Successful Nonprofits : operating model with Leslie MacKrell

The Big Secret: Moving from Strategy to Results

Why your nonprofit needs an operating model with Leslie MacKrell

The Big Secret: Moving from Strategy to Results

Why your nonprofit needs an operating model with Leslie MacKrell

by GoldenburgGroup

Does your organization sometimes struggle to get results – despite having a talented, dedicated team and a phenomenal strategy?  Today’s guest, Leslie MacKrell, explains how your operating model, or lack of one, often stands in your way.  Join her as she asks tough questions and looks for honest answers about what you need, what you have, and how you can make up the difference.  So, put on your Operating Model Hat and tune in to learn how to start or enhance your own operating model.

Listen to the Episode Here!


Bridgespan Website

The Document: Operating Models: How Nonprofits Get from Strategy to Results


(1:56) The secret to moving from strategy to results

(2:22) The operating model and it’s barrier to impact

(4:18) Why operating models need to be overhauled

(7:19) How the strategic plan informs the operating model

(8:09) The importance of clarity and the hurdles in finding it

(11:58) The four elements of the operating model

(12:52) Operating Model Element One: Structure and Accountabilities

(14:35) Operating Model Element Two: Management Systems

(18:27) Operating Model Element Three: Ways of Working

(25:07) Operating Model Element Four: Enablers


Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):

Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. We have all been there. Your team is working harder than ever and there is no question of their dedication, their heart, and their commitment. But no matter what you do, the organization just seems to be stuck at a standstill. Well, lucky for you, that’s where this episode’s guest, Leslie MacKrell comes into play. Leslie is a partner at the Bridgespan Group, an organization that offers advisory services and research to improve the impact and sustainability of the social sector. Her work has included nonprofits, stability and growth strategies, nonprofit network analysis, philanthropic initiative design, and grant making strategies as well as performance measurement. At Bridgespan, she has helped all kinds of nonprofit and foundation clients from a wide variety of fields and disciplines. Before her days at Bridgespan, she held a strategic planning position at Ms. Foundation for Women, a national philanthropy focused on empowering women’s leadership for social justice. And recently, Leslie coauthored the article Operating Models: How Nonprofits Get From Strategy to Results. And I will share with you, Listeners, that it’s that article that put Leslie on my radar and made me decide we had to get Leslie on the podcast and learn more about this. So, Leslie, welcome to the podcast.

Leslie MacKrell (01:30):

Thanks, Dolph. Thanks for having me.

Dolph Goldenburg (01:32):

Now, in podcasting school, which I never went to and never graduated from, they taught me that I should never ask a guest to drop all their candy in the lobby by revealing the secret to what we’re going to talk about in the first five minutes. But I’m going to break that rule. Share with us the secret. Leslie, how do nonprofits get from strategy to results?

Leslie MacKrell (01:54):

The short answer would be: carefully and with intention. But your question is very seasonal. We just had trick or treating in our building with my toddler son going up and down the halls, dropping a lot of candy on the way. So I don’t mind answering your question. We at Bridgespan exist, essentially, to help organizations and leaders achieve social change impact. So we are obsessed with this question of how you figure out and remove your barriers to impact.

Leslie MacKrell (02:22):

And what we have observed over the years is that it’s often one’s operating model that is the barrier to impact. Let me back up a little bit and say why I’ve chosen those words “operating model.” Every organization has an operating model. It’s sort of the set of decisions you make about how you’re structured, how you hold each other accountable, who does what jobs, what your key performance measures are, how you behave with each other, how your systems are oriented. All of these really common sense things, that we often think about one at a time, are actually part of this living breathing mechanism called your operating model. Your operating model is the thing that determines whether the big strategy you have can actually be converted, day by day, to results. Sometimes small organizations can stumble through if their operating model is imperfect or if there are some pieces out of alignment because you know each other and you can get work done informally and you sort of work out the kinks as you go along.

Leslie MacKrell (03:22):

But if your work has any scale or any complexity, if you’re working in multiple locations, if you’re growing, if you’re changing, then you really do need to get your operating model to be effective because the informal ways don’t really cut it. What we learned, and then published in that article, and what you can find by searching “nonprofit operating models” is how we can help an organization think about their operating model: What does it look like today? What does your strategy need it to be? How can you make tweaks so that the work you need to get done with the great people you have can be done more easily, more productively, and to drive results?

