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Growing Your Nonprofit from the Customer Up Interview with Bill Woolsey
With decades of experience in starting and leading ministries, churches and networks, Bill Woolsey now invests his life in men and women who want to reach people for Jesus in new, creative ways.
After serving congregations in the Midwest, he and his family planted CrossPoint Community Church in Houston, a congregation that led his denomination (LCMS) in baptisms for much of the 2000s. In 2009 he led the launch of FiveTwo, a network that helps men and women grow their God-given dreams into ministries and businesses that last.
Bill authored “Seven Steps to Start,” a practical ‘how-to-start’ book written from a front-row seat of over 30 years of outreach experience. He and his wife of 34 years, Julie, have 3 children: Timothy, and his wife, Caitlyn; Abigail, her husband Nick and son, Ezra; and Samuel.
For more about Bill and his work, go to https://fivetwo.com/
Read the Interview Transcript
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is Hugh Ballou. Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. In the last seven and a half years, we have had fascinating people. Today is certainly no exception: people who have been there, done important things. People who have had multiple experiences and multiple careers sometimes, like yours truly. As we get older, we take all of that knowledge, experience, and wisdom and put it together. Our goal is to help you learn sound business principles for running the business part of your organization.
My guest today is a gentleman whom I’ve just met. I looked at his one-sheet, his website, and said, “We need to have this man tell his story.” I am going to throw it to Bill Woolsey. Tell us about your background and why you do what you do.
Bill Woolsey: Thank you for the introduction, and for having me on here today. I am a pastor. I have been a pastor since 1987. The reason I do what I do is I love watching women and men who want to help people, they have an idea about helping people, they are not sure how to do it, and I love watching them be successful. My whole ministry has been about helping people pour into things or who are action-oriented. They want to make a difference in their family or community or business. I get to live vicariously through them. That’s why I do what I do.
We help start ministries, nonprofits, churches, for-profit businesses that are Kingdom-oriented. Most of the things we work with or have helped start are nonprofits. My heart goes out especially to those who are cause-driven. They want to make a difference. They oftentimes want to do that in such a way that is sustainable. That is one of our fortes. If you want to be around for a while, and if you want to be financially sustainable, and if you want your change for your community or your neighborhood, then we get to live through you. We get to celebrate your success from behind the scenes.
Hugh: Yay. Bill has been around and has done some important things. I work with groups and teach them how what they already know—we have things we know we haven’t figured out how to utilize them in a different setting. One of my fun jobs was to do leadership for the American Choral Directors. I had 100 of my peers, 100 conductors in the room. By the end, they were quoting me. I love to take what we know as conductors and transpose it into a non-musical setting. If you know how to run a rehearsal, you know how to run a meeting. You just have to think of it differently and get out of the habit of the old.
Bill’s website is FiveTwo.com. We’re here not to sell something; we’re here to share some stories, some wisdom, to have a good time. Hopefully you will go away with one new idea that you can implement right away.
We are talking about nonprofit growth. Talk about the word “nonprofit.” In my world, that is a bad word. It’s a lie. You talked about starting up businesses, nonprofits, churches, associations. I do the same thing. It’s all very similar, except it’s a lot harder in a nonprofit or church. Talk about the mindset that we need for the success to gain sustainability in a business.
Bill: The nonprofit world especially exists because of a cause. There is some cause that has been striving this impetus for. When we work with teams and leaders and train them, we lovingly call our process “Mother Teresa meets a friendly Mark Cuban.” The Mother Teresa is this cause part, but the friendly Mark Cuban is the business acumen. In our training, we don’t want you to spend a dollar prematurely. You can only spend a dollar once, so we want you to spend it well. Therefore, we have you do testing and make sure you are really honed in on who it is you are serving and what that person is trying to attain or where their pains are and how your particular cause is going to benefit them.
