Is Planning Passé?

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      –Winston Churchill

Companies have been creating strategic plans forever. We are all familiar with the process: gather senior leaders in a room for several days or months (maybe with a consultant to facilitate), do a SWOT analysis, project numbers and aspirations, do some strong wordsmithing, dust it up, hand it out, disseminate it to the stakeholders, and check the box: The Plan is done and the future is in our grasp. We’re in control. Now let’s get back to the business of running the company.

In the last decade or so, there has been a backlash on strategic planning. With the knowledge that fewer than 10% of strategic plans are executed successfully, many organizations have abandoned the planning process in favor of “responding-to-opportunities.”  For those of us in the non-profit world, that can mean anything from revising direction in favor of meeting criteria for a grant to reacting to a shift in the marketplace to a chance (or intentional) meeting with a potential partner. All of these opportunities can be fruitful, but chances are good they didn’t show up in the strategic plan created a couple of years ago—or even months ago…

On the other hand, if we leaders—in any arena—rely solely on responding-to-opportunities as a strategy, we find ourselves wandering all over the landscape without a compass to guide us. Without some sort of framework, we are relegated to putting out fires and simply reacting to what comes up.

Strategic planning at its worst appeals to a leader’s need for control. It reflects an aversion to risk. It diminishes creativity and innovation. And it rules out the possibility of quantum leaps. Strict planning causes organizational arthritis. Without flexibility, the slightest turbulence turns into a crisis.

Henry Mintzberg, in his seminal work, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, differentiates the concepts of strategic planning and strategic thinking. Strategy, he says, isn’t a plan but it is a “pattern that blends intended response with response that emerges out of the changing environment.” Planning is essential, as Winston Churchill told us. Mintzberg would tell us that “planning is essential … to ensure that the future is taken into account including preparing for the inevitable, preempting the undesirable, and controlling the controllable.”

I believe planning is essential. And I agree with Mintzberg in that planning is not a thing, but a way of thinking—it is the “brain” of an organization. It fueled by superior critical thinking skills, powerful judgment,  ongoing environmental analysis,  and brave, timely decision making.

Those of us in the nonprofit business are here to create change. We are here to offer precise solutions to complex societal problems. Rather than creating a plan that rusts on the shelf, let’s create a workforce that embodies the attributes of strategic thinking—nimble, strong, brave, and willing to take smart calculated risk for the sake of success.  And yes, let’s make sure we have some sort of road map to help guide us to the future with the ongoing opportunity to pursue new highways along the way.

What do you think?

Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Fought; Honoring Those Who Keep Fighting

For many, Memorial Day heralds the beginning of summer with a long weekend, plants tucked safely in the garden, cook-outs, and gatherings with friends and families. And yet, for hundreds of thousands of families and friends, Memorial Day is a day to commemorate and honor their loved ones whose lives have been lost in service and whose courage and heroism has become a fundamental cornerstone of their family’s legacy. Yesterday, like many Americans, I remembered and honored those who have fallen, and yet I am well aware that it is not just one day a year that we acknowledge our fallen servicemen and women. Every day is Memorial Day.

I am compelled to think of those veterans who have returned from active duty who are still struggling with complex issues that interfere with their successful re-entry into the community. On any given night, 39,471 veterans are homeless. 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, overcrowded living arrangements, or lack of subsidized housing.

In addition, a large number of returning veterans—estimated at 20%–suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among those, many also are affected by substance used disorder. These issues are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks and possibly most critical, lack of jobs.

Those who work with veterans agree that one of the most significant remedies to the struggles of veterans is obtaining and sustaining employment. Many assume that because veterans are well-trained in the field, they can readily translate their skills into civilian life. But that isn’t always the case. This is the reason why veterans need training, education, support, and a chance. Most employers agree that veterans make excellent employees.

