Helping board members resign with dignity

first 90 daysOn Tuesday of this week, my blog post titled “The executive director’s first 90 days” focused on what the new CEOs and boards should do during those crucial first few months. That post took me for a walk down memory lane to when I was a new executive director embarking on new and exciting challenges.
While it isn’t always the case, sometimes a new executive director finds themselves walking into a challenging situation. After all, there are reasons why people leave their place of employment and those stories aren’t always ideal. In extremely challenging circumstances (e.g. someone ran out the door or they were chased out the door), I guarantee you that the issues don’t just reside with the person who left. There are typically board issues related to the resignation or termination.
For example, in the case of embezzlement . . . you usually can’t just point at the embezzler. There is likely issues with oversight and internal control policies.
One of the best practices I mentioned in Tuesday’s post was that new executive directors should meet individually with every board member within their first 90 days.
One of the more common issues with which many new executive directors are faced (especially when going to work for an agency with little organizational capacity) is having the “wrong people” sitting around the boardroom table. The challenging question many new CEO’s find themselves asking is:

How can we tactfully ask well-intentioned board volunteers
to find a different seat on the bus?

As I reflected back upon my first 90 days (more than 14 years ago), I remembered that my board had 20 volunteers on the day they hired me and within my first three months nine board members resigned.
easy way outNow this didn’t happen because I smelled bad or people disliked me (at least I don’t think so). It happened because of how I approached my individual meetings with board members. Here is what was on my agenda:

  1. Introduce myself and talk about my background
  2. Engage board member in discussion on the “state of the agency
  3. Ask board member on where they see the agency in 3 to 5 years
  4. Share with the board member where you think you will need their help (e.g. their board roles & responsibilities, their role in fundraising, etc)
  5. Ask them to get more involved and in specific projects

When I had these discussions, those board volunteers, who weren’t a good fit for serving on the board, saw the handwriting on the wall. I didn’t have to tell them to get off the board. A simple, straight-forward conversation centered around expectations and vision was more than enough.
In most situations, it was only a few weeks after our meeting that a resignation letter was inked. Reasons always varied. Here are a few that I remember:

  • Work responsibilities won’t permit commitment of time necessary to serve on the board
  • Not willing/able to commit to fundraising responsibilities
  • Time commitments in personal life (e.g. caring for a sick relative)

In each instance, we celebrated the volunteer’s service. We engaged them in a discussion about finding a different seat on the bus that might be a better fit for them. It was respectful and graceful.
Now this approach isn’t always effective, and sometimes it isn’t appropriate.
For new executive directors, are there other approaches you might suggest with regards to giving good people an easy way off the board? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and ideas. We can all learn from each other!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

How to avoid groupthink in your non-profit boardroom

Kool-Aid, Groupthink and Generative Governance

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
groupthink2There have been multiple things that have happened in the past week that have made me re-consider the phrase “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
The first was a Board that was exploring introducing a new funding model. The Board, who had been on the inside of a discussion of culture shift for the past year and were familiar with the materials and the arguments, briefly considered not building the organizational culture to introduce the considered change because they “didn’t think it was a big deal.” And it wasn’t a big deal to them because they’d already changed the culture among their group. They’d been thinking about it and reading about it and interviewing other groups that had already implemented the change and there was consensus among the group that it was the right direction for their organization.
Yet… even when there is agreement on the board, there is still the need to create buy-in among others. Without buy-in the potential for failure is high unless all constituents understand the need for change and the foundation is created to implement that change.
The second thing is, in fact, an illustration of just that. The second thing was a local commission’s decision to put forth a levy in the midst of a scandal. They weren’t wrong. They had done their homework, and looked at the issues and put forth a solid plan to introduce change. It failed, primarily and among other things because even though they had a plan to introduce the change and the leaders of the city were behind them, they didn’t have the informal community leaders on board and those leaders didn’t sell it to their constituents.
My intent is not to criticize any of these leaders. Each was in a difficult position and after considering all the options, made the decision that they felt best served their organization, their community and their constituents. That is the very definition of good leadership. Another component of good leadership is to learn from our mistakes and missteps. To that point, we need to ask:

What could have helped? What might have made the difference?

