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When I facilitate staff retreats or workshop on wellbeing in the workplace based on the Happy Healthy Nonprofit, we do some reflective exercises, including taking the nonprofit burnout assessment, identifying stress triggers and reactions before creating a self-care plan and addressing cultural norms..

As a group, I have participants take an online poll or do an exercise with sticky notes, answering the questions, “What are your workplace stress triggers?”   As the word cloud is created, we discuss the triggers and reactions.  I’ve done this exercise hundreds of time and the results across nonprofits are similar.  Workload and deadlines are big stress triggers.

A stress trigger is something or someone that causes you to have a stress reaction that may not be the best response to the situation and even creates more stress.   If your stress is being triggered repeatedly at work (or elsewhere) this can lead to burnout.  And sometimes, we are not even aware of the symptoms, let alone changing the situation.  Anne Grady, in an HBR blog post, describes the harm that repeated stress triggers can create in the workplace:

“When you are triggered, the emotional part of your brain takes over. You are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the same neurotransmitters and hormones that have evolutionarily protected us from threats like bear attacks (freeze, fight, or flight). Your logical brain temporarily shuts down, and you lose the ability to solve problems, make decisions, and think rationally.

When this happens, you have been emotionally hijacked, and it is difficult to see things as they really are. You go into protection mode, and until the perceived threat or trigger has dissipated, you will remain there. Over time these reactions can lead to acute anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, and other health problems from heart disease to lowered immune response.”

Deadlines are a fact of nonprofit work life.  There are grant deadlines, events dates, and campaign milestones — and many of Gantt Chart with deliverable dates for projects.  We will always have deadlines, but are they always do or die deadlines, fixed in stone, and unchangeable?

In a working paper titled, “It Doesn’t Hurt To Ask (for More Time): Employees Overestimate the Interpersonal Costs of Extension Requests,” by Jaewon Yoon, Grant Donnelly, and Ashley Whillans, discovered a simple tip for relieving deadline stress.    Ask for an extension.

The researchers discovered that many employees avoid asking for extensions because they thought they would be seen as incompetent.  But that concern is just an internal message we are playing to ourselves and it isn’t true.   Asking for an extension or how firm a deadline is when you don’t have enough time to complete the task due to competing priorities or other reasons is not a sign of lack of ability.   On the contrary, it may lead to reduced and improved performance.

Next time a deadline or a bunch of deadlines are stressing you out, why tell yourself that asking for more time will not result in being negatively judged , your organization will benefit with a better executed task, and you will be less stressed.

How do you deal with deadline stress?  How does your team or organization address it?

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Allison Fine, my co-author for the Networked Nonprofit, and I are actively researching the use of AI for Good, in particular to scale giving and spread generosity.  It was almost ten years ago that we published the Networked Nonprofit during the early days of social media and networks. Now, we entering a new digital era which includes emerging technologies like AI.

Artificial Intelligence presents a lot of benefits for the social good sector. But as my colleague, Steven MacLaughlin points out, “We should keep in mind that AI is a “how” and not a “why” or “what” — but that gets lost in a lot of the hype.” He is reminding of us of shiny object syndrome and to be skeptical of technology in search of solutions.

Lucy Bernholz in a post about Nonprofits and Artificial Intelligence also points out that we should not focus on the how nonprofits are using the tools, but there are also some very important ethical concerns. “The REAL issue is how large data sets (with all the legitimate questions raised about bias, consent and purpose) are being interrogated by proprietary algorithms (non-explainable, opaque, discriminatory) to feed decision making in the public and private sectors in ways that FUNDAMENTALLY shift how the people and communities served by nonprofits/philanthropy are being treated.”

Here’s some recent links that look at the why and what.  And, I’ve also included a few on the how.

  • What Is AI for Good? This is a good analysis of the evolution of Tech for Good, Cloud for Good, Data for Good, and the latest iteration: AI For Good. The author, Eirini Maliaraki,an interaction designer, argues for more precise definition of the emerging field “AI for Good,” with a focus on outcomes, not the technology.  The article includes list of proposed best practices for use of AI in development and other social good fields.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Snake Oil or Powerful Nonprofit Tool?  Allyson Kapin shares a blog post that showcases four different ways that nonprofits are using AI tools.