Here at Fedcap, we are committed to supporting veterans through skills training, job readiness, outreach, and partnerships with local businesses. For example, through our partnership with Easterseals NY, we operate a Red Mango store on Long Island, specifically set aside as a training ground for veterans in a variety of retail management and day-to-day foodservice operations. In addition, we have created internship programs and a variety of services and training in culinary arts.

dixonEarly in May, Fedcap has joined forces with the Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services to ensure that veterans and their families have the supports and services they need within the communities where they live. Together, we are working to break down barriers and drive a new conversation about the most effective way to honor the service of our veterans who have needs that are not being met effectively. The Dixon Center is sought out nationally by a number of veterans’ councils to help guide their efforts to support returning veterans. This is a very exciting and dynamic partnership.

Every one of us can do something to support our veterans who have so bravely served us at home. To begin with, we can find out more about what is happening in our areas to help veterans. In addition, you can donate to community organizations who are working to support job training and career building for veterans.

If you are interested in supporting Fedcap’s work with veterans, feel free to donate by going to this link:

On this week of Memorial Day, I challenge you to take action just as our veterans took action to support you.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Words Matter

“Words matter. They’re contagious. And hopeful words infect people.”   –Angela Maiers

Every day I hear stories of moments when one life has been transformed by another simply by the power of words.

In my own life, I have had the good fortune to have mentors who have believed in me and who have expressed their belief. That expression propelled me to strive harder and to reach beyond what I imagined was possible. We cannot underestimate the power of language to inspire and to instill hope and confidence. And we cannot underestimate the power of language to harm and diminish. Language matters and language makes a difference.

On May 10th, we celebrated the work and life of William (Bill) Grinker at our annual Wildcat Spring Cocktail party. Bill’s career spans decades, and his work has transformed the way we approach some of society’s biggest challenges: homelessness, unemployment, and equity. Bill cited the line in John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” as the catalyst for the commencement of his life’s work. Bill is among many who were moved to action. A single sentence inspired a generation to service.

Our mission at Fedcap is to create systems, influence policies, develop programming, and innovate solutions that will eliminate barriers to economic well-being. Our days are filled with the execution of our strategy to that end.  For so many, we are that catalyst that propels them toward previously unimagined possibilities. To the individuals that seek help from us, our words—and our listening—are what matter most.

As leaders, team members, and practitioners, our words have the power to create the future we envision. By being deliberate, intentional, and precise in our words, we are able to catapult action. One key to improving the way we use language is first to allow space for conversation and to be aware of what is behind our habitual ways of communicating. For example, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey in their book How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work reflect that a common communication default is to make complaints. They suggest that complaints can be reframed as expressions of commitment to a particular value. Think about something you habitually complain about. What does that complaint signify about what you value? What if you were to speak directly about the value rather than the complaint? The use of more direct language opens a pathway to action rather than keeping one stuck in the complaint.

As colleagues, as leaders, as stakeholders, and as practitioners, we can help reframe the stories and the language of those we serve by seeing through the complaint or the habitual story to a new lens that reflects their hopes and aspirations. “Nothing will ever change,” becomes, “I want to make a change.” That reframed language has momentum and possibility.

Many of us are not aware of the influence we have on others—on our colleagues, our stakeholders, and those whom we serve. But in fact, we can make a difference by listening and by being careful with our talk.  By seeing through negative talk of others, we can reframe their thinking into language that sparks possibility. This is how we transform lives. Yes, our actions speak volumes—and at the same time our words can ignite the power of possible.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.



The Case for Financial Transparency in Non-Profits

“The greatest threat to the not-for-profit sector is the betrayal of public trust, the disappointment of public confidence.”

–Professor Joel Fleishman, Duke University

This week, Fedcap released its first half-year financials for 2017. This process takes place via webinar, and this year attracted more than 150 participants from business, academia, government, and non-profit sectors. Every six months, we present our financials along with an overview of our programmatic and service growth and sustainability. I am happy to report that for the first half of this year, we show very strong growth and stability in our organization. Please feel free to review our release at

Many people might see the gathering and analysis of data as a bi-annual chore. Frankly, I see it as a privilege. It is an opportunity to reflect on our mission and our values and to see how we are progressing in relation to our strategy and our planning. It also gives us an opportunity to see and measure the success of our growth.

