Salesforce.org, here I come!

I’m really excited to share the news that, as of July 25, I’m joining Salesforce.org as a product manager on their enterprise systems team. I’ll be joining an all-star team featuring a startling number of fellow Groundwire alums, and my work will focus on Salesforce’s global systems for grantmaking, employee giving and volunteering. We have some pretty big ambitions for the future of workplace philanthropy and I can’t wait to help breathe life into that vision.

I am also sad, because this means that I will be leaving my dear friends at ActionSprout far too soon. Their work at the cutting edge of Facebook and social change is really hitting its stride, and I will always remain a friend, cheerleader and ally.

Onward!

Three modes of movement thinking

Mode 1: Advocates for different issues don’t perceive their issues as connected and interdependent. Attention and resources are finite, and allocation is a zero-sum game. Fights about “root causes” and “whose issue is more important” are frequent.

Mode 2: Advocates recognize that their issues are connected in complex ways. Victories are celebrated across sectors, and folks are able to rally around issues that are “not theirs” at least in symbolic ways. However, identity is still primarily defined by issues, and there is tremendous pressure to make all major campaigns fully reflect the interests of all issue segments. Tremendous energy is spent making sure that language and framing is inclusive of all segments/interests in the larger movement, while finding common ground with opponents is shunned as betrayal of the larger movement.

Mode 3: Advocates recognize that issues are complex and interdependent, but that each victory builds the power necessary to enact a long-term agenda, even if each campaign does not fully address all of the issue interests of every segment of the broader movement. Organizations are able to devote significant resources to issues that are “not theirs” knowing that those resources will eventually be repaid with interest — both directly in future campaigns and indirectly via increased movement power before the next campaign even begins.

Conservatives often operate in mode 3. Progressives tend to operate mainly in mode 2 at best — and in mode 1 more often than we’d care to admit.

It’s also interesting to think about donor motivation. Most progressive donors give because they care deeply about one or more issues. Right-wing donors give because they seek power first and foremost. Moreover, if their policies are adopted ,right-wing donors often make more money than they contribute. Progressive donors often pay twice: once to activist groups and then again in higher taxes after their preferred policy wins.

Essential Firefox Add-ons for Privacy + Security

Here are my must-have Firefox extensions. Most are aimed at blocking ads, minimizing tracking and making the web faster. If you don’t have these installed, give them a try: you’ll be amazed how much faster the web is.

Google Redirects Fixer: why let Google track every search result you click?

HTTPS Everywhere: force secure connections to many popular sites

LastPass: makes it easy to use a unique, secure password for every site — and not have to remember them.

NoScript: prevent sites from running unneeded javascript (warning: probably only suitable for experienced users)

Privacy Badger: block third-party tracking cookies and scripts. Great for both speed and privacy.

Self-Destructing Cookies: only accept cookies from site I trust.

uBlock Origin: block ads.

21 Tips for Leading and Managing

  1. Delegate projects, not tasks.
  2. Let go. Check in. Ask questions. If you don’t get the right answers, ask more questions. Offer help. If you do this gently, it’s not micromanagement.
  3. Administrative work is part of every job; you can’t delegate it all. It’s better to work alongside your team to get it done than to hand it off.
  4. People grow by taking ownership of increasingly big things. Your most important job as a leader is to facilitate that.
  5. Expect and encourage people to claim things. Let them choose what to claim.
  6. Have high standards, but hold them lightly.
  7. People watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.
  8. The big picture is probably obvious to you, but the story of your team bears constant telling. Why are we here? What are we doing together? Where are we going? Why does it matter?
  9. Be vulnerable. Let folks see what you’re struggling with. Don’t put up a false front of hyper-competence; nobody believes it anyway.
  10. Get excited about things. Bring people crazy ideas every once in a while so they’ll feel comfortable bringing theirs to you.
    Photo by Eugene Kim
  11. Cultivate ambient awareness – up, down and sideways.
  12. Budgets are stories about values. Make sure everyone knows how to read them.
  13. Deliver information updates as efficiently as possible, usually in writing; defend face time for questions, discussion and generative work.
  14. Eat lunch with your team as often as you can.
  15. Have opinions, but be willing to change them.
  16. With every hire, you should raise the average quality of your team.
  17. Your gut is probably right. Have the courage to listen.
  18. Do not act when triggered.
  19. Keep track of your commitments and follow through flawlessly or renegotiate proactively.
  20. Avoid self-inflicted fire drills. The world gives us enough real ones.
  21. It is OK to create some discomfort to drive change. Construct and regulate it carefully.

