How presentation affects consumer perception of quality and value

Or this could be simply titled: Post Consumerism is Dead.

I received this in an email chain from a friend, it was too good to delete or let sit idle in my inbox. I had to share for discussion. As always, email me or post your comments here.

joshua bell

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing?

Be Accountable

From the Hartford Courant, October 7th, 2009

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday asked the governor for an accounting of funds from specialty state license plates, saying at least $500,000 has been illegally diverted to Connecticut’s General Fund to help balance the state’s troubled budget……Usurping donor intent after the state solicits and receives such contributions is forbidden by constitutional law, fairness and common sense, Blumenthal said.”

http://www.courant.com/news/local/statewire/hc-ap-ct-licenseplatefundsoct07,0,2140204.story

And so it goes. Not that this is new. Too often, as highlighted in my post of Sept 25th, the ones raising the money and the ones spending the money in an NPO, have mutually exclusive goals. This tension always exists, but appears to increase as the economy forces nonprofits to make some critical operating decisions. And when the decisions are driven by personal gain it becomes all the more egregious. Not that Rell has personal gain in this, but the lack of respect and the hubris in assumption of donated funds as a free checkbook is disturbing and all too common.

If you are on a Board of Trustees you need to become more empowered in your governance role. Ask questions and expect answers. And if it’s still not clear ask some more. Do not allow administration to appease you with arguments of their managerial control and administrative duties vs your role in governance. Ensuring the intent of donor funds is honored is governance.

If you are administering an NPO, check your intentions. If indeed decisions need to be made about donor funds, and the use of such funds that is not in compliance with donor intent, you still have recourse. Go back to the donor or donors and explain the need. Ask permission. Seek counsel from the AG’s office. And if you find you still cannot use the funds to solve the financial issue, then build a case for more donations to meet your need.

Yes its hard work, but thats our role.

The revolution in ‘fundraising’ EVENTS – how not to raise money

Nonprofit fundraising has become known to the common masses for its ‘fundraising’ events and its sale activities. Talk to any layperson about being in ‘fundraising’ and they respond “Oh, you must be good at planning events!” or “I was never good at selling cookies”.

Events are commonly misunderstood. Possibly the misunderstanding comes from the saturation affect: the daily arrival of invites, ads and press releases on what black tie gala, or hayride and cookout is being hosted for which group, how much they raised or plan to raise, and who attended. The misunderstanding is that events are hosted to raise funds.

Too often the reality is, the money raised is minimal compared to the expense, the attendees learn little about the organization as beneficiary, and the event is seen as a burden on the supporter- an obligation that must be born to show support and that most donors would just as happily support the nonprofit in other ways, ways more lucrative and efficient to the nonprofits mission.

Disagree? See, as evidence, the recent results of the cancellation of such ‘fundraising’ events due to economic stress. One nonprofit board member, Nancy Jarecki, speaking in an article in the Nonprofit Times, observes “It’s kind of strange, when people are almost not required or obligated to get that event invitation in the mail, that expectation that they feel like they’ve got to do it, they still write the check,” Jarecki said. “They tended to still give, but on their own. They didn’t have the pressure of buying a $1,000 ticket”

In the same article, Carol Kurzig executive Director of the Avon Foundation notes “In general, in our experience, individual donations are holding very well and have increased significantly this year”

And in a study conducted in 2007, the nonprofit watchdog group, Charity Navigator concluded “…special events are inefficient in comparison to overall fundraising activities” and “Many health charities would benefit from shifting their fundraising focus away from special events.” Most disturbingly, the report went on to discover “A large percent of charities are reporting their special events data incorrectly, with no recourse from state or federal regulators.” But that’s a topic for another post, I digress.

So, the question then becomes- Why? Why are nonprofit leaders across the nation continuing to perpetrate this crime on the donating public? Why do they continue to reel head long onto the path of wasted money and large headaches in pursuit of raising funds, if the results are poor return on investment, bad donor feelings and a weak economic model in a stressful economy?

