implementing them.
– Waiting to the last minute to complete grants.
– Doing more work in the evenings and weekends than you’d like.
– Viewing funders as people that support you (versus people that you support too).
– Providing the executive director with sporadic performance reviews.
– Doing everything yourself and not delegating very effectively.

You may not view these as habits, but they are. They’re individual and organizational habits. And, like the guy in the video, with some insights and a committed practice you can change them.

Screen shot 2015-05-03 at 9.14.44 AMWhich brings me to a great resource for you if you’d like to learn more about changing habits:
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and In Business by Charles Duhigg. I read this book last year and have meaning to write about it ever since. It’s fascinating. Duhigg provides a fantastic overview of how habits form and how you can change them.

So, if you’re serious about making changes in your life or organization, the concepts in this book are gold. The ideas will even help you ride a backwards bicycle if you’d like…

Screen shot 2015-05-03 at 12.21.42 PM

How Much Money Do You Make?

Posted on March 30, 2015

Screen shot 2015-03-28 at 6.54.55 AMAs a nonprofit leader you may face an ongoing question:  what is fair compensation for the staff?

You’d like to pay them at least what they’d get at a similar organization. But finding salary rates for other nonprofits can be difficult.

That’s where the Guidestar Nonprofit Compensation Report comes in.

Established fourteen years ago, the report is a comprehensive overview of nonprofit salaries. Based on IRS data, the report provides salary information broken down by:

  • Top organizational positions (executive director, development director, programs director, HR director, IT director, etc.)
  • Organization size by revenue ($250k or less, $250K – $500K, etc.)
  • Organization type (education, environmental, civic, etc.)
  • Geographical area (state and metropolitan area)
  • Gender

You can view a sample report here.

Here’s the kicker.  For most small nonprofits, the $349 starting price is steep. That said, if you could use some accurate salary guidance then the investment may be worth it.



The Surprising Truth of a 4-day Workweek

Posted on March 17, 2015

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 9.10.51 AMAbout eight years ago I began experimenting with a four-day workweek. My reason was personal: I simply wanted a better life/work balance, including more time for my family.

I didn’t tell anybody about it at first because I thought it made me look like a slacker. Plus, I believed that a shorter week would hurt my ability to achieve my company’s mission to catalyze the success of small nonprofits.

Now, eight years later, I’ll tell anybody that will listen! The four-day week has not only been great personally, but it has actually helped me be more productive. I didn’t see this coming but I get more work done in four days than I ever did in five.

How’s that?

Since I only have four days I:

  • Really can’t fall prey to distractions.
  • Have had to further specialize my services, which benefits my clients.
  • Am more refreshed and focused for my clients.
  • Think it sets a strategic example for my clients, the hard-working and stretched leaders of small nonprofits.

But that’s me. I run my own business and can create my schedule. You may work for an organization and don’t have the same flexibility.  If that’s the case, then my recommendation is not necessarily to work four days per week, but to create firm boundaries around your time. Those boundaries may provide you with the same benefits my four-day week provides me.

But let’s say you work for an organization and you do have the ability to control your schedule.  Or, better yet, you could actually help create a four-day week for your organization. What could that look like?

Look no further than Rockwood Leadership.  Akaya Windwood, Rockwood’s executive director, told me last year about her organization’s four-day schedule. Here’s a wonderful article that describes their experience. If you’re considering implementing a four-day workweek at your organization then I highly recommend reading the article.

Need more examples?  Here are four more articles that highlight the benefits of a shorter workweek:

Thursday is the New Friday: Embracing the Four-day Workweek

Benefits of a 32-hour Workweek

Be More Productive. Take Time Off

The 25-Hour Workweek, and Other Radical Ideas for Better Employee Productivity

As you can tell, I’m a fan of a the four-day workweek. It’s been a surprisingly good deal for both me and my clients.




Why I’m Happy to be a Freak

Posted on March 3, 2015

Screen shot 2015-03-02 at 5.06.51 PMIn the high-tech San Francisco area where I live, I’m a freak. You see, I’m one of the few that chooses to use a dumb phone instead of a smart phone.

A picture of my humble little LG Cosmos flip phone is at right. It’s decidedly not very cool. It just makes phone calls, texts, and takes horrible 1.3 megapixel photos.

