Tag Archives: Nonprofit

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; 3 Common But Fatal Governance Mistakes

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The Boards of Directors of nonprofit organizations are a vital component of each and every entity which is a part of the nonprofit sector. A high functioning board is one where leaders clearly understand board roles and responsibilities, as well as areas of major accountability which are:

  • Setting broad strategic vision and goals 
  • Overseeing and ensuring nonprofit’s overall financial viability, both short and long term
  • Fundraising
  • Positive promotion of the organization in the community 
  • Effectively managing and delegating operational responsibility to the Executive Director

Almost everyone who joins a nonprofit Board of Directors does so with good intentions, and a desire to support a worthy cause. There is rarely ever a financial gain motivation, as nonprofit board members are not paid. In fact, in many organizations, board members are expected to make substantial contributions in the form of monetary donations, in addition to donation of time and service

So, you’d think that nonprofit boards would not only survive but thrive in this perpetual atmosphere of goodness, light, good will and sunshine, right? Well…not exactly. In fact a lot of things can go wrong in this sort of environment, resulting in minor to severe organizational dysfunction, ineffectiveness in governance, stagnation, and even the eventual demise of the nonprofit. That last one is always a shame, as most charitable organizations are founded with worthy and important goals, and at least the potential to address pressing social service need, and fill critical gaps in communities. 

Here are my top 3 picks for the common, but highly fixable errors made by a lot of nonprofit boards:

1) Failure To Strategically Assemble And Maintain A Diverse Group

The key to success with a Board of Directors often lies not in its ability to get along well, socialize outside the boardroom, and never experience conflict, but in understanding the value of a team which respects and even embraces differences in one another. The key here is diversity–not in the traditional sense of racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity, although that can play a role as well–but in diversity of background experiences, professional skill sets, personality, and ways of approaching problems. 

Homogeneous groups tend to be less effective than diverse groups because they are prone to groupthink and lack of innovation. This is a common occurrence on nonprofit boards primarily due to the way in which these groups tend to source their members–through their own social connections. People are more comfortable being around others who think like they do and have the same response to problem solving, etc. Let’s remember that comfort is not the goal here–affecting positive change for the client group is

2) Thinking Governance and Management Are One In The Same

Quite simply, they’re two different concepts. Lines are often blurred due to a fundamental lack of understanding of the governance role, as well as arguably subtle differences between the two. Hey, let’s face it, sometimes you can be governing right along there with the best of them, lose focus, and all of a sudden wake up managing. How the heck did you get there? Well, because it’s easy to do. Here are a few tips to keep boards on the governing side and steering clear of sliding over into management:

  • Hire and effectively manage the overall performance of the Executive Director, don’t push them aside and do their job for them. 
  • Keep simultaneous focus on the short and long term. This is actually Leadership 101, and not as hard as it sounds. Set short and long term goals with long term vision in mind. Determine the purpose of your organization, realistically look at where you are now, develop a vision of where you’d like to be, and give broad marching orders on how to get there utilizing the resources you have in the here and now. 
  • Resist the urge to micromanage! If your staff and/or fellow board members are afraid to make the decisions and take the actions which fall within the range of those bullet points on their job description without running it by you first–every time–then you too might be a micromanager. Consult Control Freaks Anonymous for 12 Step Help. 🙂 
  • Remember that oversight is your primary responsibility. Delegation is not abdication. The buck stops with you. In addition to looking great on one of those cheesy motivational business posters, those last two sentences should be your guiding light for governance. Be present and accountable for what your nonprofit does and how it is viewed by external stakeholders. 

3) Nursing A Fundamental Lack of Understanding That Change Is Inevitable, But Growth Is Optional

My friend, motivational speaker and author Mary Foley Tweeted that the other day, and it stirred my governance juices so that I felt compelled to Tweet back, “Amen Sister!” The nonprofit sector has the reputation of being slow to embrace change, clunky and inefficient, and idealistic-unrealistic. Mind you, I say this as a great lover and supporter of all things 501c3, but the nonprofit sector has come by that stereotype honestly….