1. Perception

Unlike our corporate sisters, nonprofits have been indoctrinated into believing that they must perform to the expectation of the masses, allowing the public to lead the development and performance of the NPO, rather than driving performance and perception from their core product line. Public opinion sways management more than outcomes when it comes to fundraising. Maybe it’s because many fundraisers come from the service delivery field, where public need and opinion rightly DOES drive program. Maybe it’s because our Board of Directors often do not have sufficient experience in philanthropy to be governing such decisions. Maybe we just don’t know how to stop.

2. It’s easy

Okay, hosting events is not really easy. They’re a heck of a lot of work- volunteer coordination, set up, break down, mailings, registration tracking, and more mailings. And all of those decisions. Hours and hours of time and resources, for months on end, to produce a three hour event. But what makes them easy and attractive is the group nature of the solicitation. No one is on the end of the limb. No one is in the spotlight asking for the gift. The ‘ask’ is not from a philanthropic place, it’s from a sales place. And a sale is an academic activity, it’s understandable, it’s American. I give you this, you give me that. It seems fair. But compared to cultivating and building a relationship with a real person – mano a mano – to ask them for money, well bring on the flower choices and dinner menus. Let’s have a party.

3. It draws daily attention

Show me the society page that has picture upon picture of Mrs. Jenna Moneybags and the Executive Director of the We Need Your Help nonprofit organization with the head line “Years of Cultivation and Stewardship Pays Off: Large ask gifts WNYH organization with $100,000 for their children’s ward.” Valuable philanthropy just doesn’t get that kind of everyday publicity or pictures and smiles. It doesn’t market.

4. It feels good

Volunteers want to help. Planning events gives them something to do.

All of which, while being valid and understandable, still doesn’t answer the question why do we continue.

I propose we place a moratorium on all new ‘fundraising’ events, all expansion of  ‘fundraising’ events, or even, the continuation of dying ‘fundraising’ events. The economy seems to be helping us do just that.

I next propose we educate our boards in a way that helps them become more effective in governing philanthropic decision. Let’s start with the wasteful nature of events as fundraisers.

In tandem, we need to provide academic educational opportunities and tracks of learning and growth for fundraising professionals. More academics on developing relationships, cultivating constituents, stewarding donors and less of the ‘how to host an event’ training is needed. And it needs to be qualified in a tiered way that allows the development of professionals along lines of experience, from entry level to experienced professional.

Finally, let’s develop a mental picture of what events can actually do for us: engage volunteers, bring awareness, and satisfy public perception. But they don’t raise money and so therefore are not ‘Fund Raisers’. If we build our events using these three core beliefs, I reason that waste will be reduced, donor market share will increase and philanthropic profits will rise.

“Locard’s Exchange Principle” or “Some armchair philosophy to start your morning”

When someone comes in contact with another person or place, something of that person is left behind, and something is taken away.
“Locard’s Exchange Principle”

Edmund Locard was a 20th century forensic scientist and director of the first crime lab in Lyon, France in 1910.
His theory postulates that wherever two things meet, evidence exists of their meeting. In his case, he was speaking in terms of crimes against humanity.
But in recent years, his theory has been used in terms of more positive meetings as well. Although it continues to be used in crimes, including white collar crimes of a business and financial nature, it has been applied to explore interactions that result in the advancement of positive outcomes: mentoring, coaching, management, consumerism and philanthropy.

How does the theory apply to you in a positive way? What ‘fingerprints’ exist due to your personal contact with others. Globally it is evident that the work of nonprofit organizations change individual lives. But Locard was speaking on a more singular interaction, the one on one imprint of a conversation, written communication, action.
A mentor hypothesized yesterday that “relationships are the conversation”. That everything else before and after: your thoughts, inner dialogue, intentions are not a relationship, it exists only within the communication you are having with the other person. And to review that communication, in the moment and after, to assess your relationship.
How often do we think in terms of communicating with the intention of enhancing the relationship? Of the relationship as a means of leaving an imprint, of employing Locards theory?

I for one believe Locards theory can be applied universally. Maybe it deserves a plaque above our desks, on our walls, on our hearts, to help us remember that we are not moving through this world alone, but in connection and concert with everyone and everything around us. And that we are leaving an imprint.
Talk about authenticity.