These include: 1) Field Work – Rainforest Connection is using machine learning to detect illegal logging in vulnerable forests. (Note for more examples of AI used in nonprofit field program work in a variety of applications, check out: Cohort 3 “All Things AI” newsletter and podcast. 2) Fundraising:  Charity: Water is using  Persado, an AI tool to better understand which content and images on Facebook would generate more recurring donors for its monthly program. (I shared a few more examples of AI-driven fundraising here) 3) Campaign Content:  Examples of nonprofits using  Quilt.AI, which takes every organization’s digital imprint and lets a nonprofit to better understand data patterns in large amount of data to predict changes in human behavior.  These insights are used to better customize messaging in different digital channels to improve results.  4) Story Mapping Personal Stories: Nonprofits have the potential to use AI to analyze personal stories of key stakeholders to better design pathways to using those programs.

  • Find The Human-Technology Balance To Champion Your Customers This article is written primarily for small business owners, but it speaks to a point that nonprofits should also consider. How do build good relationships with your stakeholders (customers) using these tools? The article discusses the power of “human technology” — taking advantage of the latest technological advances, while still prioritizing the unique things that only human interactions can deliver.
  • What the AI Products of Tomorrow Might Look Like This a wonderful piece from IDEO, a design thinking and innovation firm, that imagines how to best amplify uniquely human characteristics with AI or what they call “Hyper Human.” So many of these ideas could be applied to AI-enhanced fundraising strategies or tools.

How is your organization looking at the impact of new and emerging technologies on the people your serve, your programs, and fundraising?

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The Meeting Escape Hatch: Ritual Design Lab for Org Change - Vimeo

The Meeting Escape Hatch: Ritual Design Lab for Org Change from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

I’ve been interested in organizational rituals that build resilience.  Being in a meeting that is a waste of your time can suck your energy.  How many meetings are you invited to that you where it isn’t mission critical that you attend? What if you reclaim that wasted time?  What if every meeting in your organization was optional?

This is small, fun ritual for the start of meetings, especially if your organization has back-to-back meetings every day.    At the start of the meeting, give a brief overview of the agenda.  Next, offer a one-minute coffee  break telling participants that anyone who realizes that they don’t need to be in this meeting can leave and there will be  no judgment.

As everyone returns to actually start the work, after the first start, only the people who need to be there will be there.

This ritual was developed by the Stanford Ritual Design Lab . You can read more about the Ritual Design lab here.

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I have been working on an exciting project along with dream team of network thinkers and people who are excited about the idea of how collective action drives health in our communities. I want to share it with you. The network is called “WEB” which stands for The Well-Being and Equity Bridging (WEB) Network.  The network is in the early stages of formation and being faciltiated by the Leadership Learning Community, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The WEB Network are a group of people who recognize that we must work together to dismantle inequity in order to ensure we all experience full and healthy lives. And we believe that everyone deserves to live, learn, work, and play in places that support their overall well-being.

The network connects people who are working on multifaceted issues to develop solutions that optimize the chances people have to lead the healthiest lives possible.

The network is been spending the month compiling a list of Community Well-Being Warriors, anyone committed to fostering healthy living in their community, with the hope of amplifying their stories and fantastic work!

Whether we know it or not, many of us are already practicing community well-being. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, a nonprofit professional, a firefighter, a parent, a community organizer, a custodian, or even a good neighbor, you play an important role in supporting the health of your community!

Join our challenge and nominate someone in your community today!

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Credit: Festival del Fundraising

Yes, I walked onto the stage for the closing plenary at the Festival del Fundraising wearing an astronaut suit (that included a GivingTuesday sticker), to the theme of 2001 Space Odyssey, speaking Italian (poorly), with Marcelo Iniarra (creative concept was his idea) and shared some insights about the new ecosystem for fundraisers.

I am very grateful to Valerio Melandri who is the director of the festival for inviting me to participate as well as facilitate a maser class on modern wellbeing based on my book.   And, also Selene Nicodemo, who made a lot of logistical accommodations.  And, also to Marcele Iniarra for his creativity.

Now to recap some thoughts about what we presented and insights generated upon reflection.

The New Ecosystem

Marcelo explained how the ecosystem is evolving, pointing out big trends like the rise of Millennials and Gen-Z, highlighting one of the most inspiring social changemakers like Greta. He shared a lot of inspiring examples happening right now of how nonprofits have adapted and had big wins leveraging digital. He also touched on what skills and mindsets fundraisers need to adopt, including using Behavioral Economics as discussed in the book Change for Good.