We took the name Five Two from the miracle, the feeding of the five thousand. In that account, when His followers come to Him and say, “You need to send the crowd right away. Everyone is hungry,” He doesn’t speak much in that miracle, but He commands them, “You give them something to eat.” He holds them accountable for the crowd, the community. Nonprofit leaders get that. They understand that. They see a problem and are trying to fix this problem. Then they say to Him, “It is going to take a half a year’s wages.” The backstory is we don’t know all of these people, we are never going to see them again, they are all strangers, we don’t live here. You don’t want to spend a half a year’s wages; it would be a waste of money. Jesus says, “Go see how many loaves and fish you have.” He commands them again. Both times He speaks, He commands. He sends them into the crowd. They find the little boy’s five loaves and two fish. Surely y’all couldn’t find more food than that in a crowd this size? That is what they bring back. Jesus takes the meager five loaves and two fish and multiplies them and feeds the crowd.
When we work with nonprofit leaders, one of their biggest issues is where is the money going to come from? The second one is where are the people, the volunteers going to come from? What we encourage you to do is before you go there, you really focus and define clearly who you’re serving, what you’re doing to serve them. It’s the success and that serving that you can then share with donors. That is how you will build your donor base. That is how your donors will feel like their ROI is coming back to them in what you’re doing. We teach that miracle: abundance in scarcity. Nonprofit leaders are always on this scarcity, on a hamster wheel thing. What we want to do is when you tie in tight on this customer that God is calling you to care for and make their life better or that cause better, you will be surprised at how the community will come forward and help fund that cause.
Hugh: You have just expanded on what I noted: nonprofit is a word that puts us into that scarcity mindset.
Bill: That’s a great statement. If you read Mark 6, the whole chapter is a scarcity chapter. He sends his 12 out on a mission trip. They can’t take anything, just the shirt on their back and the shoes on their feet. They have to do the work with no resources except His spirit, His presence. They come back, they do this miracle, and they don’t get the lesson. How are we going to feed all these people?
In nonprofits, you said earlier it’s a joke phrase or the tag. I run into people all the time who say you can’t make a profit in a nonprofit. You don’t own the nonprofit; you can’t keep the profit. The profit needs to be reinvested, but you should be making a net profit, or else your nonprofit won’t stay around long.
Hugh: We frame it as proceeds. That gets people less anxious. If you don’t make a profit, you can’t pay salaries, you can’t pay for program development, you can’t impact people’s lives. You mentioned ROI. In the traditional equity funding, ROI is getting a return on your investment. This is getting a return on impact. I like to use ROL, Return on Life. You are giving people life they didn’t have before.
The story that you talked about, I never thought about it as commanding. I thought about Him saying do this. I didn’t use the word “command,” but you’re right. Jesus was always very clear and principle based. Get in groups of 50. Get the loaves and fishes. He blessed them. And He has 12 baskets left over from almost nothing. In some sense, we with this scarcity thinking are our own worst enemies.
Bill: That is so very true. We use this miracle in our training as a fundamental starting point because there are some core values that Jesus demonstrates in this miracle. When you’re going to start or lead an organization, doesn’t matter what it is, the organization is going to take on your values. It’s going to look like you. If you find yourself in a new position and you can’t get the values to marry up well, at some point you will leave or they will kick you out because you don’t fit. If you are a Christian or a person of faith, make sure those values are being lived out, not left at home. So often in scarcity, when we get into these mindsets, we forget that the God we serve owns it all, has distributed it all, cares for it all. We are but the stewards and the managers. If we would adopt that more, along with 2:Corinthians 7, 8, and 9, where Paul talks about God being generous and generosity being his middle name—he is a grace-filled God—if we remember that more, we would be less stressed in our lives. We would also be able to look for those resources. Those resources are in the community. If you are doing a nonprofit, you probably are not the first person to have that idea. Somebody else has the idea. But you are providing leadership to it.
Hugh: If they got the same exact idea, you should have checked ahead of time. You and I do the same kind of footprint. We probably do it differently. If you and I were to work every minute of every day, we probably still wouldn’t scratch the surface of people who need this. There are two different stories about feeding people with slightly different numbers, but the same context. I often wondered if it was the same place with different interpretations from different gospel writers. I do think that Jesus takes, and what we apply in SynerVision is we take the values further with guiding principles. Every time you see Jesus addressing something, it is very principle-based. He ain’t gonna be buffaloed. He is going to be sticking to principles, which is the core of defining our cultures. The principle is God has given us abundance. We are being unfaithful by denying that.
