Communicate, Evaluate, and Keep Everyone in the Loop

Every so often I send an email to my sister with the subject line: The Whine Report. Then I proceed to bitch and moan about all that is rotten in my life and the world. One thing that would definitely get a headline in The Whine Report is the lack of ability many people seem to have with the word no.

As a friend once told a prospective employer, you won’t have to put me on a suicide watch if the answer is no. I just need closure so I can move forward. I know that feeling well.

It’s more than just saying no, of course. It’s the lack of communication about what is going on, what needs to be going on, and (back to that no) what isn’t going on that often drives me to think about drink.

It’s that sinking sensation you get when you are working on a project and your Board president informs you that something you didn’t even know about is moving forward rapidly and it directly contradicts what you are doing. Like the grant proposal to the funder who only takes one proposal—so why did we submit one for $5,000 when I am working on one for $200K?

Communication shouldn’t be that hard, and yet, somehow it is.

That was the thing I hated most about management. There seemed to be such a fine line between micromanaging and not having a clue what my staff was doing. With certain people, I never seemed to be able to get a good feedback loop going.

That was particularly difficult when that person was my administrative assistant—and that was too often the case. But that, I fear, was a personal problem.

More to the point, oftentimes I would find myself shaking my head and wondering what my staff was thinking as I found out they were spending time on something that wasn’t where we really wanted to go.

So much of that could have been avoided, if only they would have reported in to me what they were doing. But that seemed to be secret. Not with most of my staff—mostly we did communicate and keep things on track. But there was always someone, and sometimes a few someones, who didn’t think they needed to play on the team.

So maybe I was a bad manager. Or perhaps I didn’t communicate well enough. Certainly in my consulting I find weekly reports invaluable. Yes, they take time, but then I can feel sure that we are both—my client and I—heading in the same direction. And if we’re not, it becomes clear before we’ve gone too many miles and at that point, it is easy to correct.

And so, I have come to love metrics—measures by which we can evaluate progress. When carefully developed and used, these do increase success rates considerably. On the downside, too often these are merely sticks and that serves only to increase failure.

Metrics should not be something to fear. Nor should they be arbitrary. They should be a way to make sure that we are all headed in the same direction and that we all have the necessary tools to get there.

Creating a metric that says, “last year we raised $X. This year you must raise $X plus 10%” is a losing proposition. Unless you put that up as a target and work as a team to develop the strategies and tactics for getting there.

For example, you might note that last year in order to reach X, one–third of the Board introduced you to a new prospect. This year, you would work on ways to get the remainder of the Board to make some introductions. Or perhaps you could segment your database and find new people on whom to call.

As part of this, you could—really, you should—clearly define the purposes for which you are fundraising. I know, this is a hobbyhorse of mine, but I truly believe that if you can’t articulate your need, you can’t effectively raise funds. And even if you bring in gifts, you may not be raising the money you need.

As you head into the new year, why not try a new tactic. If you are the boss, be very clear about your expectations with each of your staff members. If you are staff, resolve to let your boss and your colleagues in on what you are doing. But don’t stop with staff—think about Board Relations.

The biggest complaint I hear from Board members as well as management of organizations is that the other is not doing their job. I suspect that in many cases, the problem is that the other doesn’t know what job they are supposed to be doing—or know the job but haven’t a clue how to do it.

Try this—have an open meeting and talk about roles and responsibilities. You may want to do this with both Board and staff—but not in the same meeting. You may want to bring in an outside facilitator, just to make sure that you are hearing each other. And from this, develop your metrics for the coming year.

Opening up lines of communication can be messy, but mainly it can give you an incredible insight as to what is really going on and a clearer vision of what you need to do to get where you want to go.

Janet Levine is a consultant who focuses on increasing productivity for nonprofit organizations, their staff and volunteers. She can be reached at