Plotting a Course for 2017

2016 was a year of flipping the script and changing up the status quo. Come tomorrow, it is time to push through our anxiety about what may lie ahead and plot a course to best navigate the unknown terrain of 2017.

But where to start? Some thoughts…

Where will the road take you in 2017?

In December, I always look forward to Lucy Bernholtz’s data and philanthropy forecast for the upcoming year and the insights in Blueprint 2017 are as thought-provoking as those of its predecessors. It is available for download at the Foundation Center’s Grant Craft website.

Diversification of revenue is more important than ever, especially among donors as well as sources.

Show the impact of the work you do – the very change your program facilitates at both the client and community levels. It seems to be in fashion to downplay all measurement because quantifying impact can be challenging, what with small samples and scattered cohorts and bias (oh my!). Yes, it is. But demonstrating how a program meets expected and desired goals – the outcomes – is not a clinical trial, it is just good practice. As is using those data to inform and improve services.

In Pennsylvania, as this fiscal year’s budget shortfall grows, all signs point to a doozy of a 2017-18 negotiation process. Structural changes to the current human services system are also on the table, which may signal new opportunities for nonprofits. How can you best advocate for the sector and your organization?

Moving purposefully into the unknown may be less intimidating for a nonprofit when there is a verbal AND a financial commitment to cultivate leadership within the ranks.

On the topic of developing leaders, this is a perfect time to engage in a some formative assessment of a more personal nature. As an established or up-and-coming nonprofit leader, how do will you look back on 2016 and plan for 2017?

  • Set aside some time to conduct your own career-centered end of year review.
  • Use/create a rubric to determine where you are now and what you should focus on, add, or set aside in 2017. Rubrics consist of a descriptive set of items or elements and a related performance scale. List your goals or expectations for 2016, then rate each one on a numerical scale where each point is defined along a continuum of progress, for example, 0 = “No progress made” while 4 = “Achieved 100%.” Add as much or as little detail to each rating point as needed to accurately capture the situation.
  • Last January, I worked with Emily Marco on a year-in-review that included a look back at professional and personal events and milestones of 2015 and planning for 2016. She also helped me clarify my goals and identify “action steps” to begin working toward them immediately. Emily is a visual problem solver who excels at helping people organize their thoughts and build a plan of action to achieve their goals. If you are interested in exploring a new way to digest the old and plan for the new you can learn more about her new online learning experience Relaunch 2017 or contact her for a goal setting session at



Note:  This post is not sponsored.  I do not receive any compensation or services for mentions or links included in the post.

Study Asks: Why are Black Professionals Leaving Philanthropy?

Recent high-profile hirings and movements to tweak what philanthropy “looks like” aside, new data indicate  that an emerging trend in grantmaking is the decline of Black professionals within the field. The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE)  and members of the Black Philanthropic Network teamed up to take a deeper look at why Black professionals were leaving the philanthropic arena, where they ended up and what organizations could do to address this recent pattern.

Main findings from the report, The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals leave Grant making Institutions:

  • 72 percent of respondents (the majority of whom had been or currently were in a leadership position at a grantmaking organization) believed that leadership roles for Black professionals  were not substantial within philanthropy
  • 22 percent stated they were “pushed out” of their recent position in philanthropy
  • 48 percent agreed or strongly agreed that employment outside of a philanthropic institution allowed for more on-the-ground work and contact with the community, another 32% agreed somewhat
  • Over 60 percent of respondents left philanthropy for employment with a nonprofit organization

Additional study findings, perspectives from former foundation professionals, a look a regional differences in urban philanthropy (including Pittsburgh) and recommendations regarding organizational leadership, accountability and professional growth in the complete report at the ABFE website.

The Non-Predictive, Un-Trend Post for 2014

What will 2014 mean for nonprofits?


A perfect tweet to read today. It captures the exact reason why my post on nonprofit trends for 2014 has languished in USB limbo for over 2 weeks: there’s nothing new there.

So, rather than bore us all with a rehash of nonprofit issues and their related buzzwords, I’d rather share a few areas I’ll still be watching in 2014 from the experts who write about them:

Mobile. Yes, again.  Again and always. And by now nonprofits should have integrated mobile technology (or at least seriously discussed the logistics of doing so) into their daily operations/service delivery.

