Senior Design Partner

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Subscribe to  Sustainable Vision

matthew-thomas-2.jpgI am pleased to announce that after nearly six years as a Senior Consultant with Design Group International, I have now become a Partner in the company. 

I am grateful for the invitation from the other Senior Design Partners to join them in their work, and excited for the opportunity. I am grateful to my clients, past and current, for the trust and the ongoing learning I have enjoyed with you. 

For now, my practice is remaining largely as it has been:

  • working at the connection points between vision and implementation;
  • working to help organizations and their leaders get, understand, and act upon good data - whether financial or qualitative;
  • helping leaders analyze, strategize, and model their businesses for healthy decision-making;
  • working from a heart for doing good while doing well - with businesses, non-profits, and religious institutions;
  • and strengthening the overall capacity of our company network. 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Design Group International continues to be a firm committed to helping organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future. I am glad to be a part of that work!

If you are curious about the work we do, and how we do it, I would be happy to speak with you - via e-mail, phone, or in person. Feel free to e-mail me or call 1.877.771.3330 x20. For more about the work I do regularly, including the software certifications I hold, check out my Consultant Page. 

Here's to the transformative power of new beginnings!

Read More ›

Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

Why Organizational Design? Why Process Consulting?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

As a consultant, I am constantly aware of the need to polish my elevator speech for people I have just met. I say, elevator speech, but it's really elevator speeches. I think I have about four, and I pull those different speeches out depending on my assumed context.

matthew-thomas-2Sometimes I give the most generic answer, such as when I am on an airplane or in a waiting room: "I design financial strategy for businesses and non-profits." Other times, I use a contextual answer, such as at a conference with a particular demographic: "I help organizations like the ones represented here design healthy financial processes and strategy." Still other times, I just say, "I design processes for organizations to help them achieve their goals - particularly around finances." Rarely, I use the most direct, "I am a process consultant working in organizational design."

I have found that most people get confused or hung up on the terms "organizational design" and "process consulting." These two terms are at the core of what I do, but, as descriptive as they are, their definitions are not clear enough in the general population to make them reliably useable. And as circumlocution is antithetical to good elevator speech-making, and the specifics of the disciplines are often technical, and, well, jargon-y, this presents a challenge. 

Organizational Design is a process of developing the right structures, people, measurements, processes, and strategy to achieve business goals, non-profit mission or religious purpose. Good designers work at the intersection of strategy and implementation to assist enterprise leaders in building and connecting these components for success, as measured by the organization's end goals and sense of purpose. Designers see the organization as a means to other ends, and not as an end in itself.

Process Consultation, as applied to organizational design, introduces the consultant into an organizational system to facilitate a process of moving toward desired, stated ends. Process consultation is often useful where the outcomes of a decision are yet to be decided, but the process of making a decision is complex. Moreover, process consultation is ideally suited to adaptive change scenarios, where an organization, its leaders, and often the consultant must engage in new learning and then apply that learning to achieve the organization's goals. 

So why do I do organizational design? Why do I do process consulting? 

I do organizational design because I believe that many enterprises, be they businesses, non-profits, or religious groups, have greater capacity to achieve their goals and a much greater capacity to make the world a better place than they are currently able to because their organizational structures, culture, metrics and strategy prevent them from doing so. I desire to see organizations and their leaders achieve their full potential while making the world better for it. I am fascinated with how strategy interacts with idea generation, how learning is required for adapting to new conditions, and how different aspects of an organization interconnect to create the situation it finds itself in. 

I do organizational design through process consulting because I believe that most organizational issues are deeper than what a single product can provide an answer to. Enterprises that find themselves stuck in achieving their ends often require a process design more than a product design to achieve their goals. This process orientation helps enterprises make more solid and confident decisions and achieve the overall ends of healthy interaction both internally and externally. 

As stated on the Design Group International About page, "Design Group International is a home for experienced organizational leaders who practice the craft of process consulting." We are constantly seeking to expand our network of expert consultants and providers to provide deeper and broader range of services, wisdom, learning and results to our clients. 

If you think this might be you, click the button below to begin exploring process consultation work through Design Group International. 

I think Design Group International might be for me. Let's talk!

For more detail about the work I do through Design Group International, visit my Consultant page.

Read More ›

Topics: process consulting, Process consultation and design, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

Steward Leadership: Toward a Value Proposition for Denominations

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Anyone who has worked in a denominational system in the past few decades knows that denominations, by and large, are declining in their sheer numbers of members, congregations (and other affiliated entities), and revenue, to the place where the future of some of these denominations is in serious doubt. The statistics have been studied, and studied again.

