Now Is The Time

Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty...in heels.

In the United States more than 633,000 people experience homelessness every night.  48.9 million Americans are at risk of hunger - including one in five kids. Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty.  Hunger, homelessness, and poverty are devastating for individuals and our communities. This is unacceptable, unjust, and illogical.

We know that effective, commonsense policies like SNAP and EITC lift people out of poverty. We know that Rapid Rehousing and Housing First models reduce homelessness. We know that innovative philanthropic endeavors like Collective Impact and Social Impact Bonds can transform the way government, nonprofits, and local communities work together to tackle our toughest challenges. We know we can band together and create change.

Now Is The Time to get this done.

This site will feature a collection of personal reflections, original ideas, and smart thinking from around the country and the globe on the issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty.  We'll check in with thought leaders and discuss ways we can create change. We will also highlight ways to leverage two of my favorite things - National Service and the philanthropic sector. 

Can Philanthropy Spark Social Change?

This morning Do Something posted the following on Twitter:

It is such a great question – one that my staff challenges me with each day. Who leads? Who should lead? Who is most effective at leading social change?

I thought about this last week as I sat in a room of 750 do-gooders celebrating philanthropy.   After a long evening of disappointing (national) election results, I was eager for inspiration and chocolate cake.  The AFP’s annual Philanthropy Day celebration recognizes individuals and businesses who use their hard earned treasures to give back to help people in need and address complex social problems.  I sat in wrong spot missing out on the cake but there was no shortage of generosity and smarts in the room. From a young cancer survivor who turned her illness into action and an inspiring truck stop owner working to stop human trafficking, to leaders in the fight to end homeless – these are our neighbors doing extraordinary things.   I beamed with pride and shed some tears for our community - full of innovation, plush with volunteers and donors, and surrounded by voters willing to tax themselves to improve access to transit and pre-school.

Flash forward to this weekend. I sat in a Queen Anne Coffee Shop and watched a middle aged man pick and eat food from a dumpster.  I listened as a woman talked about being frightened by a homeless man who walked in attempting to get warm (seriously).  And I read the comments of the Seattle Times piece on expanding encampments for people experiencing homelessness. NEVER READ THE DAMN COMMENTS! Despite all the smart people, the generosity, and the collective assets, we live in a community that struggles (morally and practically) to tackle the very basics of putting food on the table and a roof over head.

How do we change that?  We know that charity alone will not solve hunger, homelessness, or poverty. Strong and well funded public policies that support jobs, housing, healthcare, and safety-net resources are needed. But how do we get there?

Do we need a more robust organized movement?

Will an organic movement succeed?

Does either have sufficient tools and resources?

Or, do we need both. Should philanthropy do more to spark social change by investing in advocacy and influence?  Can we harness our collective resources and assets in new ways – engaging more people and ultimately be more effective? This series in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the Value of Intentional Influence is giving me much to think about. Would love to hear your thoughts.

How to be an awesome and effective board member - in good times and bad.

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Last week I had the privilege of meeting the most engaged, dedicated, and effective nonprofit Board member I've seen in quite some time. Two immediate things came to mind...What keeps him motivated and why isn't he on one of my boards? I asked him and he bashfully responded "aren't all board members like this?"...I wish new friend, I wish.

I began serving on boards about 7 years ago after participating in the Seattle Works board governance training program, The Bridge.  The program prepared me for the basics of board service - reading financials, legal responsibilities, fundraising, and roles of board members. I highly recommend that any new or rusty board member find a similar program in their area. Do it!

With board training under my belt, I felt super prepared for the first few years of board service. I was an active member on multiple boards, chairing committees, and rolling up my sleeves as needed. And then it happened. I found myself in the role of board chair....twice. Like many post recession nonprofit boards, we faced tough decisions and complex leadership challenges. The playbook I'd used for the last few years wasn't enough. I read everything I could on board governance, tapped into my networks, and created lists, dashboards, and strategy screens for making decisions. I also surrounded myself with the best board members I could find and plenty of wine. But at times it wasn't enough.

I could write a book about everything I've seen and learned over the last few years... but I'll start with the things I wish I'd known. Starting with recruiting more board members like the guy I met last week.

How to be an awesome and effective board member - in good times and bad. 

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1. Never stop cultivating your board. Often the Board waits for staff to manage the recruitment process. It is in your best interest as a board member to surround yourself with a diverse group of smart, dedicated, and energetic people who have the time to dedicate to Board service.