Take care of your Boomers. They are still the largest and most varied group of givers. According to Blackbaud, Boomers prioritize local social service organizations and places of worship for their donations and give through multiple channels.  Carolyn Appleton sees this group as continuing to lead in their philanthropic roles in2014, including in the area of planned giving. Hint hint, planned giving has seen an increase in mobile activity.

Data, Privacy and Transparency. Nearly anything Lucy Bernholz writes is among the best you will find on the topic.   Interested in predictions for 2014? Start here.

Although not exclusively a nonprofit issue, Hack your (Professional) Lack. Sitting in a few of the sessions at Pittsburgh Podcamp 8, I realized that I had been so busy connecting with potential  clients and starting new projects in 2012 – 2013 that I had neglected to keep up with the new apps, products, and basic shortcuts that might make running my own shop easier.  I’ll be sure to make the time for my own professional development going forward, absent my go-to responses that it’s “a full-time staff of me, myself and I” *grimace* or “blah, blah, work-family boundarieeees” and every other excuse in the bucket.

What are your predictions for nonprofits in 2014?  What lack might you hack this year? 



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)

Learning to be a Better Leader

A case study on the return on investment of emotional intelligence on productivity and work environment found a predictive relationship between emotional quotient (EQ) scores and individual performance.  Amadori, a European meat supplier, embarked on an initiative with Six Seconds focused on improved management and staff development through an overhaul of the organization’s leadership style.  The study showed that managers who scored in the top 25 percent in EQ also scored higher in individual performance (47 percent of the variation could be explained by EQ) and that the sites with high EQ executives also had higher levels of employee engagement.  As employee engagement was predictive of performance outcomes including motivation, retention and productivity, the factory sites with managers skilled in emotional intelligence experienced better organizational performance.

The adage claims that leaders are born not made, but the literature on the usefulness of emotional intelligence in business and its inclusion in leadership development materials, plus performance results like those in the study above, illustrate how even “born” leaders must be developed.  Good leadership can be taught in the form of theories and tools but – as other bloggers have wondered – whether it can be learned effectively is another matter entirely.

A while ago I observed a project debriefing that was one of the most tense and awkward sessions I had ever experienced. The team delivered a successful end product and yet the tone of the meeting was anything but positive.  On the surface, the group assembled appeared to be a healthy, functioning team, but cracks began to show as the session continued with member affect ranging from mildly detached to downright apathetic. The facilitator-coaxed feedback was not acknowledged by those who needed to hear it most, rather much of it was dismissed and those brave enough to allude to issues that could have been handled better were chided as unprofessional. I later heard that several members of that department had left the organization of their own accord.

Was it a low EQ, poor leadership development, or maybe just sheer stubbornness that kept the leader from acknowledging the team that day?  A little empathy and a modicum of self-awareness could have gone a long way in healing a fractured team that, despite  internal conflicts, had succeeded. In the end it was the organization that really lost – both in talent and in the time spent replacing and training a new team.  With all the talk about servant leadership and emotional intelligence, even in nonprofits who consider themselves more people-than-profit-driven, are apologies viewed as surrender? Do we secretly fear that empathy equals “doormat”?

Leadership is tricky. My first foray into it, on the smallest scale in the most benign of conditions, was a spectacular failure. For years after that experience, I successfully evaded any opportunity that even hinted of “leading” outside of my favorite type of project – the one person kind.  I was not a leader, I pshawed – nope, never would be either, that mantle was for others far grander, smarter and more charismatic than I.  It was a safe little pigeonhole to hunker down in, and I did so for years until circumstances demanded change.  My ongoing path from pigeonhole dweller to “follow me” has been a spiral not a steady ascent, and would not have happened without the people I met along the way who were (and still are) exceptional leaders. Some simply made an impression, others became mentors if not outright catalysts for transformation, and at the risk of heading completely into tweeness, I have to admit that I learned more from being a part of their teams than I ever could have hoped for at the time.

Leaders can be made. Or perhaps, as with Dorothy, we had the power all along, we just need the right tools, lessons, and people to help give it shape, focus and flight.