And I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve made that choice not because I’m fearful of technology. I’ve designed and built electric cars. I’ve produced web sites, built awesome spreadsheets, and am working with two great developers to build a strategic planning app. I’m comfortable with technology.

Nor do I have anything against smart phones. A while back I tried out both the iPhone and a Droid for a few weeks. They were incredible in the millions of things they could do.

But that’s just it. I don’t need my phone to do a million things. I just need it to make phone calls and send texts. (I use my laptop to send emails and conduct all of my other internet-based business.)

So after a few weeks I returned the amazing smart phones and went back to my dumb phone. I realized that, when compared to the iPhone/Droid, my flip phone helped me to:

  • Disconnect and keep my life a little simpler.
  • Maintain better control of my time.
  • Focus on those around me rather than get distracted by the cool apps on the phone.

Basically, the smart phones weren’t the best fit for me.

It turns out that I’m not alone in my perspective. Check out these three articles that convey similar sentiments:

Why I Still Use a Dumb Phone (And Have No Plan to Change)

6 Reasons Why I Miss My Dumbphone

Why My iPhone is Better as a Dumbphone

So, that’s my phone story.

I share it with you with the intention to help you think a little bit about your phone choices. Whatever type of phone you use, I hope it is meeting your needs. If you’re like me, sometimes I get sucked into the cool gadgets before I realize what’s going on. Perhaps this article will help you pause for a moment and consider your options.

You know, I’ll probably have to get a smart phone at some point. Or at least a smarter phone than the one I have now. But in the meantime I’m happy being a freak.



Want a One-member Board?

Posted on February 17, 2015

CleanRock Caric Young Hip Smug ManHow would you like it if your nonprofit had a one-member board?

If you’re an executive director that is struggling with your board then this may be a dream come true.

The same may be true if you’re a frustrated member of a large, slow-moving and fractious board.

As it turns out, this isn’t necessarily a fantasy. In several states all you need to legally incorporate as a nonprofit is just one board member. One!

Now then, I’ve never actually come across a one-person board. And I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea in practice. Given that a board’s core purpose is to provide governance and appropriate oversight, one person just isn’t going to cut it.

But that begs the question: how large should your board be?

Although there are always exceptions, I think a small nonprofit’s board should be five to nine members.

A board of this size:

  • Is flexible and can respond rapidly.
  • Encourages strong board engagement and accountability.
  • Simplifies board communication.
  • Can focus on its oversight responsibilities and not get sidetracked into micromanaging the organization.

But, you may be wondering, what about all of the other ways that a board can assist: fundraising, program assistance, marketing, etc.?

That’s where a complementary advisory board (or council) comes in.

In this structure the board of directors focuses on governance while the advisory board serves as a body of stakeholders that assist in all sorts of other ways.

Done well, you get the best of both worlds in this structure: a fast-moving governance board and a deep set of stakeholders.

Here are two links to organizations that have this type of structure:

Games for Change

The Forward Steps Board and Advisory Board

Further, here are a couple of links to articles that describe this structure in more detail:

What is an Advisory Board and Should We Have One?

Advisory Board v. Board of Directors — A Distinction with a Difference

Hopefully these ideas and resources stimulate some ideas for you and your board.


My Top 10 Quotes for Strengthening Your Organization

Posted on February 3, 2015

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 6.10.08 AMIn my client work I try to communicate powerful concepts in the simplest and most memorable way. One of my favorite tools to do this is using inspirational and famous quotes.

To that end I’ve collected scores of quotes during my career. Whittling that collection down to a “top 10″ for this article was a tough exercise. Many excellent quotes didn’t make the final list.

I ended up choosing this list because these are the quotes that I use most often for myself and my clients. I hope you enjoy them.

Quotes on Good Communication

“All problems exist in the absence of a good conversation.” Chris Barrow

When I consider all of the problems my clients face in their organizations, nearly every single one could have been prevented with good communication. I love this quote and use it all of the time to reinforce the importance of stronger communication.

“Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Stephen Covey

This phrase is the fifth habit of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  If you’re trying to strengthen the communication within your team or organization, consider using this line as a mantra. It is gold.

A Quote on Simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

When I first started to promote the value of my one-page strategic plans, I had a small concern that people would consider them “dumbed-down” versions of larger plans. Then I came across this quote and my intuitive sense of the power of the one page was validated. (Steve Jobs once said this about simplicity: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Amen.)

