Flower Child and Conformity: National and Local Chapters Control Issues
Conformity sounds like a bad word in our "follow your passion" society.
Being a flower child from way back, I understand the aversion to the word. I have done my share of railing at "the man." But in nonprofit, nonconformity can mean sacrificing the well-being of those served by your mission. Conformity in our world means consolidation of execution method, if not actual entity.
There are several legal structures at work in national nonprofits, which I will generalize very casually here:
- National can go straight to hell. If they come up with an idea, it is a bad one.
- I have some dictates from national, but we do some stuff autonomously at the chapter/region/district/state level.
- I have to do every single thing national tells me.
The structures noted above are sometimes also a path many national organizations take in a tortured, linear fashion. There is continual pressure from local to hamper or derail consolidation, and that is an energy-sucking thing to fight, taking energy and resources from the mission.
Why do local staffs fight consolidation? Opposition only has a few flavors: First, I am afraid you will take my job. Second, I am afraid you will take my choice. Dead last is I am afraid you won't make good decisions for this nonprofit.
I lobby national and local entities for considered consolidation. I completely get that we need to buy every envelope at the lowest cost possible. I get that application of a program has to have some consistency or we can't measure anything and thus can't improve. What I don't get is why we would ever shut down our R&D departments.
Experimentation at the local level is the most powerful way to find new and better ways of doing things, and to understand how to adapt to our changing environment. In the process of consolidation, we are almost universally failing to set up systems in which good ideas can bubble up, having been created locally, to be tested nationally.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.