The One Thing Strategic Plans Forget

October 24, 2014 by

We are pleased to bring you this article from Susan Detwiler, Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant. 

calendar delete

Ahh, the glorious feeling of looking at the month after next on your calendar and seeing whole empty days. How easy it is to be magnanimous and say “yes” when asked to take on a job that isn’t due for two mcalendar deleteonths. So we say “yes,” and put it on the calendar. When another someone asks us to do something in the future, we again check our calendar, see that it’s still pretty empty, and again say “yes.” This happens a few more times, and all of a sudden, the 1st week in December starts looking pretty full.

Then as December 1 approaches, all the things we want to accomplishlong term projects, researching new programs, reading for professional developmenthave to get squeezed into the unscheduled times, alongside putting out the inevitable fires that weren’t anticipated, calling our parents, and taking our kid to the doctor.

If we’d scheduled the projects, research and professional development, then that week wouldn’t have looked so free. We might have more carefully evaluated the request, and said ‘no’ to some of them, in order to have time to accomplish our own long term goals.

Almost everyone experiences this phenomenon. Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist who wrote Predictably Irrational, found it so common that he created the mobile app Timeful to help manage making time for the important things in life and work. In Ariely’s words,

Mixed up dates

“Because of the ways calendars are created, people actually take more meetings than they should…  We have this satisfaction of having our calendar seem busy. We have the satisfaction of not saying ‘no’ to things. But at the same time, we’re chasing away things that are important to us for things that are unimportant.”

When you add together the many individuals on a board or in a department, the problem gets compounded. We all know whole departments and companies that fill their time with tasks and meetings, leaving all the workers wondering if they’ve actually accomplished anything.  Similarly, nonprofit boards of directors are often left wondering why their strategic plans are never accomplished.

A strategic plan without concrete, timed, scheduled milestones is a wish list.

Several organizations I’ve worked with want to build a stronger board. The sequence goes like this:calendar deleteIn 2012, they stated that by the year 2015 we’ll have a stronger, more diverse board, representative of the community.

In 2014, they determine that by 2017 we’ll have a stronger board, representative of the community.

In 2016, are they going to say that by 2019 we’ll have a stronger, more diverse board, representative of the community?

Probably. Unless they schedule the time to think through what it will take to make that shift. Thenschedule the time to execute each step on that newly planned path.

We all have the best intentions in the world to accomplish our strategic plans. Yet without putting them on the calendar, those planned goals are going to get squeezed out by the so-easily scheduled meetings, the inevitable fires, and the daily tasks that we take for granted and therefore forget that they take time.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence is famous for the dictum, “What’s measured gets done.”   Back in business school, I learned this phrase as a component of Managing by Objective or MBO, which requires that these critical questions be answered:

What are you planning to do?

Who will be in charge?

By when will it be accomplished?

The problem is that MBO leaves out the step of scheduling the time to actually work on it. There is still room for procrastination. Even if the objective is accomplished, nothing keeps it from being done at the last minute or squeezed into inconvenient half-hour chunks of time around scheduled meetings. Theresult is frenetic or burned-out workers and volunteers.

After a recent strategic planning session, a participant approached me and said that it was one of the most intense sessions she’d ever been part of. She really felt that they had the path forward. She said the biggest difference was that they actually set completion dates for every activity, and scheduled when they would work on it.

On the two hour drive home, I remembered Ariely’s column about personal planning. In an aha moment, I realized that while setting milestones may get activities accomplished, it’s:GANTT chart

acknowledging that those milestones exist,

keeping them in front us, and

scheduling the time to accomplish them,

that makes the plan realistic.

Scheduling the time in which to accomplish the milestones forces you to acknowledge that accomplishing these goals will take time. It makes it a lot easier to say ‘no’ to another idea that would divert your time away from the agreed upon goal.

What gets measured gets done. True. What gets scheduled gets done more sanely.

If we don’t plan our own future with things that matter to us, then we relinquish our future to the obligations of others.