Continue reading 21 Tips for Leading and Managing

32 Theses About Nonprofit Compensation

  1. Nonprofit work is hard work. It is complex, adaptive work where the answers are not known in advance — we have to invent them as we go. Most nonprofits are tackling huge problems with few resources and many face deep-pocketed opposition.
  2. Nonprofit work is long-term work. The problems we’re working on — climate change, inequality and injustice — didn’t emerge overnight, and we’re not going to solve them in a couple of years.
  3. Because nonprofit work is hard, long-term work, the nonprofit sector needs to attract the most talented people we’ve got — and keep them around long enough for them to become wise and masterful practitioners.
  4. The skills and talent nonprofits need to solve big social problems are complex . We need to be able to draw in people with a broad range of experiences, skills and talents. Failure to do this not only hurts us tactically, it limits us strategically.
  5. Right now, access to wealth — inherited wealth, earned wealth from a prior career or spouses/partners who are the primary breadwinners in their households — is often an implicit filtering criterion for long-term nonprofit employment. This perpetuates and deepens the structural racism and inequity in our society, even as we say we are working to eliminate it.
  6. The student debt crisis is a huge, largely unacknowledged talent problem in the making for the nonprofit sector. While many millennials are drawn to mission-based work, their student debt will prevent them from entering the sector, or ensure that their stay here is short.
  7. The skills that it takes to build and sustain a successful and effective nonprofit are becoming more varied.
  8. Because of the explosion of nonprofits — and the immediate accessibility of a global audience afforded by the internet — nonprofits must not only be skillful at more things, they must be relatively more skillful at more things if they want to break away from the pack. The bar for success is, paradoxically, rising, even as the barriers to starting a nonprofit are falling.
  9. The skills that nonprofits must master to succeed in the twenty-first century are rapidly converging with the skills that organizations in other sectors must master to succeed.
  10. We can see this most clearly in the area of technology. But it’s not just technology, it’s also finance, leadership, marketing and more.
  11. The rise of mission-based “social enterprise” businesses and B-Corps further exacerbates the nonprofit’s sector’s intensity of competition for talented, mission-minded people.
  12. Nonprofits are therefore competing beyond the sector for talent more directly than ever before and the intensity of this competition is only going to continue to increase.
  13. Nobody expects (or deserves) to get rich working for a nonprofit.
  14. Many nonprofits are (or can be) amazing places to work. People will sacrifice some amount of money for challenge, meaning, flexibility and autonomy.
  15. Despite this, we should not expect nonprofit workers to forgo home ownership, children and a secure retirement in order to work in the sector.
  16. If nonprofits want to successfully compete for talent — and keep good people around for the long haul, they need to pay enough so that money isn’t an issue, then out-compete other employers on meaning, relationships, autonomy and opportunity.
  17. The amount of money that makes “money not be an issue” for the diverse, talented people we need to attract and retain is often more than the median nonprofit is paying right now.
  18. The amount of money that makes “money not be an issue” for the diverse, talented people we need to attract and retain is not insanely large. People who are drawn to and can succeed at the complex, adaptive challenges of nonprofit work tend to have strong intrinsic motivation and are rarely highly materialistic.
  19. There are many roles in nonprofits for which it is believed to be difficult to objectively and fairly evaluate employee performance and/or contribution to either the organization’s bottom line or its mission impact.
  20. Nonprofits rarely cut low performing staff.
  21. Nonprofits rarely if ever pay their top performers significantly more than their median or low performers.
  22. Most nonprofits would rather spend additional dollars growing their team or launching new programs and accept turnover as a “fact of  life” than invest in retaining their best people for the long haul.
  23. Nonprofits rarely account for the full costs of turnover: lost relationships, lost knowledge, lost productivity, damage to morale, etc.
  24. Many of the nonprofit sector’s most highly skilled people eventually are forced to leave the sector entirely or go into private practice as consultants in order to meet their financial needs.
  25. The “consultant-ization” of the nonprofit sector has some benefits (e.g. rapid, flexible team formation, deep specialization, diffusion of knowledge, etc.) but also considerable costs.
  26. While nonprofit culture and management practices contribute to some of the sector’s dysfunctions around compensation, nonprofit board members, donors and funders play a significant role in shaping the sector’s culture and determining how it allocates resources.
  27. The overhead myth, preferences for new programs over proven effectiveness, underinvestment in leadership development, failure to admit and embrace failure — these phenomena all contribute to unhealthy ideologies about compensation in the nonprofit sector.
  28. Nonprofit boards rarely involve themselves in staff salary structures or policies, restricting themselves to setting CEO compensation and perhaps approving incremental increases to the overall salary pool during the budgeting process.
  29. Foundation program officer salaries often serve as an effective upper bound on nonprofit CEO compensation.
  30. Funders rarely reward their highest-performing grantees with game-changing infusions of general support dollars — and even more rarely do they cut their low-performing grantees to free up resources for their high performers.
  31. Many funders are happy to reward effort rather than results. This is closely tied to risk aversion, because big results require big risks and it is often hard to claim credit for long-term success.
  32. There is no silver bullet solution to these challenges, but the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors must work together to open a more courageous conversation if we are to make progress.

