Is your board of directors exceptional?

exceptionalOn Tuesday evening I found myself sitting in front of a group of board volunteers as well as prospects who were contemplating joining the board. What started off as a routine training about basic board roles and responsibilities morphed into a discussion about what makes an exceptional board.
According to BoardSource and other non-profit experts, the following principles go into making exceptions boards:

  1. Effective partnership between the board and its executive director
  2. Asking questions and engaging in respectful debates and discussions
  3. Strategic thinking and vision-focused discussions integrated into board meetings
  4. Mission-focused and driven with the agency’s mission infused throughout everything it does including fundraising, decision-making, etc
  5. Transparency in everything the board does with the community understanding all of its decisions
  6. Independent minded with conflicts of interest constantly being identified and mitigated
  7. Measuring the agency’s impact and ensuring that outcomes are achieved
  8. Life-long learners sit around the boardroom table and relish evaluation opportunities and want to learn how to do things better
  9. Focused on how to engage all board volunteers in securing more resources and linking the organization’s strategic plan to its budget
  10. Intentional in all of its actions including establishing the size of the board, committee structure, and other various governance questions
  11. Integrity rooted in an ethics policy, oversight and audit
  12. Planned turnover in the boardroom supported by thoughtful recruitment efforts

Do you think these things define an exceptional board? Is anything missing? What are the more difficult things to achieve on this laundry list?
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 it good that you're running your non-profit like a for-profit business?

Running your Non-profit like a Business?

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
successI cannot tell you the number of people over the course of my 20 years in non-profits that either congratulated me for running my non-profit like a business and went on to tell me non-profits should be run like a business. I never knew what to say. Thank you?
It seems to be one of the true disconnects that proves my often repeated phrase “where you sit always determines where you stand.”
For those of us who have spent our careers in non-profits, we hear it as an insult that implies businesses are better run, even though there is ample evidence to the contrary. For those who were raised in the for profit sector, the comment acknowledges that some non-profits are run by well-intentioned but poorly trained leaders, and it is meant as a compliment. The compliment being that the Exec watches the bottom line and is accountable, professional and transparent.
We want, need and demand that our non-profits be accountable, appropriate and transparent. However, we also want them to meet mission. Perhaps, that’s the disconnect. Businesses have no mission.
missionNon-profits have to manage the budget AND meet the mission.

  • We expect them to meet the needs of clients in an equitable manner.
  • We insist they spend money the way it was awarded and budgeted. When that isn’t possible, the Board or the funder approves the change.
  • We expect staff to be held to the same standards, and paid similar salaries for similar work.
  • We count on our Executive Directors to be responsible to the Board, and the Board to be responsible to the community.

Now that I own my own business, I can tell you that the checks and balances inherent in running a non-profit are much more stringent than those needed to run a small business. As a business owner, I can pretty much, within the bounds of the law, do whatever I want. I have no Board to report to, or to hold me accountable. It’s my company. I started it. I make the decisions and it lives or dies with me. That is the structure of a small business. That is not the structure of a non-profit.
board5Non-profits are not run by one person for a reason. The Board represents the community as the owners of the organization. The organization exists to meet a need. Businesses, which also address needs, exist to make money.
This is the real crux of my beef with non-profits being run like a business. When they are, the Exec leads and the Board is an after-thought; often because the Board was built that way by an Exec that wants to run the non-profit like a business. The Exec sets the direction, and tells that Board what she or he feels they need to know, and the Board accepts that. There is a lot of rubber stamping and very little governance. In such cases, the Board only becomes engaged when there is a crisis. That was not the leader I aspired to be, and not the Board I built.
I want more from our non-profits. I want them to meet the level of accountability our communities expect and deserve. I want them to meet their missions. I want them to have an engage Board and innovative leadership and to move the needle of change in their community.
As always, I welcome your feedback and your experience.
dani sig

Do the 'engagement equations' govern your non-profit?

Doing the Math; Not Necessary!

