Infusing good core values into a new organization

With a beta version of the TJ Society’s forthcoming website, at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, Prague, in July

Readers of recent entries are likely aware that I’ve been hip deep in helping to create a new, non-profit organization, the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (“TJ Society”). From the most recent draft of our by-laws, here is what the group is about:

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is an interdisciplinary field of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; engaging in continuing professional education and public education activities; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

As I wrote earlier this month, I’m part of an all-volunteer board that is forming this organization, and I’m serving as its first chairperson. It’s a lot of work, but the broader purpose and the fellowship of a truly exceptional group of colleagues make it all worth it.

This also is an opportunity to put into practice many of the values that I have been advocating for via this blog. It means practicing inclusive, servant leadership dedicated to a cause greater than individual ambitions. It means treating others with respect and dignity. It means actually exhibiting transparency rather than simply touting it. It means avoiding unnecessary hierarchies. Above all, it means building a welcoming and difference making community. Fortunately, our board consists of individuals who walk this talk as a natural way of going about things. This is good: An organization devoted to psychologically healthy laws and legal systems should strive to operate in a psychologically healthy manner.

The TJ Society is a global organization, with a board and advisory council comprised of folks from around the world. This creates obvious communications challenges. It can mean maddening pile-ups of e-mails (many inflicted by yours truly) in attempting to work through topics that require group input, and very understandably patiences can grow weary among a group of very busy people. Additionally, available online meeting technologies such as Skype and Google hangout can’t change the scheduling realities of holding a board meeting with participants’ time zone differences ranging from six to fourteen hours! As I said, we’re fortunate to have such wonderful board members who can roll with the digital waves.

In terms of shaping my contributions to this fledgling learned society, I am fortunate to have other organizations and initiatives as role models. Over the years I have learned so much from the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, especially the leadership of co-leaders Evelin Lindner and Linda Hartling. I’ve also been inspired by the inclusive culture of the biennial Work, Stress and Health conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. I’m further grateful for the biennial International Congress on Law and Mental Health sponsored by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, which, among many other good things, allows therapeutic jurisprudence scholars and practitioners to gather and learn from each other. I hope that the TJ Society will draw from the best characteristics exhibited by these entities.

It’s too early to say whether the TJ Society will build into its culture the values that make for healthy, inclusive organizations, but I’m betting that it will happen. Embracing and practicing these values at the beginning is an important start. Yup, as we grow we’ll make some mistakes, juggle differences of opinion, and probably deal with conflicts here and there. But if the foundation is strong, we’ll do things in the right way much more often than not.

A talk on advancing dignity in our workplaces

For those of you who would like to contemplate the big picture of why we need to inject the value of human dignity into our workplaces, you’re invited to watch this 40-minute talk that I gave at the 2014 annual workshop of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) in New York City. It was part of a public program on “Work That Dignifies the Lives of All People,” [Note: You may have to “rewind” the YouTube video to the beginning, as some for some weird reason, the talk sometimes starts at around the 10 minute mark!]

The talk gave me a chance to discuss many topics that I’ve raised here on this blog, such as workplace bullying, the low-wage economy, and the ravages of globalization. I then tied them together under the overall rubric of worker dignity.

Next I asked participants to consider our respective roles in promoting worker dignity. At the very least, I suggested, we can do our best to practice the Golden Rule at work, treating others as we would have them treat us. That’s not always easy, but it’s an especially good starting place.

This morning I was poking around the HumanDHS website and to my surprise found the video! I hadn’t posted it before, but I’m pleased to share it with you now. Introducing me is HumanDHS director Linda Hartling. As I mentioned in my last post, I just finished participating in this year’s HumanDHS workshop, and it once again was a tremendously rewarding experience.

Revised posts on workplace bullying and related topics

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Dear readers, I’ve been quietly revising and updating several popular posts on workplace bullying and related topics, centering my attention on pieces originally published five or more years ago. I hope you find them interesting and/or useful!

