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Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

Are you looking forward to getting your organization moving again after the year end festivities?

Most charities work hard right up to the final day of the calendar year to maximize fundraising as donors give for an annual tax receipt. 

For many, the first weeks of a new year are a relatively less urgent time when there may be greater potential for investing in strategic priorities beyond the daily whirlwind of tasks and deadlines. It can be a time to refocus and reinvest as well as to recover.

This may be the best opportunity all year to take a closer look at your organizational culture and see what is worthy of celebrating and what needs to change for you to achieve your ambitions for 2020. Of course you should be considering and working on culture all the time; but it rarely reaches the top of the priority list when things are busy. It’s very important but by the time it becomes urgent it may be extremely difficult to fix it without serious damage.

So here are 7 Simple Questions you can ask alone, or with your team, to check in on the health of your organizational culture:

1. Do we all understand the Reason for our work well enough to state it briefly in our own words?

2. How are we being intentional about managing the seasonal ebbs and flows of Energy and developing the habits that fill us?

3. What are 3 things we are doing currently that are not in strong Alignment with our priorities and how are we fixing or eliminating those things?

4. Where is there a communication gap that is muddying the Clarity we need to have our greatest impact and who is responsible for closing that gap?

5. What Trust damaging behaviours have we tolerated for too long for fear of losing a high performer or just because we are uncomfortable with conflict?

6. Which potential or imminent Warning Lights are indicating dangers to the health of our organization?

7. What specific things are we doing this month to Celebrate our steps toward success that we want everyone involved in our organization to understand and/or replicate?

Taking even just 15 minutes to answer these questions, and then acting on the answers, could be exactly what you need to set your organization on course for a healthier and more effective year ahead.

For more practical insight into how leaders can understand, assess, and improve organizational culture check out or contact us for a free initial consultation.

Catalyst, Leadership
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

As always, some people make a really big deal out of it, spending small fortunes on flowers, chocolates, gifts, and dinner out. Proclaiming their love as publicly as possible as an expression of romance.

As always, others point out that Valentine’s is a fabricated holiday that really doesn’t reflect the true story of St. Valentine, and serves mostly to guilt people into unnecessary stereotypical purchases. They claim that they don’t need a nudge from a consumer driven date to demonstrate their feelings.

I can’t help but wonder if those who criticize the holiday really are regularly showing their partners how much they love them. 

The simple truth is that, as artificial as it may be, many of us benefit from the reminder.

The nudge works.

Like romance in an intimate relationship, organizations are better, richer, and stronger when they celebrate their successes. And like romance, celebration is easily and often overlooked.

This is true in many areas of our lives. We are intentional about building habits and rituals that regularly remind us of the things we believe are important. So we have an annual physical, schedule date nights, set reminders on our phones, and wear accessories that nudge us to pay attention and take action.

For me, that’s a big part of going to church.

Some leaders don’t fully appreciate the significant impact skilled celebration can bring for their organization. And few consistently make it a priority. It’s easier to invest ourselves in problem solving and strategy sessions than in leading a culture that brings out the best in people. 

But every organization is better when leaders leverage the power of celebration.

I was honoured last year when a leader I respect asked me to be his “celebration coach”. He wants me to remind him to celebrate the things that matter, and to help him to do it well. He needs the nudge.

So whether you like Valentine’s Day or not, it’s a good idea to find some way to remind yourself to show your love for the people you care about.

And if you want to lead your organization to be healthy, vibrant, and as impactful as possible, you need to find a way to ensure that you don’t take celebration for granted. You might even want to find yourself a coach.

Catalyst offers workshops in Celebration for leaders, teams, and organizations. Contact us for more information.

Catalyst, Leadership
Catalyst Foundation got started ten years ago; February 2, 2008 was the first official day.

It’s been an amazing ride and there has been an enormous amount of learning that continues today.

This week we are reflecting back on all that has happened and looking ahead to the next ten years and beyond. We hope there is much more to come than has been accomplished so far.

One of the themes that has emerged in our work with charity leaders is the power and importance of developing the skill of celebration. Time and time again we’ve seen that those who leverage celebration achieve more and have more fun doing it. But it doesn’t always come easily, even for us.

With that in mind, I’m asking for a little help.

If you have been impacted at all by Catalyst over the past decade would you take a couple minutes and respond to this brief survey to help us reflect, celebrate, and plan ahead.



Catalyst, Leadership, Partners, Uncategorized

Catalyst’s new Partners Leadership Program is the culmination of 9+ years of actively working with charities across Canada and internationally to grow their leadership for greater impact in their fields. It brings together the very best of what we have learned in funding, coaching, consulting, and walking alongside charity leaders.

We are now actively recruiting organizations to join us in this intensive project.

The Program Overview gives the relevant information about eligibility and what the program involves. It is worth checking it out and passing it along to others who might be interested. In talking with several interested leaders one of the important aspects of the possibility of applying is the question of whether this is the right time in their organization’s story to take on something like this. The timing is definitely not right for everybody.

