The Case of the Graybeard’s Replacement

This is the second Sam Sector III case. If you check on a regular basis you can follow the escapades of Sam “the greatest and only nonprofit detective in the world” as he answers the questions facing today’s nonprofit leaders. Each installment will take only a couple of minutes to read, will provide you with some information, and will end in a bit of a cliff-hanger so that you will return in about 7-10 days to find out what happened. This of course is fun for me, and a different way to get information out to all of you who have an interest. Please let me know if you like it, hate it, or wish that Sam would find a real job that pays.


← Read the fifth installment

With Jimmy yelling instructions, Sam successfully applied the Heimlich maneuver to Jessica, and after three tries, he dislodged the small piece of souvla from Jessica’s windpipe. After a few minutes, Jessica got her breath back. “Thanks, Sam — sorry about that.”

“Don’t talk Jessica, take it easy. I’ll get you a cab.” Sam collected the papers that Jessica had given him, called a cab and saw Jessica on her way home.

Having lost his appetite for grilled octopus, Sam headed back to the office to get a look at the results of the survey work that Stella had compiled with the board and staff of Social Services Inc. When Sam opened the door to the office, he found Stella under her desk pushing folded up pieces of matchbooks under the wooden legs to try and stabilize what had always been a wobbly wooden desk. Sam’s favorite perch, sitting on one of the desk corners, did not help. Stella came out from underneath her wooden desk and squinted at Sam as if to say “Just open your mouth once and....”

Sam knew when to keep his mouth shut around his loyal secretary. “Oh, hi Stella, let me help you with that.” Stella raised her right arm with her hand out like one of the Supremes singing: Stop, in the Name of Love. “No need, Sam; it is fixed for now — but I better not catch you sitting on the corners of my desk.” With that said, she pointed to some papers at the corner of her desk. “I just compiled the board and staff survey. You got a good response rate. Now go into your office and start detecting.”

The survey results were as he expected and had basically assumed ever since he first met with Les and Greg.

  • Roles and responsibilities between board and staff needed clarification — this would clear up much of the conflict.
  • How fundraising gets done was an important issue for both the board and staff — clarity here would eliminate the second-guessing that had been occurring.
  • Board and staff realized that they were weak on written policies — having policies in writing would make it significantly easier for the next leadership of both the Board and staff.
  • The staff generally felt that some Board members were meddling in their work — micro-managing, as it were.
  • Concern was raised by the Board that the staff did not have the capacity to collect, compile and report the program and financial data necessary to provide reports to funders — this of course was a credibility problem which often led to micro-managing by the Board.

Sam reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a brown bag which contained chunks of sundried octopus and squid from the Mediterranean. As he broke off pieces and popped them into his mouth, Sam wrote down three key words with some notes that would frame his course of action with Social Services, Inc.

Trust — Build trust between the Board and staff by clarifying issues in writing.

Accountability — Establish a culture of accountability by helping them develop the systems that they need.

Hope — The most important component of his plan, they all needed to have hope that they could get out of the mess that overwhelmed them.

Sam washed down his seafood with two fingers of brown liquid from the bottle in his bottom desk drawer. With his feet up on his desk, and his fedora pulled down over his eyes, Sam took a 22-minute power nap to give him the energy to get home and go to bed. The next day would be important because he was meeting with Gert just before establishing a detailed outline for his plan of action.

Sam arrived at the Shed early to be sure to get a table near the back where he and Gert could talk in peace. He enjoyed the rough wooden tables and chairs; Mildred, his favorite waitress, worked his table and brought over a basket of pumpernickel bread and a pilsner for Sam. Gert arrived right behind her and ordered her usual sweet vermouth with a twist of lemon as she took off the orange pillbox hat which made her look like she was balancing a pumpkin on her head.

“Greetings and salutations, Samuel, and how are you this fine day?” Gert opened the menu and glanced to see if they still had her favorite herring in mustard and onions. She smiled and waited for Sam to place his usual order of steak tartar with black pepper and raw eggs with Mildred.

“So, Samuel, I hear from Stella that you want to talk about making some significant change in an organization. That is right up my alley as an almost retired philosophy professor at the U.” Gert smiled and broke off a small piece of pumpernickel to go with her vermouth.

Sam nodded, “I want your advice on how to think about introducing change into an organization that will need to be changing a lot!”

As the food arrived Gert took out an index card and wrote out the following formula:

Change = D x V x 1st < cost

“Michael Beer, at Harvard developed this change formula, and I think that you will find it helpful. It states that for change to happen one needs to have D (high dissatisfaction with the current situation or condition) as well as V (a vision of how things might be better in the future) and 1st (the first steps to move one from dissatisfaction to that vision of the future). Now the cost (emotional, energy, financial, etc.) of doing this must be perceived as being less than the cost of the situation staying as it is.” Does that make sense, Samuel?”

“I think so, Gert. Let me say it back to you with an example.” Sam forked some of the raw ground beef onto the bread and took a big bite. “If I want to get in shape, I need to be dissatisfied with my current body, have a vision of how I might feel and look once I am in good shape, and understand that I will need to begin a diet and workout regularly at the gym to move to that vision. Plus, I need to believe that the cost of doing this is less than the cost of staying as I am — in this case the cost might be an early death or just not panting hard when I reach the fifth floor in our building.”

“I believe that you have it, Samuel.” Gert took a small bite of her herring and continued. “Since the formula has us multiplying the first three variables, if any of those are missing or zero, change will not occur.”

“OK, Gert, the implications of this for my current project are that the leadership will need to make certain that the staff and board are dissatisfied enough that they will be willing to entertain the changes that I propose. Once they agree to this they will have the vision to move toward, and I will need to give them the steps to take to implement the change.”

“Correct, Samuel. But remember you only need to give them the first steps that they need to take, not every step, and the tricky part is to convince them that the consequences or costs of not carrying out the change are greater than going through the change.” Gert piled some onion, herring and capers on a chunk of pumpernickel and demurely popped it into her mouth.

Sam adjusted himself in his chair and jotted some ideas in his notebook. “This is great, Gert. I now have a way to talk about implementing the change with the leadership. You are the best! Would you like some cheesecake for dessert?”

“Maybe next time, Samuel. I need to get back to my office. I have a student working on her thesis and she will be looking for me. As always, anytime that I can be helpful, just give me a call.” And with that Gert positioned the orange pillbox on her head and walked purposefully out the door.

As Sam paid the bill, Mildred smiled. “Stella just called, she wants you back at the office. It appears that something is up!”

Read the seventh installment →

If you have ideas that can help Sam as he works on his current case, or if you have "cases" that you would like to see Sam take on, please email me.