Will your plan be accomplished on time? Will your board and staff stay sane in the process? Let me know what you think! Post them here or you can reach me at

The post was originally published by the Detwiler Group.  Susan Detwiler is a Standards for Excellence® Licensed Consultant who specializes in strategic planning, governance, board excellence and facilitation. Located in the MidAtlantic, she works with agencies across the United States. For more of Susan’s posts, or to learn more about Susan Detwiler or The Detwiler Group, please visit

Boiling the Frog Fighting the Slippery Slope of Ethical Indiscretions in the Workplace

October 22, 2014 by

Guest Blog by Emily C. Stumhofer, Staff Attorney, Nonprofit Risk Management Center, Member of Maryland Nonprofits

Read the original blog here.

Reprinted with permission from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. For more information on the Center, visit

You may also be interested in signing up for the Nonprofit Risk Management Center’s eNews, or encouraging your followers to do so. The link to signing up is here:

A familiar anecdote suggests that if a frog is dropped into a pot of boiling water, he will immediately jump out, but if he is dropped into a pot of cool water that is gradually heated, he won’t perceive the danger, and will be cooked to death. Although some recent science suggests that frogs may behave differently than this anecdote suggests, it is still an apt analogy to the case of ethical lapses in the workplace. Just as the frog in cool water, a person who continues to commit ever more serious ethical transgressions may not comprehend the increasing danger until it is too late.

Consider the following quote: “It starts out with you taking a little bit… You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.” This quote is from Bernie Madoff, who ended up stealing more than $18 billion from his investors.

In a recent exchange with Plan International USA’s Kitty Holt, she describes how important it is for people with power to set the “tone at the top” and make ethically correct decisions.

“I’m sure many of us have heard hollow words about ‘doing the right thing’ followed by the very speaker of those words doing the wrong thing, or, even worse, leaders that say ‘Do what I say, not what I do.’ Accompanying Enron’s 64-page Code of Ethics is a statement from the late CEO Ken Lay, which noted ‘We (Enron employees) are responsible for conducting the business affairs of the Company in accordance with all applicable laws and in a moral and honest manner.’ Unfortunately, Enron’s collapse was due to their not following that simple paragraph.”

We’ve all heard the stories of corrupt politicians and people who take advantage of the power they have by making improper or illegal decisions on how to use it. The conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell is the latest example of what can happen over time when a person relaxes his ethical standards and no one steps in early to correct those transgressions.

As a society, we often find ourselves pointing at situations like this, and wondering how someone can do something that is clearly so wrong, and in many cases, illegal. In some cases, however, instead of a single unethical decision, perhaps the real story was that lax ethical habits and behaviors led to increasingly wrong action and eventually the career-ending downfall.

Imagine you’re at the office thinking about all the things that you need to get done. You glance over at the corner, at a huge stack of brand-new binders for filing projects at work. It would be so easy to just take an extra one home for your son’s school project. You really don’t have time to stop by the office supply store on the way home. And anyway, it’s only one binder, and it’s only this one time.

Most of us would consider the above and think, “Well, that’s not a big deal.” But isn’t it?

A few months ago, The Journal of Applied Psychology published a report based on studies from several universities around the country entitled “The Slippery Slope: How Small Ethical Transgressions Pave the Way for Larger Future Transgressions.” The authors of the study outline several important findings. First, overtime as people are able to rationalize small ethical indiscretions, it becomes easier to justify larger indiscretions. Thus, when faced with smaller but growing dilemmas over time, people are likely to make unethical decisions. However, when there is a large abrupt dilemma (versus a slowly increasing dilemma), the person facing it is more likely to make an ethical decision.

The research suggests that habitual small transgressions can grow overtime into an ability to justify ever larger and more serious ethical transgressions. So how can risk leaders prevent these transgressions from ever happening in the first place?

Showing Others the Path to What’s Right
-Inspire a prevention focus in your workforce – By clearly outlining standards and ethical pitfalls through written policies and setting an example, an employer can reduce self-justifying behavior for small ethical transgressions. For example, by outlining the consequences of taking binders home for personal use, the ability for an employee to creatively rationalize the decision is minimized. Having a prevention focus can enable employees to check themselves and correct minor transgressions as they occur.

