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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Veldon Law: Learning Organizations Always Changing

Chameleon Organizations: Always Learning, Always Changing

As a youngster, and much to my good mother’s horror, I used to love to catch chameleons. As a rural Idaho boy the chance to catch these fast, color changing lizards was an exciting annual challenge while we spent six weeks in southern Florida.

The annual jaunt to Florida was much anticipated for any number of reasons as my father prepared for the approaching baseball season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not the least of these reasons was outdoor boyish adventures involving a variety of reptiles, particularly the chameleons. Elusive because of their speed and hard to detect because of their ability to change their color I learned at a young age that change and speed generally equaled “survival.”

Years later I listened carefully to two members of my staff as they reported recent accomplishments. “We’ve added a new program, changed vendors, merged two departments, changed our internal reporting, and developed a new marketing approach.” Then the teaching and learning opportunity, “We’ll be glad when things get back to normal.” It was my privilege to help them realize their change efforts were not just short gusts of change. For survival and for them and the organization to thrive their conditions of change must be normal, everyday occurrences woven into the fabric of the organization’s culture. Sad and numbered are the days of those unable or unwilling to embrace continuous change; to change their colors so to speak.

Leadership “authorities” have dubbed quick response and adaptable organizations “learning organizations.” They are organizations which possess unique characteristics, characteristics which as a leader I have been able to instill in the organizations where I have held senior leadership responsibilities as a COO or CEO. I’ve personally learned, taught others, and led organizations to grasp the following concepts.

Learning Organizations Allow Debate
Employees are free to disagree and are expected to work out solutions among themselves. Leadership and management give fewer directives while they are viewed as supportive of the work being performed to achieve the organization’s mission and vision. Internal respectful disputes over the way to accomplish established performance objectives are fine. They do not interfere with – indeed, they can enhance – individual and organizational performance.

Learning Organizations Encourage Continuous Experimentation
We don’t have time to figure out the ideal way to respond to our customer demands,” a manager in a learning organization once explained. “We simply try something and, if it doesn’t work, we try something else.” In my personal experience I’ve learned that there is wisdom in making these determinations more calculated, more strategic. Regardless, the focus on continuous market driven improvement is a fixture within the organizations. Emphasis is on actions; try it, and fix it.

Temporary Not Permanent
Nothing is forever, in learning organizations; employees understand that seemingly long-term policies are temporary and subject to review. A new policy, program, or procedure – or even products and services – may be in place for only a short time.

Contradictions Are OK
In learning organizations, it is not necessary for all practices across all areas to be in synch and that just like situational leadership, there is value in practices fitting the circumstances. Accordingly, within the organizations where I have provided leadership I knowingly adopted short and long-term plans that conflicted. I held inherently contradictory expectations, such as high quality vs. low cost, quick response vs. no mistake, thorough discussion vs. quick decisions, seasoned judgment vs. inexperienced people.

Overarching Management Principle
One overarching management principle to which I have held tightly in developing learning organizations is that leadership is open to input from many sources, and we continuously adjust to better serve those I term, “stakeholders.” Further, the organizations’ cultures have been altered to embrace this basic truth that the organization welcomes continuous improvement, and that continuous improvement requires a commitment to individual and organizational learning. Additionally, there is organizational knowledge that in the absence of learning and adaptation to the environment, like the color changing of the chameleon, we simply repeat old practices which means we likely don’t thrive nor survive.

Definition of a Learning Organization
With numerous definitions proffered I have found personal identity in David Garvin’s explanation. Garvin says a learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Five Main Activities
In successfully implementing this definition I have led the implementation of policies, processes, and programs that encourage the following five main activities. These activities are found in any organization that has adopted the theoretical underpinnings of becoming a learning organization:

1) Systematic problem solving;

2) Experimentation with new approaches;

3) Learning from individual and organizational experience and past history;

4) Learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and

5) Transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization.

Veldon Law: Beyond the Fund Balance

Questions to Ask Your Chief Financial Officer

Many in key positions of organizational leadership find themselves in roles requiring an understanding of financial matters beyond the specifics of their education and experience. While there are leaders that have risen to their role through the ranks of the “accounting department,” it would seem that many have had little more than:

1) basic accounting,

2) responsibility for departmental budget development,

3) keeping spending within a set limit, and/or

4) generating income to meet a particular goal.