It is may not be a good time to apply if:
-You are in the midst of significant financial, strategic, or human resources turmoil. Crisis management is not what we are offering in this program. A certain level of stability is necessary to dig deeply into organizational culture and leadership over time.
-You are currently taking on several other major initiatives. Our partnership will require sustained attention and effort. It will demand continued focus and can’t succeed if treated as a small side project.
-The current leadership does not have the confidence of the board of directors. We understand that transitions happen unexpectedly for a wide variety of reasons, but for us to invest this much in a leader we want to anticipate them continuing in their role for 3-5 years or more.
-Your Executive Director is new to their role within the last 3 months. Possibly longer if they are entirely new to the organization. It is rare for a new first chair leader to be able to establish their own credibility enough that quickly to bring on an internal commitment of this scale.
-You aren’t sure you can work closely with either Catalyst or other potential partners. Some people just don’t click together.

On the other hand; this may be the perfect time for you to partner with us if:
-You are experiencing or anticipating greater organizational impact
-You feel plateaued as a leader or organization and want to shake things up a bit
-You want to grow the size, scope, strategy, and/or impact of your charity
-You want to lead with greater confidence -Your leadership team is ready to get significantly more effective
-The upcoming opportunities or challenges are going to be a stretch for you
-You are eager to both learn from and share with peer charity leaders
-You need some challenge and encouragement to bring out your best
-You have a sense that there is more to grow into personally, as a team, or as an organization

If you have any interest or curiosity about the opportunity let me know.

Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

As part of the application to our new Catalyst Partners Leadership Program interested charities submit a 3-5 year Organizational Leadership Plan.

For some this is a document they have at the ready and can simply convert to pdf and add to their application. But for the majority a leadership plan is little more structured than a couple lines in a strategic plan or a few vague ideas.

In the past I tried to create a universal template that charities could use to create a leadership plan, but I soon abandoned the idea as unwise.

The diversity of news and opportunities facing charities would require either a template far too detailed to be reasonable to far too vague to be complete. On top of that, nothing I designed could reflect the culture and style of each organization. In the end it was better to offer a broad overview of different people within or connected to the charity with some questions relevant to each group and include some resources we have seen as valuable. Setting that in a worksheet that provides space for identifying specific needs and interventions, budget, and room to lay out the plan proved more useful than anything else I could develop.

It is far from comprehensive and always in need of updating as we learn more, but it serves well to initiate good conversation and raise possibilities that may not have been considered. It also includes some focus on donors and fundraising that is not strictly leadership development but seems relevant.

Leaders have used the overview to discuss what should happen and then transferred the results to a format and style that fits their unique operating culture. Check out the latest version for yourself and let me know how we can improve it to better serve charity leaders. 

Organizational Leadership Plan Worksheet

Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

Follow though is my nemesis.

My whole life I’ve been able to generate ideas that have excited me and engaged others. I’m a great starter. Of course, a great start does not make a great result. Actually delivering on the potential of my initiatives has haunted me for far too long.

I have a severely limited capacity for detail and my administration abilities are lacking. I can never stay motivated and engaged enough to bring most of what I dream to fruition. It bugs me. More than that it means I don’t accomplish what I really want to, and I end up disappointing or frustrating other people as well.

I’ve tried any number of popular productivity programs and time management hacks. I can start them with my usual enthusiasm, but they never last long. The ongoing maintenance of the system grinds me down far too quickly and I find myself again free styling from idea to idea and rushing deadline after deadline. I’m actually pretty good at that.

Last summer I saw Chris McChesney speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. His topic: the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) didn’t really inspire me. I was expecting to feel inadequate and guilty while he expounded on another brilliant platform to drive results that I could never sustain.

Instead, it felt like I had finally found someone who understood how I think and work.

I bought (and even actually read) the book, and have become mildly obsessed with understanding the relatively simple, but surely not easy approach he and his team have developed over the last 14 years. You can see a brief explanation of 4DX for yourself:

At the heart of the disciplines is the understanding that we all live and work in the midst of a whirlwind that demands our attention and energy. Much of what goes on in the whirlwind is good, much is necessary, but it prevents us from getting to the important but not urgent things that propel organizations and people forward. And if we are able to identify those Wildly Important Goals, the whirlwind constantly conspires to prevent us from giving them the attention and effort they need to succeed.

There’s really nothing new or magical in 4DX. Having reviewed and discussed it a bunch of times it’s such common sense I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t been doing it all along. Which is exactly the point.

As I’m preparing for our next major Strategy Sessions I’m more and more convinced that applying the 4 Disciplines can be a powerful and sustainable way for Catalyst to move forward to greater impact as we approach the end of our first decade of trying to help leaders and organizations be healthy and achieve their dreams.

If you’ve used 4DX I’d really love to hear your thoughts. And if it intrigues you let me know, maybe we can walk it through together and see if it’s actually as good as I expect.