One of the big questions and interactive components for the audience to ponder was an earlier iteration of Stephen George’s Fundraiser DNA.   Are these aspects of the DNA from 2003 still the same?

  • Fundraiser DNA
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Financial Skills
  • Passion

Digital Eras: The Next Frontiers – Modern Wellbeing and AI

This diagram is from Jeremiah Owyang, a greater thinker in Silicon Valley who looks at how digital eras impact business and society.   This roadmap illustrates six different digital areas, beginning with the rise of the Web/Internet. The second era – social media/mobile or what many fundraisers call digital fundraising and what I wrote about in my first book, Networked Nonprofit, published a decade ago.

Marcelo was sharing much of what is currently happening and especially inspiring examples of how to apply the new skills.  My talk was focused on the upcoming digital eras including AI and Modern Wellbeing.  We are still in the early stages here, so we only have a few inspiring examples of AI-Driven Fundraising. . There is a lot more on the program implementation side, especially with recent incentives like the Google AI for Social Good Challenge.

I keep coming back to a decade old quote from Clay Shirky, “When the technology becomes boring, it becomes socially interesting.”  We need to get to that point of more adoption. And that’s where I’ve spent the last 25 years of my nonprofit tech career, finding the technology interesting many years before we see it on the ground non profit adoption.

The Fifth Era: Automation – Robots, Bots, and Algorithms

I spoke about how the technology is evolving and future implications. It is very important as we approach this next technical era, that we don’t put on blinders. We need to look at how the technology is impacting our organizations and the people we serve. I also shared some current examples of what early adopters are doing both the fundraising niche and for program delivery.

AI-Driven fundraising key benefit is the ability to scale 1:1 engagement that now is primarily reserved for major donors. And, while automation has enabled early adopter fundraisers with the right database tools to pinpoint donor segments and customize communication, it is not the same thing as 1:1 engagement at scale. AI-Driven fundraising has the ability to scale customized donor interaction at scale. When you think about combination of AI-Driven fundraising and networks, the potential is mind blowing.

However, if only focused on the ROI benefit – you lose some of that potential because it lead to prospecting over keeping current donors engaged. We must embrace the concept of  ‘CoBoting” is not part of the strategy. (CoBoting is using AI to free up human time from manual and tedious process and focus on the truly human abilities like donor engagement, creativity, etc).

Like any technology, there is both the benefits and the dark side. And, because evil Robots have been part of our popular culture many years, it may be easy to imagine some of the scary scenarios (which in same cases are happening today and seem to lifted right out of science fiction).

More importantly, some of the “evil,” while less dramatic is already here. This includes “algorithmic discrimination” Another issue is that real people need to be involved in the design of the AI technologies, not just the techies.

Fundraisers are looking at how to use the AI-Driven fundraising tools (early adopters at least) to improve ROI. And, while that is a benefit, there is a bigger picture or ecosystem view that is required. Lucy Bernholz has made this point.

The real question for nonprofits and foundations is not HOW will they use AI, but how is AI being used within the ecosystem within which they work and how must they respond.

How do we get to the big picture, bird’s eye view of this in an inspiring way? From IDEO, it is a moment for design thinking and innovation. “A moment for us to imagine the kind of future we want to see. What might it feel like?” This is hard for nonprofits to do who are focused on how can they raise more money with a new shiny object.

I just loved this article that imagines how AI can build capacity for skills like human empathy, creativity, self-awareness, and cross cultural communication. Wouldn’t this make a fundraiser more successful (in addition to that automated database?)

Lots to think about here. I am grateful to have thinking time with Allison Fine, supported by the Gates Foundation, to research and write about how AI can scale generosity. So, stayed tuned.

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Network For Good hosted a virtual conference today called “Fundraise Like Netflix: Engaging Donors in a Subscription-Driven World,” that included several hours of online presentations about strategy and tools for getting repeat donors.  What caught my interest was Adam Ruff’s session called “From Manual To AI: The Past, Present and Future of Marketing Automation,” as Allison Fine and I are actively researching the use of AI to scale generosity.

His informative presentation covered the continuum of automated campaigns  from “Trigger Campaigns”  to “Marketing Automation” to “AI-Driven Campaigns.”  A trigger campaign uses  pre-designed emails that you want to send whenever the contact does some activity and these campaigns will keep on running continuously sending emails to new contacts that satisfy the criteria.   Marketing automation allows you identify more precise and smaller target groups to interact with and “AI-Driven Fundraising” allows you craft customized engagement or 1:1 engagement at scale.