Bill: That is an accurate statement. We are unfaithful. The opposite of that is we are doubting. We are unbelieving. Peter stepping outside of the boat. In Mark 8, the feeding of the 4,000 happens. There, this time, the crowd is there for days. It’s not just an afternoon. There, the disciples again are like, “We don’t need to feed these people.” Man, it takes a long time for people to get this mindset, that God is going to provide.
Hugh: You think the guys who hung around would learn. We all have our challenges about how we take these lessons that have been taught to us. I do find there is recurring issues. That is Matthew 13 you are referring to, isn’t it?
Bill: Mark 6 and Mark 8. Feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle in every gospel. It’s important. We ought to listen up.
Hugh: It was the Matthew iteration. Yes, it was repeated for a reason. Let’s go back before I ask this next question. You talked about cause-based charities. There are cause-based churches, businesses, associations. Define what you mean by that.
Bill: By cause-based, when we work with you, we want to dig in and understand what drives you. What is the passion in your heart? A cause would mean this is what is motivating you, what is pushing you out there, what is filling your boat, filling your engine, waking you up in the morning. The #1 thing we assess for with our leaders is cause-driven. Some people will say, “My cause is to make money.” Okay, that’s fine if that’s your bottom line. The people we work with, that’s one of their issues, but that is not their primary driving issue.
We have helped launch things like getting women out of sex trafficking and into homes and apartments. That was started by a police officer in Detroit. Debbie worked in the sex crimes division and felt God wanted her to do something about the problem rather than prosecute the people who were the problem. We have helped start mobile medical help, mobile food banks, support groups for single Puerto Rican moms, language schools for Hmong immigrant children, homeless shelters, coffee shops that double as churches and community centers. All of those were started by a person or team, and they were united around this is the cause, this is the problem, this is what we want to fix. It was philanthropic or altruistic. It was social good.
I want to pour into people for the sake of Jesus. I want to see His Kingdom grow. That is what gets me up in the morning. That is why I lead a network of 6,000+ people, why we have a training platform, why we do what we do. That is what I want to see happen. That is the legacy I want to leave behind. I believe God wants me to leave this behind, too.
Hugh: One of our listeners teaches in junior colleges. They’re not candidates for Ivy League colleges. They are people who live in common places and not very substantial means typically. He presented to one of them two things. I want you to choose a nonprofit and report about it. What is a nonprofit? The other project, this is at the beginning of the term. He said, “I want you to write what’s going to be on your tombstone, your eulogy. What are they going to say about you when you’re gone?” They didn’t know what a eulogy was. It’s a new experience of getting outside of your comfort zone, discovering something new. What are they going to say about my life when they are no longer here?
Part of what you’re doing is creating a legacy to empower other people to be successful. It’s the Woolsey legacy. Talk about in order for organizations to be successful, it’s not only we want to grow our church to be big, but we need a critical mass of people to do something significant. There is a growth factor that is so essential. What are the key ingredients for growing any organization, especially a nonprofit or cause-based charity?
Bill: We begin with a person who is leading it. It’s going to rise and fall to a large degree on that. You have this leader, this individual who wants to see change happen. They have a skillset that is going to help with that. The smaller the entity, your skillset will be more generic, more utilitarian. Perhaps they have started things before in the past. When we assess you, we can almost tell how scalable you are going to be. To start something versus scaling something is another thing.
The leadership team is critical. We want them to be self-aware. That’s why we do the work we do on the front end: Do you understand what’s driving you? Do you understand the boundaries you have set on things? We want to know what your values are. When you’re angry at people, they crossed a value. Let’s make sure you understand that because the more you understand that, the more you can articulate it, and you can recruit better for it. You will also understand people are becoming a part of your nonprofit, good or bad, the organization.
