NLN13: Managing Complex Nonprofits with Dr Tuck Tinsley

4 Tinsley, Tuck 8-03 SmIn this episode of the Nonprofit Leaders Network Podcast series our guest is Dr Tuck Tinsley, President since 1989 of The American Printing House for the Blind (APHB) which is based in Louisville, Kentucky. The world’s largest non-profit organization creating educational, workplace, independent living products and services for people who are visually impaired, it was founded back in 1858.

Funded by an annual budget allocation of $25 million a year from Congress they provide services to almost 62,000 register students, have 144 ex-officio trustees covering those students in the fifty States and outlying areas, and an eleven strong Corporate Board. They also provide services to the Library of Congress and the IRS. In the interview we explore a number of the issues that managing such a very busy and complex nonprofit can present.

Here are some of the highlights from our talk:

Being Open to Suggestions and Scaling Impact

As an historic and long established organization largely run by educators, but working in a fast paced and changing field, we were very fortunate in 1997 to have been introduced to Toyota to see if they could help us with the production side of the business. They ‘adopted’ us as an organization and and for six years we had their process engineers here. That helped us see that whilst for many years we had been doing good work we were not that efficient, or innovative. So we examined, listened, learned and applied that. Our product offering went from ten in 1996, to twenty-one new products in 1997 and we have averaged eight-five new products in the last five years, to better serve our customers.

Dividing Responsibilities to Manage Fast-Paced Change

Last year we did a study which showed that the biggest change in education is technology, so it was essential that we developed and keep up to date an efficient technology strategic plan across all our thirteen specialist project areas including early childhood, tactile graphics, braille, low vision etc.

We now have a team that works to develop android and iOS programs, and integrate other growing areas such as You Tube etc. into our offering. We have also added into that a seed technology endowment to see if we can get donors to match some of it, and use that to underwrite some of the products and the research. That will be very beneficial.

Don’t Create Everything Inside & The Importance of Listening

We also learned from Toyota to really engage with and listen to our customers needs and ideas, just because we didn’t have the idea doesn’t mean to say we can develop and produce it. So we now go from a teacher saying “Hey it would be great if you could produce something that would do this” to identifying that need, developing a prototype to address that, pilot testing, field test and produce it. We schedule a review for five years to see if it’s still needed, or if it’s obsolete. These processes made a huge difference to how we operate.

It’s okay for nonprofits to use corporate methods and experience to help them be better nonprofits. The greatest feeling in the world is to hear the successes of those you’ve served through the things you’re providing for them.

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