When You Hit a Wall

  • Post category:Management
  • Reading time:3 mins read

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Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”             Henry Ford

After leaving high-tech I had a chance to pursue a passion, team-building. In the outskirts of Kansas City, I worked on a ropes-course helping kids and corporations develop their team-building skills.

One Spring morning I faced a dilemma, a group of fifth graders, each determined to climb an eight-foot wall on their own. Mind you, the challenge was for the entire team to ascend the wall with the stipulation that anyone who had ascend could not descend the wall to boost up remaining team members. They weren’t succeeding.

My dilemma was, do I let the kids face possible humiliation at the end of the day when the various groups typically compare how many challenges they completed or do I guide them towards the creation of a process that would allow them to succeed on the wall and other challenges.

Over the next two-hours the kids worked on building their problem-solving skills at the wall. As their facilitator it was my responsibility to introduce them to a problem-solving process, help them develop their competencies, demonstrate my belief in the process and more importantly my belief in them, and mentor them as they repeatedly implemented the problem-solving loop.

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At times, their frustration was palatable, but with a little nudging they recognized and admitted their failures, learned, and grew. They SUCCEEDED!

During the process they abandoned their individual goals and worked together to achieve a common goal. The end result was everyone did more than they could ever do on their own and were incredibly proud of their accomplishment. The team completed other challenges with ease.

The kids succeeded because they doubled-down on communication including clearly articulating their goal, soliciting ideas, listening, coming up with plans, and a willingness to revamp those plans. Every attempt brought them closer to achieving their goal and with every attempt their trust in each other increased. They built trust by making and keeping their commitment to get everyone over the wall and building their competency in the problem-solving process and wall climbing.

The success of a partnership depends on these same factors. If you find your partnership stuck, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the purpose of the partnership clear?

  • What commitments are we making to support the partnership?

  • Is there an adequate level of trust to sustain the partnership?

  • Have we determined a clear working arrangement?

  • Are we accountable for our performance?

  • What have we learned from the partnership and how are we applying it to enhance the partnership?

There is a solution for every wall, sometimes you just need to dig a little deeper to find it.

Joan Patterson currently serves on the board of Friends of the Duck Stamp/Migratory Bird and was the former Director of Grassroots Outreach of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and board member for the Friends of Tualatin River NWR and the Friends of Potomac River Refuges.

Resources:
http://www.strengtheningnonprofits.org/resources/guidebooks/Partnerships.pdf
Public Lands Alliance,
Best Practices Establishing a Partnership Model for America’s Public Lands
Stephen M. R. Covey,
The Speed of Trust

Continue Reading When You Hit a Wall

The Partnership Dance

  • Post category:Management
  • Reading time:4 mins read

The other week Tim Blount and I were discussing the take over of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the lessons learned about partnerships created during the occupation. Our discussion caused me to reflect on a 67-year partnership that had incredible results. You see 67 was my Dad’s favorite number, it was the number of years he was married to Mom. A little over a month ago Dad passed away, just 371 days after his beloved bride. So when I think about successful partnerships I can’t help but think of them.

Dad would boast that together they could do anything. They grew up during the Depression and their union made possible immeasurable blessings for both of them, their family, and friends. When Betty and Jerry said their “I do’s” in 1948 they were committed to a long-term partnership. For their union to be successful they realized they needed to be flexible. Their marriage evolved as they learned how to effectively manage their household, build their capacity to support their family, and shared valuable experiences.

These are the same elements that every organizations wants to achieve when working with a partner. The value of partnering with others is that each organization is able to achieve more than they could working alone. A successful collaboration requires commitment, flexibility, and an organic approach because the relationship evolves over time as each party learns to effectively manage, build capacity and gain valuable experience.

For a partnership to be successful each party must be willing to learn and evolve. As my philosophical Dad would say his best teachers were his wife and kids, my mother would smile and graciously nod in agreement.

