Shake Up Old Practices: The Snow Globe Theory
I was having lunch recently with a donor and excellent fundraising volunteer. We were talking about his marketing company. He is extremely knowledgeable about marketing, and we spent a great deal of time discussing a potentially new venture for him.
As he was describing his vision for the future, the passion and fire was amazing. He kept thinking about new ways to succeed in his business venture. He then said, “Many times in life and work you should use the snow globe theory. Shake the globe to make things happen.” He wasn’t talking about snow. He was talking about changing old practices and culture by thinking out of the box and taking new risks.
When I serve as a consultant who has a doctorate in education, my role as an M.D., in a nonprofit sense, is to visit the patient, assess the patient and prescribe ways to improve his or her performance based upon best-of-class modeling, research and comparisons with successful organizations. I meet with administration, board members, staff, donors, volunteers and others in order to audit the situation. In many cases, the same operational model exists that has been in place for many years.
People get satisfied with the status quo and wonder why results have been trending downward in a number of areas for years. In my consultant-doctor role, I go into a situation with a clean slate. I know what elements need to be in place for long-term success to occur. The problem is the organizational model may be tired or the individuals running the ship may not have the education, knowledge or competency to make the appropriate changes. In a number of cases they do not know what the problem is, and expected positive results continue to trend in a negative direction.
Any organization must be willing to examine itself and encourage the process of snow-globing to a new reality. I enjoy doing development audits and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, Threats) analysis, plus other techniques to determine the current status of a consulting patient. I review performance results over a timeframe in every area of the program unit I am studying. I ask for a variety of materials, such as a strategic plan, operational plan, organization chart, case for support, priorities for fundraising, metrics used in fundraising, etc.
I want to know if the patient is surviving, thriving or on life support. I interview a large number of internal and external stakeholders to seek their opinions. I need to know if individuals in the organization are truly held accountable. I start with the CEO of the nonprofit. I want to know what the individual feels about philanthropy and if he or she supports philanthropy. If these leaders have no ownership in the development process, it is doomed to fail.
As a consultant, I’ve had to shake a snow globe for many nonprofits through the years. Success was measured in a variety of ways. In my doctor role, I could quickly determine where the problems were in the organization. I could also suggest my prescription in the form of steps to be taken.
Sometimes as change occurs, an organization will stick a toe in new water and pull back. A case in point was when I had a large organization unanimously agree to increase investment in a development program. I showed how its foundation compared with two other like foundations in their system. These two foundations invested in their development program efforts, and over time the financial results were dynamically positive.
The CEO of this organization agreed, for example, to assist the foundation by increasing its operational budget, expanding the number of gift officers, changing the board structure to be development-focused and help the chief development officer in the development effort, instead of being previously passive. What I didn’t know is while leading this consulting work, the CEO actually decided to cut the development staff, including gift officers and budget, by a third. As a result of his actions, the fundraising revenue eventually declined over time, and the foundation board lost respect for administration. The chief operating officer actually told the CDO, “Do not bother the CEO.” This same CEO was raising thousands of dollars for his “pet” organizations in the community, but would not assist his own organizational foundation.
The moral of the snow globe story is don’t shake the globe unless you are willing to make changes in your organization. Success will take time, but you need to look for long-term success. At times I move from consultant to practitioner and back again. I hope you can understand why I move like I do. My greatest enjoyment is working with organizations that are willing to change the snow-globe scenery over time and will, from time to time, shake the globe!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, IN plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.