Obviously, organizational leadership requires some understanding of financial matters but leaders are generally appointed for skills beyond just fiscal acumen. So for the many of us in leadership roles who lack a professional background in accounting there are strategic questions that leaders can use to stay abreast of the financial health of the organization as well as ask to guide planning. These are questions for the organization’s chief financial officer which will keep you as the organization’s leader informed while you meet your fiduciary responsibility.

Key Questions

The following are questions whose answers have a tremendous impact on organizational policy and planning. They are questions designed to peel away the top layers of financial information in an attempt to arrive at substantive detail without micro-managing the CFO. They are questions whose answers do not require a CPA for understanding, and they are questions to which every CEO should have answers.

1) What are the organization’s various sources of revenue?

2) How reliant on vulnerable streams of revenue have we become?

3) If there are auxiliary enterprises, are they self-sufficient, and have we transferred or hidden some of the costs of operation into other funds?

4) Do any trends in major categories or revenues and expenditures cause you concern?

5) What if any concerns do you have with cash flow?

6) Would you describe the nature and amounts of our accounts receivable, and discuss our likelihood of collecting outstanding amounts?

7) Should any outstanding long-term debt be refinanced to save money, improve our ability to pay, or to remove troublesome debt covenants?

8) Would you describe the composition and nature of the organization’s outstanding accounts payable and accrued liabilities?

9) Over time, have there been any major change in assets, liabilities, or required transfers that cause you concern?

10) Would you please outline the type and amount of each of the organization’s investments?

11) What fiscal obligations does the organization have related to leases, operating agreements, monthly capital payments?

12) What is the age of our information technology, and do we have a planned replacement or improvement schedule?

13) Has the failure rate on any of our buildings’ major components or equipment been increasing, and do we have a plan for rehabilitation or replacement?

14) In dollars would you describe the intermediate term impact of any labor agreements with various employee groups relative to compensation and benefits?

15) Do we have any new reporting requirements and will those requirements affect reports we are accustom to receiving?

16) Would you describe how decisions are made about resource allocation?

17) Does the expenditure of resources track with the organization’s plans and the priorities as articulated by the Board and leadership?

18) Against whom do we benchmark our financial performance?

19) What have we learned about our financial performance in comparison to those against whom we benchmark?

20) Is there any other financial information you believe might assist us as policy makers?

Each question lends itself to broad implications. Without addressing each potential implication, the implications range from determining price sensitivity, avoiding embarrassments over lack of timely payments to venders and employees, providing a tool for discovering efficiency of payment systems, to long-term liability, etc.

Armed with these questions and following a thorough discussion of them and the implications for the organization with the CFO an organizational leader will be well prepared to address strategic planning and organizational leadership, their major responsibility.

Veldon Law: Into The World Of Online Giving

Remember the fun of hide and seek…ready or not here I come? Well, like the game, online charitable giving is coming…"ready or not."

Ready for some astounding figures? Fidelity Charity Gift Fund and United Way raised $314 million and $257.4 million respectively in 2007 through their online efforts. While online giving rarely has climbed above five percent of all gifts received, it is something many non-profit organizations are pursuing with vigor. In 2007, eight charities raised $25 million or more online. Ted Hart (CEO of Hart Philanthropic Services) has tracked online giving since 2001. He reports that on-line giving reached $10.44 billion in 2007, a 52 percent increase over the previous year. Compared to all giving in that year, $10.44 billion is small potatoes, but the continued and expected giving growth, through this medium, is a trend that deserves watching.

As further evidence of the need to follow this trend:

The University of Indiana Foundation projected it would raise $900,000 via its online efforts. This was a whopping 150 percent increase over the $356,079 they raised online in 2007.

The Wise Giving Alliance found that their survey’s youngest respondents, those between 18 and 29, are the most open to the idea of giving online. This bodes well for having online giving as an option.

The ePhilanthropy Foundation found the average age of donors who currently give online is between 35 and 40. This bodes well as an existing target market as foundations woo and cultivate this particular generation’s support.