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector  (original: January 2011; revision: August 2016) — “The non-profit sector is all about helping people, making a difference, and righting wrongs, correct? So how can such devastating behavior be commonplace in the philanthropic world? Here are some possible circumstances that plant the seeds, in no particular order….”

Is emotional detachment an antidote for a nasty workplace? (original: August 2010; revision: July 2016) — “Emotional detachment does not come without its costs, as anyone who understands workplace bullying can comprehend. . . . In sum, emotional detachment may be an effective coping mechanism for a hostile work setting, but for many it is a sad response to a bad situation, nothing more.”

Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven? (original: February 2009; revision: April 2014) — “Because this kind of mental facility often is at the heart of both perpetrating and defending bullying, academe becomes a natural petri dish for such behaviors, especially the covert varieties. After all, so many decisions in the academy are based upon very subjective judgments.”

Is closure possible for targets of workplace bullying and injustice? (original: September 2011; revision: June 2016) — “Targets of workplace bullying or mobbing often hear some variation on the phrase you really need to get over this. I suppose there’s some truth in this. No decent human being wants to see another stuck in a place of stress, fear, anger, and trauma. But prodding someone with those words, however well meaning, is rarely helpful — especially absent more concretely useful assistance.”

Bullied at work? Avoid making these common mistakes (original: December 2010; revision: June 2016) — “Oftentimes I am asked by reporters for standard-brand advice on how to handle a potential workplace bullying situation. I inevitably respond that because these scenarios have so many variables, it would be unwise of me to suggest a one-size-fits-all set of recommendations. However, I feel much more comfortable identifying common mistakes that people make in dealing with bullying at work. Here is my list, based on many years of working in this realm….”

After being bullied at work, what next? (original: August 2009; revision: June 2016) — “One of the realities of workplace bullying is that employers are often reluctant to intervene on behalf of the target. Some will even side with the aggressor. We also know that targets frequently leave their jobs to avoid further torment. All of this boils down to the fact that targets must often consider their options on their own. For those who are in such a position, here are several questions to ask….”

 

Instead of lies, spin, and deception, how about authenticity, integrity, and dignity?

You read a memo from the CEO, feeding you a line about how there’s “no money” for raises this year, though you know darn well that your company posted high earnings and paid big bonuses to folks at the top. You watch a political debate featuring candidates trying to score easy points with alarmist rhetoric and boldfaced lies. You get a pamphlet with your new credit card that cloaks in tiny, dense print how one late payment can jack up your interest rate and that any disputes with the company must be arbitrated in a different state. You listen to an attorney for a convicted, corrupt public official or executive claiming that his client is a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

We are so constantly bombarded with messages containing lies, spin, and deception that we’ve become numbed to the reality. Sometimes it seems that all we can do is shake our heads in dismay or disgust.

Okay, I’m sounding a little bit like Howard Beale in “Network” (1976), when he famously yelled “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But seriously, this isn’t about a simple rant. Most rants lead to temporary relief, at best, as I can attest from experience. Rather, we need to do things in a different way, and I submit that authenticity, integrity, and dignity should be our guideposts. Our institutions, communities, and politics are in bad need of these qualities, and it’s going to take a lot of effort, smarts, and determination to turn the tide.

Of course, retreat — literally or figuratively — is an option. However, while taking breaks from the seeming madness can be a healthy thing, permanently removing ourselves from the fray only guarantees that things will get worse. So, let’s step away as necessary, and then get back into the game.

Challenges in non-profit fundraising

(Image courtesy pdclipart.org)

(Image courtesy pdclipart.org)

As 2015 chugged into its last days and hours, e-mail inboxes overflowed with end-of-year appeals from non-profit organizations seeking cash contributions. In some cases it became a deluge, with multiple e-mails from the same groups. It seems that one of the costs of being a steady donor is to feel relentlessly hounded for more.