So Friends as we look at partnerships, whether with the Service or other organizations there are some common themes that I have learned from research that identifies critical factors for success:

  • Working persistently to create a balance between working within the requirements of your partnership arrangement and maintaining the flexibility to do what is needed.

  • Building a solid understanding for the partnership including purpose, vision, goals, values, roles, decision-making, communications and accountability.

  • Understanding that partnerships have life-cycles just like organizations and they are impacted by what is going on in your environment.

As you consider forging or enhancing a partnership it’s imperative that your board and potential partner:

  • Identify what you want to achieve.

  • Determine what factors will make the partnership successful.

  • Identify potential barriers.

  • Recognize and accept any dependency on specific individuals to achieve the goals of the partnership.

  • Focus on how your partnership adds value and show that you appreciate your partner.

  • Recognize the strengths and assets of each partner that can contribute to achieving your common goal(s).

Your board needs to have frank discussions about these components.

A successful partnership offers immeasurable benefits such as increasing your organization’s exposure, ability to provide services, decrease costs and increase your organization’s credibility in the community. Plus your stellar partnership will inspire others and attract resources to support your mission. That’s what my folks did. Even in their later years, they would hold hands as they walked around the neighborhood. Their neighbors told us that simple symbol of their partnership inspired them to hold their partner’s hand a little tighter as reaffirmation of their partnership.

Friends embrace your partners. Grab their hand ask them to dance and keep on dancing. Be open, flexible, understanding and enjoy!

Joan Patterson currently serves on the board of Friends of the Duck Stamp/Migratory Bird and was the former Director of Grassroots Outreach of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and board member for the Friends of Tualatin River NWR and the Friends of Potomac River Refuges.

Your comments are welcome.

Look for future post on:
Types of partnerships at the local and national level
Managing successful partnerships
Creating collaborative work plans
Evaluating and monitoring partnerships
Partnership life cycles
Relationship versus Agreement

Sources:
https://boardsource.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/3-Questions-Collaborating.pdf
http://www.strengtheningnonprofits.org/resources/guidebooks/Partnerships.pdf

Continue Reading The Partnership Dance

Stand Up, Speak Out

  • Post category:Advocacy
  • Reading time:3 mins read

A little over a year ago we woke to the unthinkable, a militia group was occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Fortunately the occupation ended and this week four more defendants go on trial. But the assault on public lands continues.

town-meeting-feature-imageSome members of Congress with extreme views on public lands are proposing more formidable threats in the form of legislation and thankfully the Refuge Association’s Action Alerts keeps us informed. We as Friends need to take action, we need to get in front of your legislators.

I’ve been fortunate to hear from hundreds of Friends members and you all have at least one thing in common – you are passionate about your refuge. I saw this passion in Tim Blount, when as the Executive Director of the Friends of Malheur, went to the Hill last January and spoke to his congressional team and the natural resources and judiciary committees. He demonstrated that his commitment to the refuge went far beyond its boundaries to include the community and the entire Refuge System.

Like Tim we all need to speak up for our refuge, community, and the Refuge System. Next week members of Congress will be in their districts for a week-long recess. Please join in contacting their offices and ask him/her when and where their next town hall forum will be. If they don’t know, ask to be added to their email list so you’ll get notices of future meetings. If you need their phone numbers go to Senate and/or Representative.

Gather a few Friends and go to the town hall forum. We can make a difference. Ask them questions to solicit their support for public lands and in particular for your refuge. We can use the message the Refuge Association sent on February 7th to formulate a question such as:

I and many of your constituents value our public lands and urge you to oppose any legislation that seeks to transfer the title or management of our public lands or legislation that would harm the National Wildlife Refuge System. These lands, like our local ______ National Wildlife Refuge, are incredibly important not just for wildlife, but also for all Americans to whom they belong. Will you commit to voting to keep our public lands public and our Refuge System safe and secure?

Try to get a video of their response and please post your experience on Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates Facebook group. This information will be helpful as we work together to support the Refuge System.

