Understanding the Role of an Interim Executive Director
Organizations are in a state of deep transition these days, including that of leadership. Particularly challenging is finding a new Executive Director/CEO in the midst of all the priorities boards and their organizations need to address. This interview highlights a key tool organizations can use during a period of leadership transition—hiring an interim executive director (IED). Below are excerpts from an interview between Elaine MacDonald, former Executive Director of HBS Community Partners-Northern California, with Suzanne Tan, Senior Consultant at Raffa-Marcum and Cindy Myers, Principal at Myers Executive Group, on the value of taking this intermediary step.
Elaine: Can you first share more about what an IED does?
Suzanne: The time between leaders is such a valuable and almost sacred time for an organization, and an opportunity to be informed and intentional moving forward. There’s so much potential and opportunity for insight, to make needed internal changes, and to develop clarity as the organization moves into its next phase of leadership. The IED skillfully shepherds this time, listening and learning from the staff and board, reflecting back the issues, challenges and opportunities from an objective, impartial standpoint, developing a transition plan that engages and develops consensus in a shared vision moving forward, and often managing the recruitment, search, and onboarding process for a new Executive Director (ED).
Cindy: Here’s how I look at it: an IED parachutes into an organization with the overarching goal of having that organization succeed with its next ED. An effective IED is able to quickly assess what the organization needs to do/not do in order for that to happen, and then leads that change effort. The neutrality of the IED is very important, that’s why we say we will not be candidates for the permanent position. From a position of complete neutrality, you will find board and staff members more likely to tell you the truth about what they are experiencing, give you the benefit of the doubt, and be able to hear you less defensively when you tell them what you are observing and think they should do. An effective IED needs to have crackerjack nonprofit administration know-how, plus the analytical tools and skills to assess the organization’s needs and capacities, and the empathy and emotional intelligence to support a group of people who are going through a big change.
Elaine: Can you go deeper on why should a nonprofit choose to hire an IED?
Suzanne: An IED provides the organization with an opportunity to take a deep breath, and not rush headlong into hiring a new leader before understanding, addressing, and correcting the organization’s current issues and challenges. A leadership transition is often stressful and confusing for everyone involved and the IED holds space and provides objective insight that allows for the healing, acceptance, and ability to optimistically embrace the organization’s path forward. The IED in their unbiased temporary role can also help rebuild trust on many levels, between the Board and Staff, with a key funder, and/or with the community. A recent engagement in which this played a significant role was at an organization that was co-housed in a County’s regional social services office. The County was also this organization’s largest funder and the relationship was strained from years of poor communication and unresponsiveness. As the IED, I could come in and establish myself in as a thoughtful mediating and healing presence, listening carefully to their side of the equation and providing them with regular updates and assurances that their needs would be met. I made sure that they were introduced to Board members, many of whom they had never met, and included them in a variety of strategic meetings and communication, eventually winning back their trust and ensuring the organization would be able to retain their large contract for services.
Cindy: An IED is a good strategic move when following a founder or following a long-term, successful or beloved Executive. In my experience, the organizations transitioning from a long-term, successful Executive have a number of idiosyncrasies that formed around the strengths and preferences of that person. These often become a barrier or a stumbling block to a new executive coming in from the outside. I had one assignment where the Board deliberately planned for an IED to be in place for one year before hiring a new executive. That time enabled me to help stakeholders inside and out let go of the beloved former executive and make some critical changes to its business practices so that a new executive could come in and quickly see some success.
Elaine: I have seen organizations assign the next senior staff member to be the IED during a search process, someone who knows the organization well and can “keep the ship afloat” without a learning curve. Why couldn’t this work?
Suzanne: Adding the ED’s responsibilities to an existing position will ensure that neither job is done well, expectations to transition to the ED’s role will be raised, may impact the number of ED candidates that would apply for the position, and creates added confusion and subjectivity within the organization during what is often a sensitive and stressful time.
Cindy: While it might work out, the greater likelihood is that the person who steps into the ED role will experience unanticipated distress from the dynamics around moving up from one position, then moving back down again.
Elaine: Is there a scenario when a nonprofit should NOT hire an IED?
Suzanne: If there is a very strong internal candidate that has been groomed to take on the role of ED and the ED and Board have developed a transition plan that may often include a time of overlap with the previous ED taking on a mentoring role, this could be a scenario in which an IED is not necessary.
Elaine: How should an organization go about finding an IED? Selecting an IED? What’s the ideal process/criteria to find a good fit?
Suzanne: There are a number of resources to find qualified interim leaders, one of which is the long-running Bay Area network https://bayareainterims.com/. In addition, executive search consultants, foundations that specialize in capacity building, social media and LinkedIn, and your own networks of other Board members are also often good resources to locate interim leadership professionals. The fit can often be intuitive and driven by personality considerations, working-style, and professional approach, but don’t place too much importance on your interim having content knowledge of your organization’s particular field of work—interims offer a more generalist mindset and are practiced and trained to transfer their expertise to a variety of nonprofit settings.
Elaine: Why did you both decide to become an IED professionally?
Suzanne: After two decades of working in a variety of arts organizations including two executive director appointments, I felt the desire to broaden the scope of my nonprofit management experience. I realized I really liked the change management phase in my roles, in particular addressing strategic planning, organizational culture, and board and audience development. It is probably why I had so many different positions over 20 years! Once I realized that, interim leadership made so much sense.
Cindy: I left fulltime employment as a nonprofit CEO at a terrible time. The opportunity to take a training for interim executive directors presented itself, so I took it. In my very first assignments, I learned I was much more effective as an interim than I had been as the permanent executive. Interim leadership was a field where I could bring ALL of myself and my skills to the table: nonprofit general management and administration, plus organization analysis, intervention, and facilitation. Now interim executive work is all I do.
Elaine: Finally, any myths you would like to debunk about IEDs?
Suzanne: We are never interested in taking on the full-time position of ED and it is part of our code of ethics to serve only in the capacity of a transitional leader through to the identification and hire of a new ED, ideally as part of the organization’s larger plan to ensure leadership continuity. The role lasts six to twelve months long.