We focus first of all on the leader: building a team of people around them who are complementary, that mitigates the leader’s weaknesses and complements the strengths of that individual.
We also then want to see what stage they’re at. If we are talking about a nonprofit that is stuck, they have been around a little bit, they had some success, or maybe they never got off the launchpad well. We got the leader. We can pour into that person. We can develop that.
The next thing we can do is help them hone in on their customer. Right now, working with a nonprofit in one of the communities near where I live outside of Austin. She has had some great success. She is a United Methodist Church pastor. She has a heart for the business communities and for the schools. This particular community is impoverished; it doesn’t have a good commercial income base. The schools are hurting. But she was running around in circles. She had this fire, this fire, this fire. How do we align that and build some momentum for growth for that? We worked in about six hours on who is that customer. That will flow out of how do you want to serve. If we had to lop everybody else off who you are serving, but you get to keep one who you really resonate with, who you have been in their shoes, they look like you, they feel like you, she said, “I really have a heart for the business leader. I really want to help the business leader be successful in the community but also bring good to the community.”
We ended up helping her understand that this core customer is the business leader, a small- to medium-sized business. The partner she needs to be successful in her nonprofit is the principals of the schools because they are the ones who share with her the need of the children and the mentoring program. She is going to help the business leader be successful by providing a lunch on a regular basis for their employees and also providing them an opportunity to bless the community, build goodwill in the community for the business but do good in the community in the form of children and families. We would focus on that customer and what is their business strategy. How are they going to do that?
We also look at income stream. We encourage it has both an earned income stream and donative income stream. The donative is straightforward; it will be the businesses who will donate to their nonprofit for them to do their work. In essence, they have hired her, you might say. Also, there are earned revenue streams through facility rentals, service provision, whatever it may be. That builds a stronger base.
Leader and team. Customer. You can’t boil the ocean, so laser focus there. What are your strategies? How is your income going to be provided? Then usually with nonprofits, we find most of them are not adept at fundraising, and the leader could use some strong coaching and training on fundraising. We have a module we go through on that.
Last of all, communication channels. Your platform. How are you getting your story out effectively, repeatedly? That would be key, too.
Hugh: That is quite a list. I think you may be aware that my previous career was in church music directing. On the music stand is the strategic plan. That is the music score. We want to say, “Y’all come, and we are going to make music.” Once it gets to the grand cacophony, instead of a board that is energized, you get a board that looks like this. You have people who are turning their back on you because they don’t get it.
What I find, and you just highlighted a number of important topics in that description, the bottom line for me is the organization is going to function to the level of the leadership. If you started it, you might not be the one to lead it. It might be your vision. Visionaries are often not tactical. We prefer to think of skills and gaps at SynerVision. I have these skills, but what you don’t do so well is a gap. Someone has that as their #1 skill, so we bring them in. I don’t think we know how to lead in that manner in nonprofits because we think if we delegate it, we are irresponsible rather than being a wise leader. Do you want to talk about empowering others?
Bill: Past experience is the best predictor of future success. It’s very hard to lead into a place you’ve never been. If you have been there, maybe you were on a boat that scaled something. You weren’t in charge of the boat, but at least you have been on the journey before. For instance, in my own ministry, I was always in large churches. My first call was a relatively large church, 650 in worship, St. Louis. I was youth in evangelism, and I was the outreach guy. That ministry grew to about 800 in a couple years. It was an anomaly around there.
The next ministry I was at, I was evangelism, discipleship, small groups, and executive pastor. That was seven years. They asked me to start a contemporary worship service. I was the guy who organized all of that. I can’t sing a lick. When you are put into those situations and you realize this is what we’re trying to do, we’re going to have to build a team, I’m going to have to get people around me, or else it won’t happen. I was always in team settings. That ministry grew from 650 to 1,100.
Then my family were called to start a church in west Houston. The dad who raised me was Hispanic. He was my stepdad. I always thought I would go be a missionary in Mexico. I love the culture. From Texas. The only model I’d ever heard of was they parachute you in by yourself, and you have to pull this thing off. I had never been by myself. When we went to start this church, I convinced the leaders that be to let us bring a whole staff in from the beginning. We approached it like a business. Got a line of credit. Got people to back us. We were off to the races, 40 acres of land, seven families to 1,600 families, three locations. We only could do it because we had one or two paid staff, two with me.