The future of online giving suggests the need to plan for the time when those between the ages of 18 and 29, that have grown up with computer and web access most of their lives, begin to dominate the giving landscape. While this eventuality is at least 20 to 25 years away, wise foundations should now be planning how to best court this market, and in the meantime, begin to garner resources from other tech savvy donors.

Through online fundraising leaders of non-profit organizations have a new venue for reaching out to potential support.

Tips for Online Fundraising

Joanne Fritz, nonprofit columnist on offers these 10 tips for online fundraising:
1. Get legal with your online fundraising.
2. Market your online fundraising program.
3. Explore all of your options for online fundraising.
4. Make sure your website invites online donations.
5. Observe proper online etiquette in your online fundraising.
6. Provide lots of ways for people to donate—not just online.
7. Make sure that your website donation button is big and above the fold.
8. Provide the opportunity for non-monetary contributions, such as volunteer time.
9. Show real donors and specify how donations will help.
10. Try segmenting your online fundraising audience.

Read Joanne Fritz’s full article, “Online Fundraising: A Start-up Guide.”

Veldon Law: Giving in Challenging Times

Though there has been an increase in the “Dow,” there are many that continue to portray economic doom and gloom. With the needs of non-profits as great as or even greater than ever before due to the economic and employment crisis, what is the board and leadership to think and do when they receive requests for philanthropic support?

Many in leadership are rightfully torn between recognizing and giving to the need, the internal difficulty of just having laid-off staff, having fewer dollars for operations and thus having less, if anything to give. These are real dilemmas and give leadership pause as to whether or not to move forward with giving during a time when they have concerns about the current and future economic climate and for some, survival.

Research on giving provides some interesting perspectives and hope to requesting organizations, if the current situation mirrors the past. Two separate studies by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University have recently been conducted: 1) giving during and following a crisis; and 2) giving during economic recessions. These studies provide information on the percentage of change in the stock market and on philanthropy in the United States. Findings include the following:

  • With 4 exceptions, there was a conspicuous drop in the stock market within 30 days after a crisis.
  • With 3 exceptions, the market recovered (within 1% or more) within 1 year.
  • Despite crises, giving in each of the past 54 years has increased every year except 1.
  • Each year, Americans have given more than the year before.
  • Rates of market growth have varied.
  • With 3 exceptions, giving in the calendar year after the crisis grew at a faster rate than it had during the calendar year before the event.
  • Despite crises over the last 40 years, giving has grown at an average annual rate of 8.4% in current dollars.
  • During past recessions, giving has grown at a rate of 6.2% in current dollars.
Below are other thoughts, research, and sources of information on giving during times of economic turmoil.

Article by Ray Clements, CG’s CEO and Managing Member, on economic crises, community colleges, and donor reactions.

Article by the Sharpe Group on giving during the great depression, fundraising in the current environment, and giving during economic downturns.

Article by Effective Philanthropy indicating that in a time of economic crisis and political change, isolation is not an option.

A variety of studies on The Foundation Center’s website on foundation giving in times of economic stress.

Article by the Association of Fundraising Professionals on facing the economy with a sharp focus and solid strategy.

Article by Kathryn Masterson published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 26, 2008): “Fund Raisers Keep a Close Eye on Financial Markets’ Movement.”

Article by David Shieh published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, (January 9, 2009): “Despite Downturn, Some Colleges Continue to Receive Major Gifts.”

Organizational leadership has numerous issues to consider as they “invest” shrinking philanthropic dollars. Many are now focused on the ROI of the gift. Wise requesting organizations must illustrate, in very concrete terms, the benefit the gift will provide to the organization, to the organization’s customer and/or market base, and/or how the gift assists the organization in branding itself with its client and market base.

Best Practices Tips:
  1. Organizational leaders should question and learn the results of the requesting organization’s feasibility study.
  2. Organizational leaders should learn who the requesting organization’s potential donors are and what they say about the proposed project.
  3. Organizational leaders should learn who will lead the requesting organization's potential campaign project.
  4. Organizational leaders should question other potential donor’s interest and thoughts on the project.
  5. Before making a giving decision, organizational leaders ought to consider the following key questions: a) Is our organization’s mission and giving objectives in alignment with the requesting organization?  b) Can the requesting organization complete their proposed project successfully – can they get the fiscal support, right leadership, volunteers, complete the project under the projected timeline, etc.?  c) Does the requesting organization really need our assistance?  d) Is the “internal climate” right to provide the gift?   e) Is the “external climate” right to provide the gift?  f) How will the gift impact our organization’s operation, survival, success?  g) What is the ROI for our organization; customer, market base?  h) How does the gift brand our organization to our market base?  i) Does the gift set a precedent we wish to avoid?