Given that it is December 1st it was appropriate that at our house we had our first fire of the season, roasted chestnuts for the first time ever (mildly disappointing but nostalgic), and listened to Christmas music while enjoying cookies and hot cocoa. At one point in the beauty of the evening I found myself paying more attention to the lyrics of an old Christmas carol than I may ever have before. It may have David Francey‘s plaintive simple voice and Scottish accent, but I heard Good King Wenceslas in a way I never understood it before. We’ve been working on developing a way to encourage joyful generosity for several years. We hope we’re closer than we’ve ever been to presenting something that may be impactful for people to experience the remarkable freedom that comes from giving to others in a way that is both sacrificial and personally transformative. The familiar words of Good King Wenceslas unlocked for me a couple key principles. 1. “Good King Wenceslas looked out” In the middle of what was probably a major celebration, the king paused long enough to notice a peasant far in the distance on a snowy night. Giving requires us to turn our attention beyond ourselves and our familiar people and patterns to see needs that may usually be overlooked. 2. “Hither page and stand by me… yonder peasant who is he?” Wenceslas didn’t assume he knew the man out in the wind and snow, but he knew someone who would know, and he asked their advice. It is easy for those of us who are wealthy (and that is pretty much all of us if we have some perspective), to assume that our success in accumulating money and influence makes us experts in everything. It takes humility to go to someone else and learn from their insight, but it is the best way to avoid embarrassing waste and unintended harm to those we hope to assist. 3. “…when we bear them thither” The king went personally to the peasant. He could have simply sent the page, but he knew both that the page wasn’t strong enough to do the task alone, and that the joy. was going to come not just from assigning the wood and food to be delivered, but from going directly to share a meal. Joy rarely comes from a distance. It takes getting out of our comfortable castles to discover it at fireside with people we easily see as “other”. 4. “Mark my footsteps…” Sharing the giving experience divides the work and multiplies the joy. We can imagine that the page never saw another peasant or snowstorm without being reminded of the blessing that came from blessing the poor. In my fantasy it is the page himself who is the narrator of the song. My role with Catalyst is sometimes that of the page, helping my employers to understand and respond to the needs we notice. I am spoiled to work with and for a family who are sincere in their desire to give, who have the willingness to reduce their lifestyle to allow them to give more, and who are continually discovering that their is uncommon joy to be found in giving that makes it of greater worth to them than anything else they could do with those funds. Best of the season to you and yours.

One of our favourite days of the year is the annual reception for our Catalyst Award recipients. It’s a time to celebrate the remarkable young leaders our Selection Committee has chosen each year. The chance to hear them share their dreams and honour them among their families is an absolute joy. This year one of our recipients put together a video recap of our eight day trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic during the summer. It’s pretty great.  

In 2005 prominent economist Jeffrey Sachs released his book The End of Poverty. It articulated his conviction that a massive short term increase in foreign aid and philanthropic giving could eliminate the deepest poverty in the African continent forever. A network of Millennium Villages were launched to pioneer his model with fanfare and great confidence. I just finished reading The Idealist by journalist Nina Munk in which she tracks the progress of the project and its founder as the effort surged, struggled, and seems to be on the verge of wrapping up with no definitive measurable success. It’s a very well written book that should be widely read by those working in development, and particularly by those supporting the work. My copy was a gift from Stuart Taylor who works with IDE and has been my friend, my example, and my guide into many of the most important areas of my life. To oversimplify the message of the book, don’t oversimplify the work of changing lives. I have to confess to my own vulnerability on this, and that of Catalyst. While I hope we are characterized by sincere humility in our work, we are people of ideas and theories who have the luxury of sitting at a distance and offering opinions (often tied to funding) on the strategies and performance of those who are really doing the work. I can easily become the backseat driver, Monday morning quarterback, and talk radio commentator in my field. That’s not to deny the significant value of what I commonly call “the interested outsider”, but even in my limited experience it is abundantly clear that real, lasting impact depends on a myriad of factors beyond the control of even the most diligent strategist. Culture, nature, politics, and human selfishness and irrationality defy grand optimism. Progress over time is fickle and scaling success is unpredictable. Good, smart, well-funded projects like the Millennium Villages are just as vulnerable, and possibly even more vulnerable, to unanticipated factors undermining their outcomes as local grass-roots efforts. So what should we do? At Catalyst we try to be as raw and real about what we do as we can. I try to temper my enthusiasm with a deliberate dose of doubt. And I acknowledge that none of us are doing any of this stuff right. We are all struggling in a complex environment to make the best of what we have in the determined hope that there will be ground gained as we commit ourselves to constant learning and continued effort. As a long established idealist myself I find this rather unsatisfactory in so many ways, but I am discovering that there is profound beauty and meaning in even imperfect progress. How do you manage the tension between theoretical idealism and practical challenge in your life and work?