The world was buzzing when Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple Inc. and then passed away shortly after. His legacy in the technology world and computer age will be talked about and debated for years to come. Steve Jobs has spent his career challenging conventions about personal computing. He has transformed an industry and changed the way we think about technology. Steve Jobs has gone from ousted company titan to the dominate force in our retail society and technological culture. The success of Apple Inc. has made Steve Jobs an icon of industry, but can his business principles and philosophy be successful in other professional fields?
Steve Jobs has unique and well-defined business principles; The 10 Commandments of Steve Jobs as published by Leander Kahney of the Daily Beast. (1) Go for perfect- Jobs appreciates the detail in work. (2) Tap the experts- Jobs hires the best at what they do. (3) Be Ruthless- Don’t clone or imitate, create and innovate. (4) Shun focus groups- Jobs quote “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (5) Never stop studying- Always keep your skills update and look to the best for where to set the bar next. (6) Simplify- Jobs design philosophy revolves around constant simplification. (7) Keep your secrets- Nobody at Apple talks, everyone is on a need to know basis. (8) Keep teams small- Make design groups a small cooperative working group. (9) Use more carrot than stick- Jobs could be scary, but his charisma and enthusiasm made Apple what it is today. (10) Prototype to the extreme- Jobs prototypes everything to the extreme and is willing to scrap projects even after months of work if he felt the user experience would not be to his standards.
What can nonprofit leadership (CEOs & Boards) do to turn this extremely successful philosophy into productive policies and processes that can positively impact our organizations? Since I have spent the last 16 years studying the nonprofit world, trying to find ways to make it more efficient administratively and effective programmatically, I thought I would attempt to take his business philosophy and make it relevant to the charitable and inspiration sector.
- Go for perfect- For nonprofits this concerns our; grant applications, website development, marketing campaigns, stewardship, and service programs we offer. Go for perfect might not be in our budget, but it should be what we strive for.
- Tap the experts- Talk to other organizations and leaders doing great things. Engage with professionals through social media outlets. Good advice is always out there and available for free- if you are willing to ask for it. It is time for nonprofits to tear down the silos and tap into many resources out there.
- Be ruthless- Nonprofits refuse to change events or programs all the time just because “that’s the way we have always done it.” Never be afraid to end a program or event when it no longer has value to your organization. One famous quote by Jobs, “I’m just as proud of the things Apple chose not to do.”
- Shun focus groups- New programs and campaigns have successful launches when they are enthusiastically revealed to stakeholders. Excitement dissipates if talked about for months in a newsletter. People like surprises, especially if it involves recognition, partnership, or program innovation.
- Never stop studying- As nonprofit leaders, board members, and fundraisers we have to be life-long learners and update our skills to stay relevant in our field. We need to be knowledgeable about donor tracking software, social media, stewardship techniques, and legal issues that constantly change and evolve, not doing this can only hurt our organizations.
- Simplify- Nonprofits need to hire employees with multiple skill sets and abilities. You no longer need a staff person for every aspect of your organization. Keeping operational cost to a minimum and administrative offices lean is good business in a down economy.
- Keep your secrets- Since transparency is the law in the nonprofit world and anyone can have access to annual reports and board meeting minutes- this is hard to do. However, when it comes to internal strife and board disagreements- nonprofits need to handle their business professionally so not to negatively impact professional staff or the organization’s brand.
- Keep teams small- This is great advice for board committees and administrative teams. These groups are not effective when they get too large. A small group usually is a more “accountable” group and that is what nonprofits need to be in order to stay financially viable and stay mission focused.
- Use more carrot than stick- Motivating a nonprofit’s professional staff can be tough to do because of the emotional and mentally exhausting work they provide populations in need. Leadership must recognize, value, and show appreciation (on a consistent basis) those in the trenches. A positive environment has a bigger impact on retention in many cases than salary or benefits.
- Prototype to the extreme- This refers to new programs, since “new” does not mean better, organizations need to do their research. NPOs must make sure programs meet desired outcomes, relate to mission, and are financially sustainable.