By John Greco
Originally published on March 9, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
math1“I regard it in fact as the great advantage of the mathematical technique that it allows us to describe, by means of algebraic equations, the general character of a pattern even where we are ignorant of the numerical values which will determine its particular manifestation.”
— Friedrich August von Hayek

Say what?  Algebraic equations?  Where might this be going?!?
Here goes:  we can equate certain actions, or conditions, or results — without applying numerical rigor — and yet produce a meaningful, insightful, valuable answer.

I’m going to attempt to do Friedrich proud…  While my finance, accounting, and engineering friends might cringe, I am going to pose a couple of equations that I think are incredibly meaningful in describing organizational life, yet they require no calculation whatsoever.  I call them my “engagement equations.”
First up:  Involvement = Commitment. 
The general idea here is that as we involve people in diagnosing and solving problems, their commitment to carrying out the resulting course of action grows stronger.  Hence, more involvement means increased commitment.
That’s the proactive application of the equation.  The reactive application might be when we see low commitment, we should suspect low involvement.  And the prescriptive:  if leaders want a more committed workforce, they should first seek to involve the workforce in diagnosing why there is low commitment!
Bottom line, we can equate commitment with involvement and be pretty confident it’s not a false equivalence.
I promised two, so next up:  Performance  = Freedom.
This one’s about the length of the leash.  It prompts us to consider that when an individual or team is performing well, we should allow them more space, more autonomy, more freedom.  We might get even more performance …
And, of course, there is the flip side:  when performance is slipping, more attention might be warranted.  Narrow the range, focus on the action.
math2(I feel compelled to counter a possible negative perception of this last point by noting that isn’t it a very good thing if a manager sees when an associate or team is struggling, and at the right time and in the right way enters the picture and provides just the right amount of help to get back on the right track?  Less freedom is not always a bad thing!)
Shifting our attention to the other side of the equal sign, freedom — autonomy — when earned by performing, can move performance to yet another level; and when there is no freedom, it might very well be thecause of the lagging performance, and not the effect.
Before I close, I can’t help but point out a bit of irony I see when looking at these two engagement equations together…  One says “come closer, get involved” whereas the other suggests “I should leave you alone; you’re good!”
And what about the synergy?  Involvement equals commitment can driveperformance, and performance equals freedom can enhance commitment!
So there you go, my “engagement equations” … which, honestly, factor into a lot of my work when seeking to improve organizational effectiveness.  And I thought I’d never apply that algebra class in real life…
math3I look forward to seeing the ones that you’ve run across!
Lastly, in closing, one more — a bonus! — a pretty well known non-mathematical equation, presented in song! from none other than Sir Paul McCartney and his Beatle buddies —
And, in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.
john greco sig

Is your strategic plan collecting dust on a shelf somewhere?

strategic planning implementationIf I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it hundreds of times . . . non-profit board volunteers and staff hate strategic planning. Why? The reasons are all over the place, but some of the more popular reasons given are:

  • there is no time to go through such a time intensive process
  • the world around us is too chaotic and constantly changing to invest time in planning
  • it will just go on the shelf and collect dust

When I hear things like this, I can’t help but hear my third grade niece in the back of my head saying, “Really? Seriously?
It boggles the imagination to think that very smart people cannot figure out why their strategic planning efforts typically end up on the shelf collecting dust. Usually, when I ask people to speculate about why this happens, they often can’t come up with a good reason and just chalk it up to their belief that planning doesn’t work.
Well, here is a hint:

Take a good, hard look in the mirror and you’ll find your answer.