Cindy: Whereas organizations usually hire permanent executives based, in part, on their vision for the organization, the interim leader is not there to leave her/his imprimatur on the organization. The IED is there to support a transition; their primary vision is that a new executive will be found and will succeed.
Elaine MacDonald was the former Executive Director of HBS Community Partners of Northern California, where she oversaw a consulting organization for nonprofits that places 200+ Harvard Business School alumni volunteers on 40+ nonprofit project teams, who in turn deliver over $2.5 million in value annually. She has provided consulting and facilitating services to a diverse set of nonprofits facing scaling, marketing, and business management issues.
Elaine earned her BA at Harvard University and her MBA at Harvard Business School.
Cindy L. Myers is an organizational analyst, planner, developer, and interventionist who consults to the government, non-profit and business sectors on issues ranging from strategic planning to organizational turnaround. She has 25+ years of executive leadership experience in the behavioral health and human services fields. Dr. Myers holds a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems, a M.A. in Organization Development, and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology.
Suzanne Tan is a leadership transition consultant and has served in several Interim Executive Director and Transition Consulting assignments in the San Francisco Bay Area, following a long career in arts management and museum direction. She was recently appointed Sr. Consultant, Executive Leadership and Transition Management, for Raffa-Marcum, a national consulting firm and industry leader based in Washington DC.
Suzanne is a member of the Bay Area Interim Executive Directors network and also serves as the Co-Chair of the Executive Transition Leadership Continuity affinity group of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management.
Leadership in Challenging Times: Elaine MacDonald
This article was originally posted on the HBS Social Enterprise Blog on April 22, 2021.
This post is part of our “Leadership in Challenging Times” blog series, which highlights the inspiring work of the HBS community in addressing the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, alongside the fight for racial equity and an especially polarized political climate. In this blog post, Elaine MacDonald (MBA 1998), Executive Director of Community Partners in Northern California, tells the story of how alumni mobilized to help their communities and what she has learned from this year.
Local HBS Clubs around the country organize alumni to provide pro-bono business consulting to nonprofits and social enterprises. This past year saw a dramatic uptick in requests for help as organizations rapidly pivoted their operations, fundraising, DEI efforts, employee health programs, and service models. HBS alumni were (and are) on the front lines of supporting these organizations with critical and timely consulting projects.
Tell us about your work…
I’ve been the Executive Director of the HBS Community Partners program in Northern California for the past seven years now, where I identify social sector organizations that are facing growth challenges/opportunities and connect them to alumni who donate their strategic management skills to address them. I create teams of alumni volunteers to address pressing needs such as scaling, diversifying revenue, or building market awareness to expand impact. It is so rewarding to see the reaction of our clients, clearly transformed by the insights, and to hear how they have executed on recommendations that really moved the needle. It is also personally satisfying to connect alumni to causes they find meaningful, and be a bridge as they explore a more active journey in the social sector space. Many end up staying involved with the organizations they worked with through Community Partners.
How has your organization and your role responded to this year’s challenges?
2020 has definitely been a whirlwind and a call to action for me and my 11-person volunteer Steering Committee. It was clear as early as March 2020 that the pandemic was upending the social impact space, creating havoc on existing models of delivery, generating steep new demand curves, and widening the cracks in the racial/economic divide. I received a record number of requests by nonprofits and government agencies for help. In the first month of the pandemic, most requests centered around how to make decisions during a period of great uncertainty—how can an organization create new service delivery models, raise funding remotely, and plan when the future is so uncertain? Our normal programming—consulting projects and brainstorming sessions—could not be delivered fast enough to meet the needs of these organizations, nor could we possibly serve them all.
So my first action was to rapidly launch in April 2020 a free webinar called Emerging from the Crisis-Planning for Next Year as a Nonprofit to help nonprofits and their advisors immediately think about how to play defense and offense, as well as how to think about raising funds in an uncertain market. Led by seasoned Community Partners alumni volunteers, this webinar provided concrete frameworks, action plans, and ideas for how to move forward. Hundreds of nonprofits from around the country tuned in to learn how they could act during a period of great uncertainty, and I received great feedback on how timely and impactful the webinar was.
Second, many alumni in the early days of the pandemic reached out to offer real-time help. We pivoted away from our traditional programming model and launched a dedicated COVID-19 website that included Individual Service Opportunities, where an alum can sign up to support a nonprofit who had an immediate need for expertise. For instance, the City of San José was seeking a supply chain expert who could help them quickly identify ways to scale food distribution to those in need.
Finally, over the summer, my Steering Committee and I decided to pilot “Sprint” consulting projects that lasted just one month to help provide quicker advice for discrete needs.
What are some memorable and pivotal engagements that took place this year?
We’ve had 300 volunteers advise 50 organizations in 2020, so there were many high impact engagements! A few that stood out:
- We conducted a project with the City of San Francisco to look at how economic and job recovery can incentivize equitable business and employment growth. A team of alumni defined and created metrics for an equitable economy, along with some key strategies, priorities, and programs. The director for the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development requested a Phase II of this project to commence Feb 2021, focused on helping the city create a small business services framework to enable this community to rebuild and recover swiftly and equitably.
- We helped a newly created consortium of museums, all who had to close doors during the pandemic, explore whether they should collaborate and together bolster membership and create value digitally. A team of eight alumni analyzed the benefits of moving to a monthly subscription model, and how collaboration to create digital content and pursue new funding could benefit the museums more than if they pursued opportunities individually.
- We worked with Root Division, a visual arts nonprofit, to explore how it could increase the diversity of its board, a priority that took on new urgency as the Black Lives Matter movement gained support across the nation and institutions reflected on actions they could take to dismantle systemic racism. Alumni helped craft concrete action plans to help the board achieve its DEI goals. The Executive Director is already implementing some of the strategies and tactics identified by the team.
How can someone interested in this area get involved or learn more?
If alumni in Northern California are interested in exploring our volunteer opportunities, they can visit our website www.hbscp.org or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Community Partners chapters also exist in all major markets in the U.S., so if there are individuals unsure of who to contact in their local market for skilled volunteer opportunities, they are welcomed to reach out to me to connect them to their local chapter.