To be an effective nonprofit organization you must have executive and board leadership willing and able to; hire the right people, constantly evolve, cut where and when necessary (programs and people), be fiscally responsible, and be dedicated life long learners of the nonprofit profession (professional development is very important). In Steve Jobs 10 Commandments we see these characteristics illustrated very distinctly. Mr. Jobs sought perfection in Apple’s product design, creation, and marketing; nonprofits should have the same pride in their events, programs, and major organizational campaigns. Imagine kicking off an annual campaign with the enthusiasm and excitement of an iPad or iPhone launch. Steve Jobs genius is in his simplicity, we all can agree with parts (if not all) of his philosophy, so let’s create an environment which they can occur and become the titans of our industry as well.
Generation Y, more commonly known as the Millennial Generation, are called many things; Facebook Generation, Lost Generation, and the Tech Generation, because of the global events and innovative times they are living through. Whatever you call them the demographic power of this generation is far greater than many realize because of its overpowering size. For the sake of argument lets say you are part of Generation Y if you were born between the years 1982-2000. Generation Y (more than 100 million strong) by the numbers is 30% larger than the Baby Boomers and three times the size of Generation X. With an overwhelming amount of millennials entering the workforce, or preparing to, nonprofits need to be ready to recruit and transition them to fill the needed positions of the over 1 million philanthropic organizations in our country today.
The leadership make-up of many nonprofits across the country is currently dominated by baby boomers (who by most accounts became eligible for retirement this year). Compared to boomers; millennials are better educated, have more self-esteem, are more demanding, light years ahead understanding technology, and are more empowered to win at the game of life so to speak. With such a small number of Gen Xers pursuing employment with nonprofit organizations, millennials are quickly becoming the next wave of philanthropic leaders.
Nonprofits need to understand the belief system millennials want their work environment to share, the triple bottom line of profit, planet, and people. Millennials value the impossible and are interested in what has not been done (ie: eradicating disease, ending extreme poverty, negotiating peace agreements, and providing clean water to developing countries). They need to feel, smell, and be apart of the reality that is going on where ever they work.
Millennials are attracted to working for companies that are apart of a cause and want to do more than just sell you a product, that is why they are so primed for nonprofits to recruit. They crave a working environment where they can work hard, have a good time while they do it, and feel like they are part of a community. They are willing to break the 9 to 5 mold (work tireless hours) and are attracted to a organizations that are conscience about the greater role they play in the world. Nonprofits need to connect and communicate to the millennial workforce with how their work will impact the overall mission of the organization (even if it is not global), that “connection” is what motivates them.
Technology has given nonprofits the ability to expand their reach concerning; marketing services, creating awareness, and collect fundraising revenue from anywhere. Millennials have technology practically genetically encoded in their DNA and these “digital natives” grew up with the internet as part of their social upbringing. Nonprofits will find success with this generation by trusting them with technology driven task, like social media (which many just started to explore), and just let them run with it and take it where they want it to go.
Millennials want to be leaders of social change now, because they already have seen evidence that their talents, ideas, and contributions can make a lasting impact in society. Harnessing the energy, tech savvy ability, and complex diversity of Generation Y is important for nonprofit organizations to understand. The next step is utilizing and implementing these talents the same way companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have done so successfully. The next 5 to 10 years will be a key period of transition for nonprofits concerning the recruitment of the millennial workforce. If nonprofit organizations ignore this opportunity there could be consequences concerning organizational viability and meeting the demand for much-needed leadership.
In economically tough times there are ways nonprofits can save money and that can impact their strained budgets immediately. I suggest four major budget line items where substantial cuts can be made, they include; Web hosting, Marketing, Stewardship, and Printing.
- Web hosting: I know a lot of nonprofit websites were established a long time ago and they have been with the same web design/hosting company for sometime, usually at a high cost do to maintenance fees. With so many low-cost web hosting sites available and site building editors easy to use- you no longer need a degree in computer science to create a professional and exciting site for your organization. Most hosting sites today can be purchased for under $15.00 a month, have unlimited bandwidth, require little maintenance, and are easy to make changes to in minutes. I recommend; SquareSpace, Host Gator, Yahoo websites, and WordPress (favorite so far).
- Marketing: Almost everyone is on at least one social media site these days, take your pick and platform (focus your energy and build a loyal audience) to reach your target market. Make letting your donors, volunteers, and populations you serve know where to find you easy and a priority (brochures, business cards, & website) this will help to build your base. Marketing for nonprofits should be all about awareness. The easiest and cheapest way to create awareness is through active participation in social media. If you are not comfortable with social media just check your with your staff- it is a good bet one of them is on Facebook or Twitter right now!
