Learning Organizations

Posted by on Feb 28, 2019 in Articles, Blog

I’m always interested in finding out how different organizations pursue a learning agenda. I talked with Connie Hawk, Director of the Licking County Foundation in Newark, Ohio, who oversees a staff of six. Here’s how Connie inculcated a learning culture inside this community foundation.   Q: I understand the Licking County Foundation (LCF) has a team approach for staff professional development. How did this approach develop – intentionally or organically over time? A: It was a bit of both! There’s a culture of learning, sharing, curiosity, and openness to trying new things at LCF. Our team approach helps a small staff take advantage of the many and varied professional development opportunities available to our field. These opportunities are shared by everyone at weekly staff meetings to gauge interest. Sometimes, we’ll decide to participate together—like watching a webinar (always better with pizza). Sometimes, we’ll divide and conquer—attending individually and then sharing insights with the team. Sometimes, we’ll invite others in our community—board and committee members, donors, nonprofit partners, and other funders—to join us as we learn.   Q: How do you identify priority issues for staff learning? A: Key factors are: LCF’s strategic and succession/leadership development plans, Licking County’s community blueprint, opportunities/challenges/initiatives which bubble up and we’re asked to get involved, trends, new things we’d like to try—and, importantly, individual staff interests/growth.   Q: What have been some of the outcomes of this kind of professional development approach? A: There’s been a rippling effect. This team approach extends to sharing best practices or new ideas with our community. LCF has a robust series of workshops which are offered to area stakeholders. For example, last year, teams of nonprofit board and staff members attended a series of six workshops to strengthen their organizations and our community through endowment building. We also partnered with an area university to host a workshop on civil discourse skill-building at the public library. This year, we’ll focus on succession planning and board development. One of our staff members has taken the lead in organizing a successful women’s leadership conference. Another staff member leads a youth philanthropy program. LCF has become a go-to for best practices and new ideas.   Q: What advice would you share with other foundations based on this team effort in professional development? A: Be open to and encourage all kinds of learning—you never know where ah-ha moments of inspiration will come from. Make professional development a priority for not only your own organization, but for sharing it with your community. Include it as an operational budget line item with each staff member having an equal share of this learning pool. Allocate strategic grant funds annually which are restricted to offering capacity-building opportunities for the community. Professional development creates...

Read More

Who Do You Turn To?

Posted by on Feb 19, 2019 in Articles, Blog

Who do you turn to when navigating board, staff or community dynamics?   I’ve served as executive and senior staff for several foundations and been an advisor to dozens of grantmakers and nonprofit organizations around the country.  It’s not unusual to find myself in a coaching role with a chief executive or board chair in these assignments.  They place great value on having a trusted, experienced voice to provide objective and reliable guidance through the twists-and-turns of their work. I asked two foundation chief executives that I’ve coached to share their stories.  I always conduct such work on a confidential basis so am not including their names or affiliations. What moved you to seek executive coaching in your work? Executive 1:  As the ED and our sole employee, I was looking for support to improve my leadership skills.  This would in turn create more effective management of the foundation and greater impact in our community. Executive 2:  Sometimes working so closely in the day-to-day activity interferes with examining all the possibilities.  I wanted to have a fresh set of eyes, particularly as we were updating our strategic plan.  I appreciate the spectrum of philanthropic support groups out there, but I’ve not found a peer group from a similar enough circumstance to our foundation. I was seeking someone who understood philanthropy, someone of expertise. What did you learn through your coaching experience and how did you apply that learning in your work for the foundation? Executive 1:  I learned how to better navigate the ins-and-outs of strategic planning, and how to maneuver through the delicate dynamics present in the board room.  Jeff also encouraged me to find my stance in leading our board to find a balance in maintaining our foundation’s independence while continuing to partner with much larger funders. Executive 2:  This coaching helped me learn ways to utilize input from multiple stakeholders more effectively.  This helped me incorporate more input into our activities and goals, and more tangible ways to evaluate what success means for the foundation.  I added more indicators to consider if our actions had the intended impact and to better test our assumptions. What counsel would you share with other foundation executives about using coaching to strengthen their work? Executive 1:  It was helpful to have an independent, experienced professional to take a closer look at my personal skills and to lean where I could be more effective.  Jeff provided concrete suggestions and examples on implementing change so I could achieve more impact in my work.  He also connected me with like-institutions.  Being able to network with others when it requires confidentiality was extremely helpful. Executive 2:  When you are passionate about your work, it is personal to you and that can mean you don’t want to give up control.  In working with a coach, develop a trusting relationship – and remember trust goes both ways.  This work can involve sharing vulnerabilities in order to be most helpful.  An open, trusting and confidential relationship will provide for the best possibilities to carry out your responsibility. For more information on how we help foundations and nonprofits strengthen their impact through executive coaching, strategic planning, evaluation and organizational development, contact Jeff Glebocki at or...