I truly believe HBS Community Partners is a wonderful vehicle to provide alumni curated volunteer experiences that enables us to use our skills for social good, and enables us to be responsive to the needs of the times. I’ve witnessed the power and collective good we can create together. 2020 was a devastating year along so many dimensions, and for me personally, has been a year that inspired me to step up like never before.
The Future of Membership Programs
Q&A with Jane Greenthal, Project Coordinator, Harvard Business School Association of Northern California Community Partners
This article was originally published on March 11, 2021 on Children’s Museums blog – https://childrensmuseums.blog/2021/03/11/the-future-of-membership-programs/
Convened by the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Bay Area Science and Children’s Museum Consortium (SCMC) is as a loose coalition that formed following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent “stay-at-home” order in California. SCMC currently includes eleven institutions, ranging widely in terms of budgets (from $2 to $70 million), earned revenues (from $1.5 to $20 million), and annual visitors (from 100,000 to 800,000).
Initially made up of institutions focused on high-touch experiences, consortium conversations ranged from advocacy to day-to-day operations. Of particular interest were membership models and how each institution was handling the change in demand for traditional membership services, e.g. free admission. Several institutions had already been looking into alternative models.
This sparked questions that led the group to seek advice from the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California Community Partners (HBSCP), soon leading to a partnership to explore membership models in a post-Covid world.
HBSCP serves about fifty different nonprofits each year, providing pro bono consulting and advisory services through about 200 HBS alumni volunteers in the Bay Area. Over the past thirty-five years, clients have included social-service nonprofits focused on families and children, housing, food security, healthcare, homelessness, and education, as well as cultural organizations such as museums and performing arts organizations.
What follows is a Q&A with HBSCP Project Coordinator Jane Greenthal and some of the project team members. They share what they discovered about how museums are adapting traditional membership models to meet today’s needs.
What new museum membership models have you examined?
We looked at several other museums nationwide. The monthly subscription model is new but seems to be gaining notice. The Dallas Museum of Art added a Kids Club at a $50 annual fee atop their regular membership for digital access to children’s online programming and events. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York has several add-ons, including digital access, for additional fees. The Brooklyn Museum has offered shorter term options, such as six-month memberships. We looked at time-based pricing for admission, and joint museum memberships as well.
Are there membership models from other types of organizations that bear relevance to museum models?
Subscription models have been sweeping the business world. So many more people are now not only digitally connected but also digitally accessing many of the services once delivered on a single transaction basis, e.g., movies, car services, or toothpaste. Subscription models appear to increase the connection the consumer feels to the provider and also the amount of information the producer/company/museum has about what the customer wants and enjoys, allowing the provider to better tailor services.
What have you learned from regional membership managers about the current state of memberships? What do people want from a membership now?
For the most part, memberships have been relatively transactional, especially for children’s museums. New memberships are traditionally gained onsite, when a visitor realizes that a membership is a better “deal” than paying a single-entry fee. Memberships, for the most part, have been priced this way as well.
With the pandemic, museum visits obviously fell dramatically, throwing into question their value. Most museums reacted by extending the memberships for the period of their closures to the public, or longer. However, these extensions didn’t address the fundamental assumption that membership value was tied to onsite visits. Many institutions shifted to creating a digital presence, but found charging for online content challenging given the availability (and expectation) of similar content free elsewhere. Moreover, demand began to weaken as parents didn’t want more screen time for their kids. While families still want place-based experiences, decoupling memberships from museum visits provides new opportunities to add value in terms of content and outreach not limited by geography.
How do museums determine and communicate the value of their memberships? How should they?
There’s great interest in a membership model that is more subscription-based than the traditional annual renewal model; however, this ups the ante on what value you provide beyond a discount on museum visits. This is where children’s and science museums could learn from fine arts museums that have cultivated members with intangible benefits such as shared mission and status, as well as access to exclusive content, events, and experiences. Creating more emotional value can also enhance loyalty and philanthropy.
Museums in the project range widely in terms of budget, size, attendance, key audiences as well as content. Traditionally, people join different types of museums for different reasons. Art museum memberships may be associated with use but also status and tend to have a longer renewal life, while children’s museum memberships are highly transactional and have a short life (children age out quickly). In what ways are all membership programs in this project’s scope similar? How will you identify and account for differences?
Membership strategies for family-focused museums are moving away from patronage models towards monthly subscription models—the latter being more relevant to children’s museums, where the visiting population stays for only a few years. In contrast, art museums may have non-resident and life-long members.
A number of subscription initiatives are already taking place: A group of eleven children’smuseums in Northern California has developed new monthly membership models, at $25 permonth per person and $60 per family.
In another post-Covid development, regional subscription-based membership programs often include online reciprocity components. These appear successful because online costs are much lower and leave room for discount incentives on shared virtual tours and children camps.
Our study revealed that all SCMC members are interested in monthly subscription models in some form. We identified three main reasons:
- Subscription models allow much better targeting of new populations. For example, a large SCMC member experimented with the data they gathered to increase participation of lower economic demographics—with demonstrable success.
- In this digital age, monthly subscription models give their promoters a much-increased ability to understand their members’ priorities.
- Families are key to all SCMC members. They all have a strong education orientation and need membership programs oriented towards families—even though they may also have corporate programs catering to employees of Bay Area companies. Not all SCMC members have such corporate membership programs. Monthly subscription programs, on the other hand, are likely to be developed by all SCMC members.
Were you surprised to learn anything about how museums operate, particularly related to memberships?
How small membership revenues were as a percentage of total revenues for some. There’s also an obvious overlap between membership and development, but they were distinct functions in many institutions with some missed opportunities to share data and collaborate.
Will new membership models specifically help museums through the pandemic and recovery? Or will they have application for a longer future?
We’re predicting that many institutions will begin to experiment with new membership models, more likely as adding to, rather than replacing, current annual models. This could include less expensive monthly subscriptions for lower income and otherwise underrepresented audiences. Compared to full-price annual memberships, these may be limited by number of visits, number of family members admitted, or limits on visits on the most crowded days. We may also see digital-only subscriptions or lower-priced memberships for non-resident members.