Quotes On Strategic Planning

“There is no performance without accountability. And there is no accountability without measurement.” Chris Barrow

This is the second quote on this list from my friend and mentor, Chris Barrow. (I think he said that he got it from Dan Sullivan.) I use this quote all the time when reinforcing the importance of accountability and measurement.

“Execution IS the strategy.” Laura Stack

Execution IS the Strategy is the title of Stack’s 2014 book on creating a more effective organization. This is my newest favorite quote and describes my central approach to strategic planning. Lots of nonprofit leaders work hard to create a great plan but forget that execution of the plan is where they can make an impact. Thus, becoming great at execution is the best strategy.

There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” From Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

In their search for the perfect plan, nonprofit leaders can spend months and months analyzing their organization. The crazy thing is, as Gladwell points out in Blink, they could, instead, conduct a quick analysis that has as much value and accuracy as a several month navel gaze.

Quotes on Sales and Fundraising

“I have more fun and enjoy more financial success when I stop trying to get what I want and start helping others get what they want.”  From The One-minute Salesperson by Spencer Johnson, MD

I came across this quote nearly twenty years ago. At the time I viewed sales as a pushy and uncomfortable process. This quote helped me create an entirely new paradigm that sales (and fundraising) is simply about good service.  And if “helping others get what they want” is sales, then by golly I could be the best damn salesperson around.

“Intention matters more than technique.”  Mahan Khalsa, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play

Khalsa is an accomplished sales trainer, even having trained the consultants at FranklinCovey consulting. This quote helps to solidify the prior quote. I always know that if my intention in the sales process is to serve — even if my technique isn’t perfect — then everybody will be better off.

Organizational Culture and Teamwork

“Systems = Freedom”  Gary Stauble

I attribute this quote to my good friend, Gary Stauble. (He said he heard it from a colleague several years ago.) The obvious irony in the quote is that people often think of systems as confining and limiting freedom. But I’ve found the opposite to be true. When you and your organization put the right systems in place to strengthen organizational efficiency, then you gain more freedom.

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” Pat Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

If you’ve read my other articles then you know that I’m a huge fan of Lencioni and his work at The Table Group. I’ll often pull this quote out about the tremendous leverage provided by strong teamwork.

Your Teeth are Going to Fall Out

Posted on January 20, 2015

Screen shot 2015-01-18 at 4.09.05 PMAbout 1-1/2 years ago I went to my dentist for a regular check-up and teeth cleaning. Toward the end of the visit he gave me a wake up call when he proclaimed “your teeth are going to fall out!”

He was being dramatic to make this point: I needed to floss.

You see, even though I was a fabulous brusher, I was absolutely horrible at flossing. I had never developed the habit and I was paying the price.

What followed over the next eighteen months was a flossing adventure that provides a wonderful metaphor for strategic planning. In fact, the lessons I learned were remarkably similar to some of the critical strategic planning lessons I share with my clients…

Lesson 1: Use the Right Tool.  I walked out of my dentist’s office that day with this flossing tool in hand. Quite simply, this ingenious device has made all the difference. What used to take several frustrating and messy minutes of me fumbling around with dental floss now took about 30 seconds.

In the strategic planning world, you need the right tools too. Like a one-page plan. The simplicity of this plan catalyzes action by helping teams develop the strategic planning habit.

Lesson 2: Create Urgent Accountability.  When I left my dentist’s office I had a mandate to floss. I also had an appointment to return in three months to assess my progress.

Knowing that I had 90 days to get my flossing act together created an urgent sense of accountability. Frankly, I didn’t want to let my dentist and his hygienist down.

The result?  I created a new flossing habit that had evaded me for over 40 years.

That type of accountability — short-term due dates and reporting progress to others — is the secret sauce to catalyzing your strategic planning success.

Lesson 3: Praise Creates Momentum.  At my 90-day visit I was praised for the obvious improvement in my teeth and gums. I still had a long way to go but the positive feedback I received helped reinforce my new habit.

The same goes for strategic planning. So often teams make the mistake of focusing on the goals they didn’t hit. I’ve found that my clients that are the most successful in implementing their plans focus, instead, on what they do right. That emphasis creates a positive strategic planning culture that encourages even more involvement and effort.