-Incorporate ethical language into all parts of the organization’s culture – By embedding an ethical focus and commitment into your organization’s mission, policies, and procedures, you can create a culture where doing the right thing is part of every decision made by staff in the organization. One of the Center’s clients tethers all decisions to whether the decision is in the best interests of the vulnerable children they serve.

-Be vigilant and resolve to address minor ethical offenses – If you are attentive to even minor ethical infractions, and address them in a timely manner, you can prevent the downward slide on ethic’s slippery slope. Also, if employees are aware that a co-worker has been called on a transgression, they might be less likely to rationalize their own ethical lapses. Remember that accountability simply means doing the things you say you are going to do.

To explore the topic of ethics issues in the workplace in greater depth, plan to attend Ethics and Risk Management: Practical Dilemmas and Proven Strategies, featuring Jonathan T. Howe, Howe & Hutton, Ltd., and Daniel C. Borschke, National Association of Concessionaires at the 2014 Risk Summit in Chicago. For further reading, check out the Harvard Business Review’s Ethical Breakdowns article, or the Huffington Post’s How Do You Deal with an Unethical, Productive Employee.

Replication Partner Announces Support for Standards for Excellence Training

October 20, 2014 by


Standards for Excellence Replication Partner Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement recently announced its partnership with Discover Bank, which is supporting DANA in its efforts to bring more quality trainings to nonprofits in the  southern region of the state.

Upcoming courses in the DANA fall 2014 curriculum are supported by Discover Bank. They include an Introduction to Standards for Excellence on Friday, Dec. 12.

According to, “DANA’s revitalization began in 2010 and came to a head in 2012 with the creation of a new three-year strategic plan to become a completely statewide nonprofit support organization. In previous years, expansion of DANA programming into Kent and Sussex counties was limited due to staff and funding constraints. Now, with more staff members in place, and the support from Discover Bank, DANA is increasing its presence in southern Delaware.”

“‘We are thrilled that Discover Bank is on board with us in our efforts to expand our programming in Kent and Sussex counties, and we thank them for their support,’ said Chris Grundner, DANA president and CEO. ‘Discover Bank is a huge champion for nonprofits across the state, but particularly in Kent and Sussex counties. We are pleased they believe our Standards for Excellence best-practice-based curriculum can help these groups as they strive to reach greater levels of efficiency and execution.'”

Read the official story in

Eight Newly-Accredited Nonprofits in Alabama Make History

October 16, 2014 by

On Friday, October 10, eight nonprofit organizations in Alabama were presented with the Standards for Excellence Institute’s Seal of Excellence as they celebrated their completion of the rigorous nonprofit accreditation program. Through a partnership with Standards for Excellence Replication Partner Alabama Association of Nonprofits, the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, and United Way of East Central Alabama, a three-day teaching session for executive directors and board members was held for these organizations.  Additionally, a Standards for Excellence Coordinator was hired to assist the organizations navigate through the accreditation process.

Program Director Amy Coates Madsen attended the celebration at the Anniston Country Club that included a press conference and formal presentation of the Seals. Reporters from local media, including the Anniston Star and WEAC TV24, were in attendance.

Please join us in congratulating these exemplary nonprofits and their leaders in this inaugural Standards for Excellence class.

Congratulations To Our September/October Organizations!

October 13, 2014 by


The Standards for Excellence Institute would like to congratulate several organizations who recently earned or renewed their accreditation under the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector:

Read Standards for Excellence Accreditation Manager Melissa Sines’s Blog on BoardSource

October 3, 2014 by


Standards for Excellence Accreditation Manager Melissa Sines was a featured speaker at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. on October 9-10. Learn about her session topic, Standards for Excellence: Focus on Leadership, from her recent post on BoardSource’s blog.