The additive upside we see for the subscription model is that it is less transactional, i.e., “I join because I get something tangible such as visits, in-person lectures and tours, or merchandise discounts, etc.” Non-traditional membership models have the opportunity to be based more on identification with the museum’s mission, values, or cause.
HBSCP Project team members included: Jane Greenthal, Rita Koselka, SB Master, Qingxi Wang, Etienne Deffarges, Arthur Hindman, Helena Geng, and Jim Mills.
Step Up to 2021
The Covid pandemic has impacted almost every area of our lives, but for many nonprofits, the impact on fundraising has been severe. For most of our 35 years, HBS Community Partners has relied heavily on support from the HBS Club of Northern California and particularly on the annual fall gala event for the Club’s Business Leader of the Year Award. The cancellation of that Fall dinner, as well as other in-person fundraising events during 2020, sent us searching for new approaches to funding in 2021.
Unfortunately, our resources have diminished just as the Covid pandemic, along with the renewed awareness of social and economic disparities in California, has stretched many of our client organizations to the brink, leading to unprecedented demands for us to help them build their capacity to reach more people.
We took that dilemma seriously, and decided to make it the theme of a new fundraising initiative. On January 14 we began planning for our first online fundraiser. Just six weeks later, at 7pm on February 25, we will hold Step Up to 2021!, an online event that will ask participants to step up to the challenges that the pandemic has brought to our community. We partnered with PayBee, to use their innovative online auction platform that was designed for nonprofit fundraising. We also began looking for speakers who could share how they were stepping up to the challenges they face, as well as former HBS CP clients who could explain how our services had helped their organizations meet the challenges they have overcome:
- Larry Baer, MBA 1985, CEO and President, SF Giants, will speak on overcoming adversity in the high-stakes world of the MLB.
- Joaquín Torres, former Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, City and County of San Francisco, and HBS Community Partners client, will offer his perspective on how the City is meeting the challenges of our changing economy and resulting disparities.
- Rob Zeaske, MBA 2002, Director, HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, will offer a broad view of how business school graduates are driving positive changes in their communities.
- Justin Prettyman, Executive Director, 49ers Foundation, and HBS Community Partners client will describe how HBS CP worked with his organization to educate and empower Bay Area Youth through a collective of innovative and community-focused strategies.
Each year HBS Community Partners enables about 200 HBS alums to offer pro bono consulting and advisory services to over 50 non-profits engaged in social services, the arts, and environmental work. The help we provide in areas such as organizational strategy, delivery models, market focus, fund-raising, and governance is leveraged a hundred-fold by the critical work these organizations do–often for the most vulnerable residents of our region.
In less than 6 weeks, we have put together a virtual event that will not only raise funds, but also provide a way for our supporters to catch up with one another and celebrate our 35th year of service. Comedian Jimmy Tingle, Harvard Kennedy School alum and founder of Humor for Humanity, will keep guests entertained during the evening, as they enjoy a Live Auction, featuring:
- An unforgettable experience for the winning bidder and up to 20 guests at the renowned Freeman Winery, whose wines are served at Michelin 3-star restaurants and at the White House. The party will enjoy a private VIP wine tasting and tour by the owner and winemaker, followed by an exquisite Japanese lunch served outdoors and prepared by star Chef Sogi, skillfully paired with Freeman wines. The lucky winner also gets to spend 2 nights at the 3-BR Freeman Winery Cottage, the perfect base for exploring the scenic Russian River Valley.
Step Up to 2021! guests who want to extend the evening beyond 8pm can join the virtual After Party, where they can mix and catch up with classmates, teammates, and friends. Those who can’t wait for the 25th, or can’t attend that evening, can still participate by accessing the Silent Online Auction that began on February 12, with offerings of fine wine and dining options, fantastic getaways, unique sports offerings, and more.
Like so many other nonprofits, HBS Community Partners has been stretched by the pandemic to find new ways to do our work and maintain support. With Step Up to 2021!, we are seeing that we can raise funds, keep our supporters engaged, and continue our valuable work for the organizations that do so much for all of us in the Bay Area.
Better Decisions With Data: An Interview with Roslyn Payne, Chair of UpMetrics
We interviewed Roslyn Payne, HBS ’70, Chairwoman of the Board of UpMetrics, and part of their founding team. UpMetrics is a software and services company created to help social impact organizations make decisions and tell their stories with data. We sat down with Roslyn to get an insight on how they help nonprofit organizations, many of them clients of Community Partners, the problem they set to solve, the impact of their organization, and how they are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s our conversation with her.
What inspired you to be part of the founding Board Chair of UpMetrics?
I was driven by the need that nonprofits have for a data-centric way to make decisions. At Harvard Business School, we are trained on how to make informed decisions. To teach this important skill, HBS provides students with data, both quantitative and qualitative, in the form of a case, and engages the students in deep discussion. In the world of social enterprise and nonprofits, access to this kind of meaningful data is frequently limited. In particular, we see this reality when we engage with nonprofits who have received strategic guidance from HBSANC Community Partners. I saw an opportunity to solve this challenge with UpMetrics, where the team has designed software specifically to help social impact organizations make decisions and tell their stories with data.
Can you expand on this problem which UpMetrics addresses for nonprofits?
Specifically, UpMetrics was created to help the social sector collect and analyze data to make informed decisions, build capacity, and tell compelling stories of impact. Relying on static data is no longer an option to solve complex societal problems. By simplifying the process and systems to collect, analyze, and report quantitative and qualitative data in one platform, our partner organizations gain valuable insights which are needed to identify the true drivers of positive outcomes and pivot as needed. However, it does not replace the need to make leadership decisions as to how to create and execute a successful operating plan.
In addition, this kind of transparency has the potential to unlock the door to what we believe will be the ultimate connector to accelerating positive change: increased knowledge sharing across stakeholders. Our partners have found that funders have responded to the information, and thus, fundraising has also been positively impacted.
What has the impact been in the nonprofits that use your platform?
