It Sold!: My House at 3216 Jacotte Circle, Dallas

3216 Jacotte CircleThe longer I have lived in this house, the more I have loved it–that must be one of the definitions of good architecture. The way the light comes into the house and changes throughout the day. The screened porch on the second floor that both protects the house from the southern sun and provides a wonderful sanctuary at all times of the day. The expanses of hardwood floor that are a foil for the lightness of the interior walls. The way that art looks hanging on the walls.

3216JacotteCircle Flyer

Real Estate Flyer for 3216 Jacotte Circle, Dallas

As a proponent of sustainable architecture and resource conservation, I have been amazed at how well the house is sited for the Texas climate. The louvered exterior doors and the screened sleeping porch allow for both ventilation and security. The orientation of the house catches the prevailing winds. The enormous Texas red oak on the west side, coupled with the glass blocks on the western facade, ensure that the hot summer sun is kept from heating up the house and provide privacy from the street. I’ve tried to enhance the house’s natural energy efficiency with my choice of heating and air-conditioning units, and my utility bills have been minuscule.

Architectural Record 9-40Howard Meyer was one of Dallas’s most significant architects and an early proponent and practitioner of modernism. Here are links to the documentary on his life: A Well-Made Object, Part One and Part Two. He designed the house for Eugene Kahn Sanger, who was president of the E.M. Kahn Company, one of the foremost mercantile establishments in Dallas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was published in the September 1940 issue of Architectural Record, as shown in this illustration.

The house is for sale at $739,000. Agents protected. Please contact me if you think this might be the house for you or for your clients.

What Is a Sustainable Organization?

Back when I was teaching about sustainability in the context of green building programs, I used, as a definition of sustainability, “the most efficient use of resources over the lifetime of the building.” I called my consulting firm Sustainable Places, Sustainable Organizations because I believe the same principles apply to nonprofits as apply to any other system: that resources, which include time and people as well as money, must be wisely used, not just for the short term, but also for the long-term well being of the organization.

What makes a nonprofit organization sustainable? Here are a few areas of focus:

Comprehensive relationship management. This requires a single, unified database, that enables staff and volunteers to understand the complete relationship with individuals and organizations: recent and past donations, time given to volunteer projects, involvement with other organizations, participation in events. You should understand all of the ways people are involved and be in touch with them frequently, not just to ask for money, but to ask for advice and let them know what’s happening and how their participation is helping your organization grow. It’s so much easier to build on existing supporters than try to find new ones. I’ve written about CRM programs in the past; Salesforce is one. It’s free. Do make sure that, after taking the time to acquire the data, you use it.

Continual leadership development. Do you know who’ll be leading your organization for the next five years? Do you have a plan in the event the president-elect has to withdraw at the last minute? It’s not just about the next board chair, but about developing leadership strength and depth at all levels: board, committees, one-time volunteers. Don’t assume that everyone has the knowledge and skills to run the board or manage the event or serve on the finance committee just because they’ve offered to. Learning new skills is an important benefit of volunteering and equally important to retention. A leadership pipeline is critical to smooth operations.

The same is true for staff. Make sure you’re budgeting for professional development. In your annual review, find out if there are skills the ED would like an opportunity to develop. Are there clear job descriptions for each position? Should the ED decide to depart, is there a succession plan?

Annual review of systems. Are your systems efficient and up to date or is your staff spending unnecessary time trying to make outdated computer systems work? Does your phone system enable messages to be searched and archived? Do you have systems in place to update software? Does your accounting system need streamlining? Are there other areas that can be automated without “loss of human contact,” to enable your staff and volunteers to spend more time doing the things that only humans can do?

Review your space
. We’ve all visited nonprofit offices that are repositories of incredible amounts of “stuff”: table centerpieces from last year’s luncheon, flip charts from the last strategic planning session five years ago, leftover plates and napkins from dozens of board meetings, boxes of files no one’s looked at for years. Everyone is happier and more productive working in an organized environment and a lot of clutter makes it hard to find needed information. If your office is suffering from accretions from the last few decades, organize an ad hoc committee to spend several afternoons or evenings organizing. The volunteers will learn things they never knew and you may find that missing cd of photos you’ve been looking for for six months.

Document retention. Having important, regularly accessed documents in a central location will save huge amounts of time. Most contact relationship management programs enable digital document storage, including emails and voice mail messages, which can provide an alternative to retaining paper documents in the office. A document retention policy that is integrated into daily operations, with documentation of where documents are stored, will not only save time but also ensure items are available when leadership changes.

Make it easier. Can prospective volunteers find information about volunteer jobs and sign up online? Is the volunteer chair notified automatically and does the volunteer’s information automatically get added to the database? Can a donation be made with one click? Can your donors make donations in monthly or quarterly installments?

In my experience, time is the resource most frequently squandered by nonprofit organizations. But donors and volunteers have little patience for misuse of that resource particularly. Remember that there’s a lot of competition for support of all kinds. By making all of your activities easier and more streamlined, you’ll be making the best use of your donors’ and your volunteers’ time–and they will love you for it.