Many nonprofit boards, while well meaning, do cling to the notion of doing things the way they’ve always been done. While it is important to know and understand the history of the organization (that’s the “where we’ve been and where we are now” part), it is also important to fully grasp the concept that while change is scary, it will be visited upon your nonprofit whether you like it or not. Organizations, as much as they’d like to, do not exist in a vacuum. There is an internal and external environment in which they must exist that is continually changing. Client groups change, client needs change, legal and regulatory climates change, best management practice changes…all aspects of the world in which your nonprofit operates change. And, as Mary so aptly stated in 140 characters or less, the positive growth of your nonprofit is optional…It is optional, and fully within your locus of control and responsibility as a nonprofit board member and leader. 

Should boards then respond by tearing up the old ways and jumping on the bandwagon of whatever is new and trendy? Of course not. But, boards make a grave error when they tie their own hands, those hands responsible for shaping the present and future of the organization, because they are afraid to try new things, think outside the box, and take a calculated, educated risk now and then. If the fear that shaking things up a bit will cause your most important members to jump ship, then you really have to ask yourself if you have fallen into that common trap of pleasing one another rather than a spirit of servant leadership to your mission.  

Please feel free to comment below on my top three governance errors, and add some of your own! 

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; How Much Should Your Nonprofit Rely On Required Board Member Monetary Donations?

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WHAT ARE OTHER NONPROFITS’ POLICIES ON REQUIRED BOARD MEMBER DONATIONS? (Based on a 2007 Board Source survey)

Image & Data Sourced From: Should Board Members Be Required To Give? by Jan Masaoka 

I’ve been thinking about this issue for awhile now, gathering information, organizing my own thoughts on the subject, and would now like to address this arguably sticky wicket. Why is it sticky? I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most uncomfortable management and governance problems the board will face, all because we’re human. Yep, we are impressive, professional, governing bodies comprised of flawed human beings–and discussion of personal financial matters makes most of us so uncomfortable that we don’t…discuss them, that is. This often leads to confusion, embarrassment, and less than effective governance and management, as poor organizational communication always does. 

It may not be common knowledge, but most nonprofit professionals are aware that it is traditional in the nonprofit sector for members of the organization’s Board of Directors to donate substantively to the nonprofit. This is because donations on the part of board members represent a gesture of good faith to the organization, as well as personal belief in, and commitment to, the entity’s vision and mission, as well as a tangible partial fulfillment of board members’ responsibility to fundraise. Financial donations in particular, according to some sources, render board members better able to approach donors to ask for major gifts and other types of charitable donations, although I disagree with this stance. Why do I disagree? Because I believe that substantive, meaningful donations on the part of individual board members do not necessarily need to be financial. There are a variety of ways in which board members can donate to the nonprofit in order to fulfill that generally accepted requirement to donate substantively as an individual–the traditional fiscal contribution of course, but also donations of the in kind variety, meaning special professional expertise, actual volunteer man hours, goods and services donations, etc. 

And here is where I will buck the system and attempt to radically overthrow the nonprofit sector as we know it and state without hesitation that I do not believe the traditionally accepted custom of requiring annual financial contributions of board members is a good one. Not only do I think this is an outdated notion which has been carried forth in the sector simply because it is tradition, but I also think it can be unhealthy and harmful to the organization in certain circumstances. While I completely agree that board members need to display commitment to and belief in the organization via donation, as I’ve stated, those donations can and should come in a variety of forms in addition to financial. In fact, nonprofits adhering to the tradition of large, required monetary donations to the nonprofit run the serious risk of maintaining a homogenous board, with only members of one particular socioeconomic background, which can lead to harmful groupthink, or even unnecessary discrimination against worthy potential members of lesser personal means. 

Board members of nonprofit organizations can and should be so much more than large gift donors. Great, effective board members….