Your question there on how do you delegate and mobilize. We had a lovely phrase that we called key volunteers. They were unpaid staff. We elevated them as staff. They had responsibility and authority. They didn’t need to be paid; they had life situations where that wasn’t a necessity for them. They had time on their hands and wanted to use it well. If you are going to raise up people, you as the leader have to be clear on where you’re going. That’s the vision thing.
Think of a destination. Vision answers the question. Before you get on a plane with me, you want to be convinced of two things. Where are we going and can I get us there? You have to be clear for your staff or your volunteers what is it we’re trying to do? Then, this is a little adage I heard decades ago that I still use: everyone wants to make a significant contribution to a successful cause. How can I help them see the significant contribution they’re making to this successful cause? Why do I need them? Why do I want them on the bus in the first place? What are they bringing to the show? Am I going to be a strong enough leader to make sure the boundaries are clear but wide? We can play in this field over there. Am I going to be a strong enough leader to let them go play and to resource them, not direct them? That is a key mindset.
Hugh: Wise words. *Sponsored by Wordsprint*
Bill, these are important topics you are bringing up. The illustration you started with is the Jesus feeding the multitudes. He had His group. He just said, “Follow me,” and they did. “Follow me.” To me, that is an invitation. He delegated them. Group them into 50. Sit them down. Find some food. Then they brought it to Him. He was very clear. I find that deficit a lot.
There are two big barriers I’d like you to speak to. One is lack of clarity. We got this vision for what we’re doing. It takes us 30 minutes to tell somebody. We should do it in 30 seconds. Secondly, the biggest issue I see over and over and contributes to the massive burnout rate is overfunctioning. We don’t delegate because we ought to be doing what we ask other people to do, which is an excuse, not a reason. Overfunctioning, we’re robbing people of an opportunity of what you just talked about. Speak to overfunctioning and that model of Jesus delegating.
Bill: Your first one, vision and clarity, I want to double click on that. We have a pitch process. It’s a 15-second message map. In 15 seconds, you should be able to tell me what it is your org does and three unique characteristics that set it apart from the others. The one-sentence statement, we want to see in 144 characters, not 144 words. It’s easy to say a bunch of words; it’s hard to say a few words that are all you need to say. That vision clarity is important. When it’s not, everything becomes fuzzy. Your staff aren’t sure what you want to do. Your donors aren’t sure what you do. Why should I give you $100,000 to invest? That is important.
I would say your delegation aspect and Jesus’ miracle there. First of all, on the delegation, I would also use this word “trust.” You said “overfunction.” Yes, your typical founder Type A personality. Oftentimes, if they founded something and it’s got some legs and street cred, they probably are a pretty above average performer. There are probably things they can do pretty well or else they won’t be in that role. They are going to have to come to grips with people they may have to delegate to; they will have to help them get to that level.
A buddy of mine who used to run a number of huge companies, he told me this 20 years ago, and he was on my board of the church in west Houston.He said, “Bill, you’re in such high demand, and you want A players. The reality is you are not always going to have A players. You’re going to have some Bs and Cs. You really will have to come to grips with how to develop a C into a B and a B into an A. But to just say if you’re not an A you can’t play on my team, my sense is you will live a life of frustration.”
That was a great mindset because being a pastor I got the feasance for equipping the saints for doing good works, doing the ministry. But on the staff, I forgot that at times. How do we develop the people around us but look internally? Why is it I am not trusting them? Why is it I am not willing to hand this over to them? Maybe there is a good reason. Maybe there is something subconsciously where I don’t think they’re competent enough and I need to address that. It’s either my bad or they aren’t. We need to have that conversation. I often find it’s an expectations issue that is not necessarily needed. Believe me, I am not a guy who likes to do half-assed work. At the same time, how can we do it well? How can we help people succeed?