We partner with nonprofits, foundations, impact investors, and corporations making positive change all over the world. Some of the organizations that we are partnering with in Northern California include: 49ers Academy, Teen Success, Catholic Charities, Enterprise for Youth, Today’s Youth Matters and Silicon Valley Urban Debate League. Better to read it directly from them, here are some testimonials:
UpMetrics has helped us translate our program impact into beautiful dashboards – or the numbers – that help us tell our story. It has been so important for us to work with folks that understand the needs of our program team and who have the expertise to help us articulate our impact through data.” – Carlo Solis, Sr. Program Manager, Enterprise For Youth
We are excited to begin this initiative which will inform decisions around program strategy and what we communicate externally to stakeholders. ” – Billy Coleman, Executive Director, Today’s Youth Matter
Each year, Upmetrics has been able to accommodate our needs successfully in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of data access, sharing, and visualization across our organization.” – Jenny Chu, Evaluation & Learning Manager, Teen Success
How did UpMetrics deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?
UpMetrics responded in two ways. The first is that we recognized that the pandemic would hit the nonprofit sector especially hard. These organizations provide essential services, and in the light of the pandemic, the demand for these services would be greater than ever. Yet, almost instantaneously, many traditional fundraising avenues – like events – were no longer available to them. With this mind, we provided the UpMetrics platform for free to all nonprofits in 2020. We also built new publishing and communication tools, including public Impact Profile pages designed to help nonprofits tell their stories and fundraise during this difficult time.
Additionally, UpMetrics partnered with the Association of Supply Chain Management and the American Society of Microbiology to collect data to identify the status of supplies for COVID tests directly from over 100 medical labs. This data has been shared each week highlighting the gaps and areas of need across the United States.
This is going to be another tough year for many nonprofits. What is UpMetrics doing about it?
With the advent of the various vaccines and a change of leadership at the Federal level, we are hopeful that there will be significant improvements in both people’s health as well as economic recovery. Recognizing the strained resources that impact organizations face, UpMetrics will continue to work with nonprofits, foundations, and investors to help them use data to make decisions, allocate resources, and drive positive impact. After all, sound decisions backed by data create the flexibility and resilience nonprofits need to weather this storm and stay relevant.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel, HBS ’98
Six Ways to Cultivate Diverse Workplaces
This article was written by Diane Johnson Flynn, HBS ’88, and re-published here with her permission.
The pandemic and work-from-home mandate have uncovered the lopsided care burden carried by many women. Acting as the safety net for both visible and invisible domestic work, women are handling the dominant share of caregiving and home duties. It’s no wonder that over 14% of women have recently considered leaving the workforce.
This is of concern because workplaces benefit from greater diversity. Studies show that varied perspectives result in greater innovation and sharper decision-making, which in turn leads to stronger bottom-line performance. The same research recognizes women’s role in attaining these advantages. As organizations begin to navigate their re-openings, with some employees working from home permanently and others planning for a new hybrid home/office approach, how can they position themselves to reap the advantages that diversity offers?
While the focus of our work and our book, The Upside: Better Outcomes When Everyone Plays, is on improving gender equity, the following suggested actions support all underrepresented groups. These six recommendations have broad applicability for supporting diverse workplaces:
- Recommit to critical diversity initiatives for hiring and promotions. New work-from-home policies and flexible work arrangements allow for broader access to talent. Ensure that your hiring and advancement policies support diversity by requiring diverse slates of candidates and interviewer panels, using a structured interview methodology, and establishing the use of a common performance evaluation framework. Watch for evidence of unconscious bias and address it as needed. With unemployment at a record high, there is a wealth of diverse talent to access.
- Be open-minded and creative about flexible work options. As offices begin opening up, many companies will turn to flexible work options to reduce density in workspaces and accommodate those with public commutes. Some positions may become remote positions permanently; others may be a combination of in-office and work from home. Consider ways to access broader talent pools through creative programs like returnships (targeting those who’ve taken a career break) and job shares (with two individuals working part-time and sharing one role.) For decades women have requested this type of flexibility. In the majority of cases and staunchly right up until the pandemic’s sheltering restrictions, flexible work arrangements were denied because management believed workers couldn’t be productive or trusted. Now corporate leaders, managers, women, and men are all seeing new possibilities for better engagement, productivity, cost savings, and work-life integration.
- Develop clarity around expected deliverables and results rather than in-office face-time. Working from home requires trust. Those who cultivate authentic, open and trusting cultures will find success with flexible work arrangements. Deriving the increased innovation and productivity from diverse, distributed workers requires careful attention to accountability, measurements, and respect for the boundaries set by employees working from home. With proper boundaries (and the resumption of activities for at-home children,) studies show improved employee engagement and loyalty resulting from flexible work arrangements.
- Consider the long-term implications of supports for underrepresented groups and invest in the right ones. Some companies are taking actions to support women with additional time off and relaxed duties, acknowledging that mothers are bearing this extra burden at home. While we applaud their demonstration of empathy, we are concerned about the ‘mommy track’ effect (similar to that which resulted from maternity leave before ‘family leave’ was introduced.) Leaders must be thoughtful in anticipating unintended consequences that their supportive actions may have on all employees. With that said, it is important for companies to continue to invest in supports for underrepresented employees, whether in the form of employee resource groups (ERG’s) or through mentorship and coaching programs with the goal of advancement.
- Pay attention to the “S” in ESG, staying close to each worker’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs and accommodating when necessary. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, was lauded for his leadership while laying off 25% of his workforce — largely because he displayed great empathy and humanity, even tearing up during his announcement. Empathy is key to strong leadership — now more than ever. This time and care will pay off in terms of retention and recruiting, saving money in the long-run. Employees don’t forget how they were treated when the chips were down.
- Keep track of diversity metrics, recognizing that long-term winners will continue to build diverse workplaces. We suggest a “SMART” approach, measuring Seats on board held by underrepresented groups, percent in Management, percent of All employees, percent Reporting to the CEO, and Turnover rates by each of the groups you track.
Progressive companies recognize that despite the short-term issues that are challenging gender equity in the workplace, they can rethink and create a post-pandemic workplace that unleashes the power of divergent thoughts and approaches.
Diane Flynn and Patty White have recently released their book The Upside, highlighting the business case for gender diversity and specific actions every stakeholder can take. They consult with Fortune 500 companies to help build workforces where women thrive. Their company, ReBoot Accel, empowers women to achieve career success and personal fulfillment.