- Stewardship: A lot of money can be spent every year on gifts and awards for staff, volunteers, and board members. However, public recognition is still considered by most the best way to thank someone, mainly because you are doing it in front of an audience. Social media is a great inexpensive way to genuinely thank someone in front of supporters who will see it for a long time while the mention is up on a website, or linked to Facebook or twitter, and even YouTube.
- Printing: This can be very costly and usually is a budget item that never goes away. Board members and volunteers usually have access to high-speed copiers, color copy machines, or printing services within their organization to assist you with this need. There are lots of ways to cut down on printing cost- decrease direct mailings, fewer special events, and cutting down on creating flyers. However, people need to be thanked, promotion still needs to happen, and not everyone can be reached through email or social media. Don’t go it alone, ask for help and partner with your stakeholders to make this necessity accessible and affordable.
I really like social media, especially twitter, my preferred source of news concerning business, philanthropy, and all things fundraising. I have seen much debate from fundraising professionals in my twitter stream about where nonprofits should cut back? The options are endless; special events, direct mailings, stewardship, marketing, technology and equipment, and of course the unpopular one- staff.
Nonprofits need to consider a variety of options concerning efforts to be more financially responsible. So many of these suggestions above offer measurable results, detailed analytics on your efforts, and the target audience you desire- all leading to time well spent and money well saved.
Nonprofit Boards need direction and coaching when considering taking on a capital campaign. Bottom line here is a capital campaign will be the toughest undertaking your agency will ever go through and the first three years after your building is built- will be the next toughest.
I just recently spoke to a Board about their desire to start a capital campaign and the point I stressed the most was the need for an increase in Board involvement. Without a Board willing, able, and ready to commit a tremendous amount of time and resources- taking on a capital campaign will be an exhausting uphill battle. There must be a steady build up to building something sustainable and certain steps must be recognized in the process.
Step 1: A feasibility study must be performed. Never start a capital campaign without undertaking this process. Too many times I have seen campaigns start with an incredibly high target goal announced and you can tell the organization greatly overestimated their worth in the community. Use this process to determine how your services are valued, how your brand and reputation are perceived, and if your mission is well-known. Ask these questions to the same folks you hope to be asking for funding, including; Board members, past donors, corporate and civic leaders, and even the populations you serve.
Look at the organizations around you, about the same size financially, to see what their campaign goals were and if they were met. Always understand that a new building will require an increase in operational dollars raised, so have an idea what that new goal will be each year. For a successful transition to a new building “sustainability” should be your Board’s biggest concern and a proactive resource development plan should be in place before you move into a new building.
Step 2: 100% Board support and giving. This is super important, why? Because everyone wants to see this. Most foundations and matching grant opportunities will not contribute if your Board does not give at 100%- and really why should they? Even more important than making sure everyone on the Board gives something they need to give at a level beyond any previous donation. Boards must do more than just WANT a new building or expect an Executive Director to pull one out of a hat. Boards need to show both current donors and potential major gift donors that they mean business.
Step 3: Create a capital campaign committee. You need people who no one in your community can say “no” to. I would recommend only a couple of agency Board members serve on this group for continuity in leadership and consistency of message. However, this group must be made up of “heavy hitters” in your community. Rome was not built in a day, but if it would have had a strong capital campaign committee- who knows? I suggest a committee of 10-15 strong philanthropic individuals with big names and a long reach of influence. Even if these folks have no prior involvement, they are usually intrigued enough in the organization to be a part of it in its most publicized hour (just being honest here).
Step 4: Market the campaign to the world. People like to be part of the process- so let them participate. Service groups (Kiwanis & Rotary), Chamber of Commerce, small businesses groups, and philanthropic individuals will contribute many times because of “who else” is involved. Let them know, publicize the vision and the effort being taken by the capital campaign committee- let the community see their leaders in action.
Remember: In a capital campaign “action” without proper research and planning is a disaster waiting to happen. Keep your growth realistic to what your organizational fundraising efforts (and Board) can financially support and sustain for years to come. Learn the process and appreciate what it can mean for your organization and the populations that rely on your services everyday.