He started with a reminder that good fundraising practices – those that focus on the donor experience, build relationships, and craft engagement based on the donor’s point of view are timeless.   This quote from United Way’s Brian Gallagher sums it up: “Marketing automation isn’t rocket science.  It’s the 21st century version I what I did years ago.  Send a paper survey to people asking what they care about, engage with them, share information they are interested in, and ask them to give.” 

Adam traced the history of how fundraising practices, from face-to-face, direct mail, telemarketing, digital, mobile, and AI.  The challenge is that digital and mobile fundraising gives us 24/7 ability to fundraise and potential to scale it, but it is difficult also scale that 1:1 face-to-face engagement or personalization.   AI offers the promise to do this, that is if fundraisers adopt certain principles, skillsets, and tools.

These include:

  • Focus on Donor Empathy:  Understanding the donors point of view and shaping engagement based on that knowledge.    It is about creating an experience for the donor, not so much an ask based on what the staff or organization needs.    Nonprofits are selling donors joy and passion through the experience of their donation.
  • Understand Donor Behavior:  Sometimes called the “Donor Journey” but understanding the path they take and how they engage, what triggers the gift, and more importantly how to keep them engaged and to stay around and keep committed.
  • Test, Iterate, Learn:   Successful AI-Driven fundraising requires skills to test, iterate, and learn – all based on data.  The learning is all about how to make your fundraising campaigns more effective and efficient.   It requires having the right data and acting on it.
  • Use Automation/AI  to Free Up Human Time:   AI is used to do repetitive tasks or analyze huge swaths of data that humans could not do.  This allows staff to reallocate their time the creative thinking skills that can make fundraising campaigns more effective.   This concept is called “Coboting
  • The Right AI Tools: CRM with machine learning capabilities will be essential – but as you grow your campaigns your ability to analyze will be surpassed.  Adam said that nonprofits are in the early stage of using these types systems such as IBM Watson, Salesforce Einstein, and Adobe Sensei. 

Adam suggested that nonprofits can start to use AI-driven tools to improve specific areas of their fundraising campaigns. For example, Persado can help analyze subject lines and content in emails to increase conversion, even generating suggestions for subject-lines to test. He also mentioned Quilt.Ai another tool that can uses AI to analyze your donor communication and suggests improvements, even automatically writing a first draft.   Adam also warned that the tools alone won’t work if an organizations is not uses some of the above mentioned best practices.

How is your nonprofit incorporating the use of AI in its fundraising campaigns?

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Blockchain for Impact: Blockchain Revolution Global Event Wrap-Up – Guest Post 
By Amy Neumann

Note from Beth:   Amy Neumann recently attended the Blockchain for Impact gathering in Toronto last month with 1200 attendees from dozens of countries.  The event was hosted by the Blockchain Research Institute.   Here is her report.  (For background on blockchain and why it matters for nonprofits and NGOs, this Thrive Global article, Blockchain Positive Impact: Social Enterprise and Nonprofits, provides use cases and a brief technology overview.)

The beautiful, artistic streets of downtown Toronto, Canada.

Toronto has been at the forefront of the blockchain effort, with the Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) (@blockchainRI) founded there in 2017. And Toronto celebrated their first official Blockchain Week April 22-28. The founders of BRI, Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott, are also the authors of the breakout book, “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World.”

So, Toronto made sense for the inaugural Blockchain Revolution Global (#BRG2019) conference, with more than 150 speakers holding over 60 sessions focusing on ten pillars of possibility in the blockchain space:

  • Blockchain for Good
  • 4th Industrial Revolution
  • Asset Chains
  • Financial Services
  • Healthcare
  • C-Suite
  • Government & Regulation
  • Security & Identity
  • Technology & Platforms
  • The Innovation Economy

And from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Bernie Moreno even walked away with the Enterprise Blockchain Awards’ Community & Ecosystem Leadership award for the groundbreaking Blockland project (which brought together over 1000 Cleveland community members to help leverage the possibilities of blockchain for community development, digital inclusion, philanthropy, and more).