  • Display exceptional leadership skills
  • Demonstrate ability to keep simultaneous focus on both long term and short term organizational goals
  • Bring diverse professional skill sets to the table
  • Have the inclination and ability to volunteer hours of their time to make a difference
  • Offer varied perspectives in order to foster effective teamwork and problem solving
  • Skillfully and strategically plan organizational activities from year to year which effectively support the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose in the community

Nonprofit organizations, quite frankly, are lucky if they can find these qualities in board members willing to donate their time and expertise to the organization…and these qualities don’t always co-exist with a fat personal bank account. Board members from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic status should be sourced by organizational leaders in order to assemble the best team–a team with diversity of perspective, and a desire to do something wonderful and meaningful with their lives. Overreliance upon the Board of Directors for fundraising from their own wallets, and overemphasis upon members’ ability to donate financially, can cheat nonprofit entities, and more importantly the clients we serve, out of an optimally functioning board. Not to mention the fact that honing an ability to gather such donations from the community, corporations, and other sources is equally, if not more important than simply reaching for one’s own checkbook to finance organizational activities, programs, and services. 

For additional reading on the topic of board member contributions of all varieties, I recommend BoardSource  for trustworthy, up to date governance articles and resources. 

What is your take on mandatory, or strongly expected and heavily emphasized board member monetary donations? Do you hold with the traditional school of thought that this is a large part of what makes a board member worthy and desirable as part of the team, or do you agree with me that we need to start a bit of a revolution in our sector? Weigh in below! 

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; Motivate Your Staff, Maslow Style

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A lot has been written about how to motivate employees to work towards achievement of organizational goals and objectives. There are also various theories of motivation itself. Almost everyone has heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which classifies human needs into five broad categories; physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and finally, self actualization. In a nutshell, Maslow theorized that people’s needs must be met in this ascending order, beginning with physiological, and ending with self actualization. In other words, don’t even try to talk to them about how much they need to care about all the lofty goals of the nonprofit they work for, if you’ve been overly long winded at a pre-lunch staff meeting, and all they can think about is that PB&J sandwich in their desk drawer.

Other researchers in the field of psychology have devised other motivation models, but Maslow’s remains my personal favorite. It explains, in the most basic of terms, what makes people tick. Once you understand which needs motivate them at a given point in time, you can better understand how to motivate your staff to help you achieve the vision and mission of the nonprofit organization. So, here goes…not necessarily in order of importance, don’t think of it that way. Think of it as a sequence which must be followed, so you’ll spend less time spinning your management wheels, and more time achieving your management objectives.

PHYSIOLOGICAL

Just about everyone who works has some sort of monetary motivation for doing so. I’ve read a lot of articles and textbooks, etc. that make the assertion that people’s primary motivation for working is not salary or hourly wages, bla, bla, bla. This is simply not true. When push comes to shove, to varying degrees, people usually work in a paid position because they need the cash to cover their rent or mortgage, buy food, clothes, etc. Once these needs are basically addressed, then they have the luxury of thinking about other things they might want. While it is not always possible for nonprofits to exceed the market in terms of competitive wages, all nonprofits should strive to at least meet the market. I don’t know of any organization that has achieved much of anything by following a lag the market strategy.

In order to attract and retain the human resources you need, you must strategize to pay your people competitively for the positions they hold. So, first and foremost, develop a compensation strategy that can be consistently applied throughout the organization. This means you should have rhyme and reason to how you pay everyone in your organization. It needs to make sense, relatively speaking for each position, and have a sensible range at each pay grade which can be tied to performance, which we’ll get into later. Get hold of some current salary survey information so that you can effectively benchmark those grades and ranges too, and compete for the best and the brightest in the candidate pool. The Nonprofit Times offers this information for a relatively small fee here: Salary Survey Data Tax Free, of course…:-) If you can’t afford that, be creative. Make some investigative calls to other area nonprofits and gather as much information as you can from them, enough to help you get an idea of where to set your own compensation framework.