Using time, money and people effectively will ensure that your organization will better weather the vagaries of the economy and survive for the long term, and that is what sustainability is all about.



The Necessary Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what enables an executive director to be successful.

I’ve had both good and not-so-good experiences serving as CEO of nonprofits, and it seems to me that the most important element–the sine qua non of nonprofit success–is accountability, both of the volunteers and of the staff.

The relationship between the board chair and the ED is a microcosm of the larger relationship. While the ED may be leading the organization as a whole, the board chair is responsible for guiding. motivating, and holding accountable the board of trustees.

I’m a big fan of fairly detailed job descriptions for volunteers as well as paid staff. Increasingly, I’m also a fan of asking board members to sign their job description, as a way of acknowledging the responsibility they’re taking on. But I’ve had board leadership tell me, “These are volunteers–you can’t hold them accountable.” I couldn’t disagree more.

Sometimes an organization can weather a period of weak leadership, but in times of significant change, the board and staff MUST have a shared vision and a shared sense of what has to be accomplished to make that vision a reality, and everyone has to be accountable for their part of it–otherwise, it’s just not happening.

Other Ways Foundations Can Help

Traditionally, foundations have played the role of funders to nonprofits almost exclusively. Lately, in the spirit of “give a man a fish…,” a number of forward-thinking foundations have looked at other ways to support individuals and community-based groups.for the longer term.

One group I have a lot of respect for is the Rhode Island Foundation. Rhode Island is a small place with perhaps a disproportionate number of artists (RISD is located in Providence) that is headquarters of the Alliance of Artists Communities, a group I became familiar with while I was working with La Reunion TX. The two groups are collaborating this year to present the annual Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowships, which are grants of $25,000 awarded to individual Rhode Island artists. The Foundation provides the funding and the AAC folks, who know the artists, administer the program. That’s refreshing: many foundations, in part because of tax laws, will not support individual artists. This collaboration supports both artists and a significant arts group.

The Foundation’s other individual-oriented program is a fellowship for mid-career nonprofit executives designed to give EDs the chance to take “productive, short-term sabbaticals from their organizations.” What a great idea, and in many ways of greater value to a nonprofit than a simple program grant. A gift that keeps on giving.

Good ideas for foundations across the country.

Membership Development–Changing Rapidly

National Trust Membership Development monographIt was rewarding to learn recently that the National Trust’s template for organizational assessment includes in its references a guide to membership development I wrote for them many years ago.

As flattering as that might be, I’m not so sure it’s still relevant. The concept–and perceived value–of membership is changing rapidly, with young people not feeling as compelled to be part of a club as they once were.

There is a real movement toward experiential participation, through events and one-shot volunteer opportunities, especially those that don’t require membership as a prerequisite to participation.

This is a topic I hope to develop in a future post; it is of critical import for nonprofits that have traditionally relied on membership dues for a significant part of their revenues.

Organizational Assessment

Want a strong organization? Just as you might review a staff member at least once a year, every group–nonprofit or for-profit–should put aside some time during the year to assess where the board and where the organization is, relative to where it wants to be.

Presumably you have a strategic plan, and that can provide some good metrics for the process. But in addition each board member should take a good look at the contributions he or she is making, whether their expectations as a board member are being met, and how to work most effectively with board colleagues.

There are a million templates, some so simplistic that they really don’t help much. One I’ve found to be very useful is from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and it looks at a variety of areas: administrative, governance, and programmatic. Take a look at the National Trust’s organization assessment form and adapt it as you see fit. But make sure the board is taking a good, hard look at itself, so that it can be the best steward possible for your donors and for the community.

Native Landscape Certification–and How That Relates

Purple threeawn--a native grass

Purple threeawn–a native grass

Last week I spent a day at the Trinity River Audubon Center learning more about native landscapes.

Why? Because understanding what was here before we were, and what works best in Dallas’s harsh climatic conditions, relates to everything. It certainly relates to sustainable design, where architects and landscape architects work to provide landscaping that will use potable water and stormwater most effectively. It relates to current and future water conservation for existing buildings and landscapes–resource and fiscal responsibility. And it helps us understand how our landscapes continue to affect the wildlife around us.

Thanks to the Native Plant Society of Texas for providing the class.292271_4685008759945_1916123272_n

Good Art

This morning I listened to a video a friend sent of work he is doing with a new band. About a third of the way through the five-minute video, I realized I had a big grin on my face. When the video was over, I had to play it again immediately.

This made me think of what I consider to be the one best criterion for determining what is good art, and that is: if listening to, viewing, or being inside of a music, art or architecture piece makes you feel really good–and want more–then that is good art. Whether you understand it or not is irrelevant.

And that is why I work with La Reunion TX, rehabbed and live in this Howard Meyer house, and volunteer for organizations like Friends of Fair Park, DOCOMOMO and Preservation Dallas: because encouraging and protecting good art makes the world a better place.