Category - Uncategorized

The Churn
So Many Words, So Little Meaning
Prejudice Doesn’t Change Just the Context
From Commodity to Customer
Using Humor for a Change
Adding Matterness Into Your Holiday Giving
RIP Twitter IPO
Matter-ness as Organizing Principle

The Churn

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 12.17.48 PMI’ve been thinking a lot about the churn lately. Here’s how I define the churn:

All organizations need to get stuff done. They need to manufacture things and sell it, serve someone, advocate for legislation and change the world. And as they set out to accomplish these things, the puzzle to be solved becomes: what are the fewest steps, the fewest uses of resources to generate the biggest bang for the buck? And in that solution the churn is born; the obsession with internal processes at the expense of relationships, and even common sense.

The churn creates endless staff meetings going over and over processes and ass coverings. Who is supposed to do what, when and how? How do we avoid making a mistake? Once so much of the organizational energy draws inward, there isn’t enough left to look out at the world. This is why organizations don’t spend any time reflecting on their work or looking farther into the future than the next quarterly budget report. This is why organizations routinely ignore customer satisfaction surveys; it’s too hard to turn the ship internally when the churn is at full steam ahead.

So  many bad things happen in the vortex of the churn. The Federal Railroad Administration reviewed the accident on December 1, 2013 wherein four people were killed and over seventy injured when a Metro North train derailed in the Bronx. According to the New York Times, the investigation found that, “Metro-North has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure.” Metro-North is enthrall to the churn.

Part of the difficulty of undoing the churn is the misunderstanding of how to use data well. It is easy to collect lots and lots of data, that’s why we are all captive of Big Data right now. But gathering lots of data and answering the right questions are two different things. So, in the case of Metro North, the churn chiefs decided that efficiency trumps everything else, so that’s what they measured most closely, and rewarded in performance.

Figuring out the right measures is a real leadership issue. Putting profitability and efficiency ahead of everything else creates internal pressure to meet those ends. Whereas putting relationships and safety above all else creates a very different kind of internal culture.

Most of all, the churn is a choice, although, sadly, one most organizational leaders don’t realize is their own choice to make.


So Many Words, So Little Meaning

I am constantly surprised, and often bemused, by the way organizations use so many words to say so little.

Here is a sign I saw in a business yesterday:

photoThis is a lot of words to say absolutely nothing! And unless the writer was paid by the word, it doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything. Is there any way to know what kind organization this is or who they serve or what they hope to accomplish in the world? And shouldn’t you just have a qualified and approachable staff without having to tell anyone that’s what you have?

If you couldn’t figure it out from the tennis ball on the sign, this is a sign posted at the tennis center where my kids take lessons. Again, odd that their mission statement doesn’t include the word tennis, isn’t it?

But the point of this post isn’t just to poke fun at this one place (a little fun, maybe…) but to marvel at just how often this happens. Mission statements, vision statements, tag lines, brochures, value statements. So many words and so little of importance said.

Why? My guess is because people feel that they’re supposed to have these things posted on their walls and websites. Beyond that, I’m really not sure why anyone would bother with this.

Why do you think people spend their time writing and posting these inane statements?


Prejudice Doesn’t Change Just the Context

Michael Sam, an All American football player from the University of Missouri and a prospective NFL draftee, announced this week that he is gay. This, of course, is a tipping point moment for the macho league where sissy’s have never been openly tolerated. Much of the reaction to his announcement was supportive (and certainly more supportive than it would have been just a year or two ago) but, of course, there are the reactionaries who can’t stomach any kind of change.

I thought it would be fun to post a quiz here to see if you can figure out which of these actual quotes come from NFL football players this week or from white racist baseball players in 1947.  Here goes (answers at the bottom):

  • “I don’t think we’re ready for this kind of player yet.”
  • “Guys are going to be uncomfortable sitting next to him on the bus.”
  • “Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up… A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’”
  • “There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that.”

Regardless of when these comments were made, it is unbelievable that we have to keep going through these cataclysms and firsts. Aren’t we ready for the blanket condition that any discrimination is just plain unacceptable?


[Answer: all of the quotes are from NFL players and execs this week.]


From Commodity to Customer

I have been struggling with Facebook for a while now. Once it became clear that Facebook was going public, then we, the actual public, not the Wall Street public Facebook was about to share a large cash-strewn bed with, became commodities rather of customers. When your company doesn’t produce anything but the data generated by your users to sell to other companies, the press to capture those data and the eyeballs of your users becomes paramount. And after the Facebook IPO, the cacophony of strategies to monetize us became louder and louder. With ads stuffed into our newsfeeds and a lack of transparency about what we’re seeing and why is beginning to make the Facebook pot boil.