SAFETY

People need to feel reasonably physically safe in their work environment, and they also need to feel relatively secure that their organization is stable and their job will not disappear inexplicably overnight. First and foremost, get your risk management ducks in a row and develop workplace policies on safety, security, sexual harassment, etc., and put some weight behind a simple paper policy that sits on a shelf gathering dust by planning and conducting regular training on each of these. The best place to go, always, for human resource management related information, forms, and best practices is the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM. Some resources are free on the website, and some require membership with SHRM, which is well worth the annual fee.

As for economic security, the best thing for you to do is to shore up your organization and strengthen it, to increase the chances that it can weather any storm, survive any recession, and be sustainable in the long term. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but perhaps one of the best is to engage in formal strategic planning. Strategic planning forces you to assess your current situation and environment (both internal and external), determine where you want to take your organization, and plan out, in a clear and realistic way, how exactly you are going to get there. There is some excellent (and FREE) information for nonprofits tackling strategic planning, especially for the first time, here: All About Strategic Planning

BELONGING

Your employees need to feel as if they are part of a team. Teamwork is a business buzzword that is tossed out a lot these days…by organizations trying to make themselves look like one big happy family, and by desperate job seekers trying to make themselves look like they will fit right in–anywhere, so that they can meet Need #1, Physiological. But, quite frankly, high functioning, cohesive, healthy workplace teams are much rarer than these folks would have you believe. If you are looking to foster real teamwork in your organization, there are many books and resources out there to give you advice. Hint: Avoid books that are overly gimmicky, and offer a too-simple-to-be-believed, easy recipe for teams.

Over the years, however, I have picked up a few broad guidelines for teamwork that do actually work:

1) Create a Team Charter–it needn’t be overly formal or complicated, but should probably be written down, and it should clarify the broad purpose or task of the team, specific, measurable objectives for achieving that purpose or goal.

2) Set Ground Rules & A Game Plan–This may seem like overkill, but the expectations of each member of the team should be established, both behavioral and task, and these should be written down, and acknowledged by each team member with a signature.

3) Create Communication Guidelines–Once again, this may seem silly to actually think about and write down and have people sign, but trust me, it’s not. We may think we are all adults and will act like it in the workplace, but I have seen grown ups on teams behave like kids on a playground when a miscommunication or lack of communication occurs. There are so many ways communication can break down, and when it does, your team can fall down a well that even Lassie cannot pull them out of. Think about all of the potential pitfalls of your team’s communication, and establish rules to follow for effective communication, active listening, and conflict resolution.

ESTEEM

People who work need to feel good about what they do on a daily basis, so they will have a reason, a motivation to keep doing it, and to help you achieve the mission of the nonprofit organization. The best way to ensure that they will feel good about their jobs is to develop a comprehensive system of performance management. Notice I didn’t say performance evaluation, because they are not the same thing. Performance evaluation is one piece of performance management.

I actually did my HR master’s thesis on the topic of performance management, and these were the conclusions I drew based upon research and analysis:

Good performance management in any organization involves using:

1) Effective organizational and interpersonal communication: Comprehensive job analysis and descriptions & telling people exactly what is expected of them–don’t assume anything.

2) Goal setting: Involve the employee in setting performance goals for themselves at regular intervals from the beginning, not just once a year. 

3) Ongoing feedback, to guide and shape the job performance of individuals to better meet the mission of the organization: Make feedback regular, perhaps daily and weekly, in order to shape performance on an ongoing basis, again NOT JUST ONCE A YEAR at performance evaluation time.

And finally….

SELF ACTUALIZATION

Aside from their sense of doing a good job in the position for which they were hired, employees need to feel as if they are contributing in a meaningful way toward serving the mission, and the client group. In other words, your staff needs to feel like they have a direct impact upon achievement of the mission, whatever that may be. So, how does a receptionist for a nonprofit organization feel as if he or she is making the world a better place while answering phones, routing calls, greeting the public, typing and filing all day? Simple! Re-design jobs to increase direct contact and interaction with the client group, and also that individual’s input and control over how the mission is achieved.