Visionary Leadership

I’ve been asked to speak on visionary leadership.  I’m still deciding if I have anything cogent to say on this topic.

The term “visionary leader” is tossed out like so much corporate slang today. But is it an accurate representation of the sentiment hoped to be communicated?

The encyclopedia defines leadership as an individual’s capacity to motivate others to seek the same objective.  Well that’s a bit short sighted. Using this as a strict term, Hitler would be classified a leader.  As would Satan.  Not my perception of what the word leader should conjure up.

Lets try visionary. The dictionary defines visionary as one who is given to impractical or speculative ideas; a dreamer. Not much better.

What is being communicated when we speak of visionary leaders? Certainly not impractical dreamers, Svengali’s leading others to senseless ends.

Perhaps we can find a better term, based on our longed for attributes in leadership, those characteristics that are valuable and inherently humanistic.

Suggestions?

I’ll start us off:  West Point Academy writes that they build  “Honorable Leaders”.  The dictionary defines honorable  as adhering to ethical and moral principles. 

I like that.

Others?

Truth, purity, unselfishness – wherever these are present, there is no power below or above the sun to crush the possessor thereof. Equipped with these, one individual is able to face the whole universe in opposition.’ Swami Vivekananda

Financial Practice Standardization for nonprofits?

Recently, UConn University came under criticism for their financial practices with the UConn Foundation. Unfortunately, this isnt the first time nonprofit organizations have been questioned or targeted for scrutiny of their financial accounting and use of donor funds. Mostly it appears to come from a lack of standard reporting and accounting practices across the industry.  Many groups have long been trying to “‘follow the money”.

In many cases it is merely a practice of unclear or complicated accounting and reporting practices. Groups such as Guidestar.org and the IRS, whose quest has recently brought about a reframing of the 990 form for all nonprofit organizations, have devoted countless hours and resources to this complicated matter.

Most recently, hospitals have been under attack, concerns arising around their use of funds in charity care and other program needs.  Many critics, such as the Washington Post,  claim the IRS rule implementing the law is “so vague that nonprofit hospitals have been able to exploit it by offering some free services but often little aid to the poorest people in their communities.”

In the search for transparency, some universal laws should be considered:

1. Not all charities are alike

2. Nonprofits are predominately run by the very community which supports them financially.

3. Too often the ones raising the funds and the ones spending the funds have competing goals

So a short poll:

Given the recent dramatic increase in new not for profits organizations, the continued increase in philanthropic revenue overall and the increased call for transparency, has the time come for a set of uniform financial accounting and reporting standards to be followed?

1.Yes, it will allow for donors to understand across the board how the money is being received and spent.

2. No, each charity is unique and should account and report specific to its own needs

3. Possibly, but more study is needed.

Performance management

Performance Management is the core of successful philanthropic organizations. But what does this truly mean and how does an organization strategically manage its outcomes?

Five essentials to doing so in the industry’s current environment:

Identify Your Starting Point: To determine if your organization is making progress or achieving “success”, it is critical to establish a baseline or starting point for comparison of future performance assessment.  The best baseline measures are actionable, quantitative and core to the outcomes you are seeking to achieve.

Benchmark Your Organization: Do you know how your organization compares to others of similar characteristics? Benchmarking your organization is the process of identifying equal measures and pinpointing those that are comparative and crucial to your success. To create a benchmark by industry can be time consuming, but is time well spent.  Hiring a consultant is one method to benchmarking. There are also many organizations, membership driven associations and other groups that have benchmarking programs, for a fee. The Advisory Board and AHP are two such groups providing systems that allow you to upload data and assess your comparative performance against other similar organizations. You can also conduct your own research on what the standards are for workload, impact, cost ratios, etc.

Prepare an Organizational Balanced Scorecard: A Balanced Scorecard, or Dashboard, is a tool used by most corporations to access four critical areas of management. It was originated by Drs. Robert Kaplan (Harvard Business School) and David Norton as a performance measurement framework that added strategic non-financial performance measures to traditional financial metrics to give managers and executives a more ‘balanced’ view of organizational performance. It suggests we develop metrics, collect data, and analyze it using four perspectives:  Financial, Business practices, Learning, Customers. These are easily adaptable to any non profit organization and should be specific to your organizations needs. Determining your dashboard metrics is a collective process. Inclusion of all stakeholders in developing it is essential.