Read More

The Sunk Cost Fallacy – 5 Red-Flags That Tell You It Might Be Time to Move On

Posted by on Aug 14, 2018 in Articles, Blog

I recently read an article on behavioral research about the sunk cost fallacy (The Economist, 6-2-18)and it got me thinking about how much of this goes on in philanthropy. As many economists and writers have described, the sunk cost fallacy is irrational decision-making driven by emotion and based on past investments – and which disregards actual data and experience. Put more succinctly, it’s the proverbial practice of throwing good money after bad. I’m not talking here about the hard work of tackling significant problems that take years of focus and commitment to have an impact on. I am talking about foundations and nonprofits that continue to invest time and money in programs and initiatives that aren’t going anywhere soon… but maybe if we give it one more year of funding or another redesign or hire different staff, then we’ll see some change. Or more likely, maybe not. As I’ve written before, knowing the difference between when to stay the course and when to pull the plug – and having the gumption to do so – is called leadership. Here are five red-flags that suggest the sunk cost fallacy may be driving your decision-making to put more time and money into a project or organization when it’s actually better to move on: You see lots of “activity” going on and very little real action There’s no evidence of substantial change, and there’s an inability and/or hesitance to set measurable objectives or targets Senior leadership stops showing up for meetings or they start sending their lieutenants Meetings result in agreements to have more meetings and not much else It’s a favorite endeavor of one or more board members and easier to keep funding it or working on it rather than calling the question. If you see these red-flags popping up in your work, hit the pause button to re-consider if and how you continue your efforts. For more information on how we help foundations and nonprofits strengthen their impact through strategic planning, evaluation and organizational development, contact Jeff Glebocki or...

Read More

A Must Read Article on Foundation Transparency

Posted by on Jun 13, 2018 in Articles, Blog

Transparency has become a watchword in private philanthropy, but far too much of the discussion of this timely topic remains steeped in opinion rather than research. A new Foundation Review article reports critically important and some surprising findings from new research not previously addressed in foundation literature. This article provides new guidance regarding potential benefits and risks inherent in foundation transparency practices. Foundations should carefully consider their transparency-related policy/strategy from perspectives framed in this article. The article is available for free download at the Foundation Review. I encourage you to read this article as you think about transparency within your foundation. A tip of the hat to colleague and author Bob Reid, CEO of the J.F Maddox...

Read More

Funding Opportunity for Foundations & Their Grant Partners

Posted by on May 17, 2018 in Articles, Blog

I don’t usually work the fundraising side of the street, but here’s a unique opportunity for foundations and their grant partners to ramp up their work together. The Fund for Shared Insight is now acceptingapplications for Listen for Good grants. Submissions are due by June 29, 2018; click here for all the details. Listen for Good is “an initiative dedicated to building the practice of listening to the people we seek to help.” Nonprofits and funders are invited to join this effort “to explore simple but systematic and rigorous ways of getting feedback” from people philanthropy is meant to serve. In non-foundation-speak, this is helpful market research for nonprofit service providers and the grantmakers who fund them. Local funders nominate a nonprofit grantee and commit to providing $15,000 to $30,000 for selected organizations in addition to the funding the nonprofit receives through the Listen for Good initiative. This national funding partnership, supported by 69 co-founders, has made 158 grants totaling more than $21 million across the country. Hint: The Fund for Shared Insight has not received as many applications in the past from the Midwest, Upper Midwest and the Western US as other parts of the country. This is an opportunity to change...

Read More

3 Reasons to Plan for Leadership Succession Now

Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 in Articles, Blog

Research tells us that most foundations and almost half of nonprofits nationally do not have written leadership succession plans in place. Here are three reasons to start succession planning in your organization now.

Read More