Dolph Goldenburg (03:59):

In that article, if I recall correctly, you talk about a project, I think it’s Project ECHO and they do telementoring with physicians worldwide. Can you share a little bit about how they looked at their operating model?

Leslie MacKrell (04:12):

Yeah, I can share a bit about Project ECHO and then perhaps examples that are similar in our work. Project ECHO was looking to grow really, really dramatically. This is often a really good time to look at your operating model. It’s not about 5% more next year, 5% more of the year after that. But we want to go from a hundred thousand to a million or we want to go from one country to two or three or four. And those real step changes and growth are when we find that organizations need to look at their operating model because the likelihood that you can do three, four or five times more than you do today with the same operating model, it’s just really unlikely.

Dolph Goldenburg (04:50):

And if I can jump in real quick, maybe 50 or 60 episodes ago, we had Kathleen Kelly Janus on the podcast to talk about her book Social Success Startup. She actually talked about coming up with what she refers to, I think, as a big bold goal. So if you come up with this big bold goal, and I think in Project ECHO’s case it’s something like reach 1 or 2 billion patients worldwide, then you have to look at your entire model and figure out how you’re going to do it because your current model is not sufficient to do that. So I love that you’re talking about that, that an overhaul of your operating model probably starts with doing something that you currently think is impossible because of the way you’re operating.

Leslie MacKrell (05:31):

That’s one of those light bulb moments in your operating model where you say, “Well this is a signal to us. We better take it slow and figure out if our operating model needs to change.” And really dramatic growth plans, which we’re all in the business of dreaming up, of course, are one of those light bulb moments. I’ll just give one example from the Project ECHO story, in which they, as you described, were trying to figure out how they could actually influence the medical trajectory of a billion people in the world rather than hundreds of thousands or a million. And they did this through this leverage model of training physicians and other medical specialists to provide technical support to others who, who by virtue of their location perhaps or their own training, didn’t have the specialized expertise they needed to be useful to their patients.

Leslie MacKrell (06:14):

One of the big operating model questions Project ECHO had to answer was: How much can we distribute decision making authority in our organization? Because you can imagine that the same person or same team of management people who could make most of the big decisions for an organization trying to serve a million couldn’t possibly do so for a billion; it would have meant a much slower growth path if they insisted on tightly controlled decision making about everything. And so Project ECHO went throughout all parts of their operating model to see how they could make decision making as distributed as possible so that teams working far away from headquarters could see an opportunity, make a good decision about it, and expand their work. So they really wanted to eliminate any barriers to fast growth. And there were all different ways in the operating model that they could contribute to that goal.

Dolph Goldenburg (07:09):

As you start to think about your operating model, what are those next steps? And actually really moving to results and implementation?

Leslie MacKrell (07:19):

So, Dolph, you asked what do organizations do if they think they have an operating model challenge, how do they fix it? This is where my Mary Poppins comes out a little bit. Mary Poppins says, “Well, begun is half done.” And that’s often what we find with operating models. We frequently talk to clients who say they have a great new strategy, they just need the operating model to deliver it. Often what we find is there’s actually a bit of work still to be done on the strategy specifically to make sure that it is granular enough to build a good model around. Often the choice points you’re making are rather specific in your operating model. It’s not, “We want to grow how?” but rather “We need to grow here or we need to grow this, not that, or we need to grow this fast or we need to grow for this funding stream, we need to grow with these capabilities.”

Leslie MacKrell (08:09):

So answering those questions, sort of ticking through the big boxes of your strategy: What’s your definition of success? Where will you be geographically? How quickly do you need to grow? What will be your funding mix? What are the big decisions you’ll make? Then you start to get a picture of what this operating model needs to deliver. Now you can go look at the different parts of your operating model, which are your structure and accountabilities, your key behaviors, your management team and their decision authority, how you organize your talent systems. You can do that with the performance requirements of your strategy in mind.

Leslie MacKrell (08:46):

For example, you might decide you need to have a learning system as part of your operating model. So you ask what kind of learning system do you need? Do you need one that will help standardize work across multiple locations and geographies? Or do you need one that’s going to help you innovate on your work? Do you need one that should be organized primarily by the programs you run or do you need one that cuts across those programs so people can learn from each other? The answer to that comes from what your strategy needs to deliver. That clarity can get you well down the road in terms of thinking about where you want to spend your time tweaking your operating model.

