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How to Become Fierce in Your Focus

by Carrie Fox

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

French novelist and author of Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert wrote this line[1] in an 1825 correspondence to Gertrude Tennant. Flaubert was known for his style and aesthetics—and his attention to the fine detail shows up often in his life’s work.

This notion of orderly focus has been on my mind in recent weeks as we’ve been guiding several clients through a range of organizational transitions. In each project I’m reminded that focus is hard for many organizations to achieve—especially when everything feels to be changing around them.

Whether shifting directions in a strategic plan, or revisiting the words used to define your organization’s core beliefs, no greatness can come from a shaky or unorderly process. But with a little muscle memory, focusing your organization’s words, actions, and future can be much more manageable.

So, this week’s blog is devoted to some of my favorite tips for keeping order, even in times of transition:

  • On focusing your words: The words we use to define our mission, vision and everyday value have a major impact in getting someone to understand what we’re saying. Spend less time talking around an issue or peppering your language with too much technical-speak and force yourself to get to the heart of what really matters. Then, ask a handful of people one step removed from your daily work how they would describe your product, service, or issue. You’ll likely find those answers contain some of the most authentic elements of your mission: the kinds of words that have been right in front of you, but got buried in complexity somewhere along the way. Also, pay attention to the vehicles you’re using to distribute your messages. By simplifying or reducing the number of communications tools you’re using, you can focus more intently on how well you’re using them and your messages will have a better chance of sticking.
  • On focusing your actions:  If you’re in the camp of always wondering “Why are we doing this?” and the answer isn’t easily produced, it’s probably time for a good assessment of your organizational priorities.  Are organizational goals clear, and does each team have sub-goals and objectives that line up with the big picture?  Do individuals, especially in more junior positions, understand how their daily activities connect back to the bigger picture? If you—or they— can’t answer those questions, your organization is likely losing a lot of time and efficiency. Focus first on ensuring that the entire team understands this year’s priorities (before you dive right into this week’s priorities) and you’ll see your organizational focus skyrocket.
  • On focusing on the future: The assumption most of us make is that if we have well-ordered and organized days, we’re likely to be productive. But we’ve found that in routine, the power of originality can be lost in the mundane.  Try introducing short, unexpected and creative activities into your work week that intentionally change the routine—a lunchtime walk through a new part of town, a mid-day drawing or coloring session, an afternoon exercise class— anything that can clear your mind and give you a fresh perspective on the day’s work.  We’ve found that it works every time to restore a sense of focus that translates well into fresh thinking.

Achieving the kind of steadiness that Flaubert referenced is not easy, but creating a path to fierce originality is well worth it. While strategic direction will likely be guided from the top, everyone can play a role in advancing an organization’s future.  And with a renewed sense of focus, you’ll feel confident knowing that each task you take on today is getting you closer to that ultimate goal.

[1] Other translations of Flaubert’s quote include: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Year in Review

By Carrie Fox

This holiday season, as we celebrate the first anniversary of Mission Partners, we are thankful for you and for your partnership in moving missions forward for the benefit of our communities, our nation, and our world.

2017 was as promising as it was challenging. As our nation grappled with issues of access and opportunity, our work was bound together by a common theme: a commitment to providing an equitable future for all. To that end, here’s a snapshot of our year:

  • We developed bold new strategic plans for nonprofits, foundations and socially responsible businesses who committed to increase their impact.
  • We built fresh, new narratives that lead with strength and simplicity—and are based on insights gleaned through research—about workforce development, higher education, healthcare, housing, philanthropy, and public media.
  • We helped to mobilize a DC community for collective impact, in order to preserve its neighborhood and provide opportunity for all residents to remain and thrive, even under the immense pressures of gentrification.
  • We led and facilitated Board meetings and community convenings—across the country and across sectors—that challenged long-held ways of working, and identified new solutions.
  • We hosted and facilitated salon dinners, community events, and working groups to drive changes in our systems, including philanthropy and the workplace.
  • We designed creative campaigns that presented the impact of established organizations in new ways, driving increased community impact and engagement.
  • We recommitted ourselves to equity, inclusion, and identity in our practice with clients and in our own learning by participating in Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Training with CommonHealth ACTION, and doubled down on our commitment by partnering with CommonHealth ACTION to bring this life-changing experience to our network. As a direct result of the training, Mission Partners will launch an Equity Advisory Board in 2018. We look forward to sharing more details in the new year.

Through it all, we’ve realized that the work we’re doing at Mission Partners has never felt more fulfilling, or more urgent.

As a woman-owned and women-led organization, our mission is to advance issues and causes that result in an equitable future for all. And, as we reflect on this first year at Mission Partners and look forward to where we’re going, we realize that to truly advance issues of equity, we must address and learn from our roots, and then intentionally change behavior. It’s how we invest in today, as organizational leaders, that can affect our ability to create a more equitable future.

For this reason, we will soon launch the Mission Forward Leaders Exchange, a new series of cohort-based learning groups that will drive purpose-driven leaders like you through a year of skills-building, reflection, critical thinking, and “visioneering” for the future. Each exchange will welcome up to 12 people per cohort to convene on critical topics that are reflective of our shared responsibilities as leaders, and will be facilitated by my partner, Carolyn Berkowitz, and me. More details will follow in January, but if you are interested in learning more, please email me at carrie@mission.partners for advance access to registration materials.

As you reflect on your own experiences in 2017, and recommit to being an agent of change in the coming year, we hope you’ll consider joining us in 2018 to transform your good intentions into great impact.

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A World of Good

By Carrie Fox

Charnice Milton was a young community reporter working for the Capital Community News in Washington, DC. On May 27, 2015, she was on her way home from covering a story in D.C.’s Ward 8, when she was killed at her bus stop by a random drive-by shooter. Her case remains unsolved.

Charnice’s death hit me hard. I had met her for the first time just weeks prior, when she and I had been working on a story together about new development coming to Ward 8.  In that first phone call, it was impossible not to be inspired by her commitment to overcome challenges and cover the good stories of Ward 8, despite the violence that permeated her local news.

And then she was gone.

I think about Charnice often.  I think of her parents, her neighborhood, and of the world of good she brought to her profession. Motivated by what happened to Charnice, and inspired by her life’s passion, my husband Brian and decided that the “tugging feeling at our hearts” was too important to let go.  So, in late 2015, we seeded and launched the World of Good Fund, housed at the Greater Washington Community Foundation. We have made a family commitment to personally grow the fund, while inviting and allowing others to contribute to it as they see fit. It is also our family’s main philanthropic vehicle through which we invest back into our community, while serving as a tool to engage our daughters in conversations of philanthropy, equity and community.

Brian and I believe that one doesn’t have to change the world to do a world of good and that sometimes small, focused projects can have long-lasting positive effect. So while sometimes it might feel as if there’s not nearly enough good in this world, we know that good is all around us, if we’re open to it.

If you share our belief, we’d welcome your involvement in the World of Good Fund. This holiday season, we’re on a mission to elevate and amplify stories of good.  And we are willing to put some dollars down to make it happen. This month, for every person who shares their #holidaymission on Twitter, Mission Partners will put a dollar into the World of Good Fund, up to $1,000.  Help us share and spread the good this year. A little bit of that could go a long way.