Igniting Expert Goodness: An interview with HBS Alum Raymond Magpantay
What is No Bully?
Why did you join the HBS Community Partners consulting team in the first place and who were the other members of the team?
What was the challenge the No Bully volunteer consulting team addressed, and the high level recommendations?
- Offering a virtual online and digital solution by repackaging the programming and services delivery that could significantly drive down costs;
- Cultivating more corporate sponsorships to help fund underprivileged and disenfranchised public school’s access to the No Bully Solution Coach Training Program; and,
- Shepherding the clients that are already in the funnel for sustainable revenue growth opportunities via contracts renewal and endorsements to different schools – a cross pollination approach.
What did you get out of that volunteer experience?
- A great deal of hope that I – along with the entire team – was helping No Bully breakthrough their growth challenge, and strategically guiding them to come up with sustainable recommendations to achieve their mission/vision.
- b) I personally became an enabler and contributor in eradicating bullying, which I know can have a long-term negative impact on an individual (myself – being a victim of bullying at a young age based on my socio-economic status and unique self-expression and identity).
Tell us what happened after your experience when this consulting project was over?
What new relationships and influence came out of this experience?
Tell us more about that. In what ways are you guiding the public health directive in the Philippines as it pertains to COVID-19?
In light of this amazing journey, what are your thoughts about volunteering through HBS Community Partners?
Time to Hit the ‘Refresh’ button on Donors?
I learned an important lesson during the current shutdown that I think could be useful for fund-raising in non-profits that are now facing unprecedented revenue shortfalls. Sitting in my home office with more time on my hands and less structure than is usual for me (sound familiar?), I decided, with a bit of trepidation, to reach out to a long-time friend whom I hadn’t contacted in, well, let’s just say a long time. Adding to my discomfort was the fact that she has big responsibilities running her own business, as well as my recollection that our last interaction was an informative email from her. The ball had been in my court…and I had dropped it. Suddenly, the day’s “to-do” list grew more attractive.
Keeping it Alive
But before rejecting the idea of awkwardly restarting our conversation, I thought, “Why not? Maybe she also has some extra time these days, and a LOT has happened since then! (Besides, she was interested enough to reply before, when she was crazy busy.) Why not let us both catch up?” So I wrote her a brief email, inquiring about the things she had mentioned in her last message, before mentioning a few developments on my end. And—boom!—within an hour or two, a warm, entertaining response arrived in my inbox. More back-and-forth allowed us to catch up and even make “post-reopening” plans for later this year.
Thinking back on the fundraising I’ve done, here’s the lesson that I drew: there are no “stale” donors, only “stale” relationships. And those relationships can often be refreshed. I‘ve known early-stage donors who were active in the exciting start-up phase of an organization, but whose interest “mellowed” over time as new donors entered, as the organization matured and stabilized, or as the donor simply moved on to other more compelling causes. Does your organization have donors who were particularly supportive in the creation of new facilities or programs, but have moved on to other interests?
Starting a “Reconnection Campaign”
I am often surprised that organizations I’ve supported in the past, with significant donations of funds and time, seem to have forgotten me entirely. I may have become distracted by new causes, but I haven’t lost interest in their mission. They’ve lost interest in me!
These unprecedented times call for you to reconnect to every donor, no matter the history. Here are a few steps that may help make for a successful “Reconnection Campaign”:
- Build on a template. Make sure the key messages about your current situation and funding priorities are concisely summarized. What do you want? Why is it important now? Don’t sound desperate—no one wants to fund a hopeless effort—but be candid and compelling in describing your needs.
- Personalize your appeal. Re-engagement isn’t routine. Take time to mention something specific to your relationship with this donor—how valuable or timely their prior support was, how much the staff appreciated the donor’s engagement –anything that shows that this is not a form-letter appeal.
- Use your staff, volunteers, and current donors. Your current circle can provide welcome anecdotes and details that may be unknown to the executive director or senior staff. Perhaps the appeal should be signed by someone who has a more personal relationship with the target donor. (All outgoing appeals should still be reviewed by the ED or staff, of course.)
- Go deep. If you have incomplete donor records for earlier years, look at other records (invitation lists, photos from events) and question your veteran staff and volunteers to identify people to target.
- And finally, keep the focus on what is at stake. These “stale” donors supported you when your organization and your impact were smaller. You have a bigger role to play now, and the Covid Crisis may have put even more of your mission at risk. It’s time to reach out and rekindle those relationships that have fed your success.
I hope these simple actions can help you re-connect with your donors and re-ignite their excitement about you and your mission.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel, HBS Class of 1998.
3 lessons that non-profits can learn from AirBnB in this crisis
Last week, Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnB, wrote a thoughtful, inspirational letter to all his employees. This letter was a statement of what AirBnB stands for, and a testament to the creative energy and hard work of all employees, which has resulted into what AirBnB is today. He used powerful words like belonging, connection and community. It was a letter which is still being shared thousands of times in social media. It was also the letter where he told his team that 1 in 4 of them were being fired…
This letter, put into perspective, contains three valuable lessons which non-profit organizations can easily apply. Here they are.
Lesson #1: Build Equity
There were no rants on the web, or media drama, or any hint to cynicism about the genuine intent of Brian’s letter to his employees, despite the fact that thousands of those who got it were being told they were being let go from their jobs. How did Brian, as the leader of the AirBnB organization, build such a powerful culture that gave him enough positive equity to make this kind of letter public? Can you imagine scandal-plagued Uber doing that? Or some traditional company like GM or McDonalds getting away with it so easily?
The first lesson which non-profits can take from AirBnB is that they decided to be intentional about their culture from day 1. Intentional means that the founders and their early team took thousands of small, specific actions to shape their culture in the direction they intended, rather than allow their culture to be shaped by the small but random actions taken every day, as most organizations do without even realizing it.
COVID-19 forced AirBnB, who was ready to go public right before the crisis hit, to reduce the size of their operations by 25%. But in a culture which, by design, invited people to be direct, transparent and honest, his letter was the natural thing to do, as was the positive reaction of those being fired.