Dolph Goldenburg (09:24):

And so what are some of the barriers or hurdles that organizations experience in trying to get that clarity?

Leslie MacKrell (09:30):

As with so many things, clarity is easier said than done. Part of it comes from honestly asking whether or not this is this a real change moment for you. And if so, have you invested sufficient leadership time in banging out the hard parts of the strategy? When a strategy isn’t quite clear enough, sometimes it’s simply a matter of not sitting with it long enough to get down to the right level. Sometimes it signals that there’s been some misalignment or that leaders haven’t had the tools to or haven’t wished to really get underneath this question of how quickly they should grow; the chief programs officer says “Tomorrow” while the chief finance officer says “Never” so you sort of settled with something in between that was relatively vague and thought you would tackle further down the road. Sometimes it’s misalignment such as when the push for some big aspect of your strategy is coming from outside the organization. Or you feel called to respond to circumstances around you, but they’re not quite your circumstances, yet, or you don’t understand them as well as you wish. And so you’re hoping you can set a rather vague North Star and sort of take things as they come.

Dolph Goldenburg (10:43):

Got it. When you outlined the concept of the operating model framework, you also talked about four elements that are really critical to figuring out as part of your framework. The first one is structure and accountability, which is one that I’ve always just found to be so key. Can you say a little bit about that?

Leslie MacKrell (11:03):

Yeah, of course. And so for those that are listening, firstly, thank you for listening. And if you’re listening to this somewhere, you can pull up the article, just search “nonprofit operating model.” I say that because there’s a couple of graphics in there that really depict this framework which could be helpful for you.

Dolph Goldenburg (11:19):

And real quick, Leslie, I’m glad you said that. I’ll share with you, based on people that reach out to me, I think the vast majority of our listeners listen on a commute either in a car or in a subway. Whenever I’m in New York, where you live, I’m always frustrated that in the station I can get wireless and then three seconds later when we pull out of the station, we can’t. So for those who are in the subway or driving, check it out later.

Leslie MacKrell (11:46):

Completely. Check it out later and go with me on a journey of the mind, if you will, to visualize this. We talk about four major elements of your operating model. I’ll just say what they are briefly and then we’ll go where you went off, Dolph. This first is your structure and accountabilities: What are the big units of your business? What work do they do? Who leads them? Second, your management systems: What management tables do you have? What processes do you use to govern the organization day by day? What are your ways of working? Third, behaviors: What are your norms? How do you make decisions together? How do you establish the boundaries of what professionalism looks like in your organization? What are the most important behaviors given your strategy? Fourth, key performance enablers: What are your talent systems? Your learning systems? How do you have external partnerships? What does our performance system need to do so that we develop people as they need to be developed for our strategy?

Leslie MacKrell (12:52):

And so, Dolph, you asked a question about structure and accountabilities. I would love to hear more about why that one popped for you. For us in the operating model world, we would think of structure and accountabilities as pretty much necessary but not sufficient, right? So when we talk to folks about organizational design, sometimes the conversation starts by hearing, “I need a new org chart” or “I need some new senior leadership.” And often that is part of the challenge, but there’s a lot that can be done around structure that can make your operating model perform well. I’ll give one example. One of the places we often spend a lot of time in operating model design is looking at what happens between major teams and departments. Do you have big decisions in your organization that require collaboration between leaders of two departments? Is it clear who makes which decisions? Are the places where those folks need to connect working well? Are they supported or is there friction? Let’s talk about the accountabilities that each team member, each senior team member has: Do they accidentally overlap and cause some bad blood between folks? And so even if you’ve got the right names and the right teams, sometimes they can’t work together well because of other behaviors you have or areas where you have failed to clarify. I’m curious what caught your eye about that as the first place to start because that is one of those foundational pieces for us, too.

Dolph Goldenburg (14:22):

Speaking of dropping the candy in the lobby, I planned on us talking about all four. I just started with the first one that was listed in the article.

Leslie MacKrell (14:30):


Dolph Goldenburg (14:30):

How’s that for just being completely transparent, Leslie?

Leslie MacKrell (14:34):

I love it.