Decline of this type inspires organizational development consultants to ask some basic questions about denominational life, in order to help the denomination create a sense of value and purpose beyond the decline narrative. This is the first step toward creating a value proposition - why someone should join, affiliate, give money, or otherwise connect meaningfully with the denomination. Since these people are likely not the people that are already connected, giving and otherwise affiliating, these people should probably be considered "outsiders." The questions of what might be important to people who are not denominational "insiders" are essential: because that is where the connection points to new growth can come.

Some of the questions we might ask would be:

Is the average person in the pew (or chair) conscious of the fact that they are part of a denomination? If so, what do they think of their denomination? What value do they see in it?

What does your denomination offer that would interest a church in affiliating with your denomination?

If you had an influx of new money, what would you do with it?

These are a few of the questions that help dig in and get at the core of denominational vision and value. Steward leaders know that the answers to long-term decline do not come in short-term programs, but in asking and working through the hard, deep questions that will help denominations adapt and change to new realities.

We are here to help.

Design Group International consultants work regularly with denominational entities at local, regional and national levels. How might we work together to begin to grow your organization? Click the link below to continue the conversation.

Read More ›

Topics: adaptive change, denominations, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, steward leadership

Non-Profit Governance: The Independence of the Board of Directors

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Recently, I read an article on entitled Above the law: America's worst charities.

There were several charities described in the article that were out-and-out frauds. For the rest, they all seemed to be missing one vital piece of good corporate governance: independent directors.

Independent directors, in a nutshell, are not part of the management side of the organization: the executive team, managers and staff. These directors have both the will and the capacity to say "no" to the CEO and define and determine what reports they will receive, and from whom, about the activities and life of the organization.

This does not mean that "independence" equals a permission-denying board, a micromanagerial board, or a board that bullies the CEO and staff. Those things aren't healthy either. Independence merely means that there is enough distance between the directors and the management (and managers) of the organization that the board can take a more objective view of the goings-on in the organization.

Many boards who have clear legal independence from management often still do not have the emotional or leadership capacity to maintain good governance because it creates dissonance in the personal relationships between board members and staff. This is especially true in strong founder-driven organizations, particularly where the founder is the CEO/Executive Director, or an E.F. Hutton type on the board. ("When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.")

Lesley Rosenthal, a contributor to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, puts it this way:

Board independence and board attention are of paramount importance in good nonprofit governance.  The independence of the board is key because of the non-distribution constraint – nonprofits exist to serve the public interest, not to benefit owners or other private parties.  Business or family relationships between the organization or its executives and a board member or her firm are frowned upon and should be strictly scrutinized under a conflict of interest policy administered by independent directors.  Even absent outright business or family relationships, a common shortcoming of nonprofit boards is that they are too small, too insular, or too deferential to the founder or chief executive.

(Full Article Here)

In short, non-profits (and churches fall into this category) must be careful to work toward a greater good than merely promoting a sectarian or special interest agenda, and a greater good than merely fulfilling their own vision for what they want. Churches and non-profits are always in the public eye - and often for the wrong reasons. Solid governance will help non-profits and churches become more known for the good they do than for the money, power, relationships and vision they waste. Steward leaders have hearts for doing that kind of good to move their organizations forward.

[See Also: Independent Voting Members of the Board | Corporate Governance and the Nonprofit Board of Directors]

At Design Group International, we are committed to helping organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future. Good governance is an essential piece of that transformation for many organizations. Click the link below to continue the conversation with us about how we might work together to help establish healthy, solid, independent governance in your organization.

Read More ›

Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Non-Profit Governance, independent board, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: Clergy and Taxes

Posted by Matthew Thomas

There is an IRS publication just to deal with how clergy and other "religious workers" deal with Social Security and other tax matters. This reflects both the uniqueness of the clergy tax position and the confusion that surrounds it.

There are really only five main items that clergy, board members and other steward leaders of congregations need to pay attention to.

  1. The clergy tax benefits only apply to licensed, commissioned or ordained ministers performing ministerial duties. The "ministerial duties" must fit within the usual and customary understanding of what clergy do: which, while broad, does have limits.
  2. Clergy are considered Self-Employed for tax purposes, but typically considered employees under the law. Therefore, most clergy do not pay FICA (social security / medicare) taxes, where the employer withholds a portion and the employee withholds a portion. Instead, clergy pay the full Self-Employment tax themselves.
  3. Clergy may be granted an income-tax-free housing allowance or parsonage - that is not exempt from Self-Employment taxes - up to the fair rental value of the house, plus utilities. This must be declared in advance by the employing organization or church. While this has been challenged recently in court, it seems that this exemption will continue to hold. However, it still only applies to just one residence.
  4. Clergy are exempt from federal withholding, and instead make their own estimated tax payments, unless they formally elect to do otherwise. This exemption from withholding does not indicate an exemption from payment, nor does it necessarily extend to other taxing bodies, such as states and municipalities.
  5. The honoraria a minister receives for weddings, funerals, special speaking engagements, etc., that are not a formal part of the minister's compensation, must be reported as self-employment income.