2. Yes, you must dedicate time to board service and usually that means more than 1 meeting per month. The guy I met last week spent time educating himself about the sector, meeting with stakeholders, and developing partnerships.  Dreamy.

3. Learn to read the financials and actually understand them. Let's be honest. We all love the fantastic board treasurer who likes numbers. You need that person...but you too need to understand the balance sheet and the audit.  Really!

4. Ask tough questions....it's your job. It is easy to feel intimidated by staff or to feel like you are micromanaging (don't do that) but it is your responsibility to help guide the agency. If you have a question, someone else probably does as well. Be brave and don't procrastinate.

5.  Insist that Board meetings are an effective use time. If they aren't, talk to the board chair about how to improve them. While hearing about amazing client success stories warms your heart...you need to spend just as much time talking about the strategic direction of the agency.

6.  Annual evaluations of both the Executive Director and the Board are critical - but don't wait for the evaluation to bring up a concern. I suggest creating a results dashboard so that everyone knows what they are accountable for and what they will be evaluated on. Reviewing the dashboard each quarter will allow for course corrections.

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7. This may come as a shock but Executive Directors don't have all the answers. An ED has a big job and a ton of pressure. Your job as a board member is to help support the ED.  That means providing guidance, feedback, and direction. Celebrate wins and discuss challenges frequently. Provide resources for professional development and peer engagement. The best leaders want your support - it should be a red flag if they don't. 

8. Build relationships with the ED and staff. Seems like a no-brainer but it is so important. The board is often seen as a mysterious group of suits who make decisions behind closed doors. Staff should understand the role of the board and the board should understand staff culture and programs.

9.  Don't be afraid to say no. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions as a board member. It may be about the budget, a new program, or a grant opportunity. The board should have a strategy screen for making these decisions. I am a big fan of tools from La Piana consulting.

10.  Succession planning for both staff and board leadership is key to future success. Nobody will stay in their role forever and there should be a well crafted plan for who will take over when leaders move on.

Happy governing! 

 

 

Social Change - Evolution or Revolution

I fell in love with Seattle a decade ago but still hold many East Coast roots: I love the Yankees, I always choose Twizzlers over Red Vines, I occasionally wear pantyhose, and I loathe the Seattle Process (e.g. endless meetings, retreats, and convenings to form a work-group or task-force to develop a plan, to reach consensus, to solve a problem). The Seattle Process is prominent in our social impact work, especially when the government, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors come together to work on a common issue.  I am impatient when it comes to social impact and struggle with the balance of embracing the process culture and working to change it.   

I always relish the opportunity to learn from folks across the country who share a passion for making the world a better place but have unique talents, values, leadership philosophies, and yes, processes. In the fall of 2012, I attended the Independent Sector Conference in San Francisco and walked away empowered by my fellow under 40 leaders to innovate, make decisions, push through the process, and be a game changer.  I did just that.  As a result we moved the needle on many of our goals but we also had a lot of challenges and frustrations. I was constantly told, "Lauren, change is a revolution not an evolution". Evolution sounded like process to me. Can people who are homeless, hungry, or living in poverty wait for our data, donors, systems, processes, and practices to evolve?  Haven't we waited long enough? Would the private sector wait for an evolution? What are we waiting for? Should our sector adapt? What's the balance?

I headed to NY to find answers to those questions at the 2013 Independent Sector Conference. After a few days on inspiring dialogue with thought leaders, debating new ideas, and listening to experts I am fully convinced that Now is the Time for Change. Our government is shut down. We in the independent sector need to mobilize our resources, harness our collective knowledge and lead the change. We need to evolve now, stop being afraid of failure, take risks, and begin a revolution to help the most vulnerable.

I will walk away from NY committed to this revolution for social change and informed by the lessons that have been learned through the evolution of our sector: 

1. Our people are our greatest resource. We need to invest in talent now and have honest conversations about performance management. 

2. Innovation is not just about invention....we need to start implementing faster and doing so in innovative ways that maximize impact. 

3. Authentic partnerships are challenging and extremely rare. For collective impact models to work we need clear roles and shared vision. 

4. Advocacy, advocacy, advocacy.  Funders need to invest in this work. We need to engage our donors and corporate philanthropy partners in this work. We need to get smarter and more strategic about our approach to policy and advocacy. We cannot fix complex social problems without policy change. 

5. We need to listen and learn more often and more quickly.

6. We need to stop doing the things that aren't working.   

7. Values and ethics are critical to success.  

Looking forward to moving my team from evolution to revolution.