“Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline,” concludes author Jim Collins in his insightful book, Good to Great and the Social Sectors.
When IBM client executive Karin Wiens was elected board Chair of Greenest City, a not-for-profit organization in Toronto, Canada, that inspires people to build healthy neighborhoods through community gardening and the celebration of food, Wiens observed they had been in a fledgling state for a long time. "We were doing good work, getting recognition, and earning grants, but we needed more progress on processes, policies and infrastructure to be a highly professional organization," says Wiens.
Wiens continues, “We knew we were good—our HOPE garden in the Parkdale neighborhood is a source of pride for so many—but when you don’t have a document that tells a newly hired Greenest City employee how much vacation they get, or how many hours they work, you know you can do better.”
Many not-for-profits are in similar situations, where the program side of the organization is serving its constituents as envisioned, but the underlying structure does not support the team to go beyond being good and to be great.
Building organizational infrastructure
In 2008, when Wiens was elected board Chair Of Greenest City, she decided to focus on what some think is the “boring behind-the-scenes stuff,” like policies and board member orientation, to enable the organization to get past the fledgling stage. While the staff and volunteers of Greenest City continued to deliver its mission like teaching the Youth Green Squad how to grow organic food, Wiens and the board would focus on giving the team an infrastructure to better support their success.
Today Greenest City has updated by-laws to reflect its current practices, a human resources committee focused on the aspects that promote a positive and healthy work environment, board member recruitment and on-boarding that takes weeks rather than months. The board is now full with directors of diverse skills, and significantly, board members remain with the organization long enough to experience a deeper level of contribution.
Wiens says “I’m also pleased that our team developed a three year strategic plan giving us a cohesive sense of direction. This helped to end debate about our priorities and galvanized us around common goals. Fixing the boring administrative stuff has really made Greenest City a more stable and professional organization, which helps deliver our mission, and positions us for greater growth, longevity and impact.”
Replacing French fries with fresh fruit
Over the last few years, Greenest City has been recognized by other organizations for improving the health of Toronto. Serving a largely immigrant community in the Parkdale neighborhood, Greenest City has helped teach healthy food options to young people; several of whom have taken their new skills into competitions and won awards, such as at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
Other teens in the community have been given jobs and responsibilities to help maintain Greenest City’s gardens. One teen said, “I didn’t used to think about what I ate or where it came from. Now I see that I can make a difference just by knowing how to grow healthy food and sharing it with other people…It makes me feel happy and proud.”
Says Wiens, “Being a great organization is a work in progress and certainly a team effort. When I have the privilege of giving an award to a community member at our annual meeting or seeing the smile on the face of a child who’s grown her first tomato, and the dedication and hard work of our volunteers, staff and board members—nothing seems too challenging; it’s all worth it.”
IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.