I believe the answer is generative governance. Let’s review how some of the techniques offered in my favorite board book “Governance as Leadership” could have made the difference.
groupthink3Silent Starts — Set aside 2 minutes for each trustee to anonymously write on an index card the most important question relevant to the issue at hand.”
What if a board or commission member had written: “How can we engage community and committee leaders as well as those in informal leadership positions who could, in turn, engage their constituents?”
One Minute Memos — At the end of discussions give each member 2-3 minutes to write down any thoughts or questions that were not expressed.”
This could have been a great opportunity to consider the worst case scenarios and create a plan ensure against such eventualities.
Counter Points — Randomly designate 2-3 trustees to make the powerful counter arguments to initial recommendations.”
This could have been used to dispel all the arguments against the change. From that discussion, marketing materials, talking points and an engagement plan could have been created.
Role Play — Ask a subset of the Board to assume the perspective of different constituent groups likely to be affected by the decision at hand.”
A board member could have taken on the role of a member of the community who would be the most negatively impacted by the change and a plan could be created to embrace those constituents and mitigate their impact.
Breakouts — Small groups counter group think and ask: Do we have the right questions?  What values are at stake? How else might this issue be framed?”
This is my favorite of all the techniques offered. It is the best way I’ve seen to get out of your head, out of the room and really consider all the ramifications of the discussion on the table from all the possible perspectives.
Let me be clear. I wasn’t in the room for any of these discussions; these are my assessments from afar. My intent is not to be a Monday morning quarterback. My intent is always to see if there is a lesson to be learned and how a different outcome might have been achieved. Could generative conversations have made the difference?
When it comes to group think and drinking the Kool-Aid, I try to never forget a church sign I once drove past; it said “Don’t believe everything you think.”
What’s your experience with group think and drinking the Kool-Aid? Do you agree that generative governance could be the answer?  How have you mitigated the effects? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.
A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

The executive director's first 90 days

bright eyed bushy tailedBright eyed and bushy-tailed. I love those two descriptions because they perfect describe most newly minted non-profit executive directors. They are eager, optimistic, and ready to change the world when they walk through your agency’s door on their first day of work.
It is at this point that I’ve witnessed many exhausted board volunteers collapse because the first day for the new executive director typically represents the end of a long executive search process. Of course, the reality is that the first 90 days are perhaps some of the most crucial days for the new executive director and the organization.
As I reflect back upon my experience 14-years ago, I now recognize how lucky I was to have been hired by an agency that belonged to a larger national organization (e.g. Boys & Girls Clubs of America). The board simply pointed me in the direction of the regional office, and they signed me up for “New Executive Orientation”. There were pre-training worksheets that walked me through an assortment of activities geared toward hitting the ground running.
But what if your agency doesn’t belong to a national organization? What should your new executive director’s first 90 days look like?
Without getting into a very tactical answer to this question, here are a few big picture activities both the board and the new executive director should look at engaging in:

  • The board needs to develop a written (and measurable) 90 day performance management plan for the new CEO
  • At the end of the first 90 days, the board needs to evaluate their new employee against the written performance management plan and issue another written management plan focused on the remainder of the year
  • The new exec should schedule one-on-one meetings with every board member to talk about the following: 1) where do they currently see the agency and 2) in what direction do they think the agency should be moving
  • The new CEO should be meeting in-person with the agency’s top 25 or top 50 donors to get their perspective on where the agency is and where it should be going
  • The new executive director should meet in-person with each of the agency’s key stakeholders and collaborative partners
  • Back home at the office there is much to do including: 1) reviewing all grants (esp grant deliverables), contracts, audits, recent financial statements, and written organization plan and policy documents including bylaws and 2) getting to know operational staff and learning programs
  • The board needs to plan a party and introduce their new executive director to the community

exhaustedExhausted yet?
Well, these six bullet points are only meant to be a big picture view.
If you are looking for something more tactical and detailed, I ran across a great document online from NAMI titled “The First 90 Days: The New NAMI Executive Director’s Guide“. I think this is a great resource to help new executive directors hit the ground running. It is definitely worth the click.  😉
What has your agency done to help its new executive director hit the ground running? Please use the comment box below and share your thoughts and opinions. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Two of the most common non-profit board questions ever asked

How Many Board Members Meeting? How Often?