In some ways, I get it. I’ve been a denizen of the non-profit sector for most of my career, as an educator, public interest lawyer, and board member. One of the realities of non-profit life is the need to generate donations.

But just because I understand the need for fundraising doesn’t mean that I endorse the year-end blitzkrieg route to doing so. Being on the receiving end of these year-end requests can prompt donor fatigue. Some appeals may trigger annoyance, like the ones who remind me that this is my “last chance” to claim a further tax deduction, as if I’ve waited right until year’s end to dump supposed piles of disposable cash into non-profit organizations, simply to cut my bill from Uncle Sam.

I’m feeling a little defensive as I write this, because it may sound like I live to keep my money away from non-profit organizations. Quite the contrary; my giving levels are pretty solid. However, I have become more discerning and careful about how, why, and when I donate.

I’d like to use this space to offer some observations and advice about non-profit fundraising. Although I’ve never been a non-profit fundraising officer, I have lots of experience in this realm, including (1) chairing the board of a small foundation that gave seed-money grants to fledgling public interest law projects; (2) writing successful grant proposals for several organizations (low-four to low/mid-six figures); and (3) developing and implementing a fundraising campaign that solicited individuals and labor unions (mid-100k).

As I indicated above, I also know what it’s like to be solicited for money at different points and income levels of my career. The donor’s perspective must be understood and appreciated, and it informs what I have to share. I hope what follows is helpful.

REALITIES AND OBSERVATIONS

Let’s start with some of the challenging realities of non-profit fundraising:

Twice the work (sort of) — It’s important to acknowledge up front that non-profit fundraising is hard work. The standard finance model for a business is that you offer a good or service in return for payment. It’s a this-for-that exchange. By contrast, in the non-profit world, providing the good or service is often severed from the generation of revenue.

For example, if you’re a human services non-profit, then you offer assistance to those in need, but you may not require payment. Instead, funds have to be raised from private donors and perhaps government grants to keep the enterprise going.

The myth that there’s money “out there” — There’s got to be some money out there. We need to tap into the money out thereHow can we raise some of that money sitting out there. Newbies to the non-profit world sometimes assume that there are cadres of generous individuals and foundations sitting on piles of cash that they want to give away. And because said newbies believe deeply in their cause, they assume that the funders are “out there,” waiting to be tapped to support their particular organization or initiative.

In most cases, this is not true. It rarely works that way. ‘Nuff said.

Direct mail appeals — Before the Internet, direct mail was the primary form of larger scale fundraising from individuals. For many groups, it remains so. But it is expensive and time consuming, with positive response rates averaging between one and three percent.

Organizations don’t like to hear this, but we throw away a lot of their mailings without even opening them. I receive dozens of fundraising appeals in the mail each week. Especially if the letter was not mailed with a first-class stamp, I am unlikely to bother opening it. There’s not enough time in the day to wade through all of it.

E-mail appeals — Assuming the organization has a decent e-mail list of contributors, e-mailed fundraising appeals are cheap and relatively easy to send. They can also be personalized and effective. As I suggested above, however, they also can feel tiresome on the receiving end. Too many blast e-mails within a short time frame may well invite “unsubscribe” requests from donors and prospective donors who don’t like the feeling of being hounded or guilted.

Phone calls Nooooooooooooooo! Okay, I got that off my chest. I’m not big on using the telephone to begin with, and any kind of phone solicitation — non-profit, business, what have you — annoys me considerably. I’m hardly alone in feeling this way. Yes, I know that many larger non-profits use direct calling to raise money. I guess it’s a cost-benefit calculation as to whether to do so. But I won’t be answering your call.

Face-to-face canvassing — On a couple of occasions I’ve been successfully snared by street canvassers attempting to solicit donations to their cause. I now avoid them like the plague. I do not like to make a split-second decision on whether to give money while I’m standing there on the sidewalk and some (usually) young canvasser is talking me up with canned language.