Fellow Friends members please make sure you are receiving the Refuge Association’s Action Alerts and GO to your representatives town hall forum and STAND up for you refuge. Let your representatives and everyone else at the forum know how important these public lands are to you and your community. Thanks.

 Joan Patterson is the former Director of Grassroots Outreach of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and has served on the Friends boards at Tualatin River, Potomac River and the Duck Stamp/Migratory Bird.

Continue Reading Stand Up, Speak Out

What We Friends Can Do: Part 2

  • Post category:Advocacy
  • Reading time:5 mins read

Across the country, nonprofit sector leaders from many different areas (conservation. child welfare, health care, arts, education, etc.) are working overtime to make sure that all nonprofit board members everywhere understand that advocacy is an important strategy for achieving their mission. (Find out more about the national campaign at the Stand For Your Mission website here.) The right to provide information to our elected leaders is fundamental in America, and 501(c)(3) organizations absolutely share in that right. Advocacy – including lobbying at the national, state, and local levels –  is a critical part of our role as Friends. Remember, there are limits on what our Service colleagues can do to advocate for the refuges we love. If attacks on public lands continue or gain traction, it will be up to us to mount the defense.  So what can we do to get ready?  Here are my thoughts.

Clarify your mission.  If you haven’t already done so, please read the blog Joan Patterson posted on November 5 regarding the mission of Friends groups. Share it with your colleagues on the board and ask for time on the next meeting agenda. Ask yourself and each other: “If the administration proposes or supports actions that threaten the refuge system, are we ready to oppose it?” “Is our mission to support the refuge or the organization that manages it?” “Do we as a board believe that a threat to any refuge is a threat to us here?” “Is it part of our mission to defend Vieques, Arctic, Monomoy or Loxahatchee?” Have those discussions internally and know where your group stands before the time comes.

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Cathy Allen with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio in his DC office

Know Your Rights.  There is a lot of confusion about the laws governing nonprofit advocacy. Misinformation abounds. Since my days as Executive Director of Ohio League of Conservation Voters, I have successfully relied on The Bolder Advocacy Initiative of the Alliance for Justice (AFJ). They provide legal information, tools for effective advocacy, even a technical assistance hotline for getting your questions answered. Their attorneys want us to engage in vigorous conservation advocacy without crossing legal lines.  They are an excellent resource. Click through to learn more.

Establish an Advocacy Policy. AFJ and others recommend that all organizations put a policy in place governing their practices, stating what issues they would take up (or not) and what activities they will engage in (or not.) The Friends of the Carr Refuge adopted such a policy a few months ago, thereby empowering me as advocacy champion to take quick action when an issue emerges. I know exactly what my board colleagues want me to do and not do, and I can use my title and the name of the organization within those parameters without any risk of getting ahead of the group.  We will make adjustments as we go, but we are ready.  To download the policy we created, click here.

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Joan Patterson and Cathy Allen on Capitol Hill

Sign up for action alerts.  If you don’t already receive the action alerts Desire Sorenson-Groves sends from the National Wildlife Refuge Association, please visit their website and sign up.  She and her team provide a quick and easy way to stay up to date on the issues in Washington, and the Refuge Association’s stance on them. They craft position papers on everything from the budget to species conservation to threats against individual refuges.  Together with the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, they kick out a great deal of information about how to lobby, the positions taken by individual members of congress, and how we can best help. If you do talk to a representative or senator, make sure to feed that information back to Desiree. It all helps. 

Participate in coalition activities.  As refuge Friends groups we are not alone. Many other organizations stand with us in the fight to defend our public lands. There are Friends groups at national parks, state parks, and local land trusts, as well as conservation-minded organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Audubon, League of Conservation Voters, and many more. Many savvy and experienced advocates are out there waiting for us to add our voices to ongoing efforts. If there is a local coalition or network in your area, make sure you are part of it.  If there isn’t, call a meeting. There is strength in numbers.