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
boardsize4The two questions I get asked on a regular basis are “What is the right number of board members?” and “How often should our board meet?” The answer to both is the same: whatever it takes. You should have the number of board members you need who meet as often as necessary to get the job done.
While, it’s true, I appreciate that it’s not that helpful.  When I serve as an Exec, my preference is boards of 24 members who meet monthly. I also like a range of board members to be included in the by-laws; 18-30 is my favorite.  For me, it allows the access I need and the number I need to move the agency forward, but doesn’t hold us back if we have an excellent prospect and a full slate. I have primarily run smallish to mid-size social service agencies with budgets from $250k-1.4M, with 3-5 committees, some which had 1-3 sub-committees that allowed non board members to participate. I can see why it’s a lot for board members and also execs…yet, the goal is to meet as often as you need to get the job done.  All of our jobs as leaders is to do what’s best for our agencies.
boardsize3There has been some movement in recent years toward boards meeting less often with committee meetings in between. Some boards meet every other month. Some boards (mine obviously) meet monthly and their committees do as well. Some boards meet quarterly.
I’m not a big fan of quarterly board meetings. They usually require a powerful executive committee to meet in between, which I believe alienates other board members. Powerful executive committees, who have the authority to act in lieu of the full board, take the majority vote and make it minority rule. Let me demonstrate: 24 board members with an executive committee of four officers and five committee chairs need a majority of that group to make decisions. This means that five people, which is 20% of your board, are making the decisions.  If you don’t have committee chairs on the executive committee (and many agencies don’t), you are down to 3 people deciding for the board, just over 10%.
Meeting quarterly also serves to ensure your board members aren’t plugged in enough. They miss one meeting; they miss six months of information. Finally, I am not convinced quarterly meetings are often enough to maintain fiduciary responsibility. Three months later may be too late to get your arms around a budget issue or a program problem.
boardsize2Still, as I stated at the beginning, only you can decide what the best model is for your organization. I offer some questions for you as you consider the right number of meetings:

  • Do you have enough time to complete the work of the board?
  • Are your meetings so rushed that generative and strategic discussions don’t happen, even when included on the agenda?
  • Do your board members feel confident they know what is happening?
  • Is the meeting schedule your board follows forcing, either by choice or need, your executive to do the work of the board?
  • Is your executive missing opportunities because she cannot get board approval?
  • Is your current schedule an effective model for your organization or merely convenient for its members?

The question of Board size is also all over the map. Some agencies have very large boards, which in and of itself becomes a problem to manage; 50 board members is a lot to track, communicate with and engage. Alternatively, some boards are very small and govern enormous agencies with multiple programs operating in a variety of locations. This can lend itself to the executive overstepping her role.
boardsize1Again, only you can decide what the best model is for your organization.  I offer some questions as you consider the right number of members:

  • Is the number of members forcing, either by choice or need, your executive to do the work of the board?
  • Do you have committees of one and, if so, are they effective?
  • Are there committees you cannot introduce or board work you cannot accomplish because of lack of members?
  • Do your members feel so overwhelmed that it is driving disengagement?
  • Do you have a formal board development plan to attract, train, evaluate, recognize and renew board members?
  • Is your current number of members an effective model for your organization?

How many and how often may very well lead to all the other pieces of board development and board engagement falling into place. They’re great questions and great place to start.
How have you answered the questions posed in this post?  How many board members do you have and how often do they meet? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions. A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

Who is showing up to your non-profit board meetings?

