A SOURCE for Tools, Advice, and Training to control risks… so you can Focus on your Nonprofit's mission.

April 12, 2012

NEW Pre-Program Early Bird Registration Rate for the 2012 SUMMIT

For the first time, the Nonprofit Risk Management Center is pleased to offer an early pre-program registration rate for the Center's annual educational conference, “The Risk Management and Finance SUMMIT for Nonprofits.” The conference will be held in Chicago, IL during August 26-28, 2012. Attendees who register on or before the announcement of the SUMMIT program in late-May will enjoy a discounted registration price of $375, which reflects a $175 savings off the regular registration fee. Described as an “…awesome conference…from start to finish” by a first time attendee at last year’s event, the 2012 event is limited in capacity and is expected to sell out. If you plan to attend, please register by 5/31 to take advantage of this special discount. Learn more and register here.

Be Intentional, Seek Candid Feedback, and Practice… Until it Hurts

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

A cross-country flight offers the perfect opportunity to turn the pages of a real book. On Monday evening after hearing the aircraft door slam shut in “preparation for taxi and take-off” and dutifully stowing my prohibited electronic gadgets, I opened my recently acquired copy of “Talent is Overrated,” by Geoff Colvin.

After reading the following statement in the very first chapter I knew I was hooked. Colvin writes: “Most of us would be embarrassed to add up the total hours we’ve spent on our jobs and then compare that to the number of hours we’ve given to other priorities that we claim are more important… Yet after all those hours and all those years, most people are just okay at what they do.” He continues by explaining that despite lots of practice and “experience” in a particular field of study, we frequently “don’t get any better” doing what we’re doing for work or play. Simple “practice” does not make “perfect”!

So if it isn’t practice that makes perfect, perhaps “talent” is the key? I’ve cited “no talent” many times as an accessible excuse for the multitude of errors I’ve made while playing the organ at church. But Colvin argues that “talent”—the natural ability to “do something better than most people can do it”—is not what leads to great performance on the playing field, in the concert hall, or in the conference room at work. Instead, he asserts, the best explanation for truly great performance is “deliberate practice.”

He explains that “Deliberate practice… is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally…; and it isn’t much fun.” In short: “Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts.”

The key characteristics of “deliberate practice” sound an awful lot like the process of designing a mission-suited, culture-sensitive risk management framework in a nonprofit organization. Let’s take a closer look at three of the telling characteristics of deliberate practice to explore the connection to sound risk management.

  • Designed to improve performance Colvin explains that one key difference between “practice” and “deliberate practice” is intentionality. When we are committed to improving results, we focus our attention on those aspects of an activity where our skills are less than they need to be, and where our weaknesses hold us back. Instead of playing the entire piece over and over again, we devote special attention to the rough spots. If your risk management policies are not being followed consistently, where are the rough spots? The use of language subject to varying interpretations? The tone of the communications piece explaining the new policies? The lack of training in what the policies actually mean and why they are important?
  • Continuous feedback Colvin reminds his reader that if you can’t see the effects of your efforts, you “won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring.” He explains that a coach, teacher or mentor available to observe your performance is essential to truly seeing and understanding weaknesses. And it’s true whether you’re trying to improve your golf game, hone a marketing strategy or test the viability of a risk management framework. In several recent engagements for large, complex nonprofits I have heard clients say, “I never saw it that way,” or “that option hadn’t occurred to me.” In each case the approach I was suggesting wasn’t especially brilliant—it was simply the result of bringing an independent perspective and point of view to the table.
  • It isn’t much fun This characteristic of “deliberate performance” gave me the greatest pause. I work pretty hard to persuade reluctant leaders who have been coerced by their boards, insurers, legal counsel or funders to “embrace” risk management that managing risk can be fun. Colvin explains that deliberate practice requires that “Instead of doing what we’re good at, we insistently seek out what we’re not good at.” Of course he’s right when it comes to developing appropriate policies to protect the missions and assets of the nonprofits we serve. The “easy” approach is rarely the strategy that will make a real difference and build a sustainable, risk-aware culture.

Although I’m not sure that promoting “deliberate practice” as a cornerstone of sound risk management will inspire tentative leaders to embrace the discipline, I’m intrigued by Geoff Colvin’s thoughts about being intentional about the results we seek; reaching out to mentors, coaches and teachers to help us get a clearer perspective; and recognizing that fixing what clearly ain’t working may require difficult choices and actions rather than simple “fixes.” And I guess that means I need to stop blaming my recent screw-ups at the keyboard on my lack of innate talent.

Melanie Lockwood Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your ideas about any risk management topic, feedback on this article and questions about the Center’s resources at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or (202) 785-3891. The Center provides risk management tools and resources at www.nonprofitrisk.org and offers consulting assistance to organizations unwilling to leave their missions to chance.


As a Center AFFILIATE your nonprofit’s members, chapters, councils and field or branch offices will enjoy access to an array of free and discounted risk resources, including complimentary viewing of this year’s First Wednesday Webinar series and unlimited technical assistance by telephone and email. Nonprofit AFFILIATES include national nonprofit federations, regional agencies, and local organizations. The nonprofit customers of for-profit AFFILIATES (brokers, background checking companies, specialty carriers, law firms, CPA firms, and management consulting firms) enjoy the same access to money-saving risk resources.

The cost to nonprofit AFFILIATES is $75 per month, and the cost to for-profit AFFILIATES is $100 per month. If only ONE of your staff, chapters, or members calls us each month or watches a single webinar, you’ll save money AND benefit in a tangible way from your membership in the only national nonprofit dedicated to helping nonprofit sector leaders become risk aware and resilient in our changing and uncertain world.

We hope you’ll visit the AFFILIATES Program webpage, peruse the list of benefits, and click to enroll. And don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions about the program or requests for new offerings or services. We look forward to serving you in the months and years ahead!

Policy Drafting Help is a Click Away: My Risk Management Policies

If you’re looking for help developing custom risk management policies for your nonprofit, look no further. The Center is pleased to offer My Risk Management Policies, an affordable, easy-to-use online tool that helps you create custom policies in a matter of minutes. Policy templates are organized into 22 categories. Creating a new social media policy, youth protection policy or code of conduct is a snap using My Risk Management Policies, and requires far less time that it takes to find a mildly suitable sample using an Internet search engine.

Evolving Risk Management Programs: Our Specialty

Whether you’re trying to better understand your nonprofit’s appetite for risk-taking, sharpen your risk management skills, evolve your risk management efforts in response to changing circumstances, or educate your board about risk-taking and risk management, don’t hesitate to reach out the team at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center for assistance. We can support you in a number of ways. We’re available to help you:

We offer advice and consultation on topics ranging from developing or updating youth protection policies, to strengthening governance practices. Why make the evolutionary journey alone when you can partner with a team of nonprofit specialists who live and breathe nonprofit sector risks? Contact Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or call (202) 785-3891 to discuss your needs and learn how we can help.



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