So many incredible ideas and initiatives are being shared at #BRG2019! https://t.co/L6NbPhAuXR

— BlockchainRevGlobal (@rev_global) April 25, 2019

The event’s technical host, MCI Canada, used a unique setup that facilitated being able to hear many more speakers, tracks, and sessions in two days than a traditional conference could allow. Using headsets for breakout sessions, a 360-degree hexagonal stage setup meant that keynotes could be viewed and heard by all from any side as speakers shifted, and then the stage was set for 5 concurrent speakers or panels on each side of the center.

The unique, hexagonal 360-degree stage allowed 5 concurrent sessions, and you could tune in to any of them using a headset.

Some of the highlights that spoke to the value of blockchain technology in the social impact space:

Alishba Imran, talking about how she – at age 15 – has created a solution to help prevent counterfeit medications in the supply chain (a huge problem in developing countries), as well as a way for people to have access to their own medical data in impoverished countries so that they can share it with medical providers when needed.

After a successful kickoff and two-day run, the Blockchain Revolution Global conference is coming to an end. We would like to thank Alishba Imran, winner of the Young Leader in Blockchain Award at the Enterprise Blockchain Awards, for closing #BRG2019 on a high note! pic.twitter.com/840Qdb5svo

— BlockchainRevGlobal (@rev_global) April 25, 2019

CEO of Everledger, Leanne Kemp, on how a “platform of provenance” using blockchain technology can track diamonds from mining to purchase, removing cartels and other unsavory characters from the supply chain, therefore removing conflict or “blood diamonds” from circulation. The Everledger process is also being used for things like recovering rare earth minerals (cobalt, lithium) from batteries, in the sustainability space.

Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp talks about how blockchain has been able to remove and prevent conflict diamonds from being in the global supply chain.

Bettina Warburg of Animal Ventures sharing how Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain can combine to build a set of rules for machines to trade directly… “robots with wallets.” A distributed, transparent, autonomous system for exchanging value with no central authority, blockchain can also help facilitate direct trading among people who previously were unbankable. (Her fabulous blockchain explainer video is below.)

Co-Founder of @animalventures and @blockchainri researcher @BWarburg will share her insights on blockchain, AI, and radical new methods of value exchange at #BRG2019. Watch her explain blockchain in five different difficulty levels here: https://t.co/aE7ASGpi8H

— BlockchainRevGlobal (@rev_global) February 25, 2019

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Grammy Award winner Imogen Heap speaking about how Mycelia is helping track artists’ rights so that the bulk of financial proceeds get distributed to the artists (and their teams of support) directly, and then performing using her magical Mi.Mu sound gloves (so very cool).

Singer-songwriter Imogen Heap performs with her Mi.Mu “magic” sound gloves at the EB Awards.

There were countless examples of wins in the social good space, and here just are a few more:

  • 70% of land rights globally are currently unenforceable; putting property records on an unalterable blockchain provides documentation that cannot be burned, lost, or seized
  • Clean energy can be both produced and consumed by everyday people directly to and from each other, making them prosumers, and creating more streamlined and efficient clean energy
  • 1.2 Billion people globally do not have an identity; blockchain allows an immutable record of one’s identity to be kept, which is critical for refugees and others without proof they exist

This was a fascinating conference, and the possibilities for positive social impact using blockchain and AI in the nonprofit/NGO and social enterprise space are already real, and growing. For additional use cases of blockchain for social good, the Stanford Graduate School of Business Center for Social Innovation created an in-depth report, “Blockchain for Social Impact: Moving Beyond the Hype,” that can be downloaded here.

Amy Neumann is a social good fanatic who has been working professionally to help create positive change since 1994. She is the CEO and principal of the social enterprise consultancy, Good Plus Tech, with a focus on leveraging emerging technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence.  Amy’s 2018 Simon & Schuster book, “Simple Acts to Change the World: 500 Ways to Make a Difference,” is a tribute the many great ideas she’s discovered on the topics of social good, social justice, and volunteering during over two decades in the space.

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Last week I presented a session at the  Nonprofit Technology Conference called “Activating A Culture of Resilience for Sustainable Impact,” with fellow NTEN board members, Ananda Leeke & Meico Whitlock as well as Carrie Rice.

We each tackled a different aspect of resilience.  I presented and facilitated a small group activity on  rituals.

The Power of Workplace Rituals To Nurture Resilience

Rituals are intentional small, tangible acts done routinely and carry meaning. Rituals have been performed for centuries and are an important part of human history – from religious ceremonies to common rituals like saying hello or shaking hands. Rituals are also used by professionals to boost personal productivity because rituals capitalize on our brains’ ability to direct our behavior on autopilot, allowing us to reach our goals even when we are distracted or preoccupied with other things.