Decision are Made by those who Show Up

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
showing upMy community had a paltry 10% of eligible voters turn out to vote on Election Day. My neighbor said that any vote that didn’t have at least 40% of the eligible voters voting should be thrown out. But, of course and for good reason, it doesn’t work like that. Elections – and most other things – are decided by those who show up.
Now you may be thinking: “That’s nice Dani, but this is a nonprofit blog. What’s this got to do with non profits?” Everything; it works the same way for agencies. Many states ban proxy voting and require email votes to be 100% unanimous. Assuming you have a quorum, the decisions made by the board will, primarily, all be made by those in the room.
That means it not only matters who you elect to serve as Board members, it matters which of them chose to show up to meetings. It’s hard enough to figure out how a large group of smart people are going to vote; it’s even harder if you don’t know who will be in the room. As such, you need to know who’s planning to attend every meeting.
Good Execs do their homework before the meeting and usually know how people are going to vote before the meeting begins……which doesn’t ensure they will do so.” (Board Meetings Gone Wrong) Even when you do your homework, and think you know how they will vote, a parking lot conversation can change someone’s mind.
The foundation for ensuring you have the right people in the room starts long before a board meeting is scheduled. It starts and also ends with the Board Development Committee.
When you are recruiting new prospects, unless you are willing to change the meeting time, those who tell you they cannot come to the meetings should not be considered as board members. Most agencies already carry one or two board members who consistently miss meetings; don’t add to that count.
The agenda that is set should also reflect, to some degree, the behavior of those expected to be in the room. This is most applicable to consent agendas. When you consider if a consent agenda is right for your board, consider the board members who most often attend. Do they typically read materials in advance or in the room? If they read them in advance, consent agendas can allow more time for robust generative discussions. If they read them in the room, they may not have time to read all the materials and may be voting on things about which they are not entirely clear. If that is the case, consent agendas can create issues of liability for your agency.
If you don’t have enough board members show up, the ones that do will not have their votes counted if you do not have a quorum. Quorum issues are the best indicators of disengaged board. As mentioned in Engaging the BoardIf you have consistent issues with having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I recommend you take a look at how your board was built and how it is being developed.
Finally, it behooves you to consider removing disruptive or disengaged Board members. For instructions on how, click here. It is a difficult option to consider, but each of our roles in nonprofit leadership requires us to do what’s best for the organization. If the work of the board becomes focused on defending or covering for an inappropriate board member, other more relevant work is not being accomplished.
We can’t always control who shows up, but we can control who is invited to serve.  If we build the board intentionally and thoughtfully, it is far more likely that those who show up have the capacity, the wisdom and the experience to appropriately govern our organizations, and our organizations have the resources, impact and reach to change our world.
What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

What does your agency's committee system look like?

Board Work via Board Committees

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
committee1Appointed or elected community leaders govern an organization. As outlined in my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership  and summarized in The Role of the Board, the Fiduciary Mode is where governance begins for all boards and ends for too many.  I encourage you to also explore the Strategic and Generative Modes of Governance, which will greatly improve your board’s engagement, and also their enjoyment.
At a minimum, governance includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent
  • Raising Money and
  • Setting Policy

Committees are how the work of the board gets done. The committees, their structure and definitions will be outlined in your organization’s by-laws, which in Ohio are called Code of Regulations.
The by-laws will also dictate if committee chairs and committee members must be board members. I recommend that the chairs be board members but that committee membership not be limited to only board members. Committee work is a great way to build the bench of a board, see how someone works and it they are a good fit for a future board position. Most organizations have a requirement that Board members serve on at least one committee.
Committee members are responsible to the full Board for the research, work, framing of the issues and recommendation in their assigned area.  There are a minimum of three committees I recommend as “must haves,” which are Board Development, Resource Development, and Finance Committee.
There is often also some version of an Executive Committee and there may be other committees as well. Let’s review each.
Executive Committee
The Executive Committee is usually the four Officers (President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary of the Board) or the Officers plus the Committee Chairs.  Less often, Executive Committees have members at large.
Executive Committees can sometimes make decisions in lieu of the full board. This will be clearly stated in the by-laws. I generally recommend against this. In fact, other that in emergency situations when I think they’re critical, I generally recommend against the Executive Committee meeting on a regular basis.
Powerful Executive Committees tend to disengage the remaining board members. It allows the few to operate without the whole. Anything that contributes to board member disengagement works against the agency’s success and should be avoided.
Finance Committee
committee2The Finance Committee, chaired by Treasurer, works with the appropriate staff in examining the financial reports, understanding and monitoring the financial condition of the organization and preparing the annual budget. The Treasurer presents the monthly financial statements to the Board at each board meeting. This committee also selects an audit firm each year and reviews the audit plan, audit and 990, which should be signed by the Treasurer prior to submission.
As it is sometimes considered a conflict that the committee that monitors the books also manages the auditor selection, it is considered a best practice to have a separate audit committee.  If this is not feasible for your organization and as auditing firms are independent of the agency, this conflict can be mitigated by bidding out your audit and changing your auditor every few years.
Resource Development Committee
The Resource Development Committee works with the CEO, the senior development staff, if there is one, and the Board of Directors in developing strategies to identify and secure needed resources and funding to support the operations of the organization. The Committee is responsible for creating and executing a plan to raise money. The full Board is responsible for introducing their network to the organization, attending events, financially supporting the organization and encouraging other to do as well.
Board Development Committee
The Board Development Committee is concerned with identification of new Board members and the development of the future leadership of the Board. The Board Development Committee helps develop an effective Board through its two main functions:
Board Building:  A diverse board of directors (thought, skill, race, faith, ability, orientation, age, and gender) that is passionate about the mission of the organization is created through a Board Building process.
Board Education:  Board members will fully understand and effectively fulfill their commitments to the Board of Directors when a comprehensive orientation, continuing education, annual evaluation and recognition process is in place.
With the exception of a functioning Executive Committee, the Board Development Committee is usually the most powerful committee of the Board.  It is often the only committee that you can’t just volunteer for but must be invited to join.
Other Committees
Some Boards also have program committee, human resource committees and a variety of other committees.
The Program Committee is responsible for the program side of the Board’s fiduciary responsibility. They focus on how the programs tie to the organization’s mission, what they impact, how that impact is measured and the number of people who are served in those programs.
The Human Resource Committee is responsible for the development and recommendation of the personnel and other relevant policies, the creation of a salary adjustment plan and the framework for the CEOs evaluation.
A Word of Caution
committee3I recommend caution when creating committees to do the work of staff. It gets very confusing as to who is responsible for what and responsible to whom. If Board members are acting in staff roles, the Executive Director retains the authority for decision-making. If the Board members are operating within the scope of their roles, the Board has the authority for decision-making. Conversations had in advance can help you avoid role confusion and the overstepping of boundaries.
Do you agree with my three “must have” committees?  What else do you recommend? What is your experience with committee work? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.
dani sig