Steward leaders who pay attention to these issues will assist both their ministers and their organizations to take full benefit from the tax code, as well as save their organizations time in paperwork and administrative issues. Even with these tax advantages, clergy typically are paid less than other professions with equivalent education and experience. Churches and church organizations should take these tax advantages as an opportunity to be generous to those who work for them, rather than stingy - for instance, using the tax advantages to justify lower salaries.

For help working through clergy tax issues, contact Design Group International at the link below. We'd love to help!

Read More ›

Topics: Matthew Thomas, housing allowance, Design Group International, steward leadership

Links for Organizational Leaders - 20 August 2013

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Here are some articles that would be of interest to those in nonprofit leadership and pastoral ministry.

Fights in Family Business: how family dynamics play out in businesses. Churches run by a few families should also take note.

Rethinking Small Church: when small church is working, and when it's a sign of dysfunction.

What would happen if the church tithed? A dramatic look at the depth of potential resources for churches and other charitable organizations.

Who New CEOs Fire First: a study on who gets let go first, and why.

Increasing numbers of twenty-somethings are neither in work nor school. Here is a project attempting to wrestle with those issues. Check out Project Rise here.

Seth Godin's take on recent changes to Permission Marketing. For background on Permission Marketing, check out this page. Marketers, evangelists and, frankly, anyone trying to get their message out should read this, if they haven't already.

Read More ›

Topics: tithe, church, family business, stewardship, permission marketing, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Design Group International

Regular Blogging is Good Stewardship

Posted by Matthew Thomas

A lot of people have been asking me recently how I write so much for this blog - and why I write so much for this blog. Today, we will look at the "why."

For me, a blog is a way to begin, continue, or extend a conversation. Conversations are the basis of much of my work in helping organizations transform for a vibrant future. Conversations of the sort we have here on this blog help people discover new angles on dealing with issues they may face in their organizations or professional lives.

Those of us who make our livelihood in the business of helping people and organizations always want to have something to offer others when we have the opportunity to converse with them. Blogging is good stewardship because not only does it help keep conversations "live" that are currently going on with those we are helping today, but it also provides an archive resource for conversations we are likely to have down the road as others we encounter stumble upon the same issues.

Blogging is a low-cost method of engaging an audience - often much more low cost than traditional advertising. Writing on a blog, with appropriate use of promotion through e-mail lists, social media, and search engine traffic, can be one ofthe most cost-effective ways of communicating with a group of people that you want to converse with - whether for business, religious, personal or other reasons.

People who work hard to have something genuinely helpful to say to their target audience on a regular basis find that they gain name recognition as they build business, reputation, and content over time. This can help all sorts of endeavors - business and otherwise - to grow and build a robust content library, without having to do it all at once.

If you are interested in learning about how to set up a regular blog, feel free to contact me directly at or by filling out an inquiry by clicking on the link below. If you are able to make blogging to communicate with your usual audience a core part of your workflow, you won't regret it in the long term.

Read More ›

Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, steward leadership

Steward Leadership Challenges in Local Redevelopment

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Detroit's recent bankruptcy filing placed the issues many declining municipalities face directly in the public eye. Detroit's experience is a large-scale and extreme example of what many cities, towns, and other municipalities face as their population and revenues begin to decline:

  • The need to increase revenues and/or reduce city services to maintain fiscal health
  • The breakdown of institutions - both governmental and non-governmental - that provide key services and the capacity to attract and retain businesses and residents
  • Increase in crime
  • Tough negotiations with public employee unions when contracts renew in times of economic difficulty
  • Declining property values that promote more renting over home ownership

In many cases, the budget cuts that inevitably come end up creating a "not my job" scenario: for example, a resident visits a municipal office for some basic service, and ends up on the receiving end of some embittered speech by the office worker as to how they can't do something because they are understaffed and the person who used to do that doesn't work here any more, or now only comes in on Tuesdays or is on vacation and no one else knows how to do their job. While the employees' frustrations are very understandable, as is the low morale of wondering who might be next (an organizational anxiety!), this begins to occur more and more broadly across the city, and basic helpfulness and basic services begin to fall through the cracks.