Protecting Your Credit - - Veldon L. Law, Ed.D.

In his business development activity in working with The Flagship Financial Group, the author Veldon L. Law has observed and overhead horror stories of clients who have had their credit and lives devastated when their identity and credit accounts have been unlawfully stolen or assumed. In an effort to help others avoid the fallout from illegal actions the following tips are provided to encourage a proactive approach to self-protection and in some cases self-preservation.

8 Tips for Credit Protection
Concerned about identity theft? What we read and hear tells us we certainly should be!

With considerable and justifiable concern over identity fraud, stole identification, stolen credit cards, stolen credit card numbers, stolen private information, etc. there is ample reason to worry about protecting that information. More than worrying there are ample reasons to be proactive in protecting yourself.

Some appear to seek that security through paying a fee to a credit protection service. While this may be necessary it makes equal sense, or perhaps more sense, to take personal responsibility and action to shelter yourself from others illegal actions. What follows below are some simple actions that you can take to lessen the potential those with criminal intent will be able to do you and your life harm. In any event take action to protect yourself and your interests.

What is recommended below are actions that are almost effortless and can be accomplished with very little cost.

1. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead of placing your authorizing signature on the card, write: “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”

2. Copy the contents of your wallet. Be sure to copy both sides of all licenses, credit cards, IDs, etc. Store the copies in a safe and memorable location. This way you will know precisely what you had in your wallet. You will also have all account numbers and phone numbers in the event your wallet is lost or stolen and you must cancel the accounts.

3. If you are not in the practice of shredding information rich sensitive materials get yourself a good shredder, one that will not easily permit another to scotch tape the document back together. You are best served by a shredder that makes confetti out of the information you run through it.

4. The next time you order checks use your first and middle initial in lieu of your first name, along with your last name. That way if someone steals your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with your initials or your first name. The bank on the other hand will know how you sign your checks.

5. When you are writing out your checks to pay on your credit card accounts DO NOT put the full account number in the “For” line. Instead, use the last four digits of the account numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of your number, and anyone who might be handling a check as it passes through all the check-processing channels will not have access to it.

6. Some other check advice – put your work phone number on your checks, not your home number. If you have a Post Office Box use that as your home address. If you don’t have a Post Office Box use your work address for your home address. Make sure you never put your social security number on your check. You can print it on if it is absolutely necessary, but this way you protect your other checks should they be stolen.

7. When traveling also have a copy of your passport, either in country or abroad.

8. When you check out of a hotel that uses cards for keys (almost all use these cards now), do not turn the "card keys" in. Take them with you and destroy them. It is my understanding that those little cards have all of the information you gave the hotel, including address and credit card numbers and expiration dates on them. Someone with a card reader, or employee of the hotel, can access all that information with no problem what-so-ever.

3 Tips to Limit Damage if Your Information Has Been Stolen
In the unfortunate event that you do have your wallet stolen here is some critical information to limit the damage.

1. Most all of us know and have been told if our credit cards are stolen we should cancel our credit cards immediately. To do this you must have the toll free numbers as well as your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep copies, front and back, in a location where they can be easily and quickly found.

2. Make sure you file a police report immediately and in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent in protecting their interests with false charges. Reporting the theft is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

3. However, here is perhaps the most important action of all to take in the event of a theft. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately and place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. This alert lets any company that checks your credit know your information was stolen. With that notification they have to contact you by phone to authorize the new credit. This should prevent the crooks from running up additional credit costs in your name. Here are the numbers you need to contact about your wallet and its contents being stolen:
a.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
b.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
c.) TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
d.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
You will want to make sure you keep a copy of this information with the copies you have made of the items contained in your wallet.

- - Veldon Law