Crowdfunding campaigns — Given how curmudgeonly I’m sounding, you might be surprised to hear that I do give to non-profit crowdfunding campaigns! If I believe in the need and purpose, trust the sponsors, and see a well-articulated use for my money, then I will strongly consider giving. (See my April 2015 post, “Should I support that Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign?“)

Crowdfunding appeals are proliferating, perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the “out there” myth about money. So if you’re taking this route, then you should have a plan and an appeal that goes well beyond pining for dollars.

Grant funding — Whole books are written and seminars are taught about the art of writing grant proposals to foundation and government funders. It is painstaking work. A grant proposal is both an advocacy document and a substantive description of your work. It can require a lot of hoop jumping, and if you become dependent upon that form of funding, then it becomes a big part of your institutional and professional life. In the ideal world, what you need to fund and what the foundation or public agency wants to fund are a perfect match. The world is not always ideal, however.

ADVICE

Drawing in part from the points above, let me offer three additional clusters of advice:

Respect your donors — If you don’t honestly respect and appreciate people who are voluntarily giving you a piece of their discretionary income, then you probably shouldn’t be asking them for money. I once served on the board of a small non-profit whose executive director never once thanked me or anyone else on the board for our ongoing financial contributions. It’s almost like he thought it was beneath him to say thank you. Is it any surprise that the organization was struggling financially?

By contrast, good non-profits have a special relationship with their supporters. They use their donors’ contributions wisely, and they express appreciation. They have a way of making their supporters feel connected beyond the fundraising appeals. They hold themselves accountable. Their fundraising requests and outreach reflect authenticity, sincerity, and commitment.

Use your work as your best fundraising appeal — Ultimately, the substantive work done by your organization is your most powerful fundraising appeal. If you are good at what you do and can find ways to share that story, then it will resonate with others, including those who make financial contributions.

A quick example: Last week I had the privilege of spending a day at a center that provides daycare services to folks who have Alzheimer’s and other memory-related conditions. I was not there in any professional capacity; rather, I was the guest of a dear friend who is benefiting from these services. During that day, I closely observed how the caregivers worked with and assisted their residents. I was so impressed and heartened by the care and compassion exhibited at this center that, right before leaving, I gave a check to one of their program directors in support of their work.

Grow your funding base — Start with your board and key supporters and go from there. (If your board members aren’t contributing, then don’t expect others to do so.) Membership categories and/or monthly sustainer programs may help to bring in a steady flow of revenue.

In this vein, it’s crucial to understand how smaller donors can become bigger donors. Take the $50 donor who pays attention to what you’re doing and is impressed. Maybe she enjoys one of your events or has a great conversation with one of your staff members. A year or two (or ten) down the line, she agrees to become a major supporter. It happens, a lot.

It gets back to people. With good non-profits, there’s a wonderful match between what the organization is doing and the desire of others to support important, meaningful work, in a way that invites a donor to make a difference.

Boston Globe reports employee exodus at Kennedy Library

The Boston Globe reports that the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston “has undergone a mass exodus of new and longtime employees since a change in leadership last year.” As reported by the Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan (registration may be necessary), over a third of the staff has left or announced their departures — an unprecedented rate of attrition — since the arrival of new CEO Heather Campion.

The library’s board chair, while suggesting that transitional “growing pains” are at play, nevertheless “acknowledged that the heavy personnel losses were worrisome.” The Globe article suggests a deep level of employee discontent:

Several people who have worked at the foundation complained about Campion’s management style. A low point, according to three people familiar with the organization, came a few weeks ago, when a longtime employee in charge of marketing was terminated. Another departed worker was described as “a daily punching bag.” The coordinator of the library’s renowned forums and the director of its signature Profile in Courage award are also leaving.

Last year, about six months into Campion’s tenure, an outside management consultant came in to interview people about the change in leadership, resulting in a tear-filled group session during which several employees discussed the newly difficult working conditions, according to three people directly familiar with the meeting.

“People were sobbing,” one said. Another added, “He functioned more as a therapist.”

Workplace incivility or bullying?