The downward spiral continues: those residing in, and doing business with the city begin to wonder what exactly their tax dollars are paying for - whether personal income, property, sales, use or excise taxes. It appears to them that government has abdicated its governance responsibility. This embitters residents against their own city, and it becomes a place where newcomers are greeted with a cynical, "Why do you want to live or work here?" Those who get out, do. Those who stay are stuck due to lack of other options. Most are not genuinely invested in where they live.

The depression becomes palpable.

Nevertheless, municipal redevelopment - breaking the spiral of depression and decline - is an issue of steward leadership. This steward leader's challenge is working with deeply-entrenched, defensive systems within the city system that often believe they have a right to what they used to have (or have been able to hold on to up to this point), and are willing to throw the overall good (as well as other departments) off the bus to maintain their position. Often, leaders must please those interests to get elected, which just reinforces the insitutional defensiveness, silos, and turf wars as various parts of the organizational chart alternatively cooperate with "our guy" while dragging their feet when dealing with "their guy."

The steward leader, then, in that context, has to do several things at once:

  • Offer hope and vision without pollyannas or panaceas
  • Exhibit fiscal prudence while re-engaging public employees and residents in serving the community for the common good
  • Making certain basic municipal services are maintained
  • Building institutions (governmental and non-governmental) that can carry the weight of making the municipality an attractive place to live, work and visit.
  • Re-engage the government in the practice of good governance.

This is, by any measure, a significant challenge. Steward leaders who work in these contexts often feel isolated and have trouble seeing over the edge of the trench they are dug in to in their municipality's latest institutional battle.

Design Group International is interested in convening steward leaders to work through the issues that challenge them together, as cohorts. Seeing what succeeds (and what fails and why) in others' contexts can help leaders gain insight into their own context.

Interested? Click the link below to continue the conversation.

Read More ›

Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: Why Clean Financial Reports are Essential

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Let's face it: setting up and maintaining an accounting system, tracking expenditures and revenues, determining value of assets and basis for taxes - these things don't really seem like a whole lot of fun to many leaders. Nevertheless, clean, up-to-date finanical reports are an essential part of good stewardship.

Why is that?

  • Clean finanical reports reduce waste. If you know how much you are spending, you can give some level of control.
  • Clean financial reports reduce the risk of fraud. If you have people taking a careful look at the books on a regular basis, it's less likely that people with access to your finances can do something nefarious.
  • Clean financial reports are the best way to create projections and plans. Without solid, current numbers, enterprises are flying blind when it comes to estimating where financial growth or pinch-points will be.
  • Clean financial reports are a dose of reality. We leaders can often deceive ourselves into thinking that our organization is doing better or worse than it is. These numbers help to bring reality to bear.
  • Clean financial reports spot problems. Clean reports allow leaders to see small problems and address them before they become significant.
  • Clean financial reports keep you legal. Clean reports make sure that tax payments are made in full (and help with on time, too), and make sure that statutory requirements for organizations are met. Moreover, if legal questions arise as to your organization's or business' use of funds, the reports help to provide backing for what you actually did.

How clean are your reports?

If you would like to find out, we can assist you with a Financial Health Assessment. Click the link below to begin yours today!

Read More ›

Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, budget, Design Group International, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: Combating Anxiety in Declining Organizations

Posted by Matthew Thomas

If the organization you serve is old enough to have had "glory days," and those days aren't now, then you probably serve an organization that has experienced decline (even if it is currently plateaued or growing). 

Decline creates a potent draught of emotions that, among other things, has a strong component of anxiety. Fear for a positive future often sets in when people realize that there aren't as many people as before, isn't as much money as there was in previous budgets, or the building doesn't look quite as fresh as it used to be.

Setting aside for now the denial and blame that often crop up when these things become, for the first time, obvious to the organization, anxiety often rules organizations that see their best days as behind them. They have trouble seeing a positive outcome and future that does not involve loss, pain, and grief.

Anxiety often leads to control mechinisms that move the focus off of mission and onto management. This tends to compound the problem, although it looks like people are taking steps to deal with the situation.

So what can we do?

Here are four options:

  • Acknowledge the anxiety and the reality of what drives it. This allows it to come out in the open, and then people can begin to deal with it. This may involve breaking a few eggshells that people are walking on, so do this with grace.
  • Be decisive. Clear-headed confidence (without hubris or overconfidence) can often bring security to people who are ruffled by anxiety. Dragging out decisions and waffling will increase anxiety.
  • Create a plan. Be strategic, looking for big-picture capacity to change. Don't just solve the immediate problem.
  • Give people something to do. Large or small, when people are working on something, they don't have as much chance to go around in mental circles.

Do you have more ideas? Share them with us. Click the button below!

Read More ›

Topics: church, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Nonprofit Organization, Design Group International, steward leadership