The Standards for Excellence session at this year’s BLF introduced organizational leaders to a proven set of benchmarks that will help them assess their capacity, leadership, and accountability. Participants utilized an assessment tool to measure the strength of their leadership and organization and had the opportunity to ask questions about how these benchmarks are implemented in different types and sizes of nonprofits.

CEO of Replication Partner Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement gives talk at TEDx Wilmington.

September 22, 2014 by

Watch Chris Grudner, CEO of Replication Partner Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, give talk at TEDx Wilmington.

“Modern Nonprofit Board Governance – Passion Is Not Enough!”

Congratulations To Our August/September Organizations!

September 16, 2014 by


The Standards for Excellence Institute would like to congratulate several organizations who recently earned or renewed their accreditation under the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector:

Standards for Excellence Proud to be ‘External Perspective’ Program Listed on GuideStar

September 15, 2014 by

The following piece was originally published on September 9, 204 at GuideStars’s blog at

With interest and a bit of nostalgia, I read Jacob Harold’s recent post on this blog, “Celebrating Our Past, Looking to Our Future.”

Now, there is a new feature on the GuideStar site. Under the External Perspectives tab on each organization’s profile, GuideStar visitors can view Third Party Ratings, Accreditations, and Awards. Here, potential donors, volunteers, and others interested in nonprofit performance can learn if an organization has been accredited by the Standards for Excellence Institute, or has been recognized under their Basics or Basics Enhanced tiered recognition program.I have always admired GuideStar for being innovative and nimble. From those early days when information was presented on CD Rom and those phone-book style catalogs (Directory of American Charities; I had a copy of this publication and CD on my bookshelf for years!), to today’s searchable database full of profiles populated by IRS tax forms and information freely uploaded by nonprofit staffers and volunteers around the country, GuideStar, has been a great example of an organization that continually adjusts and improves in order to meet the needs of its market.

Basics      Basics Enhanced     SEALcrop

The Standards for Excellence Institute® is a national program providing a code of conduct, nonprofit governance, and management resources to support organizations in implementing the standards, and accreditation opportunities for nonprofits to embrace best practices. Established in 1998 by Maryland Nonprofits, the program promotes a comprehensive system for self-regulation in the nonprofit sector to strengthen nonprofit governance and management practices and to bolster public confidence in and support for the nonprofit sector as a whole.

The Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, the Institute’s signature resource, has a 16-year track record of successfully motivating organizations to adopt leading best practices. Research has shown that organizations that complete the Standards for Excellence accreditation process gain significantly more public support and significantly greater total revenue than a control group of comparable organizations.

Nonprofits can participate in the program directly through the Institute, through one of the Institute’s licensed replication partners, or one of the nearly 70 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants working directly with nonprofits around the country.

In April, after more than a year of hard work by a national team of nonprofit leaders, the Standards for Excellence Institute released its updated code. The Standards code has been streamlined and now includes important best practices such as sustainability planning, cultural competency, board-executive relations, and disaster planning. For a full discussion of this revision, check out recent articles in both the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Business Advisor.

Are you curious whether your organization has implemented the best practices that would allow you to earn the Seal of Excellence? Take this free self-assessment!

The preceding was a guest post on GuideStar’s blog by Amy Coates Madsen, the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of Maryland Nonprofits where Amy has served for more than nineteen years. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of nonprofit best practices, board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics and regulation, and nonprofit management. Amy is active in community organizations and was recently appointed to the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax-Exempt and Government Entities.

“Academy for Nonprofit Excellence A Local Gem”

September 9, 2014 by

Amy Coates Madsen, Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, is one of several “stellar practitioners in their chosen fields” at Tidewater Community College’s Academy for Nonprofit Excellence.

Business planning at the white board

“I love the classes; they’re wonderful. I knew enough about being a volunteer, but not the nitty-gritty. It’s a business,” says Academy student Melia Trost, founder of Samantha Makes It A Little Easier, Inc.

In September, the Academy will receive the
National Council for Continuing Education & Training (NCCET) 2014 National Exemplary Program Award for Continuing Professional Education.

Read more about the Academy for Nonprofit Excellence.


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