I would encourage you as a leader to look at a trust issue, a respect issue. If you have never run your staff through any kind of assessment, we use one based on enjoyment theory. If you enjoy something, you’re probably pretty good at it. People tell you you’re good at it, you get better at it, and it feeds on itself in a wonderful way. As much as possible, I try to get people into spots they enjoy and are good at. You can’t always do that. Someone has to sweep the floor, whether you like it or not. As much as possible, if I can do that with the key volunteers and staff I have, it mitigates the management struggles.
Hugh: I worked my way up from a 200-member church to 12,000. The more times you hit the wall, the more you learn you have to delegate. Having 750 people manage 22 ensembles and committees, you have to learn pretty fast you have to get things off your plate and be pretty clear.
In the last church we served, we eliminated the word “volunteer.” We went from a small group of volunteers doing a half-assed job to no more volunteers. You are going to be members of ministry, servant leaders. Everyone in the church stepped up to a job because we empowered people.
What you just talked about, I’m hearing our #1 job is to be clear on the vision, and #2 is to empower others to utilize their skill. Even the person sweeping the floor and making coffee can perceive themselves as a leader because they are making something happen.
Bill: The people with spiritual gifts of help, they get great fulfillment out of using those gifts in a variety of ways. As the leader of the org, and the people around me that I am responsible for developing and equipping, make it concise, clear, compelling for them. What is it that I need from them? What contribution am I looking for? I am clear on not just where we’re going and what we’re trying to do, but what the expectations are for them.
It’s one thing to delegate and abdicate. That’s not what we’re saying. You delegate and stay in touch and make sure they are clear on what you’re expecting and what the organization needs. Just your swing thought is how can I help them be successful? You’re trying to help them be successful because then everyone is successful and everybody wins.
My son is a consultant with Bane Consulting, which is a very stressful consulting group. I asked him, “Tell me what your schedule looks like” a couple years ago. This is when he was on the team, and now he leads the team. First of all, companies that hire them, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars for a week of work. They’re trying to value companies to buy and sell. He said, “In the morning, we meet as a team. The manager checks in on everyone in the next few hours. Every couple hours, they check in to see how it’s going. Do you need something else? Can I get you something? End of the day, did you get this done? How’d this go?”
They have high-performing people. You don’t get in there if you’re not. But they also have a very rigorous communication of manager to team. They don’t just let them go do because they know at the pace they’re running, they’re going to hit walls, and they want to help them not get frustrated and figure out how to get through the wall. That was a huge insight for me. A lot of nonprofit leaders tend to think if they tell you what I need done, you can figure it out instead of thinking we can talk about this and make sure you have what you need. This is a change in the leader. The leader has to change, and that’s a huge issue.
Hugh: In the writing of Murray Bowen, psychiatrist, he talks about how you can’t change other people. The principle is you change yourself, and people respond to you.
Bill: Family systems 101.
Hugh: Yes, sir. We are going to do it for them, which robs them of the opportunity. Plus we’re irritating them. That was a lot of big sound bites. Bill has a passion for changing people’s lives by equipping them. A lot of times, people say, “I got it.” The thing that stood out to me that is lacking in delegation is performance expectations. You said “expectations.” We’re setting up conflict right there by not saying, “This is what it looks like and what I expect.”
Bill: One of the reasons I love the assessment tool we use with our staff and teams we work with for a decade is it uses what is called paradox theory. It takes traits that appear to be against each other, antithesis, and they put them next to each other and say, “You can be both of these traits at the same time and be effective.”
One of the ones, and this is for those of you who are leading orgs, and you have staff or key volunteers underneath you, and you want to delegate things to them, one thing you should pay attention to in your own psyche is this assertive trait. Assertive means I will clearly say to you what I need. Oftentimes, and especially in nonprofit leaders who are more “pastoral,” they are compassionate, loving, and serving. What it does on this particular graph is it says Assertive on the Y axis, and on the X axis, is Helping. If you’re high in Helping, but you’re low in Assertive, what happens is there comes a point where you get upset at the person because they are not doing what you want them to do, but your problem is you clearly never told them what you wanted them to do.
