Where’s Waldo: Implications for Non-Profit Organizations

I assume you are familiar with the series of books entitled “Where’s Waldo.” The books are games for children. They are full of the most wonderful colored pictures featuring a large number of different settings including beach scenes, picnics, mid- town views of large cities, etc. The object of the game is to find a figure named “Waldo”. The author-artist has hidden Waldo somewhere in each picture which can take up to two pages. Waldo tends to blend into his surroundings and it is sometimes difficult to find him.

What does Waldo have to do with non-profit organizations? Recently I met with the CEO and the FRD (financial resource development) coordinator from Sivan. It is an agency focused on working with children who have trouble learning how to read. I found myself thinking about the meeting while I was reading-playing “Where’s Waldo” with my 7 year old grandson last Shabbat. It is interesting how thoughts sometimes stay with us and appear in totally different context.

The purpose of the meeting with the CEO and the FRD professional was to review their strategic plan for increasing the organization’s financial resources. In a meeting about a year ago they had asked me to assist them in thinking about what was involved in creating such a plan. We talked for several hours about the various steps that had to be taken to develop the plan and implement it.

We met again a few weeks ago at a conference and the CEO asked if I would meet with him and the FRD Coordinator to review the plan and critique it, if necessary. I was more than happy to assist them and we planned a 2.5 hour meeting to review and analyze the plan. They were very interested in knowing my thoughts about the plan and their steps for implementing it.

The FRD Strategic Plan was rather comprehensive and dealt with every aspect of the agency’s functioning. It covered identifying what was unique about the services they have been providing and branding their educational programs. They were able to communicate a sense of their uniqueness in comparison to other similar organizations. The emphasis was appropriately placed on the added value they brought to the area of services for children with learning disabilities.

There was only one piece missing from the plan and this was the role of the Board of Directors. In my mind, it was like looking for “Waldo”. They had developed a professional approach and a time table for its implementation. It was multi-tiered and had a broad focus that was aiming to reach out to individual donors, groups interested in supporting their activities, as well as, appropriate foundations and funds.

The CEO had asked the FRD professional to monitor their progress and next to each step was an accounting for whether or not it had been carried out and its present status. Of course, each of the actions was the responsibility of either the CEO or the FRD professional. The Board of Directors was no where to be found in the plan or its implementation.

The Board of a non-profit organization cannot afford to be like Waldo. It cannot place itself in a position that is blending in with the background of the agency’s activity and it needs to be out front with the CEO. The members of the Board are not like the figures in “Where’s Waldo”. They need to be out front and representing the organization in a very public way.

If there is a “Waldo” in non-profit organizations it is the potential donor who is somewhere in the community and has not been involved actively in the agency. One of the main tasks of the CEO and the FRD professional along with active volunteer leaders is to search for the “Waldo’s” who are the kind of people the organization would like to have on the board and involved in FRD efforts. This entails assessing the needs of the non-profit, on one hand, and identifying the people who can assist in meeting these needs.

Identifying new appropriate potential volunteer leaders can involve a wider group and build community support for the agency. It is very appropriate to speak with veteran community leaders, with executives of other organizations in the community, and with some of the younger people who may be the next generation of volunteer leaders in the not so distant future. When word spreads that the non-profit is reaching out to invite new people to join its leadership group it can often send a message that this is a dynamic organization that wants to include new people.

It is important not to underestimate the power of the informal word in a community. Organizations must reach out and identify people who have the potential to make a difference. It will not only strengthen its financial resources but it will also change its image. The agency will quickly become a place that people want to be identified with and are excited about volunteering their time and money to support it.

I would encourage the CEO’s and FRD professionals to find “Waldo” and create a vehicle for involving those who are presently blending in with the scenery. It is a way to stimulate people to assume volunteer leadership positions and simultaneously strengthen the organization.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.