As the head of a large non-profit, I have a huge responsibility to our funders, our partners, and our individual and corporate donors. The resources they entrust to us are precious and are given to us in good faith that we will be meticulous in our use of them. Too many non-profits have foundered due to inefficient tracking and reporting of their funds. Bob Carlson, in an article in a 2011 Chronicle of Philanthropy article cites lack of fiscal transparency as the number one complaint that is made to states’ attorneys general. In addition, in the absence of information, there is room for misunderstandings and misperceptions which can lead to reputational risk. Non-profits have failed not only because of lack of financial stewardship but even by failing to meet their stakeholders’ expectations for transparency. I believe it is essential to incorporate the best business practices into our non-profit reporting.

While emphasis on our mission is key to engaging the hearts and minds of our partners, demonstrating our financial reporting creates a common and exact language out stakeholders understand. The numbers tell the story of our work, our mission, our successes, and our areas for improvement.

On May 16, we received several excellent questions from our stakeholders who attended our financial release. I so appreciate their engagement; their questions and interest continue to propel us to fulfill our mission of creating opportunities for the power of possible through relevant, sustainable impact.

I welcome your thoughts about financial transparency in non-profits. What are your experiences?



Exploring Stigma and Its Impact

“A civilization should be judged by how it treats its mentally ill: discrimination is about the conditions in which our patients live, mental health budgets, and the priority to which we allow these services to achieve.”

–Peter Byrne, former Director of Public Education, Royal College, UK

May is Mental Illness Awareness month. While I am not always in favor of these arbitrary month by month focus on issues as it seems superficial,  I WILL leverage it to talk about the real impact of mental illness.

First, were you aware that four hundred and fifty million people worldwide have a mental illness? (The population of the United States is 321.4 million.)  Sixty percent of people living in developed countries with mental illness do not receive treatment and for those living in underdeveloped countries, 90% do not receive care.

Also, were you aware that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness represents the biggest economic burden to our country and to the world? The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, costs to society due to undiagnosed and untreated mental illness will be six trillion dollars. The majority of that cost is due to disability and to loss of work.

Clearly the issue is significant.   Researchers, psychologists, sociologists, and many health care professionals agree that the major barrier to getting the treatment that is needed is stigma. Stigma has been defined as, “a sign of disgrace or discredit, which sets a person apart from others.” The experience of stigma manifests itself mainly as shame. Shame leads people to eschew seeking help, which leads people to try to conceal their illness.

It is not a new concept to compare the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness unfavorably with other physical diseases. When one has been stricken with a chronic disease like asthma or arthritis or cancer, friends, family, and the medical community are quick to lend support and to respond with care.  But there is no such outpouring of support for those with mental illness.   There is confusion about what to do.  There is shame within families.  There is fear among friends and moreover, the community.

We held a very powerful Solution Series in New Hampshire recently where one of the panelists talked about the employer being one of the most important players in helping individuals to identify and treat their mental illness—in a safe and supportive atmosphere.  Both employer and employee benefit.  Helping individuals with mental illness obtain and maintain employment is key to advancing their economic well-being and their equity. Employment results in the establishment of connection to others through working relationships. It means individuals are covered by health benefits, which offer some coverage for the treatment of mental illness.

I concur with Patrick Kennedy that the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness must become a top national public health priority.  Through the Kennedy Forum, Patrick has laid out an extensive platform for ways to address issues around improving access to mental health services, including prevention and early treatment. ( The actions Kennedy outlines would lead to better care for those suffering  with the pain of mental illness and could help advance a new understanding of  mental illness—and reduce stigma.   What would it look like to live in a world where we move toward one another in an effort to help rather than shy away in fear?

Psychologist Peter Byrne had it right when he said:

People must also be courageous enough to help fight a battle that is not entirely theirs; to fight an established institution in order to create positive change. It is the basic quality of a human– to help each other– that people must find and use in order to make the world a better and safer place.