What is your agency's case for doing some planning?

planningAs someone with two degrees in planning, I catch myself all the time with my non-profit clients explaining that the solution to their problems is that they need a plan. It might be a strategic plan, resource development plan, or board development plan . . . but oftentimes I am amazed at how many times failing non-profit agencies just haven’t invested in creating plans.  I mean, come on folks! Who hasn’t heard the old expression, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail“?
In recent years, my point of view around planning has evolved slightly. I now believe there is a time and place for planning. When there is too much chaos in the external environment or too much internal crisis or turnover, planning is at best a wasteful exercise and at worst can contribute to the problems at hand.
Of course, I still bristle when I hear board members say something like:

“I don’t want my agency engaged in planning. In the end, all that happens is the plan gets put on the shelf to collect dust. We need less planning and more doing!”

When I hear statements like this, it is usually indicative of:

  • an agency without a culture of planning
  • staff without an understanding of how to engage a board
  • board volunteers without an understanding of implementation tools
  • a board who doesn’t manage or evaluate its staff
  • an agency that is either standing still (best case scenario) or in crisis (worst cast scenario)

When trying to make the case for engaging in some sort of planning activity to a board of directors, I typically talk about “roles and responsibilities” of the board of directors. As you might imagine, this approach is usually met with yawns and eye rolling.
However, I recently found a blog post by Nell Edgington titled “5 Ways Great Strategy Can Transform a Nonprofit” while clicking around on a LinkedIn group dedicated to strategic planning for non-profit organizations. It was in that post I think Nell makes a much better case for planning that might be better received by resistant boards.
Here is what she says:

“People and organizations that make large gifts to a nonprofit are in effect investing in the future of that organization. And if you can’t articulate your future plans in a thoughtful, compelling way, funders won’t make that larger investment.”

So, what has been your sales pitch to your board when trying to convince them to roll up their sleeves and engage in some planning. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Resolving to do things different in 2014 at your non-profit

