Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Nonprofit Knowledge Matters | A Fresh Look

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A fresh look at what’s new in capacity building
Design thinking and capacity building are on a hot date. 
When you pair what neuroscientists are learning about how the brain works, with what organizational development gurus say are key roles for nonprofit board members, what do you get? Better board training, and the potential for more effective nonprofit boards.  
Imagine being frustrated that the majority of nonprofit board members in a state are not receiving important information about even their most basic roles and responsibilities, placing their nonprofits at a disadvantage. Then think about the common barriers that prevent board members from accessing this vital information: how busy volunteers don’t have time to attend special board educational programs, and how small-budget organizations don’t have funds to pay for board training programs. Now imagine approaching this problem from a “human centered design perspective,” which recognizes that adults learn more easily from their peers in enjoyable settings – such as when playing games.
Statistical Vision
Enter Nancy Bacon, the Director of Learning at Washington Nonprofits, who approaches problem solving, and nonprofit organizational development, from a design thinking perspective. When creating an entirely new approach to nonprofit board education, Nancy brought together a design team consisting of an education expert, a content expert, and a communications expert, to create an entirely new approach to nonprofit board education: Boards in Gear. The result? Board “training” that motivates busy board members to learn about their roles and responsibilities in the three places people learn: on their own, with their peers, and in classrooms. Nancy’s blog describes how she developed this fresh approach to board training.
A fresh look at “digital data”
“Data” is just a fancy word for “information,” right? And “digital” is just a fancy word for information stored on, or communicated via computers. “Digital” is also a word that is being used increasingly instead of the expression “online,” as well as to describe the gap between those individuals who have access to the internet, and those who don’t (known as the “digital divide”). So, let’s take a fresh look at digital data, with a little help from our friends, shall we? 
First, Adam White, a senior at The Ohio State University and our current Glenn Fellow, offers a fresh look at why “data security” is not as scary as it sounds, while sharing tips contained in a new Idealware report, “What nonprofits need to know about security: A practical guide to managing risk.” 
Second, I recently had the pleasure of visiting with Lucy Bernholz, the author of Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016, to learn why nonprofits should take a fresh look at “digital data.” 
Leadership qualities needed for an unknown future – a fresh look
Perhaps you’ve heard someone use the acronym “VUCA” to describe the world today: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It takes a certain kind of leader to look into the future of such a rapidly-changing world: someone who has the ability to articulate a vision, bring understanding to uncertainty, and provide clarity from what is complex and ambiguous.
Hiring the right leaders and looking through a strategic lens become imperative in a VUCA world. Sheila Bravo, the CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, makes the case that nonprofit boards that collectively are watchful, agile, and intentional in shifting strategies will be in a strong position to help their organizations be sustainable despite an uncertain future. Sheila also shares insights about the all-important relationship between board chair and CEO. As Sheila sees it, for a nonprofit organization to survive and be sustainable, “It takes two to make things go right.” 
In Alaska, the state association of nonprofits, The Foraker Group, led by Laurie Wolf, urges nonprofits to prepare for an uncertain future: “...know who you are and where you are going. Make values-based decisions – this applies to every decision from programming, to staffing, to board composition, to budgeting.” Laurie’s recent blog post reminds us of the strong force that nonprofits can be – together – by using our voices and working together to solve problems, and by maintaining our values-based approach.
In Oklahoma, Marnie Taylor, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, reminds nonprofit leaders that, “as nonprofits, it is our duty to inform, educate, enlighten and empower through our missions.” Marnie leaned on her personal experience serving on boards of nonprofits while recommending in her recent column that nonprofits should make advocacy and education a part of the culture and values of the nonprofit. Especially when situations are complex and challenging, and the future is unknown (such as the current state budget crisis in Oklahoma), that’s when nonprofits should "encourage board members to utilize their own spheres of influence” and “work hard to engage all board members, staff, volunteers, and consumers in the advocacy process.”
These leaders collectively have shared some powerful tips about leading in a “VUCA” environment. For more tips, see the sidebar.
Northwestern U
Quote worthy
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
—Chinese Confucian philosopher Xunzi (312-230 BC)
Understanding the VUCA world(Presentation by Bob Johansen and David Small)
The Nonprofit Risk Management Center offers wise counsel and consulting assistance on all things risky – including insurance tailored for nonprofits.
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