Too many of us treat the planning process as an end, but in reality it should be treated as the beginning.
The following is a list of mistakes that contribute to ineffective strategic planning efforts:

  • not aligning your agency budget with your strategic plan
  • not creating committee work plans (or committee charters) with the plan
  • not linking the executive director’s annual performance plan with the strategic plan
  • neglecting to develop tools such as dashboards and scorecards to monitor implementation
  • not aligning your other organizational plans with the strategic plan (e.g. board development plan, resource development plan, marketing plan, program plan, etc)
  • not including discussions about parts of your strategic plan on the board meeting agenda
  • neglecting to engage key donors in a conversation about implementation of your plan

So, what is the solution? Quite simply . . . start aligning your strategic plan with everything you can (e.g. budget, performance plans, committee work plans, agendas, etc).
If you are looking for a few external resources on this subject, you may want to check out the following:

What has been your experience with strategic planning? Is there anything you’ve done that helped your agency maximize its implementation efforts? Please share your thoughts and experiences using the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Scandal, crisis and abusing your non-profit brand

crisis2Sometimes I think the universe speaks to us, and lately it has been begging me to write this blog. Over the last few months, I’ve spoken with a good handful of non-profit professionals who have shared stories of scandal and crisis that would make your toes curl. These stories have ranged from incidents on the front line that made the local newspaper to outright embezzlement.
The tipping point for me was last week when I was visiting a client and prior to the start of our meeting a board volunteer brought up the name of William Aramony.
Now before I proceed let me say that a number of my United Way friends are rolling their eyes right now. I can almost hear them saying, “Come on, Erik. Give us a break. Do you have to tell that horrible story again? It is so 20th Century and stuff for the history books.
crisis3For the record, I agree with my United Way friends. If you don’t know about William Aramony, what you need to know for this blog post is:

  • He was an iconic CEO of United Way of America
  • He was accused of wrongdoing
  • It was a national news story for a long time
  • He ultimately resigned and served a little jail time

The details of the scandal aren’t important here. What is important is that this scandal occurred in 1990, which is more than 20 years ago. Heck, Bill Aramony died in 2011. But this story has legs as they say in the news industry.
The board volunteer who raised the specter of Bill Aramony last week did so almost as if that news story had just happened recently.
I am trying to make the following points:

  1. People have long memories
  2. Donors are often not very forgiving
  3. Scandals can do long term damage to your brand

Perhaps, I am a cynic on this subject, but I believe that all non-profit organizations are likely to experience scandal at least a few times in their organization’s life span. There is bound to be an incident where accusations are made and lawsuits are filed. When you deal with employees, there is likely going to be a messy HR issue from time to time.
I think Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said:

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

So, what should a non-profit do to prepare itself?

  1. You should have written policies designed to minimize your liability and exposure.
  2. You should have plans designed to help guide your agency through crisis (e.g. crisis communications plan).
  3. You should review yours plans and policies every year.
  4. You should be sitting down with your top donors every year just to touch base and see what they’re thinking.

Plans & Policies
crisis1You can probably spend the rest of your life writing policies, but let’s not get carried away. Here are a few questions I suggest you ask as you start going down this road:

  • Do you have a criminal background check policy when it comes to your employees, volunteers and board members?
  • Do you have policies pertaining to the safety and security of your clients?
  • Do you have policies that address the subject of injuries?
  • Does your organization utilize technology? If so, do you have policies addressing the use of technology?
  • Do you have an employee handbook or employment policies?
  • Do you have a written crisis management plan? If so, do you review it often with staff and clients? (e.g. fire drills, etc)
  • Do you have a crisis communications plan?
  • Do you have appropriate insurance coverage? How do you know? How often do you review it?

I suspect you have some of this in place and the rest is on a to-do-list somewhere.
This is not work for your board to tackle. It is committee work. If you don’t believe in standing committees of the board, then it is task force work.
But the bottom line is that it is WORK. Work to develop them. Work to regularly review them. Work to monitor them and assure compliance.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work because it only takes one good crisis or scandal to do series damage to your non-profit brand.
If you don’t believe me, go ask your local United Way executive director to tell you about William Aramony. Just be prepared to get an earful.  😉
Has your organization (or another one in your community) ever had to dig out of a big hole created by crisis or scandal? If so, how long did it take? What did you do to reset the playing field? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Does your non-profit board sometimes do the opposite of what it wants to do?

