Boards Gone Wild: Part Two

Last Friday my post titled “Boards Gone Wild” appeared to garner a lot of attention. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, I encourage you to go back and do so. For those of you without much time this morning, the quick synopsis is: the Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO) is in crisis and four major board members (also are major donors) have resigned.

Since last Friday, my local newspaper — The Courier-News — ran another article about the situation. I am re-visiting this issue today because Courier-News columnist Jeff Ward is a former director of fundraising and raises a new set of questions worth discussing. The following section from Ward’s column is what got me motivated to do this:

“As for you, Mr. Cain — fix this. You’re the leader, so start acting like one. Stop making excuses. Using contingency funds to pay operating expenses, a mass exodus of staff and board members, and disappearing donors are all really bad signs. And this kind of thing always starts at the top.

If for some reason you can’t lead the ESO out of this, then step aside in favor of someone who can. The fact that you can so easily ‘dis’ your former staff while Roeser continues to contribute to the ESO after his departure speaks volumes.”

In a nutshell, Ward is saying that holding staff accountable for the situation is only part of solution. He suggests that the board president, Jerry Cain, also needs to be held accountable.

Well, let me go a step farther and ask . . . “shouldn’t the entire board be held accountable?”

The problem with this idea is that outside of the local newspaper, the only other stakeholder group that can bring any sense of accountability to the situation is LOCAL DONORS.

So, what do you suppose would happen if the ESO’s top 50 donors decided to flex their “investor muscles” by organizing an impromptu donors conference focusing solely on solving the problems at hand? I’ll bet that every ESO board volunteer and staff person would be there taking notes and asking how high should they jump.

Of course, the problem with this idea is that donors don’t typically organize themselves into groups and instead only act individually. However, in this instance, there is a person with the charisma and chutzpah to pull this off. I can almost hear that intermission announcer saying: “Paging Mr. Seigle. Please report to the donor services desk.”

(Note: For those non-Elgin readers, Mark Seigle is one of the AWOL board members mentioned in the two Courier-News stories and one of the most charismatic and feisty donors in our town. According to the Courier-News, he is also our local “lumber magnate”. LOL)

So, if anyone out there in cyberspace is listening (or cares), here are two additional suggestions to what I put out there in last Friday’s blog post:

  1. Go back to the written board development plan and policies, sharpen your pencils, and start adding accountability policies and practices to that document such as: a) annual board member evaluations, b) scorecards/dashboard focused on ‘organizational health’ metrics published and update monthly on your website for all donor-investors to see, and c) an expanded finance committee and a resource development committee that includes donor participation (not just board volunteers). More ideas and metrics are available in the “BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2010
  2. Don’t just look at going down the typical strategic planning road. Use an organic planning model such as the Search Conference. Click here to learn more about the book that is a blueprint for this approach. Click here for a synopsis and an impressive list of corporations who have benefitted from this approach. I love this planning model because it is inclusive of all organizational stakeholders (e.g. board, staff, donors, ticket holders, community leaders, etc).

I know you are all very busy people, but would you please take a moment this morning to weigh-in using the comment box below.

How does your organization add accountability elements to your board development efforts? Have you ever seen major donors spontaneously organize into a donor summit? What do you think about the Search Conference planning model and its potential for bringing other stakeholders (e.g. donors) to the table to help plan and solve problems? What is your prescription to fix the situation that the ESO finds itself in?

We can all learn from each other. Please weigh-in with your thoughts.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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