Dolph Goldenburg (14:35):

So this is probably a great way then for us to segment over to management systems. I do think you’re right. I think a lot of nonprofits have an org chart and sense of everyone’s roles and responsibilities. But they don’t always have the management systems necessary to make sure that org chart is working as well as it could toward achieving the goal.

Leslie MacKrell (14:55):

Yeah. I can give a couple of examples of teams who found out that part of their answer lay in the management system part of their operating model. I’m working with an organization now that had doubled their size in the last five years and had started several new initiatives that grew into big deals in the organization. This was resulting in several problems from the management system perspective. The first was that their senior management team didn’t really have sufficient oversight over all of those initiatives. So each initiative was growing in its own way and disconnected from the others. They wanted to allocate resources across them but didn’t even quite understand what the needs were. And so one of the things they needed to do was look into the management system box and determine if they have a shared set of key performance measures for this organization. That way they can reestablish what “good” looks like for them in their overall strategy. Then they can compare each initiative against their overall North Star and determine what is more or less important and what needs to be reshaped so that it contributes to the whole better. That’s what matters on performance measures.

Leslie MacKrell (16:11):

The second was that they actually decided to reset their executive team so that they had the right people around the table to have enough information and have enough decision authority to make decisions about all of these new pieces, which had grown up to be meaningful parts of the organization. And then they standardized the planning approaches that all of those pieces use. So when it was time to budget, for example, each initiative was coming to the table with the same sort of standardized approach and the same set of information. And that new table with all the right folks and this new process could then actually differentially allocate resources across those initiatives in a way that helped the whole feel more consistent.

Dolph Goldenburg (16:51):

You talk about how these are interrelated and there’s some things that I heard you say that I thought might be structure. But you’re right; they’re all interrelated. It’s like when you talked about changing up the management team a little bit, that’s probably part org structure org chart as well. So I do kind of love that if all you do is work on one, you end up with some kind of weird anomaly of an organization.

Leslie MacKrell (17:14):

I think so. And I think there are dependencies among them that are really important to name, even if you don’t have to fix all of them at the same time. And that’s another part of the operating model magic if you will, that simply putting on your Operating Model Hat starts a different conversation about any one thing. So for example, I have an organization that needed to upgrade their talent management system and they were trying to say, “Okay, how are we going to figure out what good looks like here? And we know that we need to have a new level of mid management and we that we will have to grow people into those roles as part of our strategy since we intend to grow the organization. So we need more internal talent.” And one of the questions they asked is: How much do we need talent to be able to work across our programs rather than just within?

Leslie MacKrell (17:58):

And so for that they considered not only the strategy, but also structure and accountabilities. They asked: How independently are these teams operating? How practical is it that we could assume people could cross pollinate? How important is it that the expertise travel between these programs? And what they decided was, actually, not very much at all. Although we like to think about our work being connected from a day to day perspective, we really shouldn’t design a whole talent system around the need to float people across teams.

Dolph Goldenburg (18:27):

Got it. Let’s hit on ways of working, which to me sounds odd, as if it’s almost organizational culture types of things like: What are our values? How do we lead? How do we work?

Leslie MacKrell (18:38):

I would say it is those things and more. When we work with clients on this piece, often what we’re looking for is the few targeted things that would really boost performance. Operating models are high level, so it’s not solely an employee engagement initiative, a culture change initiative, a diversity and inclusion initiative, a remote working policy, or a way to solve an issue with one or two individual staff members. It’s not those things. Sometimes those conversations come up and we take a different path with those conversations. Organizations are comprised of people and you interact with each other all day long and you need some rules of the road so that you can collaborate with a minimum of friction and really prioritize the ways you need to be together for your strategy, not just because it’s nice to have.

Leslie MacKrell (19:37):

So one of the big things we talk about in ways of working is your decision disciplines. If thinking about how you make decisions feels useful to you, please just Google “Bridgespan decision behaviors.” There’s plenty there. The heart of this is that organization should be much more explicit about how decisions are made than they are typically inclined to be. For example, there’s the consensus approach. Or the participative approach, where folks have the chance to give input but then someone does decide. Or a more directive approach. Each of those decisions styles has their own day; there are appropriate circumstances for each one. But what we observe is that organizations tend to naturally have one but are a little bit inconsistent in it. So you may aspire to be a consensus organization, for example, but it’s consensus when everybody agrees and everybody knows who brings the hammer down when there’s not a consensus. Getting okay with talking about those things is really important because your strategy, how you execute your strategy day to day, is honestly just decision after decision after decision. And if your organization can’t make decisions well, if they can’t make them in time, if they can’t make them without heartache, then it’s very, very difficult to get good work done. We talk a lot about decisions in that box.

