Partnership for Excellence 2015 – Creating Excellence at Every Level

With more than 72,000 active nonprofits in California contributing to 15% of California’s gross state product, the business world should take heed of the power of the nonprofit sector. The 2015 Partnership for Excellence (PFE) conference brought together revolutionary thinkers from the nonprofit, business and philanthropic communities working to strengthen the many nonprofits active within Santa Barbara County.

This year’s PFE program, Recognizing Strengths: Creating Excellence at Every Level, provided a space for attendees to build and strengthen relationships, and learn valuable techniques for nonprofits to maximize the impact they have in their communities.

Planting the Seeds for Organizational Growth

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Diana Whitney

Heading the pack of inspiring individuals was keynote speaker Diana Whitney, PhD, founder of the Corporation for Positive Change. With a speaking style centered on interactive storytelling, she ignited the audience with her rich and relatable experiences, filling them with confidence to inspire action.

“Every organization needs a positive revolution,” she said.

Dr. Whitney advocated for nonprofit leaders to better their organizations through positive processes. She stressed that “no one can learn by being told what they’re doing wrong.” Leaders can help their employees achieve goals by using appreciative inquiry; asking them questions based on their values and hopes for the organization rather than focusing on what could have been done better. Giving specific directions instead of criticism, and being more appreciative of an individual’s strengths will transform any toxicity in the work environment into productivity.

She endorsed positive change through appreciative leadership. “Solutions are found through thinking with people rather than thinking for them.” This year’s conference was unique in that Dr. Whitney actively helped in planning the day’s workshops, providing all the tools necessary to integrate appreciative leadership into their organizations.

Passion Over Statistics

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Lisa Braithwaite

Public speaking coach and author of the popular blog Speak Schmeak, Lisa Braithwaite, answered the question; How Can You Inspire Great Community Support by Sharing Stories and Speaking from the Heart? Being able to tell stories and speak passionately is a powerful tool for nonprofits with a vision. Her words were not lost on the room full of passionate individuals who center their profession on working for a greater cause.

Braithwaite tossed aside mundane public speaking practices and asked her audience to reframe any negative preconceptions into positive practices. “Barriers are created when you take yourself too seriously,” she said. “Embrace your uniqueness and don’t get caught up in trying to impress anyone.” The same rules apply in a presentation format as when making friends on the playground: just be yourself.

Her biggest piece of advice to people wanting to sell themselves and their vision to an audience was to create an emotional experience. Don’t “fire hose” the audience with excess facts and statistics. “People buy on emotion and then justify it with fact,” explained Braithwaite. In this business, passion and enthusiasm is so much more valuable than statistics and numbers.

Bethany Markee, self-titled ‘chef turned lunch lady’ and winner of Fast Pitch, a local cash competition for nonprofits, recently won $25,000 dollars for her mission to bring healthy lunches to elementary schools using the techniques Braithwaite discussed. Chef B. encouraged everyone to overcome their fears and told the audience that “thinking it was going to be hard was actually the hardest part.”

People as your Biggest Resource

Leading From Within Founder and President, Ken Saxon, teamed up with Deborah Holmes, Associate Director of CALM, and Dave Davis, President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the Community Environmental Council to facilitate a leadership workshop titled How Can You Foster and Grow Leadership At All Levels?

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Individuals connecting during breakout sessions

Quoting Helen Keller, Saxon reminded us that “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” His philosophy is centered on the idea that in order to maximize efficiency in your organization one needs to invest in human capital. “People are the biggest resource in nonprofits,” he said. Since 10% of the United State’s population works for a nonprofit organization, employers should use this people power to let employees take risks and support them throughout the process.

Using reflective practice, leaders can help foster creativity and openness among their team members. Holmes explained that when leaders take time to stop and think about their own responses and reactions, they can prevent misunderstanding and unnecessary negativity. It’s about understanding your own biases. To grow your own organization you must encourage people’s potential. She noted that “leaders get used to having people listen to them, when in reality they should be the ones listening.”

Davis added that it’s ok to miss your objective sometimes as long as you aimed high to begin with. The top down mentality in many organizations is hindering valuable opportunities for communication. Leaders should be checking in with employees all the time, rather than every few weeks through feedback reports.

Why it Matters: Causes Count

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Jan Masaoka

CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits, Jan Masaoka, discussed the recent impact study, Causes Count, which measured the economic power of California’s nonprofit sector. This is the first study of its kind recognizing nonprofits as competitive businesses. Lets face it – money gets people’s attention.

Nonprofits are already trusted institutions. Causes Count’s survey showed that 80 percent of Californians are confident that these organizations act on the public’s behalf and deliver quality services. Causes Count gave these beliefs an economic backing, which will hopefully put these important organizations on policy makers’ radars and allow them to be more competitive with for-profit businesses. If California leaders worked more closely with nonprofits, the combination of economic force and people power will lead to unique and powerful community solutions.

This is a call to action for nonprofit organizations to get a seat at the decision-making table and get important community leaders, businesses and institutions to ask them the important question: “what does the nonprofit sector think?”

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