5 Things Non Profits can Strengthen in 2014

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
2014 resolutionsAs I’m sure you aware by now, I like to reflect back on things that have occurred and create a plan to avoid their reoccurrence.  As such, I’ve been thinking about things our field can do to be stronger.
1. Build Better Boards
You’ve seen me write it before and it’s still true, everything flows from the board. Weak boards hire weak leaders who manage weak agencies. Sometimes it goes the other way, weak boards hire strong leaders who do whatever they want because the board is asleep at the wheel. Neither contributes to effectively governed agencies.
Strong boards hire strong leaders who build strong agencies.
For more information on building strong boards, please see previous posts on board development.
2. Create Succession Plans
Agencies that have great leaders need to plan for that leader’s transition as much as agencies with weak leaders.  In fact, and among other things, one of the signs of a great leader is the strength of the agency once they’re gone.
Whether your exec gets fired, wins the lottery and moves to Jamaica, or retires after decades of excellent service, your board will need a plan to hire a new leader.
The Anne E. Casey Foundation’s Building Leaderful Organizations  and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Nonprofit Executive Succession Planning Toolkit, offer a comprehensive look at planning. Each may be much broader than you need, but both can help you figure out what you need.
3. Build Capacity
Most agencies and most leaders, even and especially the ones that are great, can continue to build their capacity. Whether you have experienced tremendous growth, have a new leader, have downsized and now want to rebuild or if you just want to increase your strength, capacity building is the way to go.
Some larger national organizations have proprietary capacity building tools. If you are a part of a national organization, ask if such a thing has been created. If it has, use it. If it hasn’t, suggest it is.
For those of you who are standing alone, The Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Organizational Capacity Assessment tool is the best and most comprehensive I have seen. “It is a self-assessment instrument that helps nonprofits identify capacity strengths and challenges and establish capacity building goals.  It is primarily a diagnostic and learning tool” that was designed to help agencies serving low income communities.  Even if your agency has nothing to do with that community, this tool can help your agency be stronger.
4. Consider Mergers
There are lots and lots of organizations out there, some doing very similar work with very similar values.  If your agency is struggling, is strong or you have a leadership transition, it might be a good time for your board to consider merging with another organization. The decision may be no, but it is an option worth putting on the table.
Again, some larger national organizations have merger tools. If you are a part of a national organization, ask if such a thing has been created.  If it has, use it. If it hasn’t, suggest it is.
For those of you who are standing alone, I encourage you to reach out to your local community foundation or local nonprofit resource center for assistance.  Here are a few links for your consideration:
Bridgespan’s Nonprofit M&A: More Than a Tool for Tough Times
Wilder Research’s What do we know about nonprofit mergers
And from the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a report with the same title What do we know about nonprofit mergers.
The larger our field grows, the more we will compete for limited resources.  Can we be stronger together?
5 Get Better at Communicating with Donors
I am consistently surprised by the way some non profits communicate with their donors, or don’t, as the case may be. Here are some questions for you to assess your donor communication practices:

  • Do donors receive a formal thank you note, on letterhead, that includes the amount of their gift within 48 hours of your receipt of their gift, regardless of the gift amount?
  • Does it include the appropriate IRS language?
  • Does someone call to say thank you to your largest donors?
  • Does your Exec or a member of your board call those donors periodically to update them on the agency’s activities?
  • Do you have a gift acceptance policy?
  • Do you have a development plan?

If the answers is no to any of these questions, that is a great place to ramp up your practices.
For more information on resource development, please see previous development posts and Donor Dreams, for which I also blog.
The non profits in my community and communities across the country and the world are moving the needle on the issues they exist to impact.  With on-going assessment, the implementation of best practices and constantly striving to be better and do better we can continue to make our world better.
How do you think we can best strengthen our field?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

The most important non-profit board responsibility

questionsOver the last few months, I’ve found myself doing a lot of boardroom trainings on the subject of “Board Roles & Responsibilities“. When facilitating this training, there are two different slides talking about the board’s collective responsibilities and the other illustrates individual board members’ responsibilities. Listed on both slides at the top of the list is the responsibility of “asking questions“.
At the end of tonight’s training, I went out for a nice steak dinner, but one thing stuck in my head and nagged me all night.

Is the list of roles/responsibilities in a particular order? If so, could it be that ‘asking questions’ is the most important of the responsibilities?

So, I tried to think of other responsibilities that might be more important:

  • Fundraising & securing resources
  • Connecting others to the agency’s mission
  • Advocating and talking about the agency throughout the community
  • Making sure laws and regulations are followed
  • Planning

While these aren’t all of the responsibilities of a non-profit board volunteer, it certainly is a good number of them. In the final analysis, all of these roles/responsibilities are important, but I honestly don’t see any of them as important as asking questions.
questions2Of course, we aren’t talking about asking questions that lend themselves to micro-management of staff. Here are just a few important questions that good boards ask:

  • Where is this agency going? What will it look like in 5-years? 10-years? 15-years? 20-years?
  • Is our organizational mission still relevant? What should it be?
  • What are our shared values?
  • What are our goals?
  • What are the community’s needs and gaps that the agency strives to address?
  • Are we using donor dollars in the manner we promised?
  • Is the agency achieving the program outcomes it promised to donors?
  • Is the organization structured in such a way to achieve what it needs to achieve?
  • Why are we doing what we’re doing? Is there a better way?
  • Do I have a conflict of interest? What should I do to mitigate my conflict?
  • Is this ethical? Is it legal? Even if it is, will supporters view it as otherwise?

rubber stamp2I tried to picture what a non-profit board might look like if it didn’t ask questions, and these words all came to mind:

  • rubber stamp
  • disengaged
  • Enron
  • WorldCom
  • Tyco

Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve tackled this subject from a number of different angles. Here are just a few posts I’ve written on the subject of asking questions:

I dunno! What do you think? Are some non-profit board responsibilities weighted more heavily than others? If so, where does “asking questions” rank?
If board members need to collectively and individually get better at asking questions, how do you train for that? Or is it something you recruit for?
Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Is your non-profit designed for performance?