Continue reading 32 Theses About Nonprofit Compensation

The original sin of nonprofit capacity builders

Back in 2011, a few weeks before I left Groundwire (R.I.P.), I was at a nonprofit conference down in southern Oregon. I was delighted to run into Dianne Russell, who runs the Institute from Conservation Leadership. Dianne’s been doing organizational capacity building work in the environmental sector for… well, pretty much forever and has always been one of those people I’ve admired as we worked over the years with many of the same great people and organizations.

So there we were in the lobby, catching up, talking about the weather, our kids, I don’t quite remember. But then out of nowhere, Dianne dropped this idea on me:

“I’ve been thinking lately,” she said (and I paraphrase slightly), “that we capacity builders have really screwed up. We’ve systematically miseducated funders about the true cost of doing the work.”

I swear that the clouds parted and a great beam of light shone down on us. (Never mind that we were indoors.) I heard the clap of thunder, but maybe it was just the sound of my jaw hitting the concrete floor.

I picked it up and said, “Oh, wow. You are… totally… right. I never thought of it that way before. How come I never thought of it that way before?

In an instant, I flashed through all of the ways I’d failed at pricing over 15 years of doing mostly-below-market-rate technology and communications consulting to environmental nonprofits:

  • Giving work away for free: FAIL. very few clients truly value what they’re not paying for, and a price of “free” makes it really easy to fail to invest in making new tools and knowledge sustainable.
  • Charging meaningful but “below-market” rates: FAIL. This is a more subtle way to fail. When you charge a meaningful amount, clients have “skin in the game” and that’s good. You have far fewer failing projects. But think back to Econ 101 — if you price below market, demand is infinite, and every unit of below-cost service you deliver is another unit of charitable subsidy you have to raise. So, while each project is great and your clients love you, you are digging a hole to hell with your good intentions.
  • Charging “the low end of market rate:” NOT A TOTAL FAIL, BUT DANG HARD. Here, your clients are happy and you’re not losing money hand over fist, but you’re trapped in the tyranny of the billable hour and the constant struggle to keep staff from being poached by higher-paying for-profits,  etc.

But, despite having experienced all of this failure modes, I hadn’t really thought about how underpricing affects funders — who, along with the nonprofits themselves, are often “the customer” for capacity building services, even though they are not “the client.”

As we tie on our superhero capes and leap into action, we often fail to calculate our true costs. And even more often, we fail to disclose that full cost either to our clients or to our funder/customers. This happens for many reasons, all of them sincere and well-meaning.

We capacity builders, with our zeal to get the work done — after all, there’s so much good work that desperately needs doing — we’re wizards at cobbling together a few bucks here, a few bucks there. And maybe we feel a little bit guilty about charging all that money to do good work.  We’ve usually got at least a touch of impostor syndrome (“we’re not really that good”) so we hem and haw and there are a thousand reasons why we just sort of don’t get around to really showing everyone who’s paying for a piece of our pie just how much the whole pie really costs.