Dolph Goldenburg (20:55):

I’m so glad you’re talking about that. I will also share with you that a lot of the struggling organizations that I run into do not have a united decision making process across the organization. So the board thinks about it one way, senior leadership team another, middle management a third, and then the direct service team, frankly, a fourth. A lot of the reasons that the organization either is not moving forward or is literally moving backward is because there’s this ongoing struggle of each group saying, “Well, we can’t abide by this decision and here’s why.”

Leslie MacKrell (21:30):

Yeah, and there’s complexity there. It intersects with questions we’re all asking ourselves like: What is the changing way of the workplace? What does it mean to be more authentically sharing power in organizations? What does it mean to be a leader in today’s time? So it’s not an easy answer. But what we would say with our Operating Model Hats on is that you need to really honestly take a look at yourselves as an organization and say, “What do we need to be able to do well here?” And decisions is typically one of them. Actually talk about those types of decisions and say, “How do we intend to transparently approach these in the future so that it’s clear to everyone who matters, how these decisions get made, what their role is or isn’t, and that they are as objective as possible?”

Leslie MacKrell (22:11):

And to your point about the connectivity, the other piece that goes along with this is structure and accountabilities for really specific decisions. Let’s actually take the time to spell those out. So if you happen to look at our graphic later on, you’ll see a big green circle in the middle, which says “key decisions and capabilities.” The reason that’s right in the middle is because, if your operating model is working well, you can make your key decisions when you need to make them with clarity and you can deliver your key capabilities just as you need to without a lot of heartache. For example, let’s say one of the key decisions you have to make repeatedly is what school partners to place your afterschool program in. Let’s say you have to make that decision every single year, and every single year it feels like you are making it for the first time. So this year availability of transportation is important, but last year it was proximity to your headquarters and the year before that it was quality of partnership. So actually writing that decision on a piece of paper and saying, “Okay, school partnerships, let’s talk through who plays what role, what matters, how we can know we’re doing well, how we can track our performance” and doing that for a few of the really biggest pain points can get you a long ways.

Dolph Goldenburg (23:30):

It’s interesting because I think those organizations that are having to try to figure out that decision every year go through a lot of pain; it’s a painful decision and everyone goes through a lot of pain making it because they start from scratch every single year. And then they wonder why they argue about it every year.

Leslie MacKrell (23:46):

Every organization has those examples of, “Didn’t we just have this conversation?” or “I’m sorry, I thought I was making the decision. Oh, you thought you were making the decision. Oh no wonder our email traffic has been so strained on this topic.” So small things can make a big difference. I don’t at all want to leave the impression that an operating model is a big thing and it’s all or nothing. It’s definitely not. Putting your Operating Model Hat on when looking at any one part of your organization can lead to new answers. It can say, “Gosh, you know, in a vacuum I might’ve been inclined to just change this or that. But now I see there’s some connection here and we can make this whole system work better if we’re a little bit attentive to the knock on effects”

Leslie MacKrell (24:26):

So you might be looking at making a new executive team or changing the composition of your executive team. Side note- Bridgespan has a lot of great resources on executive team effectiveness. So if you’re in a lot of meetings with your executive team and you’re not quite sure what they’re for, I would encourage you to Google “Bridgespan executive team effectiveness.” Anyway, I’ve worked with teams who things are wonderful and the team is humming along and ready to make all these decisions. But somewhere in the back of the room someone says, “Well, I think I used to make that decision by myself.” So it’s important to think about the knock on effects of improving one piece and really trying to track them back to make sure you’ve cleaned up all the pieces along the way.

Dolph Goldenburg (25:02):

Before we get to the off the map question, let’s talk about enablers and then we’re going to move over to off the map.

