Monday, June 24, 2013

BIG’s Blog: At least they tried!

Who is Ron Johnson? He’s the ill-fated CEO hired by J.C. Penny a year and a half ago to resurrect the storied retailer that had grown a bit dowdy and whose profits had been sinking.

Ron Johnson was the former Apple retail store guru who built Apple stores into a phenomenon. J.C. Penny’s board of directors hired him away from Apple, and Johnson arrived with a new vision and strategy and set about executing them. But after 18 months, when the profits hadn’t turned around, the board fired him.  

There will no doubt be books written about Johnson’s tenure at J. C. Penney from both the board’s perspective as well as Johnson’s . . . and though there were clear examples of each side’s failures, at least Penny’s board tried a new approach.

I give the board a grade of “A” for trying with their hiring of Johnson, but unfortunately I give them an “F” for failing to stand by their man and the strategy that they signed off on.

Change is hard, but once you choose a strategy and a change agent, you have to support that strategy and your change agent(s).  

The nonprofit fundraising sector is facing Change of it’s own. Fundraisers are seeing their current model of fundraising decline right before their eyes. What do fundraisers and J.C. Penny have in common? They are both using the same business models they were using 80 years ago, even though the world has moved digital. To be sure, both J. C. Penny and most fundraisers have adopted digital tools…but there is no real change in strategic direction incorporating those new digital tools…what has changed?

Fundraising boards and the leadership of communities are struggling and they have to make changes . . . but they also have to learn about and support a change in direction. Leadership is a contact sport.

In our firm, with our new online program (that indeed does offer a new model of fundraising), we will not allow organizations to participate unless they have representatives of their boards or leadership on the team. We have learned that board and leadership representatives learning the same thing as their fundraising management team gives greater support to the hard work of change. They begin all on the same page.

Maybe if a few J. C. Penny board members had worked closer with Ron Johnson, J.C. Penny would have turned the corner by now.

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