Manage Employee Performance: Benchmarking and assessing staff performance is quite possibly the single most effective method to enhancing performance in the long term. Research exists on philanthropic staff performance measures, best practices and identified targets for measured outcomes. With these measures, staff selection, education and training and management becomes more strategic.

Assess Your Organizations Performance: Assessment tools are time specific and are used throughout the operations of an organizations lifetime. Performance measures derived from the dashboard, compared to industry standards and annualized on past performance, provide short and long term maps allowing you to realign your management strategies and communicate clear vision to your organization.

Ken Grimsley on Workplace Stress

job surveyFrom Ken Grimsley:

Working in diverse corporate cultures with the Fortune 100, small businesses and nonprofits as consultant and staff member, I’ve seen some vivid examples of stress.

Other than the impending terror of losing a job with a bloated mortgage and work overload beyond reason, here’s my Top Five (can you add more?):

1. Gossip. Triangulation and back-biting is only slightly less brutal than a dog fight. Several women executives have told me that it’s far worse with women employees, but I’ve also seen it with men. Managers, Directors, VPs, and yes, eve in the C-suite. This insidious practice snowballs in and between departments faster than an Obama Tweet announcing tax refunds.
2. Process. Inefficient coordination that wastes time kills spirit. Result: stress from spending two hours to do a half-hour of work, or from revising work that was done improperly. This includes processes that are too dependent on a “rock star” leader (the latest unfortunate exercise of ego), or too dependent on an ill-defined group without a coherent process with accountable metrics.

3. Communication. It’s not just that this is an expertise of mine, it’s a real stress beast in large and small organizations. Poor communication from the C-suite, from team leaders, and among team members spells disaster. Issues become nightmares, objectives become barriers, and anxiety swells bigger than credit default swap debt. Having a workload without clear communication strategy is like having the latest Mac Pro notebook without the use of the screen, or having an iTouch you can’t touch. Effective communication strategy and tactics are indispensable weapons for battling the stress beast.

4. Leadership. Lack of a clear mission and an inspiring vision will start a Tsunami of doubt that will crash into a flood of stress. People will drown in ambivalence, lack of motivation, lack of hope, and lack of confidence that their position or company has meaning or a future. Leadership doesn’t come from the hubris of certain Wall Street CEOs gaming to profit from the loss of others (charging taxpayers a high price for the “free” market philosophy); genuine leadership proves itself through innovation and vision which inspire others to do their best. This leads me to…

5. Engagement. Without an engaged workforce that believes in its mission and understands the value of its contribution, stress from any number of sources will grow like weeds in a foreclosed Vegas suburb.

Other stress catalysts, my Top Ten:

1. Bad coffee. And too much of it.
2. A new manager with something to prove.
3. A supervisor who dates your former spouse.
4. A CFO who keeps getting calls from Treasury Secretary Geithner.
5. No windows combined with small cubicles that have too many plants.
6. Keyboards sticky with sledge from other users.
7. An “updated brand campaign” every other month.
8. Internal news bulletin that “a new change initiative will save time”.
9. Meetings. Any meeting. Ever.
10. Company parties that involve Karaoke.

Ken Grimsley

Beginning

Today is the first day of Fall, a beginning to a new season. Likewise, every journey has a beginning and so to mine.

I have new contact information to share and, of course, can always be reached here or via LinkedIn.

Reflecting on the 20 years I have been in this industry, it is the passion and spirit of the people who commit themselves to causes that they embrace, that inspire them, that provide security and meaning to their lives…..this is the draw for me.

Indeed, authenticity, integrity and meaning have become central to so many aspects of our careers. Even more so during the recent economic crisis; reflection and assessment on what is important, the realities of the very core, fundamental human relationships that build and empower our work. The realness of it all. It inspires us to reach out, do more, act selflessly, grow.

I remain open to new horizons, opportunities and ideas.