I saw a post on Facebook this morning that included this graphic (thanks to Marjorie Fine for the link):

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 12.52.38 PM

There are two questions here: Can we go back to being customers who have a say in how this place is run? Or are we forever consigned to commodity status?

Facebook execs are facing several key calculations. First, the growth of the site has slowed down and the dreaded defection of teens has picked up speed. Therefore, with a maturing base, does Facebook double down with their prisoner mentality and milk the platform for everything they can get while assuming the rest of us have no place to go, aka AOL circa 2000? Or do they begin to remake their relationships with us as customers and not just data points and start a conversation about what we all want the future of Facebook to look and feel like. Zuckerberg and his team have been the smartest guys in the room for the last ten years, that is a very difficult dynamic to change, from leader to follower, but it is the only way to assure that we, the users, customers, prisoners of Facebook, have a voice in its future.


Using Humor for a Change

Late last year, Leanne Pittsford and Leah Neaderthal, the two co-founders of Start Somewhere, did start something, a fantastic Tumblr called, When You Work for a Nonprofit. The blog is the subject of this month’s Social Good Podcast.

It’s a series of GIFs with short captions. Here’s one of my favorites


Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 1.50.16 PM


Of course, this image and all the other images are a lot more fun as the moving GIFs. But, as you can hear from Leah on the podcast, the site is more than just good fun, it has a serious point. Leah and Leanne created a conversation starter about how hard it is for mid and junior level staff to get their jobs done in perpetually under resourced organizations with boards and volunteers who don’t always understand the work well. It’s an important conversation and one that we need to have more as a community. And thanks to Leah and Leanne, we are having it.


PS: I also appreciate this shout out on their blog:

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 1.40.25 PM




Adding Matterness Into Your Holiday Giving

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 1.37.22 PM

[Note: This article is cross-posted at the Nonprofit Times.]

#Giving Tuesday was , more or less kicking off the giving season. Studies show that more than one-third of all annual giving to causes happens from October through December, with more than 17 percent in December alone.

Most organizations have already spent considerable time and energy planning their year-end fundraising campaigns. But too many of these efforts will lack what I call matterness.

Matterness is the deep desire we all have to count, to be heard, to be considered important as individuals and not just donors or customers.

I asked my friends online when and how nonprofits have made them feel as if they don’t matter. The litany of complaints began: When they spell my name wrong; When I send in a donation and the next month get another ask; and, When I go to an event and am treated like a stranger. It is a lonely, alienating, dehumanizing experience to be treated like you don’t matter.

Everyone has something important to contribute to a cause — ideas, time, expertise, and, of course, money. Too often, organizations treat donors just as current or potential check writers. And once the first check is written, we are coded, batched and categorized in an automated giving system to be asked over and over again.

It happens because of the overwhelming pressure on organizations to meet their financial goals. The mantra of constant growth is one of the poor lessons taken from the for-profit world that nonprofits have adopted. Nonprofits don’t need to grow bigger. They need to better connect with other people and organizations in more meaningful ways to be more effective. Treating individuals like they don’t really matter, as opposed to treating them like passionate, smart, creative, social beings, is a huge lost opportunity for organizations.

Here are a few ways organizations can begin to build matterness into year-end giving this year:

Stories Over Testimonials. Stories are about people, testimonials are about organizations. People stories are what inspires and moves people. Here is a great story produced by Dove soap about how women feel about their looks. The stories don’t mention Dove soap, and Dove’s sales increased. You don’t have to create stories like this one, your people have beautiful, moving stories to tell and your job is to find them and help tell them.

Thanking People Publicly. The idea of thanking every donor personally is, of course, overwhelming. However, there is an opportunity to showcase your thankfulness by taking to your social media channels and thanking one person publicly as a representative of others. Thank the donor who has been giving $10 every month for years. Call out the volunteer who spent hours organizing meals for other volunteers, or the board member who put up a match for the annual campaign. By helping them to tell their story about your cause and thanking them personally and publicly, others will feel good about how your organization treats its people.

Solve Problems Together. Too often the social media channels are used as online press releases. Places to push out “look how great we are” information that no one really cares about. Making people feel that they matter means asking them to help solve real problems. Not window dressing problems (e.g. should our event be great or super great?) but real ones. This is a better alternative to, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, we will take it under advisement.”

An organization I know did this by taking the complaint about getting too many emails to their Facebook group. We know how it feels to get too many emails, the group wrote, but we have information we think you need to know. How can we do this better? People chimed in and the solution was to segment the list and have people opt into the topics that were of greatest interest. Their participants felt appreciated, smart and important.

Matterness means that someone is really listening to your interests and concerns, that you are being cared for not just cared about, and that you have opportunities to help strengthen the institution. In return, institutions get the best kind of participant, a “sticky” one (To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, Aug 9, 2013, HBR) who is a repeat donor or volunteer and ambassador who recommends the organization to other people.