Much as we Friends love being in close partnership with our Service partners, on the question of advocacy we must be on our own.  Let’s use this forum for open discussion among ourselves.  Please comment and share widely.

Cathy Allen is a nonprofit organizational development consultant in Florida who is also a passionate lover of wildlife refuges.  A former president at Friends of Ottawa NWR (Ohio), she currently serves on the board at Friends of the Carr Refuge.

 

Continue Reading What We Friends Can Do: Part 2

It’s Time for a Hug (and Some Work)

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I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the transition to a new administration and what it might mean for the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is clear to me that our national discussion about the value of public lands will be as important as ever. I know there are hopeful signs, and I agree with those who say we don’t need to hit the panic button yet. Still, the wise women in my family always said “Expect the best, but plan for the worst.” So, what can we Friends do to make sure we can participate in that national dialogue and be as strong as we can be in case we are called upon to defend our refuges? Here is my list. I’d be glad to know what Friends around the country are thinking or working on.

Hug a member of your Refuge staff. Some federal employees may be quite worried – for themselves, their families, and the refuges they love so well. The expected hiring freeze has many moving around these last few weeks. New leaders are coming to fill those top jobs. Let’s make sure we show our staff how much we appreciate all that they do and stand for. Tell them that you will be there to support the refuge, that you will always be in communication, and always working for the values you share. At a recent gathering of the USFWS directorate here in Florida, we were able to hold a reception and include Friends from nine different refuges. I know it made these leaders feel better, seeing that we were with them, and it helped strengthen our bonds of friendship.

Strengthen your organization. If you are not operating at full capacity, now is the time to get organized. Learn about nonprofit legal requirements and best practices in governance and organizational development and start taking steps to improve. Find your state affiliate of the National Council of Nonprofits, a local nonprofit resource center, or a consultant, and get their assistance. Find the treasure trove of great resources at the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s www.RefugeFriendsConnect.org. Think through what kinds of skills and talents you need on your board and recruit people, orient them, and integrate them into the existing team.

Develop contingency plans. During the government shut down of 2014, the Friends of Ottawa NWR found that we were unable to get to our computers, files, lists, phone messages, mail,and more. Everything related to the running of our organization was at the refuge, and we were prohibited from going there. Other groups have experienced the sudden departure of a treasurer or web master and all the related passwords were lost. In the electronic age there is no excuse for that. If your records and operating systems are not cloud-based, set that up and make sure multiple board members can access everything from home. Set up a post office box in town and start shifting your incoming mail to it. Recycle the telephone answering machine and invest in voicemail.

Make sure you are communicating with members. Your members may be even more interested than usual in knowing what is happening and how they can help. Do your best to gather all forms of contact information from members, donors, supporters, visitors to the refuge, anyone you can. Make sure you have a good contact management system. Send out electronic newsletters. Get people used to seeing you in their inbox. Get on the mailing lists of some of the other Friends groups and see how they are doing it. There are some Friends volunteers out there who are doing super inspiring and creative things with electronic media.

Build outreach efforts. In addition to beefing up our websites and social media efforts, this is an excellent time to begin seeking opportunities to present information about our refuges and their friends in schools, libraries, churches, civic organizations, and service clubs. Invite community leaders to the refuge and give them a great tour. Set up a media day and invite all the reporters. Provide them with information and make sure they know how to contact you if they have further questions.

I have other ideas that are more specifically related to advocacy and lobbying, so watch for those next week. Meanwhile, I will be working locally to make sure we have as much in place as we can if the time comes when we really have to be on the hustings. If that time doesn’t come – great! Our organizations will be stronger and able to accomplish even more. Thanks for listening. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this offline or on.

Cathy Allen is a nonprofit organizational development consultant in Florida who is also a passionate lover of wildlife refuges.  A former president at Friends of Ottawa NWR (Ohio), she currently serves on the board at Friends of the Carr Refuge.

Continue Reading It’s Time for a Hug (and Some Work)