Workplaces are tapping into the power of ritual to create a sense of community, build relationships in the workplace and reduce stress. And if that wasn’t enough, rituals can also encourage innovation by reducing the fear of failure.

If you think about it, our nonprofit organizations already have rituals — from the boring everyday activities like coffee breaks to larger events such as annual meetings and holiday parties. Now that we know what the research says about the benefits of rituals, nonprofit leaders should view the creation and fostering of rituals as essential, whether for the entire organization, your department, or team.

Here are some examples:

Rituals to Celebrate Success

  • Completion of Fundraising Campaigns or Big Project: Did your organization just complete a successful fundraising campaign or maybe you just launched a new web presence or database. Celebrate that milestone with anything festive that fits your organization’s values, is inclusive, and everyone finds enjoyable.  This could be a pizza or taco party or giving comp time.
  • Employee of the Week or Month: Did someone on your team or in your organization make an extraordinary contribution to your organization’s programs and went above and beyond to make it a success?  Having a formal and consistent way to recognize staff who work hard can motivate others. One organization has a silly banana statue that they give to the “Top Banana” for the month. Others have created a “whiteboard of love” with written praise or staff accomplishments, provided reserved parking space, or take time to praise staff at monthly meetings.  Of course, a raise or bonus is nice, but it is the public acknowledge that helps builds community.

Rituals to Promote Growth and Learning

  • Weave reflection Into Meetings: Incorporate formalized reflection activities such as “After Action Reviews” for large projects and campaigns.  This can be done in less than hour and can reap many benefits. Another way to practice reflection is to incorporate a five minute reflection at the end of every meeting to reflect on meeting norms.
  • Removing the Stigma of Mistakes and Failure: I’ve written extensively on how nonprofits can remove the stigma of making mistakes or failed projects.  Some of my favorites include having staff wear something silly like a pink boa when they do an after action review of project that didn’t work or doing failure bows.
  • Lunch and Learns and Field Trips: Inviting outside experts to lunch at your office to learn about their work can make professional development an experience that also builds community.  Another way to promote learning is to organization a field trip to visit your organization’s programs in the field or another organization to learn from their work.

Rituals to Build Relationships

  • Recognize Birthdays and Work Anniversaries: Look for a fun way to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries. Give them a cake or have everyone sign a birthday card with a small gift.  You can decorate their office door, give them a birthday hat, or sing happy birthday. One nonprofits gives the employee a comp day off on their birthday or work anniversary. Some workplaces also celebrate the birth of children and weddings.  And, upon the death of a loved one, find an appropriate way to express sympathy in the workplace. All this can help humanize your workplace.

  • Schedule regular staff social events: Plan regular times to get together to talk about the team or just to socialize. This could be over a meal, or might involve doing a fun activity together outside of work, such as a hike.  One of my favorite nonprofit examples is “Crock-Mondays” where the nonprofit staff sign up to cook a meal for everyone in the organization’s crock pot.  Name this event something fun such as, Taco Tuesdays or Pizza Fridays. Researchers led by Kevin Kniffin, of Cornell University, discovered that communal meals can help with team building and more effective work together.  Some might view preparing and eating food together or what is called “commensality,” as not meriting  management interest. But Kniffin and his colleagues point out that eating is such a primal behavior that it can be an extraordinarily meaningful ritual if done together.
  • Give A Unique Welcome To New Employees: Tech companies in Silicon Valley have made onboarding an artform, for example at Google new employees are called Nooglers and given a prop beanie to wear.  Your nonprofit doesn’t need to invest in new hats for new staff, but simple activities like assigning a buddy, decorating their workspace, or special welcome events can make new employees feel welcomed on their first day (or week.)

Rituals To Build Mindfulness

  • Quiet Time: Noisy and busy offices can be stressful due to interruptions that can keep people from getting work done.  Some nonprofits declare organization or department wide quiet time for planning. One example is “Stop Days”  where there are no meetings and people plan for the next month.  Other nonprofits have established norms and cues to minimize interruptions, especially in an open office.
  • Time off: Some nonprofits give employees time off, whether it is leaving early on Fridays during the summer or closing office during the holidays.  For example, World Wildlife Fund wants its employees to feel inspired to save the planet’s natural resources, so, every other week, it gives the staff a day off. Known as “Panda Fridays,” this bi-weekly break gives employees the opportunity to spend more time with their families or pursue outside interests.
  • Workplace Flexibility: Whether you have remote staff who work from home or staff that reports to same physical office everyday, flex time can help staff with work/life balance while still maintaining optimum productivity.  Having a workplace flexibility policy can facilitate it.