I’m proud to say that today my teeth and gums are the healthiest they’ve been in decades. I floss twice per day and my dentist is thrilled with my turnaround. And, oddly enough, the experience has even helped me reinforce my perspectives on strategic planning!



What Your Nonprofit Can Learn from a Pizza Joint

Posted on December 17, 2014

I’m a huge pizza fan. Especially the deep-dish, Chicago-style variety. Which is why for thirty years I’ve been a fan of Zachary’s Chicago Pizza.

I’m not alone in my affection. They’ve won over 170 “best pizza” awards here in the San Francisco area.

So what makes them so special? Well, about twenty years ago I read an article where the founder, Zachary, described that their success was based largely upon one thing: doing one thing very, very well. In this case it was making a stuffed deep-dish pizza. At the time they didn’t make thin pizzas. Or sandwiches. Or lasagne. Or any other dish that you can get at other pizza restaurants. Rather, they focused all of their efforts on making one kind of pizza and doing it extremely well. This focus allowed them to excel.

Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 10.38.02 PMThat article struck a chord with me.  I began to notice how businesses and organizations typically succeeded in direct correlation to how focused their products, programs, and services were. For example:

  • When they first started out, McDonalds focused exclusively on serving only a burger, fries, and a drink. They didn’t expand their menu until they got their core product completely dialed in.
  • In this Harvard Business Review article, the authors state that “the truth is that the really successful companies are highly focused, achieving unprecedented efficiencies by designing a business model with a razor-thin focus and learning to do the one thing really well.”
  • A well-publicized tech company, 37Signals, recently dropped all of their products except one, Basecamp. They then renamed their company after this one product. (Here’s another, similar article.)
  • Teach for America was successful, in part, because of their singular focus on one program: placing talented recent college graduates into school districts with teacher shortages.
  • One of my clients, Vida Verde Nature Education, has succeeded, in part due to its singular focus on delivering only one environmental education program.
  • And in my own business I’ve experienced both growth and greater customer service as a result of focusing specifically on delivering strategic planning for small nonprofits.

Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 10.22.41 PMSo, perhaps you’re buying into the idea of how greater focus can lead to greater success for your organization. But what if your organization has already drifted from its core mission and has adopted a variety of other programs and services? How can you refocus?

One of the best tools that I’ve found for this is called the Matrix Map. From this article, the Matrix Map “is a visual tool that plots all of the organization’s activities—not just its programs—into a single, compelling image. By illustrating the organization’s business model—through a picture of all activities and the financial and mission impact of each one—it supports genuinely strategic discussions.”

The Matrix Map is described in full detail in Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell’s book, The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions.

I’ve used the tool with my clients and found it to be very helpful in assessing what programs and services to keep. If you buy the book be sure to read through the entire process before beginning. You may find some shortcuts that will help you streamline the process for your particular situation.


A Simple Tool for Strengthening Your Team

Posted on December 3, 2014

StrengthsThe research is both compelling and convincing. Quite simply, focusing on your strengths — and those of your team members — can bring greater productivity, less stress, greater work engagement, more happiness and so on.

But what if you aren’t sure what your team members’ strengths are?

That’s where the Strengths Finder assessment comes in.

A little background…

Back in 2003 I purchased the book called Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book described 34 strengths themes that Gallup researchers discovered from their extremely deep data set on human performance.  I took the associated online assessment and learned that my five main strengths themes were: Positivity, Learner, Focus, Arranger, and Woo. (Yes, Woo: Win Others Over. I wasn’t married at the time…)

Fast forward to about four months ago when a close colleague game me the second version of the book, Strengths Finder 2.0, and I retook the online assessment. My strengths themes this time?  Positivity, Learner, Focus, Strategic, and Relator. (My wife’s glad that Woo has now morphed into Relator.)

So, after 11 years three of my five themes are the same! And the other two are very similar in nature.

I’m often a little skeptical of these types of assessments but I was very impressed with this consistency.

If you’d like to take the assessment then you’ll need to buy the Strengths Finder 2.0 book. It’s about $15. At the back of the book you’ll get your personal access code that you can use to take the online survey. Buying the book is the only way that you can get the code to take the assessment.

I think it’s an absolutely amazing value at $15 per book/assessment. And it’s an excellent and very affordable way for nonprofit team members to learn more about — and focus on — each others’ strengths.

If you’re looking for a team-building activity for your team then I highly recommend it.