Mission driven means believing in what’s personal

When you have a moment, take a quick inventory of your current communication materials — brochure, postcard, poster, website, annual report — and ask yourself two questions:

1. Do these tell a unique story about my organization?
2. Does the story reveal what we believe in?

Belief systems can be viewed as being “too personal.” But then, what else would it be? Powerful stories are personal. People will care about what other people care about. Your mission becomes clear and compelling only if it’s rooted in a human struggle, the courage to take risks and faith in the choices you’ve made along the way. Which brings me to a third question:

3. How can we get someone to share our beliefs?

Your personal story is always a good place to start.

Take advantage of our October Special Offer
Reduced rate on October storytelling workshops
$45 per person and $30 for each guest you bring.
(regular rate $75)

Don’t Let Words Get in the Way
While words are important-when we are most moved, when we are touched to our very core-words often seem inadequate. Communicating without words makes your message universal. If you can clearly convey your story without speaking, it will resonate with audiences of diverse cultures and backgrounds who might otherwise be hindered by language barriers. It’s the first step to developing the essence of your story. It can also lead to a memorable campaign that maintains the same level of impact across all media: print, online, video, or live.
Key take-away: Create a strong framework for your story centered on the characters and their motivations to reveal a clear, basic message that can engage a wider audience.
Teaching Artist: Gregg Steigmeyer
Thursday, October 11, 2012 – REGISTER

The Power of Symbols
Symbols have been used to inspire change throughout history. They have embodied powerful ideas, stories, people and societies. This session uses the graphic arts to stir creative thinking about your organization’s identity and develop your own visual language that translates your story into compelling and memorable images.
Key take-away: Are the colors and pictures in your communications effectively delivering the intended message?
Teaching Artist: Lindsay Obermeyer
Thursday, October 18, 2012 – REGISTER

See you in October!

Leadership and Designing Change

I recently volunteered at the 2012 BoardSource Leadership Forum where more than 800 nonprofit leaders from across the United States had the opportunity to network, exchange ideas and participate in thought-provoking sessions. The name of the event was Designing Change: Commit. Connect. Collaborate.

My biggest takeaway was that in order to develop true innovation in governance, leaders need to move away from their comfort zones and dare to do something they’ve never done before. From personal experience, I know I’ve made the shift when my heart beats ten times faster, palms sweat and I simply couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s a combined feeling of anxiety and triumph knowing in your gut that something great is about to happen. You just have to stay the course.

We also must not lose sight of the other important part of the equation–having the right partners in your journey. We’ve heard it before and it was repeated many times during the two-day forum: Collaboration is key. Work with individuals and groups who share your mission and can easily align with your efforts. No one organization should go it alone.

During the closing plenary, Linda C. Crompton, President & CEO of BoardSource, highlighted a three-part vision that started with the question “WHAT IF?” Following is an excerpt of Crompton’s remarks.

WHAT IF: We looked at our board recruitment in a whole new way?

Getting the right people, and the right mix of people, is both an art and a science. It means going outside your comfort zone and thinking about new ways to find board members.

The Commitment:

  • Analyze your board’s skill sets and expertise and identify gaps.
  • Be open to board candidates outside of your existing network.
  • Prevent the composition of your board from becoming static by using term limits.

WHAT IF: Every board lived a culture of inclusion?

Living a culture of inclusion means bringing together a diverse group of people, then ensuring that every member’s voice is heard and valued.

The Commitment:

  • Have an honest conversation about whether or not your board is inclusive.
  • Commit to a written plan of action on how your board might need to change.
  • Seek support if training or other resources are needed.

WHAT IF: Collaborative leadership took hold in the boardroom?

In the best boards, members share leadership. Boards that share leadership and responsibility discover new sources of strength and intellect they never knew existed.

The Commitment:

  • Assess and discuss how well your board is sharing leadership.
  • Provide meaningful leadership opportunities for all board members and rotate officer positions.
  • Ensure that your executive committee is not marginalizing the rest of your board.

Crompton’s What IF’s can be summarized in what I believe to be an essential step to advance your cause with real impact: In order for change to happen, you first must change your story.

Lessons from a Hot Air Balloon

The other day, a friend posted this quote from Maya Angelou on his Facebook page: “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

What does it mean to be amazing? And to whom? Your story plays the key role in making you extraordinary. The main challenge that everyone faces is deciding, “Who should I matter to?”

This summer, I rode in a hot air balloon for the first time. My friend, Jon, prepaid two tickets for the ride last year. Due to high winds and other weather conditions, the flight was rescheduled several times. Finally on August 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm, Jon received a solid confirmation that the sunset ride was a go. We left Chicago at 3:30 pm and drove to a small airport in Joliet, IL. We were the first to arrive at 5:00pm. Fifteen minutes later, the flight crew showed up in a white twelve-foot van with all the equipment in tow. I immediately recognized the “giant picnic basket” which I assumed would be carrying passengers. It’s technically called the gondola. Ours had three burners at the top that reminded me of flame throwers.

Jon volunteered to hold the ropes that held the balloon envelope open while large fans blew air in to inflate it. This took more than twenty minutes. Meanwhile, other passengers had arrived. When more than half the balloon was inflated, our captain, Bill,  turned on the fuel tanks and ignited the burners. Three bursts of flames got the envelope fully inflated and raised. We were ready for lift off.

“All aboard!” Everyone climbed in — ten passengers and Bill. He ignited the burners a few more times as we gently floated higher. We all learned to look away from the burners as they gave the backs of our necks a good dry sauna treatment.

The balloon was not designed to be propelled so we had to rely on an occasional gentle wind for direction. It was a tranquil ride with a view of Joliet and neighboring Shorewood below that looked like a Monopoly board game filled with cookie-cutter homes. The Chicago skyline was hazy in the distance. The air around us was still and the sounds below that were audible came from cars speeding, children playing and dogs barking.

After floating for forty-five minutes at 2,000 ft., Bill found a good spot to land — an empty lot next to a CVS.

As the balloon descended, the voices of kids got louder.  1,000 ft.

We looked down to find that there were several in the parks and playgrounds who had spotted us and were waving. Some of them started running in our direction. 500 ft.

The adults got in on the action chasing after the kids. Others who were driving stopped in the middle of the street and got out of their cars. 200 ft.

“Bend your knees once we hit ground,” Bill coached us for the landing. 100 ft.

Thud! The basket rocked a bit at touchdown, but it was a safe landing overall. Here’s where it gets even more interesting.

People came from all directions with their cameras and smartphones. Sirens were blaring from two police cars and two fire engines that arrived at the scene. One of the cops approached us and asked, “Who’s in-charge?”

We soon learned that people had called 911 to report a balloon crashing in the vicinity. While I admired their vigilance, I was fascinated by what was going on in their minds when they saw our balloon. They’ve seen airplanes heading for a landing at Midway Airport every day. But they assume differently when they see a balloon?

People always make assumptions about what they see. They complete the story in their minds and believe it to be the truth. How are you perceived? Are you just another normal airplane? Or are you an amazingly colorful balloon that’s a whole new experience and stops people in their tracks? If you are that strange balloon coming down from the sky, do you propel yourself to where children are excited to welcome you or do you rely on the wind that could take you to skeptical and nervous adults?

After talking for almost a half hour, the sheriff and Bill shook hands and spectators were leaving the scene one by one. The airport crew arrived soon after to wrap things up. After they packed the balloon and basket back in the trailer, all passengers got in the van and we drove back to the airport. Bill thanked us with a Champagne toast.

“Cheers!” It was an amazing way to end what turned out to be not a normal day.