Leslie MacKrell (25:07):

Okay, enablers is perhaps the broadest box in the framework. The spirit of it is: we all have these aspects of our business that are pretty common sense and pretty generic. For example, every organization needs to have performance management. Every organization needs to learn from itself somehow. Every organization has partners of one kind or another. Every organization has processes that they repeat month after month, year after year. So in an operating model context, we’re not trying to make each of those perfect. We’re not saying you’re going to have the best talent management system in the world or you’re going to have the best learning system in the world. But what we’re really asking, with our strategy lens, is: What’s the most important thing you need from these systems? For example, if part of your strategy requires you to grow quickly with the best possible programming, then maybe you need your learning system to be able to figure out what works quickly and be able to scale it to the rest of your sites.

Leslie MacKrell (26:04):

There’s probably a lot of things that would be nice to have in your learning system, but they are lower down the list. The priority becomes how to quickly share some new, amazing piece of information with the rest of your organization quickly. Or partnerships. There’s a lot of nice things we could do to have good partnerships, formal or informal. But if part of your strategy, for example, is partnering with advocacy organizations to take what you’ve learned in direct service and get it into policy work, you probably have to invest a great deal more in your partnerships than an equivalent organization who doesn’t intend to have an advocacy play does. So the spirit of enablers is: let’s not make the generic, best-in-class versions of these things, instead let’s be okay with being good enough in some areas and really, really prioritize the few things we have to do really, really well.

Dolph Goldenburg (26:52):

Got it. Well, Leslie, I got to save time for the off the map question. I think I’ve got a great one for you. So, Listeners, I think you know we do a little bit of research on all of our guests and sometimes we stock them a little bit. And I have heard that Leslie is a remarkably competitive person and that there’s some friendly competition that goes on in the Bridgespan office. And so I understand that you were the champion in your office. What is your champion title?

Leslie MacKrell (27:23):

Of all the work I’ve done at Bridgespan, this may be what I am most proud. I am the current title holder for Fastest Suitcase Packer. And maybe 30 seconds of context as to how would one even know if one were the fastest suitcase packer. It tells you a little bit about the Bridgespan DNA, too, which is even when we try not to be competitive, there’s a spirit of seeking the best and highest impact that we can’t get away from. So the context here is that Bridgespan, in the last couple of years, opened offices outside the United States. Part of the way we have prioritized our operating model and our ways of working is to move away from being so U.S.-centric in some of our scheduling. Not all the time, but sometimes our colleagues in Mumbai are still on the phone very, very late at night with us. as we try to bridge the time divide.

Leslie MacKrell (28:14):

And so this was when all of the colleagues in the U.S. for Bridgespan stayed at the office very late so that our colleagues in Mumbai could participate in a company-wide meeting at a time that was more palatable to them. So a great example of a ways of working that was from a global strategy commitment. So the question is, of course, how do you fill the time between 6:30pm and 10:00pm? So we devised Consulting Olympics, with a full set of really interesting games. One was Kick Slide Karaoke when we’d send someone into a room, put a random set of crazy slides behind them, and they turned around and had to present them.

Leslie MacKrell (29:00):

For another teams were given lists of obscure airport codes and they had to identify the long form names of these airports. We can’t help being sort of constitutionally nerdy in that way. And then another one of these events was a collection of random things, large and small, bulky and fragile, etc. that you had to pack into a carry on suitcase as quickly as possible. And so that’s where I chose to focus my unique talents. I know, Dolph, you do a lot of traveling, so I’d be curious what your techniques are. But for me, the secret was prioritizing getting really low to the ground. So not about looking pretty while packing, but rather just getting very low to the ground, very close to all the objects that need to be packed and just sort of scooping them bulldozer method into the suitcase. I don’t know how well they fared on the other side, but I applied my consulting toolkit and determined that was not part of the assessment of this exercise. What’s part of the assessment is getting them in, not getting them out. And so that’s how I think I’ve managed to keep hold of the title.

Dolph Goldenburg (30:06):

A couple of things. First of all, what was your time?

Leslie MacKrell (30:08):

I don’t know. I wish I could show you all the data. What does eight seconds mean in a vacuum? But I think it was sub 10 seconds.

Dolph Goldenburg (30:18):

Wow. That’s really impressive.

Leslie MacKrell (30:22):

It wasn’t pretty, right? It was not, it was not pretty.