Rituals to Build  Creativity, Gratitude, and Joy

  • Play Time: Playworks, a national nonprofit that supports learning by providing safe play at schools, has a daily ritual of staff “recess”  which is a meaningful way for employees to collectively exemplify the values of the organization. They give 15 minutes at 3 pm which helps keep staff morale high and helps employees feel connected to the mission. Kiva, the microfinance organization, gives a monthly 30-minute recess to enjoy unstructured “play time” at the office.
  • Gratitude Rituals in the Workplace: There is a whole field of scientific research about the power of gratitude practice for not only individuals, but also in the workplace.  There are also lots of ideas for different rituals that your nonprofit can establish.

Designing and Implementing Workplace Rituals

It is also important to think about what will make a ritual stick. Why will people want to participate? Can it start organically and catch on, or will people look to certain leaders to model it first? Designing a ritual that will sustain over time requires tuning in to the organization’s existing culture, beliefs, and behaviors. One important step is to get feedback and ideas from staff that helps create that important buy-in. Here’s a more detailed description of a process.

There are many examples of workplace rituals that your nonprofit can initiate. A well designed ritual will reinforce mindsets and behaviors in a way that feels authentic to the nonprofit’s mission and people. What works at one nonprofit, might feel awkward at another nonprofit.   

To get started, look at your organization’s mission. Then, ask yourself and others how that can be played out in a day-to-day realistic way. Nonprofit staff because they have a passion for what they do. So, find simple ways for employees to demonstrate their passion in the workplace and tying it to the work week.

Does your nonprofit have workplace rituals that help build your resilience?  Share in the comments below.

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Photo by Equal Rights Advocates

Before I get to the topic of using posters to make your workshops or meeting more interactive (and fun), I want to wish you a Happy International Women’s Day!  The photo above is from a mini-workshop I did as part of Wake International’s “Tech2EmpowerUSA.” at Twitter Headquarters this week.  The program is specially design to leverage the power of technology in supporting women’s rights and social justice leaders and organizations to advance their work and impact.

The workshop was part of the three-day program where participants were learning both strategy and how to use tools from women who work in the tech industry here in San Francisco. The participants represent a diverse cohort of 41 women’s rights and social justice leaders from 18 organizations from 11 states across the country. These amazing activists work every day on the front lines of communities across the U.S., tackling critical issues that are shaping the present and future of our country and our rights.

I designed a 90-minute workshop focused on “Human-Centered Social Media Strategy” which teaches how to apply a simple design-thinking technique, creating personas, as the basis of your digital strategy.  The important thing is to start with having empathy for your target audience – understand their feelings, see what they see, appreciate them as humans, and communicate this understanding.

In 90 minutes, we did two exercises that helped participants identify their target audience and then build out a persona, a fictionalized character that described motivations, barriers and identifies the right content and channels to use.

To make the workshop interactive, I spent a brief amount of time presenting the what, why, how, and examples of target audiences.  Then it was time for a simple exercise.   Write a target audience definition.  However, participants had to do this with people shaped sticky notes and a speech bubble.  This was much more fun than writing it down on a worksheet!

The participants were at mixed levels of skills and experience and organizations ranged from community/grassroots organizations to larger institutions.  To add to the complexity, some participants came from the same organization and others were the sole representative.  The commonality was that everyone was working on Women’s Rights and Social Justice, although from different local contexts and different types of programs.

One might think, oh no, this is impossible.  But learning from adjacent practices can also be quite rich.  So, I had participants do a share pair with another person or team and discuss their target audiences.   We did a brief share out where I asked people to snap if the target audience that was shared had some similarity or common characteristics to their target audience.  There was a lot of snapping.

The next exercise was a small group exercise that modeled the first step a small nonprofit might do to build an audience persona.  Get together staff for half hour or 60 minutes, and do a “brain dump” of everything they know about their audience.

The next facilitation challenge was to break them into small groups to work on the personas using  a poster-sized version of the persona worksheet.  If you know me, sticky notes and marker were also involved.