Jerry’s Trip to Abilene

By John Greco
Originally published on March 15, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
abileneThat July afternoon in Coleman, Texas was particularly hot — 104 degrees according to the Walgreen’s Rexall’s thermometer.  In addition, the wind was blowing fine-grained Texas topsoil through the house.  But the afternoon was still tolerable; even potentially enjoyable.  A fan was stirring the air on the back porch; there was cold lemonade; and finally, there was entertainment.  Dominoes.  Perfect for the conditions.  The game requires little more physical exertion than an occasional mumbled comment, “Shuffle ‘em,” and an unhurried movement of the arm to place the tiles in their appropriate positions on the table.   All in all, it had the makings of an agreeable Sunday afternoon in Coleman.  That is, until my father-in-law suddenly said, “Let’s get in the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria.”
I thought, “What, go to Abilene?  Fifty-three miles?  In this dust storm and heat?  And in an unconditioned 1958 Buick?”
But my wife chimed in with, “Sounds like a great idea.  I’d like to go.  How about you Jerry?”  Since my own preferences were out of step with the rest, I replied, “Sounds good to me,” and added, “I just hope your mother wants to go.”
“Of course I want to go,” said my mother-in-law.  “I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
So into the car and off to Abilene we went.  My predictions were fulfilled.  The heat was brutal.  Perspiration had cemented a fine layer of dust to our skin by the time we arrived.  The cafeteria’s food could serve as a first-rate prop in an antacid commercial.
Some four hours and 106 miles later, we returned to Coleman, hot and exhausted.  We silently sat in front of the fan for a long time.  Then, to be sociable and to break the silence, I dishonestly said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?”
No one spoke.
Finally, my mother-in-law said, with some irritation, “Well, to tell you the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here.  I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going.  I wouldn’t have gone if you all hadn’t pressured me into it.”
I couldn’t believe it.  “What do you mean ‘you’all?”  I said.  Don’t put me in the ‘you’all’ group.  I was delighted to be doing what we were doing.  I didn’t want to go.  I only went to satisfy the rest of you.  You’re the culprits.”
My wife looked shocked.  “Don’t call me a culprit.  You and Daddy and Mama were the ones who wanted to go.   I just went along to keep you happy.  I would have had to be crazy to go out in heat like that.”
Her father entered the conversation with one word: “Shee-it.”  He then expanded on what was already clear:  “Listen, I never wanted to go to Abilene.  I just thought you might be bored.  You visit so seldom I just wanted to be sure you enjoyed it.  I would have preferred to play another game of dominoes and eat the leftovers in the icebox.”
After the outburst of incrimination, we all sat back in silence.  Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who — of our own volition — had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go.  To be concise, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do.  The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.

— Jerry Harvey,  The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management.

abilene2My first exposure to this story was as I was unknowingly about to experience it…
Three colleagues and I were all out-of-towners in Memphis for business.  After a stressful day at work we had just had a nice dinner.  While leaving the restaurant Don suggested “You guys want to continue our discussion while we drive around Memphis a bit?  Jude responded with a lukewarm “okay;” I said I’m up for it, even though I was tired and wanted some down time.  Then mild-mannered, soft-spoken Laura chimed in with “sounds like we might be taking a trip to Abilene …”
I didn’t get the reference.
Thankfully, Don knew exactly what she meant, and we went back to our respective hotel rooms for the evening.
The lesson never has left me.
That might be because I have since seen teams of smart and committed people going on their own trips to Abilene… and some of these teams included me.  None of them, quite obviously, included Laura.
Yes; I have been in Abilene-bound meetings and I have been on Abilene-bound teams.  Have you as well?  Have you seen some of these trips being taken, and perhaps you might admit your participation as well? … Odd, isn’t it?
Odd, unsatisfying, and unhelpful.
There’s a powerful social dynamic at play here.  I need to bone up on what exactly that is, but, for now, I just know that I do not want to take any more trips to Abilene.
I need to take a trip and find Laura… or, I need to become Laura.
john greco sig

You need more women in your non-profit boardroom!