You will want to start with job analysis, also mentioned in #4, and consider adding elements to job descriptions which are designed to give every position more interface with the client group. For example, you might want to put a Receptionist in charge of developing and maintaining a client satisfaction survey program, or something of that nature. And add cross functional teams and committees to your organization. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a permanent team or temporary committee being comprised of executive staff and line employees. In fact, this makes a better team all around! This is because you introduce diversity of perspective into the mix, which, when combined with the great teamwork you developed in #3, along with effective dialogue, and a sense of openness in communication regardless of position level, can propel your organization to greatness! No nonprofit, or any organization for that matter, has ever benefitted in any meaningful way from homogenous teams, groupthink, and line employees who are afraid to share their perspectives and ideas for improvement.

Once again, you can always find great information on the SHRM website for anything employment related, including job analysis and job design. 

I hope you have found these motivational guidelines, inspired by Maslow and designed by me, to be useful and applicable to your own nonprofit organization. If you have additional information you’d like to share about your own experiences with motivation in the workplace, please feel free to comment below!

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; 5 Steps to a Great Volunteer Program

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On the whole, nonprofit organizations seem to have somewhat of a reputation for management which is carried out less efficiently and effectively than for profit organizations. The truth in that perception and opinion based rumor is that there are plenty of poorly managed organizations out there—both nonprofit and for profit.

One of the most useful resources of the nonprofit organization is its volunteer human resources and, yes, inefficient, ineffective volunteer programs, or the complete lack of a formal volunteer program at all, are a common nonprofit management error. This is especially true for small nonprofit organizations which, notoriously, are always scrambling for adequate funding. Jumbo sized, well funded nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, etc., tend to be better organized, more efficient, and mostly effective, but even they sometimes could use a tune-up, particularly at the regional level.

If you would like to set up a good, solid volunteer program from scratch, or give your old, clunky one a Hollywood makeover, here are five easy steps for you. Well, okay, maybe not easy, but surprisingly simple and well worth the effort!  

1)     Define, and Continually Examine and Re-Define If Necessary, the Purpose and Scope of Your Volunteer Program

Some  nonprofits just start using volunteers without putting sufficient thought into how to make the most of these precious resources. Every organization is unique, and has its own specific mission, goals, objectives, and appropriate, often untapped, or not yet considered opportunities for volunteers. Spend some time considering that mission, the organization’s goals and objectives, your existing staff, and your workforce plan. Then, based on all of that, develop an actual mission and vision for your volunteer program.  By the way, even if you already have a working volunteer program, it is never too late to go back and complete this first step. And, once you have a good idea of your purpose and scope, definitely have your Board and Staff go back and re-evaluate it periodically. There is nothing worse than an outdated mission and purpose that has not kept up with the times and those inevitable organizational and industry environmental changes.

2)     Have a Good Understanding of Your Legal and Ethical Responsibilities to All Your Workers—Paid or Unpaid

Employment law is a much stickier wicket than most people realize. That being said, it is way too complicated to memorize—nobody does that, not even a labor attorney. Oh, and even if you did memorize it all, your knowledge would have limited utility because it changes about every five minutes anyway. Also, don’t just assume that employment laws don’t apply at all to volunteers because they are not classified as employees. This mostly true statement can get you into a whole lot of trouble if you don’t know what you are doing. Find out which employment laws, federal, state, and local actually do cover volunteers in a blanket fashion. And tort laws…oh those tort laws—know which ones apply to you and your common related workplace scenarios. Here’s a hint: issues of equal opportunity, privacy (both client and volunteer), and personal safety and injury will likely be your biggest bugaboos.

3)     Perform Job Analysis, and Develop Written Job Descriptions Yes, you have to!