Breaking a large group into small groups for an exercise is also instructional design challenge.  There are many ways to do it.  I needed to get the 45 participants into ten small groups, each with station that included a poster, markers, and sticky notes.

We had to determine what target audience each small group would use for a persona and then have participants be assigned to a small group.  I asked for volunteers who wanted to work on their target audience. If they raised their hand, they described their target audience to the whole group.  I gave them a number and they went to a corresponding poster station.   Once everyone stepped forward, those still seated self-selected what group they wanted to join.

The small groups worked on fleshing out the information on the persona – adding sticky notes, making changes to the persona illustration.  I also gave them a summary of recent research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute about giving motivations for women’s and girl’s causes.  As, incorporating secondary research is part of the process.

While we didn’t have time for everyone to do a report out, several groups volunteered to share a brief report.  (They were reward with a copy of my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, or  Kathleen Loehr’s Gender Matters: Growing Women’s Philanthropy.    I ended with providing them more resources  and worksheets for human centered strategy.

I couldn’t have done an interactive workshop without spending a bit time planning it. I create lesson plans for every workshop where I ponder the instructional goals, what I know about the audience, the mechanics of the interactivity, the room layout, AV, and supplies.   I had not been in the room before, although I did see photos.  And, I only had 15 minutes to set it up.  So, this required a bit of pre-planning.

Even if you have a short amount of time to teach (and set up), you can make your trainings (and meetings) interactive.  This helps with increasing attention spans and retention as well as make the session more fun.

How do you make your trainings or meeting more fun that can lead to more learning?

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Note from Beth: In my own work on activating a culture of wellbeing, employee engagement is a key component to success. My colleagues, Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, have just published a new book, “The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (For Millennials, Boomers, and Everyone Else) which provides a wealth of practical information and strategies.

The Surprising Secret to Improving Employee Engagement – Guest Post by Maddie Grant & Jamie Notter

For nearly two decades, the Gallup corporation has been measuring employee engagement, and the numbers have been pretty pathetic. Back in 2000, only 30% of employees were considered “highly engaged,” and eighteen years later, after spending literally billions of dollars on engagement surveys, we only managed to increase that number to 34%. Two-thirds of our workforce is less than fully engaged, and at the rate we’re going, we’ll need more than 300 years to reach 100% engagement.

So, why are we spinning our wheels? That was the question Maddie Grant and I attempted to answer in our latest book, The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (For Millennials, Boomers, and Everyone Else). Based on our research and experience with clients, we came to the realization that the reason we’re not making progress is that we have been trying to solve the WRONG problem all this time. We have been assuming that engagement is rooted in happiness and job satisfaction, thus our surveys and action plans focus on improving happiness, and we hope engagement will follow. The truth is engagement and happiness are two different things, and (perhaps more importantly)—they aren’t even that related.

The key insight that we’ve been missing is that engagement if fundamentally a function of success, not happiness. When you create an environment where everyone can be successful—and that includes personal success, success within their job role, and contributing to the success of the enterprise—then you will have very high employee engagement. Note that this goes way beyond simply having an inspirational mission that your employees believe in. Success, as we’re defining it, is much deeper than that.

And when you start interfering with employee success, you will also start to lose engagement. For example, if your employees can’t get the resources they need to be successful, or key people in other departments are simply horrible at collaborating, or red tape gets in the way of serving the stakeholders, then your people will feel like they are spinning their wheels and engagement will drop.

And while those engagement surveys mean well, they end up being distracting us with data on people’s likes and dislikes, rather than identifying the underlying patterns that are generating the dissatisfaction in the first place—patterns that lie deep inside your workplace culture. Those culture patterns are the missing link here, and until you can find and fix the culture patterns that are interfering with success, engagement will not improve.

The good news is, those culture patterns are fixable. We worked with a nonprofit that was so focused on including everyone, they didn’t realize that having everyone at every meeting meant they had become very slow. Their stakeholders noticed—complaining that they used to be kept ahead of the curve by the nonprofit, but were now falling behind. To fix that, they became much more rigorous about their decision making processes, which meant excluding some people from some meetings, and as a result they picked their speed back up. In other words, they started to be more successful, and as their success grew, so did their employee engagement (and retention).

The sooner you abandon your attempts to make your people happy and focus instead on making them successful, the sooner you’ll be able to start unlocking the potential of a fully engaged workforce.

Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter are the Co-Authors of “The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (For Millennials, Boomers, and Everyone Else).

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