Fighting the Physics

By John Greco
Originally published on April 9, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
performance7Grab a piece of paper.  Make your best paper airplane.”
And the management workshop immediately takes off!
Okay, let ‘em fly!
Some take flight spectacularly.  Others not so much.  This usually causes some guffaws, and some good natured ribbing.  I generally pick one of the more “flight-challenged” ones —
Okay, Bill, come on up to the front of the room.  Here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to fly your plane right down the center of the room.  Aim right for Debbie, right at her! and have it land on the table right in front of her.  Can you picture that?  Be positive.  You can do it!  Okay, keep the vision of that flight in your mind, and let it fly.”
The airplane generally goes anywhere but down the center of the room.  Debbie is momentarily relieved.
Bill; let’s try again.  You can do this!  I believe in you.  Remember the vision?  Right down the center of the room, right at Debbie.  But this time, let me give you a quick training lesson.  Hold your airplane a third of the way from the point, between your thumb and forefinger.  Flex your elbow, pull it back, envision the flight, and then advance your arm and release.  Okay, try it.”
The airplane again goes anywhere but down the center of the room.  Debbie starts to realize she has nothing to fear.
Okay, Bill, let’s get serious.  I’ve got twenty dollars here (as I pull a twenty out of my pocket) and it is all yours if you simply fly your plane down the center of the room, right at Debbie, and have it land right in front of her.  Envision the flight, use the technique I showed you, and think of that twenty.  Okay, go!
The airplane now goes … not down the center.  And not by Debbie; she’s pretty relaxed and smiling now…
Alright Bill.  (My tone has changed.)  “Bill, I told you I believe in you, and still do, but this is your plane to fly.  I asked you to envision your plane flying down the center, to Debbie.  I trained you.  I even motivated you with a twenty in cash.  I’m running out of patience.  I need you to fly your plane down the center of the room at Debbie.  Or else.  Do it.”
Nothing different; no improvement whatsoever.
I don’t understand.  I believed in you Bill.  I helped you envision success.  I trained you.  I motivated you.  And then I threatened you.  And now I need to fire you…
performance8Often in these sessions, after one or two unsuccessful flights I see the “pilot” start adjusting the paper plane: a different fold there, a bending of the wings, sharper folds at the point…  When I see this, I react —“Whoa!”  What are you doing?”
Adjusting the plane so it will fly better.”
Hmmm.  Yes indeed.  Adjusting the plane to fly better.
Paper planes — and organizations — fly as they are designed.  Their performance is fundamentally by design.
And when we want a certain type or level of performance from a paper plane or organization that is not designed to produce that performance, we are in fact “fighting the physics.”
Fighting the physics is what we do when we expect results from a system that has not been designed to produce those results.  It reflects an ignorance of cause and effect; it points fingers and places blame on the people in the system instead of the design of the system.

  • We fight the physics when we expect teamwork while rewarding individual achievement.
  • We fight the physics when we encourage innovation while emphasizing sacred cows, third rails, and CLMs (career-limiting moves).
  • We fight the physics when we expect speed and responsiveness in customer service while structuring multiple layers, enforcing centralized decision making and requiring formal communication channels.
  • We fight the physics when we expect efficiency while not investing in repeatable processes and enabling technology.

Now; there’s nothing wrong with positive thinking; research supports the benefits of a positive mental attitude.  Research also supports how envisioning an outcome can help actualize the vision.  No doubt that when we have a skill or knowledge gap, training makes a difference.  Incentives, be they monetary or otherwise, certainly do get our attention.  As do threats.
But if the organization plane was not designed to fly down the center of the room and land in front of Debbie, no amount of positive thinking, envisioning, training, motivation, and threats will fundamentally and substantially improve it’s performance.
Fighting the physics always results in the physics winning.
Debbie is safe.
We are not.
john greco sig