 As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Making the Case for Investing in Innovation In Social Services

When we think of innovation, we think of modern-day visionaries like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, historic figures like Marie Curie or Thomas Edison. We think of companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. We don’t usually think of the non-profit service sector as the bastion of innovation. Yet, it is here where I believe the most profound innovation can take place.

Many people think of innovation as the creation or invention of something entirely new. I believe innovation is much more complex and interesting. I am fairly certain that the cure for polio, the invention of the light bulb or the iphone didn’t come to their inventors in a flash. They came as a result of try after try after try and often months, or years, of experimentation and revision.  Yes, sometimes there are ah-ha moments, but most of the time, innovation comes about in an effort to solve a problem or meet a need and happens incrementally.

In the nonprofit arena, innovation exists on both a small- and a large-scale measure. Creating a resource rapid response team to help individuals find a critical service when they need it is an innovation. Crafting a job opportunity board based on an individual’s personal interests, skills, and experience is an innovation.  Implementing an effort like our PrepNow! to help foster parents create a college-going environment in their homes is an innovation. Building an at-home coaching partnership for families caring for a loved-one with dementia is innovation. These are just a few that we have pioneered here at Fedcap. These innovations are precise and they are folded into the existing social systems. They make a difference.

What if we as a whole society were to invest our time, money, energy and talent into creating innovative solutions that social services nonprofits exist to solve? What if we were to invest in our nonprofits the way we do in for-profit companies—only the “profit” to shareholders is measured in lives improved?   What is the precise intervention needed that will inspire the hearts and minds (and pocketbooks) of society at large to rally around a solution to poverty? What would happen if there were a paradigm shift that made the impulse to cure poverty as intense as the impulse to buy the latest piece of electronic equipment?

It would be quite a revolution if we were to invest in innovation in the social services the way we invest in stocks and bonds. But then, isn’t innovation really a revolution?

I welcome your thoughts.

Economic Well-being: The Barometer of Success

Every day at Fedcap, we strive to find solutions to help people overcome barriers to economic well-being.  While to some extent economic well-being is subjective, we measure economic well-being by having enough income to pay bills, enough income to cover emergencies (that always come up), and enough income to build a future.  We also understand that economic well-being involves a more nuanced ability of an individual to participate in the commerce of society—purchasing goods and services, having a place to call home and creating a future for children that is better than the generation before.    Stigma, inadequate access to education, lack of behavioral and physical health care, unsafe or unstable housing, little to no personal support and limited job opportunities create barriers to economic well-being.

Trying to design effective solutions to overcoming these barriers is complex work. One size—one solution—does not fit all. For example, if economic well-being meant simply finding a person a job, then all of our government, agency, business, and organizational energies would be focused on that and nothing else. But it is more complicated and demands precise interventions sequenced in the right way, delivered at the right time.  Because there is no emphasis on economic well-being as the backdrop for economic policy, the task falls on mission driven agencies like Fedcap and many others to lead the way.

The multi-faceted nature of economic well-being demands that we design, test and refine laser focused and wholly integrated solutions that blend health, education, and employment within a message of hope and possibility.   Were we to approach solutions in a less integrated, less intentional manner, we would miss the opportunity  (and some might say the obligation) to create relevant and sustainable impact.  For example, veterans come to us to help them find a job.  But they also come to us with PTSD, physical disabilities, family issues, housing needs –each that must be addressed if we they are to achieve economic well-being.  A job is not the goal—economic well-being is the goal.

What if our collective societal energy were geared toward building a platform for economic well being for everyone?  What if economic well-being was the barometer for national achievement?  What would happen if our policies, our leadership, our systems and our social fabric were woven around the attainment of economic well-being?

As always, I welcome your thoughts!


What would happen if being different…just meant being different?

Rigid academic and social expectations could wind up stifling a mind that, while it might struggle to conjugate a verb, could one day take us to distant stars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

April is International Autism Awareness Month. It is so designated to raise awareness about autism and to promote the concepts of inclusion, self-determination, acceptance, appreciation, and the opportunity for those with autism to achieve the highest quality of life.

When you hear the word autism, what is the image that immediately comes to mind? What words do you use to describe someone with autism? Whose face do you imagine?