If you will learn how to grow and be assertive, clearly saying, “I need this by tomorrow at noon. If we don’t get it tomorrow at noon, we will miss this deadline.” Tomorrow at noon, when he comes in and says, “I’m sorry. I had to do this other appointment. I wasn’t able to get that done,” now all of a sudden, you have clearly set the expectations. You can say, “I already shared with you what is going to happen. Now I am frustrated.” As opposed to, “I wanted it tomorrow at noon, but I never told you. I hoped you’d do some osmosis, ESP thing to get it from me.” All of a sudden, it lets the emotions be out there in a valid way. It will mitigate some of the conflict so you don’t just all of a sudden become a bear.
Hugh: That’s right. The things you are describing I would say fit into transformational leadership, which we embrace to empower leaders about the vision and build leaders on teams fundamentally. There is a quote from a couple people I’d like you to respond to. There is this Jewish guy named Paul who says, “Be transformed by the renewing.” James Allen in his little book As a Man Thinketh says, “People want to change their circumstances, but are unwilling to change themselves. They therefore remain bound.” There is a lot on the leader to say, “Yes, I want to embrace something different.”
Bill: Oftentimes the founder who scales is the exception. The reason they are the exception, there is a wonderful book called Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan. He has in there the understanding of the leadership ladder. As an organization grows or as you want to grow in an organization, every time you go up a rung, you have to change two things. You have to change what you value, which necessitates you change what you do with your time. If you don’t change what you do with your time, you really haven’t changed your value. It’s hard to change values. This is why when you first start an organization, you bring value by doing. When you get promoted, you manage doers. Now you bring value by helping doers do successfully. You are now bringing value not by doing, but by helping others do. That is the hardest switch anybody can make.
We will often see founders who hit founders’ trap because they aren’t willing to change what they do with their time and making sure everybody else is doing well. They get stuck in that overfunctioning. They are still trying to bring value by doing instead of equipping others to do. The org doesn’t grow and falls back.
Hugh: That’s a differentiation of self with Bowen systems. Speaking of books, you mentioned the word “philanthropy” earlier. Bob Hopkins has written this masterful book about philanthropy. Bob, do you have a comment or question for Bill?
Bob Hopkins: Yeah, this is a good conversation. I just left a classroom where we did our eulogies as the last assignment of my coursework, which is called Human Communications. It’s amazing the students were embarrassed to think out of the box. Not only were they embarrassed, but they were embarrassed to tell anybody that they wanted to live a life that had adventure in it. That was something really crazy. One boy said, “I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I’ve decided I want to be Batman. I’m going to die as Batman. This is what I want as my eulogy.” It was the only eulogy that was interesting. Everyone else was going to have three kids and live in a house in Montana.
When I was listening to you talk about structure and nonprofit organizations, it seems to me like we try to box people in to follow the rules and regulations without giving freedom and encouragement to think critically about things that might be different. What do you think about that topic?
Bill: I think first of all, boxing people in, the reality is we do have laws. We do have regulations. We do have rules. Any organization has rules to help it function well. The key thing that you stressed, Bob, is if I am clear on what I am trying to go, we call it the commanders’ intent. What do you intend to try to see happen here? What is your overall goal so everyone else knows what the goal is, and they can accomplish it in the ways they feel best are going to work in their situation or neck of the woods?
What’s critical is first of all, there are always boundaries. What are they? As broad as possible. We are all trying to go in this direction. We are trying to take that hill by tomorrow. Then what is it you are going to be doing that contributes to that movement, that overall direction? Yes, I am a biggie. I don’t want to be micro-managed. There are times where I have encountered people who say, “You are micro-managing me.” No, you just don’t want to be managed. There is a difference between being managed well and being micro-managed, but at the same time, saying, “How’s it going? How are we doing on that project?”
