leadership dot #2558: social capital

In a recent workshop for nonprofit leaders, one of the speakers (John Donovan) advocated that the participants consider raising their social capital before embarking on a journey to raise financial capital. By this, he meant that nonprofit leaders needed to volunteer and be present in the community – outside of events affiliated with their own organization.

Many of the nonprofits were small organizations and may have only one or two people on staff so being engaged in more than their own events seemed daunting. But visibility pays dividends down the road – in connections, influence, awareness and ultimately in donations. A large part of raising capital comes from relationships, which in turn creates trust, which eventually creates an opportunity for collaboration, potential volunteers, and resource sharing.

Assess how you amass your social capital with as much intention as you do financial resources. Are you visible outside your organization? Do you have connections with the right people/organizations in your community? Are there gaps that you should close through visibility or involvement in other activities? Have you encouraged your staff to build the organization’s social capital through their networks?

Not everyone can provide financial contributions but most people have the capacity to give in other ways. Leverage those connections to advance the mission of nonprofits or to help your for-profit organization become a leader in the community. Individuals and organizations alike can “do well by doing good.”

leadership dot #2557: junk

I received a kitchen towel as a hospitality gift and the whole hem frayed the first time I washed it. Fortunately, it was from Kohl’s – a store that highlights its generous return policy — so I took it back for an even exchange.

Much to my surprise, the customer service manager said: “Oh, they all do that. I bought some myself and they all frayed. We can return it once for you but that is all; there will be no receipt with this exchange.”

I was stunned. Essentially, they know they sell junk – for $8 — but they do it anyway. Without apology.

The bar for customer service is getting lower all the time — but you can do better. Just by having your employees practice the words: “I’m sorry” and insisting they say the phrase to customers when something goes awry can go a long way in making you a provider of choice.

leadership dot #2556: bag it

I always think of the Red Cross being there in times of need – providing essentials to families whose home was destroyed by fire or assisting victims of natural disasters – but rarely do I consider where their supplies come from. In St. Louis, the local Red Cross made a concerted effort to gather items in an unusual way by placing donation bags on homes throughout neighborhoods.

Rather than utilizing a brown paper bag or a normal-sized plastic bag, the Red Cross ensured their donation bags would not be missed by making them bright pink and oversized. In addition, they were placed in unusual locations: on garage door openers, mailboxes, garage door handles, etc. Even if you did not contribute, you couldn’t miss the fact that the Red Cross was collecting and learn what items they found desirable.

In one effort, the Red Cross communicated their message, got noticed and gathered donations. The next time you’re tempted to do an appeal by sending a letter or posting on social media think about the giant pink bags of the Red Cross. How can you follow their example and take a unique approach to encourage donations?

Thanks, Brian!

leadership dot #2555: break it down

How do you solve the problem of plastic pollution? While some may look to scientists, National Geographic is looking to anyone and everyone to develop innovative solutions through a competition with substantial cash prizes. The organization hopes to “tap the entire world’s creativity and expertise” to address the growing concern.

What is most appealing to me is how they structured the contest: rather than asking for a team to tackle the entire issue, the contest seeks entries in three distinct categories: 1) a way to design better packaging; 2) development of a zero-waste business model (eg: how can companies get beverages to consumers bypassing individual containers) and 3) a way to show the scale and breadth of the plastics problem in a creative and intuitive way.

By narrowing a massive challenge, it automatically focuses the brain on solutions instead of feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. Think about how your organization can adopt this concept to address the major issues that you face. Is there a way to break your problem into manageable sub-sets? A way to engage others outside your organization through a contest? A way to incentivize those inside your organization with prizes?

The big issues are the ones that require out-of-the-box thinking or they would have already been resolved. Start your innovation process by innovating the way that you approach the challenge.

Thanks, Tricia!


 NOTE: The content for the dots from yesterday, today and tomorrow came from readers who had experienced the world through “dot eyes” and shared their observations with me. It is the highest compliment that I can receive from writing this blog – that others have internalized the principles driving it and see the connections in life for themselves.

I hope that many more of you have cultivated your own “dot eyes” but just haven’t shared examples with me – YET! Know that examples are always welcome – via email, Facebook, website comment form or carrier pigeon! What do your “dot eyes” see?



leadership dot #2554: service lift

In a sign of the times, the Portland airport has two islands for ground transportation after flight arrivals, including one just for Uber and Lyft. As a result, Lyft has made some modifications to their pickup process to handle the volume and make it a smooth process for all. When someone orders a Lyft car, the app directs you to the pickup island and gives you a code. You wait at the cue, and when the next driver comes up, you show your code to the driver and they take you to your destination. There still was only the number of cars that had been requested, but you aren’t assigned a specific driver.

It’s a very similar schematic as the normal taxi lineup except you got the best of both worlds – not a bunch of taxi drivers trying to sell you on the best price of their rides (you had a confirmed price when you ordered your Lyft), but it eliminated what I’m sure necessitated this system: the 25+ people looking for their specific driver at the same time.

And to make it even more seamless, Lyft had Lyft Ambassadors that wore the signature pink and helped people get in line and navigate the system, just in case you missed the large signs directing you there. They did not need to invest in personnel to facilitate the process but doing so made anxious travelers have one less stress point to figure out on their own.

Lyft may be number two in the ride-sharing business but won’t stay that way for long with this type of service. They realized it’s not enough to automate and let it go rather continual reinvention helps keep them win over new customers and keep those they have as loyal fans.

What have you done lately to reimagine your delivery process? Have you experienced your service from the customer perspective and made tweaks to improve it? Is there a way that you can “lift” the bar and set higher expectations for your organization? Take a lesson from Lyft on what customer-oriented looks like.

Thanks, Kelsey!

leadership dot #2553: hope

I spent the majority of the past three weeks of my life writing a Federal grant. The process gave me flashbacks to dissertation writing where it is overwhelming, all-consuming, stressful and seemingly impossible – and then suddenly you somehow finish. Only there was one major difference between a dissertation and a grant…

…I knew that if I completed my dissertation, I would earn a degree. With a grant, you may end up with nothing. All that work could result in no more than a rejection. School is a sure thing whereas grant writing, a business venture, making art or a host of other activities are done on pure speculation – yet they are where the real difference is made.

With your students or those with whom you have influence, help them cultivate their risk tolerance. We don’t teach enough of it in the educational system and yet it’s a critical skill for progress to occur. Help people take chances, to invest time in possibilities without letting the chance of failure overwhelm them, and to live life from a position of hope.

Writing a grant may get you nothing (at least from this round of proposals) but not writing a grant is certain to limit the ability for your idea to flourish. I have a paperweight that reads: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” Do that.

leadership dot #2552: sounds

Much effort goes into preserving the visual aspects of our culture but far less attention is paid to the audio components. An online museum: “Conserve the Sound” is trying to change that by compiling a collection of dying sounds to preserve as part of history.

Initially, you may pause and wonder what kind of sounds are dying but once you start thinking about it dozens of examples come to mind such as manual typewriters, electric typewriters, adding machines, push buttons on the car radio, slide projectors, modems, etc. The museum features less technological sounds as well — goat bells, deserted sea shores and egg beaters – sounds that many will never hear in their lifetime but were commonplace at one time.

It reminded me of an interview by Sheryl Sanders after her husband died where she said: “I wish I had taken more video.” It’s one thing to have a photo, but another to hear someone’s voice, their laugh and all the nuances of speech that make someone come to life.

Think about the sounds of your family or organization – which ones are most meaningful and should be preserved? Raise the consciousness of all the sounds around you – pay attention so you can really hear the distinctions amidst the cacophony that make up the soundtrack of your life.