I suspect that the first image that comes to mind is not the face of Einstein or van Gogh or Steve Jobs. And yet, according to the 2013 American Psychiatric Association’s revised definition of autism, the spectrum can range from brilliant inventors and creators to those who are not capable of feeding or dressing themselves. Autism is part of a continuum with a broad range. Many of our most capable and creative leaders may touch on the spectrum.

And yet, we tend to label those with autism as disordered or abnormal, with an irregular pathology. We tend to make assumptions based on our experience in the media or in life. We assume that our experience is the prevailing reality.

What if we were to look at those who are not like us as just… different? What if we didn’t socially pathologize autism, or, for that matter, any type of developmental—or cultural—or economic—or social—difference?

All of us are different in some way. We each have our own biological and cultural differences, which many of us hide or keep secret because we don’t want to be labeled. Some of us come from extreme poverty. Others of us are recovering addicts. Some of us have been incarcerated. Others of us are over 55. For each of these “populations,” there is an overarching definition or label that does not necessarily account for our strengths, our abilities, our talents, or the things that make us unique.

Temple Grandin is a remarkable advocate for autism awareness. She is a professor of animal science and a consultant to the livestock industry. In 2010, she was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. When she was two years old, she was diagnosed with “brain damage.” She came from an affluent family who could afford tutors and nannies and other helpers to guide her through school. Otherwise, she would have been institutionalized as most people like her would have been. Dr. Grandin uses her strengths—her ability to see things differently from those of us who are labeled as “normal”—to not only create and invent methods for keeping livestock, but also to raise awareness about autism. (For an animated interview with Dr. Grandin, check out this interesting video:

Dr. Grandin is just one example of what could happen if we were to question our assumptions about the labels we tend to assign to others.

What words might we use to describe those who are different from us in a way that doesn’t pathologize or stigmatize them?

What is it we think we know about another person?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

In Praise of Effectively Managing from the Middle

Success in middle management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.

-Warren Bennis

No doubt there are middle managers who find their position challenging. They have multiple stakeholders who look to them for answers. They are tasked with turning high-level decisions into actionable plans and goals. They are often the messenger and not the decider, and so have to defend decisions they may not have had the benefit of helping to make. They are more apt than high-level leaders to bear difficult feedback from frontline staff. Being in middle management is not easy.

And yet, strong mid-level management can be—and often is—the difference between success or failure in an organization. In a study cited in the Harvard Business Review, organizational expert and author Behnam Tabrizi conducted a survey of 56 random companies from a variety of industries. His goal was to determine the catalyst for success or failure in a change management effort. He discovered that the majority of change efforts failed. Yet the 32% that did succeed had one thing in common: the involvement of middle management.

Managing in the middle offers an exceptional opportunity to lead and execute change. Middle managers know how things get done. They are privy to the day-to-day workings of an organization and the work of the staff. They understand the why of a change effort and they understand how it will get done. They understand what motivates their staff, including what incentives will inspire them to follow through on a goal or plan. They know whom to pick as early adopters and whom to pick as leads on a project. Middle managers know the clients, customers, and vendors and what drives them.

Strong mid-level managers can be visionaries and know how best to articulate that vision to their staffs. They are able to see the moments when staff may falter or need support. They understand the concrete processes necessary to see change happen. They are the “translators” between executive management and frontline and across an organization and can translate ideas into action.

In this way, middle managers are the true innovators. Innovation can happen incrementally or all at once.  Either way, it is the middle managers who are responsible for identifying changes that can happen and for being the early voices if or when a change process will clearly fail.

For those of us in senior level positions, it is our job to inspire and support our mid-level managers as they execute and create change. We can set the direction, and it is essential to include leaders from all levels of the organization in our planning.

Their knowledge of process and resources and staff will inform our decision making. Mid-level managers are key leaders as we work together to grow, to learn, to improve, and to change. I am so grateful for the leaders who, every day, offer me insight and the benefit of their expertise to help us grow and thrive. Because of their hard work, dedication, insight, and ideas, we are the strong organization we are today.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.