Monthly Archives: January 2014

Get the Horse Ready!

In fundraising, in sales — in pretty much all of life, for that matter — we who consider ourselves people of faith frequently wrestle with the question, “How much is up to God and how much is up to me?” Am I the master of my destiny or am I completely under the control of my Creator? Sure, I can make my plans, but at the end of the day am I 100% responsible for the outcome — or is it closer to zero?

There’s a “passivist believer” attitude that essentially says, “If God is in control then nothing is really up to me. I can get by with the bare minimum.” God is going to do what He’s going to do anyway, so why make the effort? Seems to me it’s too easy to use this level of so-called “trust” as an excuse for detachment and disengagement. I don’t think God calls us to passivity.

At the opposite end of the God/me spectrum is the “activist believer” attitude that essentially says, “It’s really up to me, and I don’t truly expect God to step in at all.” Oh, we might go through the motions of praying about decisions, mostly for appearance’s sake, but when it comes to trusting God the “activist believer” sometimes behaves like what someone has labelled a functional atheist. Our so-called trust is all form and no substance.

One of my favorite proverbs sheds light on this God/me question. It’s Proverbs 21:31 which in the NIV says, The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord. You Bible scholars out there may tell me I’m using a faulty exigesis here, and you may be right, but to me this verse helps clarify things. It says, yes, I do trust God fully and absolutely for the outcome of anything I undertake. But I have a big responsibility: I’m supposed to get the horse ready. That means I think, I plan, I work. The end result is fully in God’s hands but preparation is my responsibility.

Are you making plans for your day, your week, your year, your life? I’m doing the same…and I’m gradually learning how to trust God and to get busy. So excuse me…I’ve got to go get the horse ready.

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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


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A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins With…

Complete this sentence: “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with…”

With what? A prayer? A To Do list? A spreadsheet? The usual answer is “a single step,” and that’s probably true in a way. But for me the real sentence should read, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the decision to begin.”

Starting can be the hardest part. I can often find plenty of reasons not to begin the journey. I’m not really ready. I’m not sure that’s really where I want to go. I’m not sure what that fateful first step should look like. I’m not packed yet. And what if I try that first step only to trip at the starting line? (That’s one reason why I don’t golf, by the way — I hate teeing off in front of so many amused strangers.)

When it comes to beginning the journeys of life, two related quotes come to mind. The first is from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and it was on the bulletin board at the first radio station I ever worked at. The quote intimidated me at the time — I think it was really posted there by the Sales Manager to encourage me to make more cold calls — but after having spent three and a half decades in sales and fundraising I see the wisdom of it more clearly, and it still pops into my head from time to time. You’ve probably heard it: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

In other words, there is power in simply beginning. Some people say that God can’t steer a parked car. I say He can, but He simply chooses not to. You need to be moving!

The second quote comes from that wise sage, Dr. Phil. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but basically Dr. Phil says, You’ll never really make significant adjustments in your life until the pain of same outweighs the pain of change. I really like that. Sometimes the courage to begin the arduous and uncertain journey starts with the sheer discomfort of the status quo.

So what’s holding you back? Is it not knowing that first step? Or is it simply that you haven’t truly decided to begin? Maybe it’s time.

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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Unqualified Compliment

Admit it — doesn’t it feel good to receive a word of encouragement? I’m thinking particularly of the workplace here. I don’t know about you but I derive quite a bit of personal satisfaction, not to mention a sense of job security (maybe too much, come to think of it) when I receive a compliment or an encouraging word from the boss. Conversely, when the boss never says anything encouraging, I find myself plagued with self-doubt. Am I not measuring up? Does he or she not like me anymore? Neurotic? Maybe…but I strongly suspect I’m not the only one. You know who you are!

Somewhere between the sound of silence from the boss and the pleasant and encouraging word of affirmation lies what I call the Qualified Compliment. I had a boss once who was the master of the Qualified Compliment — he simply couldn’t bring himself to say something encouraging without adding a stinger at the end. Examples:

  • “Nice month in January! Way to go! Of course, the rest of the quarter doesn’t look so hot…”
  • “Good work on the McDonald’s buy — nice piece of business! Why didn’t we get on Fred Meyer?”
  • “Looks like Bill is really coming around — you’re doing a good job with him! But Anne is really slipping…what’s going wrong there?”

Just once, I used to think, can’t you say something encouraging and then leave it there? I guess he feared I would get complacent…but actually his backhanded criticism sowed seeds of self-doubt. Not healthy.

Managers, here’s a thought: try giving one of your team members a compliment without qualification: an Unqualified Compliment! Then see what happens. I think you have some subordinates who will REALLY appreciate it!

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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Our fundraising team just finished a terrific calendar year-end. For you in the business you grasp the significance of what I’m talking about. For you non-fundraisers it’s hard to overstate the importance of December. It is often pretty much the make-or-break month for many donor-supported organizations.

Anyway, the other day we did something all too rare in the not-for-profit world: we celebrated. Our department leader scheduled a two-hour gathering in mid-afternoon complete with taco bar and refreshments and we had a mini-fiesta. And as we ate, we spent time talking about the contributions others had made to our collective success. It was a lot of fun and created, I think, a terrific atmosphere of cohesiveness and cooperation among our large and diverse team.

And that got me to thinking: how often do we miss the chance to gather together and celebrate what our teams have accomplished? How often do we pass up the opportunity for a collective celebratory pat on the back?

Maybe some bosses are afraid to “waste the time” when there’s so much work to be done — yes, you made the goal, but January sucks so get back to work. Others may fear we’ll all get too complacent and lose our sense of urgency if we spend even a little time in the party spirit recognizing what we’ve achieved together. I suppose some managers simply aren’t wired in a relational configuration (translation: they’re relatively un-empathetic and somewhat clueless about the emotional needs of their subordinates) so the idea of celebration never occurs to them.  Maybe not-for-profit organizations are simply “celebratorily challenged.”