This is all well and good and well intended. The clients are happy, the funders are happy and the capacity builder might even be pretty happy too. But over the not-so-long term, Bad Things Start to Happen:

Even if you’ve been rigorous about showing all your cross-subsidies, the cumulative effect of underpricing is that it affects what funders (and clients) are willing to pay for future capacity building engagements. This is what my economist friends call “price anchoring.” Over time it means that funders (and clients) start to believe that below cost is what it costs and, worse, that’s all it’s worth. This means that if a future capacity builder should have the temerity to charge enough to cover their full costs (including the cost of paying people competitive salaries, not burning them out with overwork, etc.), they are very likely to be told, “Sorry, that’s too expensive. Last time I only paid $BELOW-COST-PRICE.”

Let me be clear: it’s not that clients and funders are naive or that they are trying to abuse us by setting up a race to the bottom. Prices are signals and prices are stories, and our prices are telling lies that have, over time, systematically miseducated our customers (and our clients) about the underlying economic reality of the work.

The bill for this is coming due.

 

What tech skills should mission-driven nonprofits expect all of their employees to master?

What tech skills should mission-driven nonprofits expect all of their employees to master?

The-IT-Crowd-006I’m not talking about what we should expect the “digital” people to know — or the IT staff. These folks are always going to require a deeper set of particular skills that are going to vary greatly depending on their role and the particular organization. I’m asking a bigger and more abstract question: what skills should we expect of everyone who works in an organization trying to make change in the world — from the CEO to the administrative assistants, and everyone in between.

Is it simply enough to expect “proficiency with Word, Excel and Outlook?” Or, in 2014, should we be expecting more?

I think we can and should expect more.

Let’s start by unpacking the notion of “proficiency” with “basic office productivity software.”  There’s more here than meets the eye. Here’s my list of tasks I’d expect someone who has solid “intermediate proficiency” with the basic tools that are essential to modern mission-driven work to be able to perform.

  1. Format a document with style-based formatting, both in a word processor and in a website content management system
  2. Create, share and organize online documents and spreadsheets.
  3. Use “tracked changes” or similar document revision features to collaborate on a document with others
  4. Perform a basic mail merge from a spreadsheet, and be able to translate basic mail merge concepts to online tools such as broadcast email systems
  5. Compose and send a lightly-branded broadcast email message that looks good on a mobile phone
  6. Sort and filter a list in a spreadsheet
  7. Use common spreadsheet formulas to analyze data like SUM, AVERAGE, MEDIAN
  8. Create a simple chart or graph that follows most of Edward Tufte’s rules of good information design
  9. Crop and resize an image for use on the web or in an email
  10. Create a lightly formatted but professional-looking set of presentation slides that are compliant with an organization’s brand guidelines
  11. Set up and use an LCD projector
  12. Host and deliver a presentation online through webinar or online meeting software.
  13. Use text/video chat software like Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. for real-time communication with colleagues
  14. Manage one’s calendar online
  15. Book appointments with colleagues and partners electronically
  16. Use a password manager to generate and use secure passwords for online services
  17. Build a simple online survey and interpret the results
  18. Create rules or filters in an email client to organize your inbox
  19. Track tasks with a team using tools like Trello, Asana, Basecamp or Evernote
  20. Export a list of names or other data from one system in CSV format and upload the list into another system
  21. Create and manage an email discussion list
  22. Look up and edit contact information for constituents in a CRM database system
  23. Bonus: design the agenda for and facilitate an effective small group meeting

Bet you weren’t expecting 23 items. (Hey, did I leave anything important out? Leave a comment!)

Seriously: imagine how much more efficient and effective our organizations would be if we could count on all of our colleagues and allies to have mastered these basic skills.

I’m not naive; this is a high bar. Is the solution then to raise our hiring standards? Maybe. When I’m hiring folks, I certainly attempt to gauge how solid their technology skills are. But I realize that there are a lot of smart, bright and capable folks out there who couldn’t tick all of these boxes. That’s OK. College is supposed to teach you to read, write and think — it’s not supposed to be vocational education.

This means that employers need to be ready to train their people in the practical skills they need to excel in the workplace. Part of the job of any social mission organization is to bring in smart, bright and capable people and help them grow. This takes a strong organizational commitment to making those investments — and a strong organizational culture of peer learning. And you can be sure I am looking to hire people who are motivated and ready to learn (and to teach!).

Folks who are already in the social change workforce: you should see mastering as many of these skills as possible as an essential part of your job. These are the building blocks of 21st century social mission work.

Update 7/4/2014: edited slightly to incorporate great feedback from commenters below and on social media. Thanks, keep the feedback coming!

Minor updates on 8/16/2016. Thanks Natalee Hill!