Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Final Post...

As of April 5, 2009 this blog will no longer be updated. All the content here and new posts will be happening at the new (and gratefully much improved!) www.catalystfoundation.ca

Update your bookmarks, google reader, or address book. Hope to hear from you there!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Who do I choke?"

I'm just back from an excellent trip to Columbia and Nicaragua with some of our partner organizations (more on that in future posts).

At dinner one night in Cartagena one of the others on the trip, who is a successful CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, commented on being at a meeting with some of the inside circle of a large charity and not being able to get a clear answer about who was ultimately responsible for the outcomes of the work. He stated his frustration with typical eloquence: "I just want to know, when something goes wrong, who do I choke?"

It's a great question. Often in the nonprofit world there is a tendency to lower standards and lesser accountability. This should not be. Knowing that charity leaders are usually passionately committed to work they believe has the potential to make a meaningful difference, the expectations should be a little higher than for those who only want to make money.

I have to admit that this isn't my natural bent. I've been as guilty of being soft in this area as anyone. I do expect the nonprofit world to treat staff with greater care and dignity than the sometimes cutthroat tactics of the market. The challenge is to maintain a radical orientation to mission such that we are absolutely committed to explicit outcomes and expect high level performance from people, even as we treat them very well.

We should always know who to choke.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Post #100: Why "Catalyst"?

This is the 100th post on this blog. It's taken just over a year to get here. Thanks for lurking, thinking, and especially to those who have commented.

Take 14 seconds and watch this.

Our desire is that our credibility, influence, and investments bring a catalytic effect to the leadership of every organization we work with. As we do so there will be a release of energy that will sometimes be messy, but always impactful.

When we say Catalyst, this is what we mean. We use all our resources to accelerate the changes needed to move nonprofits forward. As we do we expect to see results; greater efficiency and effectiveness, stronger commitment, more people helped. Along the way the value placed on developing leadership, the growing sense of generosity, and the confidence to work in synergy with others show us that we're on the right track.

We hope our interaction with nonprofits is a little bit like throwing a couple Mentos into your Diet Coke.

(And for those who need to understand, the Mythbusters can explain what's happening in that bottle).

Story is Vision

"The careful telling of the story creates ripples for everybody; including me" - Brian Stiller, Tyndale Seminary (from a FreeFORM interview).

Defining, redefining, revealing, and sharing our vision is one of the difficult challenges of leadership. There are endless resources on how to do this, but lately I've found the best and most intuitive way of doing it is through storytelling.

In recent meetings with two groups where we worked on mission/vision/values matters we experimented with beginning the process by telling the stories of those moments where we felt our organization was performing at our best. Out of that comes not only an easily emerging picture of what we most want to be, but also an energizing reminder of what we're all about. We end up with statements and stories that become central reflections for us and which we believe in at a deep level. And it's wicked fun.

As the appreciation for the value of narrative continues to move from the world of academic criticism and artistic expression into the realm of leadership and strategy the potential for better engagement of all levels of stakeholders is exciting.

One simple process:
-Ask your board/team/committee/etc. to spend a little in advance thinking about the very best moments and memories they have of your organization. these could include not only the work with your clientele; but fundraisers, staff interactions, resources embraced, board meetings, and more. the point is to uncover the times when you experienced the best of what you can be.

-Begin the session with someone telling the broad story of your organization's history. As they do; everyone is encouraged to note and post ideas from the story that might relate to Mission/Vision/Values. (We've handed out post it notes and put flip chart pages on the wall to capture these thoughts).

-Invite all to add their own stories of highlight moments; and continue noting the themes.

-When the stories began to run out, review everything posted to ensure understanding and adjust the location of notes where needed.

-Synthesize these notes to expose the strongest themes and try to turn these into shared statements or even a simple image or narrative.

Does it work? So far, so good.