So here’s a suggestion: find something to celebrate, and do it! “Seek the good and praise it,” as the saying goes. If you haven’t been doing this much your team may find it odd at first, but having been on both sides of this one over the years I speak from experience: few things build a sense of team like a collective attaboy/attagirl. So, take some time off, invite the troops and have a party. Oh, and tacos help, too.

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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Power of Course Corrections

Fundraising, like life, is typically more a marathon than a sprint. Building relationships and achieving organizational goals happens over time. Trouble is, the more we get bogged down in the daily slog, the more we can lose sight of the eventual goal. We need to stop from time to time, figure out where we are (as opposed to where we think we are) and make sure we’re on course. If we’re not, it may be time for a course correction.

(Navy Flashback Alert!) Let’s say you’re on a ship leaving San Diego and heading for Pearl Harbor. At 20 knots that trip should take a bit less than five days. So you leave San Diego, set your course toward Pearl Harbor, and then you sail happily across the eastern Pacific expecting that you’ll wake up on the morning of Day Five with Diamond Head on the horizon. Right? Wrong! It doesn’t work that way, as anyone knows who has spent any time on the open sea.

What will happen instead is that you’ll wake up on Day Five with Diamond Head nowhere to be seen. That’s because along every mile of your cruise the ship is being driven off course. Sometimes the causes are external: wind, waves, currents. Other causes can be internal: your compass is bad, your rudder is misaligned, your helmsman isn’t paying attention. If you just set your course and forget it you’ll probably discover on Day Five that you’re 100 miles or more off course, because the forces that drive you from your predetermined track are cumulative — that is, the longer you wait the greater the correction you’ll eventually have to make. The obvious answer, and what Navy ships do, is to take constant fixes to determine where you actually are. Then you make continual, minor corrections to stay on course. And on Day Five, voila — there’s Pearl Harbor, right where it belongs.

In my business (and also in my relationships — this definitely applies to marriage!), I may think I’m on track, but in fact I’m constantly being driven off course by outside and inside influences and distractions. I’d better get into the habit of taking continual fixes — a regular reality check! — and then making those small adjustments I need to make to keep myself on track toward my destination. The longer I wait and assume everything is fine, the bigger and harder the course correction I’ll have to make. It might even be too hard, or too late.

So…I can think of several course corrections I need to make. How about you?

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Posted by on January 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Four i’s of Poor Leadership

Leadership. Is there any topic concerning which more words have been written, more speeches given, more consulting fees generated? At last count there are presently over three billion books in print about leadership. (Okay, I made that up…but it must be a lot.)

Like you, I’ve worked for some terrific leaders — and I’ve worked for some who were, um, not so terrific. Talking about this with some friends this morning, we came up with at least four traits that we think render a leader ineffective. See if you agree with the Four i’s of Poor Leadership.

1. A poor leader is indecisive. This one stings a bit because I know in my past roles as a leader I have been guilty of stalling, analyzing, and debating some obvious decisions far past their expiration date. Those who look to you for leadership need you to be decisive. Remember, not to decide is to decide!

2. A poor leader is impulsive. This ready-fire-aim trait can unsettle everyone around you, as the boss’s project du jour suddenly sweeps aside all the really important priorities. If indecisiveness is at one end of the negativity scale, impulsiveness is probably at the other.

3. A poor leader is insulated. Leaders can hide behind their desks, their doors, their walls, their circle of self-serving advisors, and not listen to the inconvenient truth that those not on the “inside” are dying to disclose. This goes far beyond the world of business: how many politicians and religious leaders are brought low because they insulate themselves from the facts and refuse to be accountable?

4. A poor leader is insecure. I’m not talking about the brash pseudo-security that comes from an overpowering personality — that’s not true security. I mean the inner strength that says, “I know who I am. I know what I believe. And I am not at the mercy of the opinions of those around me.” (Personally I think that inner strength comes from our relationship with God.) Insecurity drives some leaders to feel they always have to be Mr. or Ms. Nice Guy, while others conclude they have to be Ms. or Mr. Dictator, constantly demanding my respect. Either way, I think insecurity is the at root of the problem.

So there are my Four i’s of Poor Leadership. What do you think? Any you’d like to add?

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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized



Pick Up Five Things!

“You can accomplish anything if…”  How would you complete that sentence?

A business friend I always admired used to say it this way: “You can accomplish anything if you just know the next step.”

I like that idea. Sometimes the sheer size of a project can seem overwhelming. Daunting. Paralyzing. If I look at the whole enchilada it can stop me in my tracks. At times like that I’ve found that that the best question to ask myself is, “What should I do next?” I even find that notion helpful when I have a day or a week on my calendar without enough planned activity: instead of getting frustrated trying to figure out how to fill up the whole day or the entire week, I can often gain traction simply by focusing on the next 30 minutes!

When I was a kid and my room was messy, the sheer size of the mess was enough to paralyze my little brain. “Mom, I can’t do it, it’s too hard!” I would wail. Her calm reply was always the same: “Pick up five things.” She knew that if I reduced the task to a bite-sized Next Step, it would break the logjam and establish some momentum. Now when I get overwhelmed I often remind myself, “Just pick up five things.” And it doesn’t even matter which five things! The important thing is to begin. Take the next step.

Stephen Covey told us in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to “Begin with the end in mind.” I agree. But at those times when the end seems too far away and hard to reach, I may need to content myself with a baby step in the right direction. A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step — but it’s the next step after that, and the one after that, and the one after that — and so on and on — that will get you there.

Overwhelmed? You can accomplish anything if you just know the next step. So go pick up five things.

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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


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