RIP Twitter IPO

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 11.12.16 AMI was reminded yesterday why it was a sad day in the social media world when Twitter went public on November 7th. We were watching the Big Bang Theory on demand and we couldn’t fast forward through the commercials. The pressure to monetize this channel has forced networks like CBS to turn the on demand option into another broadcast channel. I suppose it was inevitable, they only know one way to work, which is their old way. So, we’ll go back to DVR’ing our favorite shows.

But Twitter going public changes their fundamental model. Just a few years ago, we were collectively playing with Twitter and trying to figure out the lay of the land. What does RT before a message mean? How do you use a hashtag?  Is a retweet an endorsement of a message? Are you allowed to edit a retweeted message? If so, how much can we edit while still maintaining the integrity of the original? (Don’t actually know the answer to the last question but remember discussing it on Twitter.)

Most of all, Twitter was fun. It was fast and easy and sassy and organic. And now it’s public and profit-oriented and, most of all, beholden to stockholders and not us users. It was inevitable, I guess, but it’s one more channel that’s gone the way of Facebook which is frantically stuffing my news feed with advertisements.

The lure of big money for platform owners highlights a deeper problem with our social media channels. They look like public commons but they’re actually private shopping malls. We are not standing on a street corner or in a local park or at the school gym and talking about our days, sharing news and photos and planning to get together. Instead, we’re borrowing a table at a cafe where we have to buy a meal or we’ll be asked to leave. And they’re recording our conversation at this cafe and selling it to companies that are then calling us at dinner time to sell us stuff.

We have always had a conflicted view of privacy in this country. The common response is, “I have nothing to hide,” but this is an inadequate response. As Moxie Marlinspike (great name!) wrote on Wired:

“If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.”

In addition, though, companies controlling the pathways of conversations, presumably unlike the phone companies, turning the content of those conversations into marketing revenue, is very troubling – and depressing.

The hubris of these channels is that none of them are going to last forever. None of them are. The technology is too easily replicable and the attention spans of people, particularly young people, are too short for us to settle in permanently online anywhere. I don’t owe Twitter anything, which, I suppose, is also an argument in favor of the company going public – take the money while you can!

The answer, I hope, will be alternatives like public radio to broadcast radio. I would be willing to pay a small amount a year to have access to non commercial channels. It surprises me to write this as I didn’t mind having ads pop up on Google, but it feels like search is different – and I can avoid clicking on those ads. Having ads embedded in my conversation is different, trying to become part of my conversation, feels invasive.

Or, here’s an idea: Dear Twitter, can I pay you a little bit to keep my Twitter streams commercial free?


Matter-ness as Organizing Principle

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.42.35 AMI am doing a webinar for Blue Avocado, a great blog about all matters nonprofit management, to discuss Matter-ness as an Organizing Principle. Here is a write up of a talk I gave recently on this topic. For me, matter-ness began with a minipheny I had as president of my synagogue. For a year as president my inbox was filled with angry complaints. What happened to my parking spot? Why was the door locked? How come I didn’t know she died? And my favorite: why didn’t anyone call when I was in the hospital even though I didn’t tell anyone I was in the hospital?

And then it occurred to me that all of these complaints were actually one complaint: Why don’t I matter here?

My talk will outline the various ways that organizations make their people feel that they don’t matter. All of the automated letters, the press release communications, the less-than-heartfelt thank yous all add up to people feeling pushed away from organizations that they care about.

What’s the antidote? We are living in Big Small Towns right now, the integrated ecosystem of online and on land communities that allow us to reverse this tide – if we want to.

First, it’s recognizing that the problem stems from three things in particular: looking at the world from inside one’s fortress walls outside, focusing more on transactions than relationships, and because we are terrible storytellers. We don’t tell our own stories well and we don’t allow our people to tell their stories outside of the obligatory, dried out testimonial (I really liked the service this organization provided blah, blah…)

The second step is begin to reverse the tide from inside out to outside in. Ask people to tell you how it feels to engage with your organization. Are you easy to access, is it clear on your website that your organization is made up of real people? Are you telling moving stories about what your efforts mean to people?

And then there is a hard step. Are you willing to take a common complaint or problem to the world and solve it in public with your crowd? How would it feel to you and your supporters if you posted on Facebook: We’ve heard from people that they find it hard to understand when we’re open. Is this true for other people? What does it feel like? Can you help us solve this problem?

Of course, working out loud like this requires a great deal of courage on the part of staff and patience on the part of boards and funders.

We don’t need to just take problems outside of the walls. We can use our megaphones to tell the stories of our people, to thank them in creative and heartfelt ways, We can and should celebrate and laugh and cry together. But to do so we must inch out way outside of the fortress walls to really engage with our own people and reassure that they really matter to us and our causes. Because in the end, your people are the only thing that really does  matter.


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