It’s pretty easy to read between the lines here. When one departed worker is referred to as a “daily punching bag,” and others are in tears as they discuss “newly difficult working conditions” with an outside consultant, it suggests abrasive leadership, and perhaps worse. The Kennedy Library is a major civic institution in Greater Boston and home to a museum that attracts visitors from around the world. I can’t imagine such suddenly high employee attrition absent significant reasons.

For now, the library’s board leadership appears to be circling the wagons around its CEO, who is said to be on close terms with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. But perhaps the public spotlight on the employee attrition and low morale will prompt more pro-active responses to the underlying management problems.

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Related posts

The non-profit sector: So vital, but not all gooey feel-good (2015)

Myths and realities about working in the non-profit sector (2014)

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector (2011)

Toxic leaders in social change non-profits

Just because a non-profit organization is dedicated to changing the world for the better, don’t assume that its leadership is committed to creating a healthy, supportive workplace for the staff. That’s the underlying message of a terrific presentation by Vega Subramaniam, co-founder of Vega Mala Consulting, who presented on toxic leadership in the non-profit, social change sector at this year’s just concluded Work, Stress, and Health conference.

The biennial conference is co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology.

Subramaniam and her business co-founder, Mala Nagarajan, are using interviews and surveys of workers in non-profit, social change organizations to study the presence and effects of toxic leadership, which in smaller groups tends to center on the executive director. They are looking specifically at leadership within organizations committed to achieving systemic social change within given spheres of influence, in contrast to non-profits in human services or other charitable realms.

“Literally copy and paste”

Subramaniam reported that they could “literally copy and paste” examples of toxic leadership as experienced by one worker to another. These included creating cultures of mistrust, micromanaging and holding “incessant meetings,” capricious behaviors, unfair blame for mistakes, coercive work demands, and engaging in misrepresentations to grant funders.

Workers found that sorting out and coping with these toxic environments became all consuming, with negative effects on their careers, health, and personal lives. It makes sense: Those who work for cause-driven non-profits are often drawn by the organization’s social mission. It’s a chance to make a difference, maybe even change the world, or at least a corner of it. Especially against the backdrop of this idealism, being bullied and otherwise mistreated in such jobs can be a devastating experience.

Charismatic leaders

When the presentation tagged the potential significance of charismatic leaders who are not good managers in creating toxic work environments, I wanted to shout “hallelujah!” in response. Cause-driven non-profits often fall blindly for charismatic types in designating their leaders, and the results can backfire badly.

A few years ago, I discussed a variation of this type of leader in a blog post on the “Let-Me-Impress-You Club,” those folks who “have learned how to wow people in a room with their personalities and accomplishments, but . . . haven’t quite figured out how to lead when the going gets tough and they are no longer cheered by admirers.” I added:

It also reflects a fundamental problem with how we select people for positions of influence and responsibility. Too often we make these choices on the basis of Let-Me-Impress-You credentials and qualities, while downplaying, if not ignoring, other important indicia of who can provide effective service and leadership.

Very promising project

In addition to watching the presentation, I had a chance to talk to Vega and Mala about their project. They’re on to something very important here. They also have the experience and wisdom to interpret their results wisely and use the emerging insights to educate others.

Non-profits are hardly immune from bad leadership, as I’ve written on numerous occasions here. In fact, I was flattered when Vega showed a slide adapting my blog post about workplace bullying in the non-profit sector to help explain toxic behaviors by social change leaders. She highlighted factors such as the nobility of an organizational mission trumping decent treatment of employees, a lack of managerial accountability in relation to the organization’s board of directors, and the ongoing squeeze of scant resources.

Effecting positive social change is no easy task, and it is even more difficult when organizations created to advance that change are nasty places to work. I hope that this project will help to fuel healthier work environments for those who want to make a difference.

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Related posts

The non-profit sector: So vital, but not all gooey feel-good (2015)

Myths and realities about working in the non-profit sector (2014)

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