Okay, well, technically you don’t have to. But, trust me, management, whether that is carried out in a for profit or nonprofit environment is best addressed through heeding best practices. Those are good, standard guidelines which may not involve actions that you have to take, rather those which have been deemed best to take. This is based on a collective body of knowledge of a lot of people who probably know a lot more than you do, no matter who you are, because they either know a lot about laws and regulations, problems which have occurred in real life scenarios, or have even royally screwed up themselves, but never will make the same mistake again. You should figure out what your volunteer jobs are going to entail—exactly. This typically involves the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do the job effectively, and then the areas of responsibility, actual duties, reporting relationships, and physical work environment in which the job will be performed. A lot of people management activities are, or should be at least, based upon a good job analysis, which produces a good written job description.

4)     Manage (Recruit, Motivate, Guide, Counsel, and Train) Them Like Employees

No, in most cases, you don’t have to, because more than likely no state employment regulatory agency is going to knock on your door or send you a nasty letter if you don’t. But, you’ll just have to trust me on this one because it is one of those best practices I mentioned before. And, frankly, it is just easier to simplify your human resource management practices by designing your volunteer program management activities around your paid employee human resource activities. Follow those first for recruitment of volunteers, which can be largely guided by your newly minted job description. Conduct a formalized, professional recruitment process. You won’t be sorry you did, but you might be sorry down the road if you don’t. Remember, you’re looking for fit there—fit between the needs of the organization, and the skills, abilities, and also the needs of the volunteer. In the other aspects of volunteer relations management, you must consider motivation and rewards, as well as performance management. It is best to conduct regular performance reviews for your volunteers—just like employees. And here’s another hint about motivating volunteers: identify and then focus on those intrinsic rewards associated with the work that your volunteers do. Sure, they are not doing this for an hourly wage or yearly salary, but you’d better believe that each and every volunteer was motivated by certain wants and needs to altruistically show up on your doorstep and work for free. Find out what those needs and wants are, collectively and individually, and use them as a guide to manage the nonprofit/volunteer relationship throughout.

5)     Write Stuff Down

Avoid making assumptions when it comes to effective utilization of volunteers in your organization. In fact, documenting and codifying into formalized policy and procedure is always a good managerial practice. You know what they say about assumptions—and it’s true, because I have seen it play out over and over in organizations. BE CLEAR—about everything. People need to know what is expected of them, and the less ambiguity the better when it comes to behavioral expectations, knowledge of the history of the organization, how things work in departments other than the one they work in, ethical expectations, etc. Do not leave things to chance, because if anything is likely to come back and bite you, it will be that, in some fashion or another, when you least expect it. I recommend that each volunteer be educated about and clear on first and foremost, the vision/mission and history of your organization. Next, volunteers should understand all the policies and procedures of the nonprofit—written down, and given to them so that they can refer back as needed. And finally, the volunteer’s employment relationship should be comprehensively documented—first with that all important job description, then down the line, with written performance evaluations, goals which are set, areas for improvement, etc. Never confuse organizational communication with micromanagement—they are not the same thing. When it doubt, write it down.

I hope these tips have been helpful for you…This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of all the things you need to do to have a great nonprofit volunteer management program. If you have additional tips, cautionary tales, and best practices, please do add them in the comment section. It’s really important for all of us working within the nonprofit sector to support one another and share information—we’re in this together!

A WittyBizGal Authentic Winner E-terview; Scoliosis Awareness Advocate Kerrie Bassow

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Welcome to the very first in my series of E-terviews with Authentic Winners! To kick things off right, I am so pleased to feature my friend, Kerrie Bassow, who is also a dedicated nonprofit sector advocate for scoliosis awareness and research.

Scoliosis awareness is a cause which is near and dear to my heart because I am a scoliosis patient myself. At age 11, I was diagnosed with the disorder and spent 2 years wearing a Milwaukee Back Brace http://www.netterimages.com/image/1798.htm before undergoing spinal fusion surgery at 14, after which I wore a full torso body cast for nine months. That was 30+ years ago now but the disorder still affects my life in some ways, and the memory of the isolation and fear I felt as a young girl dealing with scoliosis, as well as the self image issues I grappled with primarily due to my very obvious back brace, stuck with me for many years.