I am big on what we’re trying to get done. I am going to give you the freedom, but also understanding in leadership, if I give you the freedom, I’m also holding you accountable to the outcome. You can have the freedom to do whatever you want toward that outcome, but you also have to be willing to own the outcome. People want freedom, but they don’t want to be held responsible for what happens, even though we may have history that says, “Hey, we know if you do it this way, we can have some success. We have tried that.” It’s an art. There is a book called The Art of Leadership. It is very much an art. But I’m with you. Let them play. But there are some boundaries, and here is what we are trying to get done.
Hugh: Bob always has great insights. Bill, have you ever wanted to be Batman?
Bill: No. When you said that, I was just talking to my son the other day. We built a home out in the hill country because my in-laws live half a mile from us. My wife is the oldest, and my in-laws are 82. I said to my youngest son the other day, “I haven’t told your mother this, but there are times where I would love to get an RV and pull it behind and live in RV parks around the country and visit people. I don’t think your mom is going to go for that at this stage of our lives.” That’d be my Batman.
Hugh: That’s your eulogy. Jeffrey, do you want to weigh in? There are two people who are retired CFRE professionals. Jeff, come on in.
Jeffrey Fulgham: I’ll say how great it is to see someone supporting the community like this, Bill. It’s tremendous to have some resources. One of the things that Hugh talks about all the time is just so important. You talked about it, too. We have a lot of nonprofits out there that think that they’re in a vacuum from the business community. They can do these other things and not pay attention to the business side because they are a “nonprofit.” I’m not a big fan of the word. I tend to use the word “charity” just because people see “nonprofit.” If you end every year with zero dollars, you will start every next year with zero dollars and not get very far.
Bill: There is something magical about December 31. No, there is not. January 1 happens tomorrow, and it’s the same bank account.
Jeffrey: On December 31, let’s try to have as much money as we can so when the person comes to us on January 1 and says, “I need help,” we don’t have to say, “Give us a few months and we’ll see what we can do for you.” Getting these folks to understand how important good business principles are. A lot of it is because folks come into this very altruistically with really great intentions and huge hearts, but nobody is standing next to them or behind them, saying, “Hey, this is all great, but let’s take a step backwards and focus on the things that are going to make you successful long-term.” That’s what you’re doing, which is cool.
Bill: Thank you so much, Jeff. Hugh, you mentioned FiveTwo.com, which is our portal site. You can get to our training site through there. Our whole focus, whether you’re brand new and haven’t started or you already have something but are not getting traction, our three pillars are build, fund, and launch. Each of those has some key things you need to pay attention to as you’re going about it.
In this community work you’re doing, we say, “Money is not the mission, but where there is no money, there is no mission.” How is it you’re going to make sure the dollars you’re using are wisely being used, and they’re all contributing and pulling in that way?
When we work with people, they tend to define their customers or clients so broadly that it’s hard to see the person. Going back to this clarity thing that you mentioned earlier, we want clarity on who you’re serving. You can’t boil the ocean, so let’s laser in on this person you’re serving. The smaller you are, the more critical that is so you can leverage your resources effectively. You can tell stories. You can find donors who also have that niche. That’s what they want to contribute toward. It makes your messaging cleaner. Everything becomes simpler when you are very clear on who God is calling you to serve and help in your community.
Hugh: Very wise words. I’d like to reemphasize something that you have said. This is generic. If you’re leading a business, a nonprofit, a church, a community organization, the fundamental principles are the same. We lead the vision. We lead people.
We are coming to a close. What thought or challenge or quote would you like to leave people with today?
Bill: Probably off of what Jeff said in his last words, so many nonprofit leaders don’t have someone to walk with them or encourage them. We encourage people. If you break down the word “encourage,” you pour courage in. I would just say to you if you are lacking courage or wisdom, find somebody who will walk alongside you, whether it be a coach or an organization or a network that will help in the Biblical picture, “Hold up your arms as you are trying to lead the charge out.” That would be what I say to you. You’re doing great work. You’re doing important work in your communities. We for sure want you to be successful and effective because ultimately without you, there will be a need that goes missing there in that city.
Hugh: Thank you, Bill for sharing your experience and wisdom with us today, which is extensive.