Luckily for the rest of us, this is a lesson we can apply no matter where we are in our organization’s journey. This crisis presents leaders with an unrepeatable opportunity to re-set culture, and build positive equity for the next crisis, by being intentional about the little things. From starting meetings on time, to complementing someone in public, to saying ‘Hi’ in the morning. Try it!
Lesson #2: Know your ‘Why’
In his letter, Brian Chesky repeats the word ‘belonging’ four times. This is also intentional. Several years ago, AirBnB embarked on a mission of introspection (check out the Fortune article that details it here) to find what motivated them as a team and express it in the simplest of terms – one everybody in the company could easily remember and apply. Specifically, this exercise sought to answer the following 3 questions:
- Why do we exist?
- What is our purpose?
- What is our role in the world?
They found one word which gave them the answer to their ‘Why'”
This little term became their compass. They used it as a filter to make decisions, hire people, treat each other, and evolve their product. Finding their ‘Why’ even made it easy to change their slogan from “Travel like a human” to “Live There” This little term is what enabled their CEO to focus his communication to ensure that not only his letter, but his entire decision on how to fire 25% of his team, reflected their “Why” and was true to AirBnB’s core.
This is a lesson non-profit organizations can apply right away. Take one hour of your team’s time to answer the same 3 questions AirBnB designed for their introspection exercise. You will be surprised how fast they take you to finding your true core, your ‘Why’. Once there don’t forget to live by it.
Lesson #3: Think Small
Brian Chesky is a regular guest in Masters of Scale, the Podcast hosted by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of Linkedin. This free podcast is focused on disseminating the principles by which companies like AirBnB have grown successfully. In one of the episodes, Brian Chesky explains that:
If you want your company to truly scale, you have to do things that don’t scale.
He goes on to explain that from day one, AirBnB focused on giving their first few dozen users the best experience they could possibly have. This experience was literally “handcrafted” by him and the founding team, which is something that obviously does not scale when you have thousands of users. However, this focus on paying attention to the small things remained as part of the AirBnB ethos, allowing them to build a solid culture by the thousands of little actions they took, which is actually the only way to build culture in the first place, rather than designing a ‘grand strategy’ which – let’s face it – is never successfully implemented.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit AirBnB, the CEO knew exactly the little actions he needed to take – from communicating it to accelerating the vesting of Stock Options – to ensure the people he was firing got a fair treatment and left in good spirits.
By thinking small to achieve big things, non-profits can learn that climbing any mountain is achieved step-by-step. Think about the little things you can you do, right now in the middle of this crisis, to delight your stakeholders, even when bad news need to happen. Don’t dismiss this advice!
Building equity, knowing your ‘why,’ and thinking small, are lessons you can apply easily, from a CEO, and a company, who have proven to the rest of the world that in the worst possible times they were equipped with the tools to do the right thing.
That’s good business we can all learn from.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel, HBS Class of 1998.
Four areas to make the post-Covid-19 afterlife viral
In the rush to return to “normal” and escape the Covid-19 self quarantine, perhaps we should be asking what part of “normal” we are in a hurry to return to and what elements of the “new normal” actually provide an interesting or better alternative. Taking the opposite path from George Bernard Shaw’s quote: “There are two great disappointments in life…not getting what you want and getting it,” we need to stop and think about the positive learnings of this challenging time and draw strength from them – rather than letting them fade away when the crisis passes.
The obvious learnings
We can ask how we have used this time to reconnect with friends, family, our community and maybe even with ourselves. We learned how technology enabled many connections, while the wider acceptance and use of these tools provided some amazing opportunities in areas like education and remote working.
Nature has definitely liked this virus: our impact on the environment and the rapidity with which nature responds to a respite from our relentless assaults is remarkable to observe and is providing tantalizing real data we might not have been able to collect without the shutdowns. Many universities are conducting research, having realized this crisis provides perfect conditions to experiment.
Finally, individuals and organizations alike have used this time to reevaluate major social issues and priorities as we reassess what is truly important versus what we thought was important. I see people yearning for the time when they can get together with the people they love and share new memories in places, rather than yearning for the time when they can be back inside a mall shopping for stuff they never needed in the first place.
Some reflections on the obvious
Connections, technology, the environment, and social questions are some of the broad categories of thought which we might direct ourselves toward in these perilous times. Remembering the Danger = Opportunity equation is a challenge that the HBS Community Partners community is well suited to explore. Our goal has been to harness the gifted minds of HBS alumni to create positive change by assisting nonprofits and government organizations to better achieve their admirable purposes. Gathering people’s perspectives on what we have learned in this unusual period and building on the positive elements might leave us much stronger than if we merely look to get back to “normal.” Here is a deeper dive on the four questions I alluded to above. I invite you to contact us to share the wisdom you’ve gained through this crisis. We will gladly share it in subsequent articles here in our blog.
1. True connections matter
As we get calls from people “just checking in” with us, we wonder why it has been so long since we last connected. We feel inspired to reach out to others with whom we haven’t spoken for a long time or to reach out to someone we think just needs to know that we are thinking about them. The conversation almost certainly updates needs we each have and we explore how we can help one another. That, or just talking things through, we realize we are really doing OK despite the prevailing unsettling sense of uncertainty and the very real dangers that may lie ahead. Perhaps we can take away a commitment to not let these connections diminish when the crisis subsides is a valuable commitment we can make.
We may have been apprehensive about the close contact with our immediate family during self quarantine. Yet, now we are finding more time to talk, reconnect and just hang out together rather than “respecting privacy” and facilitating the most rigorous set of outside engagements for our kids. Maybe we all need to detox a bit from many counterproductive forces, pure time with our families might provide the environment to do so. Maybe we need to just have the time to direct some attention inward- as the Zen directive advises: “Don’t just do something, just sit there.”
2. Technology is a means, not an end
So some technologies like Zoom have grown exponentially because of this crisis. What has this shown us in terms of being able to work from home? Instead of just accepting – and contributing to – ridiculous traffic congestion, with its associated pollution and wasted time and high stress, how might we really understand that there are alternatives to massive highway and transit infrastructure investments if we really adapt how we work. Maybe the demand for ever more office space in prime metropolitan areas, which has conflicted with housing needs in the same limited land area, is something we can get into better balance.