Back then, there really wasn’t as much readily available information about the disorder for us scoliosis patients and our parents, and I did not have access to any support groups in my area. And of course this was long before the Internet, so I didn’t have information and support available to me at the click of a mouse like young people do today. It was really one of the most emotionally painful and difficult times in my life, and I wish I had known someone like Kerrie back then!

WBG: Kerrie, based upon your knowledge as a scoliosis awareness advocate, can you tell my readers who are unfamiliar with the disorder exactly what scoliosis is, who is at risk, how it is detected, and what treatment options are available?

KB: Scoliosis is a lateral curve of the spine developing in pre- and early adolescence.  Awareness of this condition, along with a 30 second posture test at home or in the Dr.’s office between the ages of 10-15 can help prevent scoliosis from developing into a serious condition. Currently, it is unknown what triggers the curve, or why some curves progress more than others, emphasizing the need for awareness and research.

WBG: Tell us a little bit about your family’s experience with scoliosis.

KB: Our daughter Libby was experiencing shoulder pain that I thought was growing pains or sore muscles from carrying her book bag. At her annual physical, we told her pediatrician. He had her bend over and touch her toes. What I saw looked like a turtle shell over her right shoulder.  We went for x-rays and the scoliosis diagnosis was confirmed.

It was gut wrenching having your 12 year old ask you if she was going to be ok; I had no answers for her, as I did not know what scoliosis was. Libby went from being diagnosed in late Oct. ’09 to surgery on Feb. 8, 2010, 5 days after she turned 13. Her curve was 43 thoracic and 26 lumbar at diagnosis and 62 thoracic with a 43 lumbar at surgery. Her spine was fused from thoracic 1-9.

WBG: In your personal experience, and also based upon your experience working with scoliosis patients and their families, what are the three biggest issues which must be addressed upon receiving a scoliosis diagnosis?

KB: I’m not a medical professional, but based on my experience the 3 biggest issues after diagnosis would be; 1) curve percent  2) where the child is in terms of bone growth 3) the treatment plan (do not “watch and wait” – check into a modified yoga or PT to counter balance the curve by building up muscle strength).

WBG: You recently opened a chapter of Scoliosis Association, Inc. in your local area. What client base does your organization work with, and what sort of information and services do you provide?

KB: I became a chapter President in my community recently under “The Scoliosis Association, Inc.” located in Safety Harbour, Florida. The Scoliosis Association is an international education and support system. They provide a quarterly issue of “BackTalk” a magazine with articles written by scoliosis specialists on treatment and new technology, along with all things related to the scoliosis spine. For $25.00 you can become a member which helps with the expense of brochures etc.

My local chapter serves a population of 260,000. Getting the news “out there” takes a long time.  I will be hosting 4 meetings annually with educational speakers from my area. I really desire to get scoliosis info into the hands of our 9-13 year olds and their parents. That will be my main focus along with support. I don’t want any other parent or child NOT to know scoliosis.

My slogan; Know the curve?  kNOw scoliosis.

WBG: Please tell us about your gorgeous Scoliosis Awareness Jewelry! What is the symbolism of the design? What is the cost, and how much of the purchase price goes directly to support Scoliosis research? And finally, how exactly can someone order one for themselves or a loved one?

KB:  Scoliosis Awareness Bracelets was created because Libby and I could not find a bracelet to wear every day. So together we designed one!  We figured if we liked them, maybe others would as well.  So I made up my first website, http://www.scoliosisawarenessbracelets.com

The bracelets are very symbolic of the scoliosis spine, recognize the scoliosis condition/sufferer, bring a bit of beauty to the condition, raise awareness, and monies for scoliosis research.


