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May 4, 2011
Last Call: Get Answers to Your Thorny Benefits Questions
Join our team for the Nonprofit Employee Benefits Conference, this May 16-17 in New York to get answers to your questions and learn practical, resource-saving strategies. Register today! Conference workshops include:
Beneath the Halo
By Melanie Lockwood Herman
Author Duncan Watts’ discussion of “The Halo Effect” in his book, Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer led me to reflect on the halos that hover above nonprofit organizations. The Halo Effect is in essence a form of cognitive bias that alters our perception of people and things. The Halo Effect is in play when we assume the existence of certain traits or characteristics based on our observation of others. The term Halo Effect suggests that the known trait or characteristic is a positive one, but my hunch is that the opposite is true as well; we humans regularly attribute certain negative traits based on the observation of a negative trait. Recently I’ve been reading about this bias in the employment context. Research shows that hiring managers sometimes make many unfounded presumptions about older, shorter than average or heavier applicants.
I have to admit that I’ve allowed the Halo Effect to influence my perception of an audience. Many years ago I couldn’t help but notice a workshop attendee who appeared to be scowling throughout my presentation. I assumed he was both grumpy and unhappy with the content of the workshop or my delivery. When he approached me after the presentation I discovered that an apparent scowl can be misleading. The participant reached out to shake my hand, smiled broadly, and told me that it was the most helpful session he had ever attended.
The Halo Effect leads to inaccurate and unfounded impressions of both individuals and organizations. An organization with a charismatic leader is presumed to be well run. A nonprofit facing a lawsuit is presumed to be poorly run. A nonprofit with a large pass-through grant is presumed to have a bigger than average exposure to fraud. An organization that spends 30% or more on “overhead” is a black sheep in the nonprofit barnyard and its leaders are looked upon with scorn.
The fact is it’s awfully easy to allow our understanding of a few facts to lead us to believe that others may be true. And we fail to notice the bias of the “Halo Effect” in many corners of nonprofit life, from hiring staff to working with partners.
Consider the following ways to avoid the potential downsides of the “Halo Effect.”
Recognizing the potential of the “Halo Effect” to influence our perceptions and decisions is the first step in addressing a cognitive bias that can doom a prospective relationship before it gets underway. Every nonprofit leader brings biases to the table; learning to spot how biases lead us astray is a worthy goal.
Melanie Lockwood Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your ideas about any risk management topic, feedback on this article and questions about the Center’s resources at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or (202) 785-3891. The Center provides risk management tools and resources at www.nonprofitrisk.org and offers consulting assistance to organizations unwilling to leave their missions to chance. A limited number of hard copy versions of Melanie’s most recent books are available from our e-Store. If you’re interested in EXPOSED: A Legal Field Guide for Nonprofit Executives or Ready or Not…A Risk Management Guide for Nonprofit Executives, order today!
Don’t Despair; Reach Out!
Whether you’re trying to understand your nonprofit’s appetite for risk-taking, sharpen your risk management skills, build on success or avoid preventable losses, don’t hesitate to reach out the team at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center for assistance. We can support you in a number of ways, from helping you draft or revise risk management policies to designing custom training programs (on-site, virtual/webinar, or online). We also offer in-depth risk assessments, Enterprise Risk Management engagements, and advice and consultation on topics ranging from developing or updating youth protection policies, to strengthening governance practices. Why make the journey alone when you can partner with a team of nonprofit specialists who live and breathe nonprofit sector risks? Contact Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or call (202) 785-3891 to discuss your needs and learn how we can help.
Two New Educational Programs for 2011
The First Wednesdays program is a 12-part series of 60-minute live and recorded webinars covering a wide range of risk-inspired topics. The series continues on June 1, 2011 with a program on Insurance Coverage Q. Learn more or register.
The Third Thursdays program is a four-part series of 90-minute live and recorded webinars on human resource risk. Join us on Thursday, September 15, 2011 for the first Fall program on Top 10 HR Risks Facing Nonprofit Organizations. Learn more or register.
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© 2011 Nonprofit Risk Management Center