Furthermore, inequities in educational opportunities may be partially addressed with equal access to broadband and guarantees of laptops/tools to level the playing field for all. Having practically every kid in the country successfully end the school year through online education is one of the great lasting consequences of this time in confinement. Now let’s focus on getting these kids the right tools to enter the hybrid education of the post-COVID-19 era. We can’t accept, as we did before, that lack of the right digital tool and access places a kid at a disadvantage,
Health care is exploring opportunities to deliver broader and cost effective care through telemedicine. Making routine or preliminary diagnostic or treatment options available remotely may free up more resources for the care needed by in person visits, and lower the cost of healthcare for all. This same principle is true for fitness: we are seeing that underlying conditions are among the most important determining aspects of risk from this virus. While our healthcare system is the primary avenue for addressing wellness, broader and low cost/free alternatives to bring exercise to many more people is also part of the equation. This crisis has seen the explosion of free programs to stay fit at home. This is good for all of us.
Regarding the arts, many organizations are offering virtual tours of their galleries or performance spaces. Performing artists are offering their inspired talent often with a much more intimate and personal element which is unavailable in large venues or highly polished and edited performances. Ironic how this happens, right? Our job after the crisis is to figure out how to use these introductions to – or connections with – people and institutions to create broader appetites for creativity and beauty.
3. We can’t continue to act as a virus for the environment
The shutdown has been the grandest test of what our impact on the planet truly is and how we can mitigate it. Did we expect the canals in Venice to change from murky to clear almost immediately? Did we expect even some of the most polluted places to have their air quality improve by amazing amounts almost immediately? What can we take away from this unexpected and enormous “test” we have just run. Are we really going to go back to our dirty ways of co-existing with all other living creatures? We don’t have to suggest continuing an indefinite shutdown to accomplish these positive environmental outcomes, but we can learn how concretely we are impacting the environment and seek out the changes that can bring us along a more positive path faster. We know the positive impact is feasible – I see it from my window right now.
4. We are a community and need to take care of each other
This is all about examining priorities. Is a consumption economy really the answer we long to go back to or do we see options in a care economy? Trying to educate our kids at home may help us better appreciate what educators and child care professionals are really doing and their value to society; this may create the empathy we need to have to team-up to raise good, resilient kids. What have we learned about cooking at home using simple, healthy and economical ingredients vs. fast food, prepared dishes, with their corresponding diabetes and obesity pandemics? How do we value time and invest it in our families, friends and communities vs. hours (and dollars) spent on games, cat videos, escape media and binge watching the latest trending fad.
Crisis does show us we can be better. Check out this inspiring home-made video that circulated around social networks this week, which brilliantly – and in verse – brings home this point, that the author calls “The Great Realization.” I invite you to reflect on how we can avoid rushing back to “normal” without understanding how this pandemic has shown us some very positive paths forward. If we choose to pursue them.
Rising to the COVID-19 Crisis Challenge
It is hard to imagine that “the world as we know it” turned upside down just six weeks ago (at least in the Bay Area), and things will never be the same again. During these past six weeks, COVID-19 has upended the social impact space – like a surprise punch in the gut – creating havoc on existing models of delivery, unpredictable demand curves, and almost ubiquitously, loss of funding. What are some of my specific observations from my seat?
First, I am so impressed with the deep compassion and humanitarian instinct of our HBS alumni, combined with the desire for action. I was flooded with messages and calls during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown by alumni who wanted to find a way to help the community in this time of crisis. “I feel powerless – what can I do to help?” is a sentiment I have heard expressed over and over again. How can business management skills, assets we offer, be meaningful during this time when clearly, the frontlines need to be staffed by healthcare workers? This is why we created a COVID-19 page on our website, where community-serving organizations with needs for management skills can request help for their COVID-19-driven challenges. Alumni can “sign up” to help using their skills from home. Unlike our traditional pro bono consulting and brainstorming engagements where we curate volunteer experiences that undergo a process of screening and vetting, this new approach enables us to move quickly to get help to those who need it quickly.
Second, I am hearing that scenario planning, digitizing programming and assets, and developing alternative funding strategies are common challenges most nonprofits are facing. With fundraising galas and donor parties cancelled, in-school support services eliminated, and arts and cultural events prohibited, how can community-serving organizations operate? How can they stay afloat and plan for the future when the future is so uncertain? To address these pressing questions, we hosted a webinar called Emerging from the Crisis-Planning for Next Year as a Nonprofit last week to help nonprofits and their advisors think about how to play defense and offense, as well as how to think about raising funds in an uncertain market. Led by Scott Garell, MBA 1991 and Seth Schalet, this complimentary webinar provides some concrete frameworks, action plans, and ideas for how to move forward in the near-term.
Third, staying connected is more important than ever. Every week brings new updates on the healthcare battleground, new policy statements from lawmakers, and new community needs. We need to stay in touch – with whatever means we can – and find ways to help. We’ve been ramping up our social media presence and are kicking off this blog as a start. We are staying in contact with our nonprofit clients to see where we can help, and are monitoring sector developments closely. As the community’s needs change, we may need to adapt and offer services that may look different from our former programming.
Amid the ground-breaking paradigm shifts nonprofits are dealing with, I am energized to take on a fresh new lens to look at the world, and explore how we at HBS Community Partners can rise to meet this unprecedented challenge. Nonprofits need us more than ever before to help with re-examining and re-inventing ways to create social good. I hope all HBS alumni will join our movement. Together we can deliver expert goodness and make an impact!
Welcome to our blog: A space to inspire!
Welcome to our HBS Community Partners of Northern California blog – a place where alumni can share reflections and stories inspired by the social needs of our time.
Introducing this blog amid the COVID-19 crisis feels apropos, as it is a time when all of us are taking the forced pause to reflect on our society, appreciate what we have taken for granted, and question how we operate. It is ironic that in our isolation, we are recognizing the depth of our interconnectedness. We want to give HBS alumni the opportunity now to share new perspectives, ideas, and paradigm shifts – all with the community interests in mind.
So what do YOU think? Calling HBS alums to reach out and share on this blog! (Contact me, Elaine MacDonald, to post.)