Dolph Goldenburg (30:25):

Yeah, like you, I travel an inordinate amount, which is why I want to know what your technique is. I think this is probably going to be released in the spring, but we’re recording this in early November and I’m just about at a hundred thousand miles and I think I’ll hit somewhere around 125,000 miles of flight time this year. And that’s actually only on my primary airline; I’ve done a couple on American, so I know I don’t count those because they don’t count toward anything other than the fact that I had to get somewhere. Sad, but true. I don’t know about you, but I’m all about the packing cubes. I love the packing cubes. Also I have a travel set of everything. And so when I get home, stuff goes in the laundry if it has to go in the laundry and then just gets packed again. So it’s just ready to go. So the night before or the morning of I don’t have to pack because it’s all just there. But it also means I do a lot of ironing when I get there cause something might be folded for a few days before it ends up at the destination.

Leslie MacKrell (31:24):

I really like that tip. I’ve also gravitated towards a very indistinguishable wardrobe so that whatever happens to end up in there will never be unmatchable. Which is saves you when the shirt you grabbed in the dark isn’t quite the shirt you thought you grabbed in the dark.

Dolph Goldenburg (31:39):

A lot of people in the nonprofit world don’t travel every week for work, but they do two, three, four conferences a year. So I’ve actually thought about doing a blog post about how to make your travel just a little bit more pleasant. And it’s really simple things like take electric tape, a binder clip or a clothes pin; they’re all really small and pack easily. I’m a really light sleeper. So the smoke detectors in some hotel rooms have a little flash to them and then I can’t go to sleep. So I get out my electric tape and I cover it up. Or some hotel rooms have shades you cannot draw all the way and there’s a clip of light. So I get out my binder clip and I just bunch it all together and I clip it in. I’ve also seen people do that with the coat hanger that has the clips on the end for pants. So, yes, I’ve actually thought about doing a blog post on three or five things to take with you on your conference trips that will make the trip much better.

Leslie MacKrell (32:39):

I love it. I routinely find very small binder clips in everything, my jeans pocket, my bags, my coats, everywhere. I have definitely used them when hems on pants have fallen out. Just put one of those right in the back of your pants and, if your pants are dark enough, you can pop off the little silver sides and you can get away with it.

Dolph Goldenburg (32:57):

I never even thought about that. It would also work for like cuffs on shirts if you lose the button. Oh my gosh, that’s ingenious. I’m stealing that one. Thank you, that is a great idea. Leslie, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing great information with us about operating models and strategy and also thanks for sharing with us some good travel tips. I know, again, a lot of listeners are probably not on a plane every week, but they probably are every, you know, eight or 10 weeks. So thank you so much.

Dolph Goldenburg (33:27):

I know that our listeners have gained just tremendous insight from you. I want to make sure that they know they can go to Bridgespan’s website at While at that website, they can check out all of the resources that you talked about. So for example, executive team resources are at This article that we’ve been talking about on operating models is on So really folks should go. And while they’re there they can also sign up for your newsletter, which gets people high quality content. Now, I will share with you all, Listeners, that I’m not going to read in the URL for the article we talked about today, Operating Models: How Nonprofits Get from Strategy to Results, because it’s like a three line URL. What you can do is you can Google it, search “nonprofit operating model,” or you can go to the show notes at and we will link it there.

Dolph Goldenburg (34:18):

Hey, Leslie, thank you again.

Leslie MacKrell (34:20):

I really enjoyed being with you. Thanks for having me.

Dolph Goldenburg (34:22):

If you were just timing how quickly you could pack a suitcase and then doing it all over again to try to beat Leslie’s record, well give up, because you’re not going to get sub 10, you’re just not. Now, I can understand that you were so busy doing that that you did not write down Bridgespan’s URL. Sometimes I’m surprised, because it’s But anyway, if you didn’t write it down and you need to find it out, well here’s what you’ve got to do: just go to and you can get it on our show notes. Now, someone mentioned to me that I have not promoted the Successful Nonprofits® Facebook page in a while and so they encouraged me to give it a quick promotion. So here it is: If you’re on Facebook, mosey on over to Successful Nonprofits® and give us a like there. We do a good little number of updates so you’ll see more from us if you’re on our Facebook page. And if you love today’s show, hit the “subscribe” and “like” buttons on your streaming device. That’s our show for the week. I hope you’ve gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.

Dolph Goldenburg (35:25):

I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor The Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.


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