This is the revised Vision Statement for Catalyst:
Catalyst is committed to developing leadership in compelling nonprofit organizations as their dreams become action to transform lives.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Contrasting Styles

In the last two weeks I've talked with two leaders who listened to me talk about some of my experiences and offered their perspectives. In both cases it really seemed like they were looking past my words and eyes and into my soul. That's what the best mentors do.

What's most interesting is that these two are rather different. One is the leader of one of the most prominent leadership development organizations in the world. The other invests himself primarily with drug addicts, prostitutes, and homeless people. One challenges me to explore the outer limits of my potential, the other urges me to embrace my weakness as a means of becoming deeper. One's books quote alcoholic natives and now dead AIDS victims, the other refers to globally known corporate and ministry figures.

I am grateful for both of these men and their willingness to set aside time from their lives to speak into mine.

I need to be drawn into a fuller understanding of both my range of influence and my own core inadequacies. And in truth, both of the conversations included aspects of both. Neither leader is limited to a single theme. In their own lives and in their professional roles they help others to become more complete, from whatever the starting point.

Every leader needs people in their life that can see beyond the surface and challenge them to develop fuller; both in their identity and their influence.

Who's shaping you?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Partnership" Expanded

This week I am preparing for our annual strategic planning retreat. It's an important and quite enjoyable time where we review the past year and ready ourselves for what's next. I'm sure it will be both energizing and exhausting.

As part of our review I sent several of our contacts (organizations we funded, people we've mentored, some who have shared wisdom with us, even some who's requests we didn't support) a simple feedback form to gain their perspective on Catalyst. I've been surprised by the response in two ways:
1. It seems like almost everyone who received the request is returning a completed form.
2. Several have commented that it is very unusual for a donor to ask for strategic input from charities.

I can't understand why a foundation wouldn't seek out this kind of insight. If we aspire to be as effective in our role as we expect those we support to be in their roles we need this perspective. I am grateful for those who have already taken a few minutes and shared their understandings of who we are and how we work. It will be very valuable information as we set our course for another year.

If you want to add your 2 cents worth (though the current economy precludes me actually sending you the 2 cents), here are the questions we're asking:

As Catalyst wraps up our first year of work we are continuing to make efforts to better define our role in the community and the world. I am hoping you can help us by taking just a moment to answer a few questions about your experience and perceptions of Catalyst.
1. How would you describe Catalyst to a professional colleague?

2. How has your interaction with Catalyst impacted you and/or your organization?

3. What key questions do you think Catalyst needs to ask and answer as we move forward?

4. What “blind spots” about our organization, processes, or work do you think may limit our effectiveness?

5. Is there anything else you think Catalyst should consider as we do our strategic planning?

Vision - Look Behind You

I am increasingly convinced that a key to crafting direction, for organizations as well as individuals, is to look into the past. With few (if any) exceptions what we will become at our best is rooted in things that have been true since our beginning.

When I work with individuals on figuring out their best context it is invaluable to spend 45 minutes hearing stories from earlier in their life of things they enjoyed doing and felt they did well. Reflection on those things makes figuring out next steps much easier.

The same is true for organizations. Dr. Carson Pue of Arrow Leadership International shares his thoughts in his latest To The Point e-newsletter:

...the board of directors and I devoted a year to listening to God and seeking His guidance as to the future vision for our organization. We had seasons during this pursuit that drained us, so we asked a friend and strategic partner to come and facilitate a board vision meeting. It was during this day that I heard from him one of the most profound statements I have ever heard on vision. Here it is…
“The seeds of your future are found in what you have already been doing.”

Futurist John Scharr affirms this as well reminding us that, "The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.” We have already been creating our future! So we spent a half day reviewing what we have been doing over the past 18 years – made a list of these and our ‘vision’ popped out at us. It is a grounded vision - and has lots of traction. As a result our team is energized, committed and filled with meaning.

Maybe it is time to ground your vision?

The visioning process is draining and unpleasant when we get bogged down in concepts and semantics, but it is quite invigorating when we turn our attention to the best of our past to see the best of our future. Try it.