Symbolism of Our Scoliosis Jewelry:

*3 swarovski crystals, 4mm=cervical spine, 6mm=thoracic spine, 8mm=lumbar spine
*.925 sterling silver “S” curve bead = scoliosis spine
*dual strands of leather = bracing or rodding
*.925 wishbone charm = a reminder to be the power behind hope for a scoliosis cure and research

All components are .925 sterling silver. We just introduced a scoliosis pendant (thanks Lisa!) to match and are tweaking the design concept for a keychain.

Cost:

*Awareness only bracelet; $29.00 includes shipping/handling
*Bracelet for awareness and research; $40.00 total with $11 of that price going to The Scoliosis Association Research Endowment Fund OR The Scoliosis Research Society OR Shriners Hospital for Children Scoliosis Study – your choice
*The Pendants are $20.00 total with a $5.00 donation to the same as the bracelets.

There are several ways to get in touch with me to order:

 

 

WBG: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Kerrie, and for being my very first E-terview-ee!

For more information about scoliosis, please visit the Mayo Clinic Online:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/scoliosis/DS00194

For more information on The Scoliosis Association, Inc., please visit the organization’s website at: http://www.scoliosis-assoc.org/

To follow Kerrie on Twitter: Kerrie Bassow, @ScoliMom

Selfless Acts of Selfishness, Otherwise Known As Being Human

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“Do some selfless service for people who are in need. Consider the whole picture, not just our little selves”. ~ Nina Hagen

I’ve been thinking a lot today about what it means to be “selfless”. So, as I did for my first blog, I headed to my trusty dusty dictionary to find the official definition which is as follows: having no concern for self. Okay, fair enough, but I’d argue that if this is what it really means there is no one on the planet who truly qualifies, nor should there be, as self interest is a qualifying requirement for membership in the human race. Additionally, that same self interest is innate in each of us because it fulfills an evolutionary purpose and is the very trait which fuels survival instinct. Even Mother Teresa herself possessed a certain degree of self interest as she dedicated her life to the pursuit of what I have often heard described as her selfless life’s work. Elements of self interest always enter into the equation as we carry out activities of our own volition, such as the selflessness that is required to make personal sacrifices for our children’s well being, or unpaid hours we devote to charity work, etc.

It occurs to me that while “selfless” may be a Utopian myth of epic proportions, the meaning behind it is very real, and comes down to a matter of degree and percentages. When we carry out so called selfless acts, it doesn’t always mean that we, ourselves, are particularly selfless. And here’s the big secret—THAT IS 100% OKAY! Individuals such as myself who have chosen to dedicate our lives to nonprofit work do so for a myriad of different reasons. And in the case of charity work, random acts of kindness, and all manner of seemingly self sacrificing behaviors displayed by people in this world, the truth is that, whether 100% selfless or 100% selfish, the end result is always the same, and can be just as beneficial to the world we live in.

Reality dictates that not one of us is 100% self-less or 100% self-ish, rather are some mixture of both, which is a completely separate matter from our actions. This is because our motivations for doing what we do are hidden—sometimes even from ourselves; more or less so depending upon how truly introspective we are. So, to chase worldly recognition for selflessness, is to chase illusion. We won’t always be recognized or thanked for true self sacrifice, and I think the degree to which we are okay with that is probably directly proportionate to how much mythical selflessness we actually possess. Mind you, this would be how okay we actually are with it, not the self effacing “Oh, it was nothing” wave of our hand within earshot of others. And it’s also wholly between ourselves and our Maker, that is, if our personal paradigm includes a Maker. If not, then it’s just between You and You…as lonely as I think that would be.

As for me, I will consider my life a 100% smashing success if my Maker turns to me and says, “Lisa, I see that you have been busy with the life I gave you. You were 50% selfless, but made effective use of your 50% selfishness to drive 25% of those selfless acts, that helped 75% of the earthly brothers and sisters I made sure crossed paths with you. You done good kid….Welcome Home!”

Until next time…