rosie the riviterLast week I was out to lunch with two male non-profit friends in downtown Chicago when the topic of women board volunteers came up. This happens from time-to-time, and when it does I always bite my tongue because I tend to have strong opinions on this subject. So, I took a deep breath and prepared for what I assumed was going to be one of those “difficult and uncomfortable conversations“. Boy oh boy . . .was I wrong (and pleasantly surprised).
Let me start by explaining what I mean by “I have strong opinions . . .” The fact of the matter is that my opinions are sexist (at least I think they are). When I am engaged in conversations about non-profit board development and I’m feeling bold, I like to say, “If you want lots of discussion in the boardroom about what ‘should’ happen, then recruit a lot of men to serve on your board because they will talk a subject to death. If you want something done, recruit some women because they are the ‘do-ers’ of our society.
A good friend of mine would respond to this by saying, “All generalizations, including this one, are incorrect.
So, I usually shy away from sharing this opinion because:

  1. It feels like a sexist thought
  2. It has gotten me in trouble in the past and sparked heated discussions
  3. The “all generalizations” comment is usually right on target

Let’s fast forward to my lunch conversation in downtown Chicago last week as I prepared for a lunch discussion that I assumed was going down the wrong road.
The first words out of one guy’s mouth were positive and progressive. He shared a story about the women on his board being extraordinarily active and engaged. The other guy talked about wanting to develop what used to be called in the old days a “women’s auxiliary” (and he was calling a Women’s Board). As I shook my head in amazement at the surprising turn this conversation quickly took, the most amazing thing happened. One of the guys validated what I keep referring to as “my sexist opinion” by pointing to research data that he just read about in the OpEd pages of the New York Times on October 23, 2013.
I couldn’t believe my ears, and I asked my lunch partners to please forward me that editorial column.
It arrived the next day in my email inbox. It almost looked like that one special Christmas present that you most prized and treasured as a child (and in the spirit of A Christmas Story read this as me saying that email was the equivalent of an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle).
The editorial was titled “Twitter, Women and Power,” and it was about the all male boardroom at Twitter, which was just a few weeks from launching its IPO on Wall Street.
I strongly encourage everyone who has any role in your non-profit organization’s board development to read this article. It is definitely worth the click! However, for those of you working with very little time today, here are a few of the major points from the article:

  • Domestic companies that have women board members earn a higher rate of return on invested capital
  • International companies with women on their boards earn a surprisingly higher amount of operating capital
  • During the recent government shutdown, it was our nation’s female legislators who were at the forefront of brokering a deal

After reading this New York Times editorial piece by Nicholas Kristof, I now feel empowered enough to admit that I think women are better fundraising volunteers than their male counterparts. (Uh-oh . . . that little voice inside my head is telling me to shut-up again.)
Does your agency have enough women in the boardroom? How does your board development committee ensure gender balance? What has been your experience on this issue? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and opinions.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Finding the right non-profit board prospects might be harder than you think

strategic thinking2Sometimes I hear something that hits me just right, and it takes days to get it out of my head. This happened on Tuesday during the Fox West Philanthropic Network’s Philanthropy Day luncheon. The keynote speaker, Dani Robbins, was talking about the different modes of board governance and the importance of facilitating more strategic and generative discussions in the boardroom. Doing so will result in a more engaged board.
Easy as that! Right?
Well, that little voice inside my head started screaming at me. It was saying, “Whoaaaaa! Can strategic and generative discussions be done with any old board members? Or does it take a certain type of board volunteer?
So, I raised my hand and interrupted Dani’s keynote address. (Sorry, Dani!)
I was half expecting her to say that everyone is capable of engaging in these higher order discussions. I was also expecting her to put the responsibility back on the person(s) who facilitate those boardroom discussions to get the most out of the diversity of people sitting around the table.
However, I got an unexpected answer.
strategic thinking3Dani suggested that board volunteers who are “strategic thinkers” will have an easier time making the transition from traditional fiduciary modes of governance to more strategic and generative modes.
I suspect this means for many non-profit organizations, who want to make this adjustment to governance, that some thought needs to be put into adding more strategic thinkers to their board recruitment prospects lists.
Once I arrived at this conclusion, I got a mental picture of a committee meeting with board governance volunteers going through their prospect identification and evaluation exercises focused on finding strategic thinkers. As this mental picture became clearer, lots of questions flooded into my head including:

  • What does a strategic thinker look and sound like?
  • Where do strategic thinkers live, work and play?
  • How easy will it be for board governance committees to do this work, especially when most committees (in my experience) shortcut the cultivation and evaluation process and go straight from identification to recruitment?

As I normally do when issues like this start bothering me, I open up my internet browser and go to Google.  😉
I quickly found myself reading a post on CEB Blogs titled “5 Characteristics of Strategic Thinkers“. Here are those characteristics:

  1. Open yourself to perspectives from multiple sources
  2. Incorporate both logic and emotion into your thinking
  3. Seek options beyond today’s reality
  4. Question both the familiar and the to-be-determined
  5. Accept open issues

strategic thinking1If you’re scratching your head while reading this list and asking “what does THAT mean,” then click the link and read the CEB Blog post. It really is quite good. If you want to learn more, then I suggest you start Googling around.  😉  You also might want to click here and start with this interesting Wikipedia page on strategic thinking.
Let me bottom line what I’m thinking for you this morning.

  • This isn’t as simple as changing some of the criteria in your gap assessment tool
  • These characteristics are more subtle than questions of age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, fundraising experience, etc
  • Only people who know or work closely with board prospects know whether or not they are strategic thinkers, which puts a spotlight on who is serving on your board governance committee
  • Identifying strategic thinkers for your board recruitment process will require more time spent cultivating and evaluating prospects and less jumping straight from identification to recruitment

What is standing in your agency’s way of transforming its boardroom discussions from fiduciary to more strategic and generative modes of governance? What are you doing to over come those obstacles? Is your board governance committee approaching its job differently when it considers this question? If so, how?
Please use the comment box below to share your thought and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Crazy non-profit board meetings and some advice for board volunteers

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month (or Thursday as is the case this month) about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on 

Board Meetings Gone Wrong

By Dani Robbins
regretsBoards meetings can quickly go from productive to destructive in any number of ways. The following are just a few lessons I’ve learned throughout the years and thought board volunteers might benefit from reading:
The morning after is too late
I cannot tell you the number of times in my career that a Board member has called me the morning after a board meeting appalled by something the Board voted to approve the night before, at a meeting they themselves attended. I can absolutely tell you the number of times those very same Board members have voiced their objections in the room: zero!
The next morning is too late. If you do not like the motion that is on the table, it is not only your right to object out loud and on the record, it’s your obligation.
Sometimes individual Board members come up with wacky (read: dangerous) ideas. When those ideas become motions that get seconded is when they go from wacky to possible. Motions that have no second die, and so do the ideas that spawned them.
Motions that are seconded prompt the chair to call for a discussion. If you are uncomfortable with the motion that is on the table, I implore you to speak. Silence is acquiesce. It is usually too late (and much harder) to address something after a vote has been concluded.
hell3When you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there
No written agenda — or an agenda that isn’t followed — practically guarantees a long, meandering meeting that will only serve to frustrate those in the room, but won’t accomplish much beyond that. It’s also likely that such a meeting will not produce formal votes or minutes that capture what the Board has committed to accomplishing.
No strategic plan works the same way. In the absence of a plan, you will have a lot of people working on a lot of things that may or may not align because the Board has not articulated and voted upon a formal direction.
If everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge
Boards elect Chairs to be in charge (of the Board). It’s awkward and feels weird the first time you chair a meeting, but the weirdness will pass when you begin to lead. However, not leading guarantees the weirdness moves in and sets up shop.
It’s the forth Tuesday at 4; let’s meet!
Don’t have a Board meeting if you have nothing to talk about. If there are no committee reports and no business for the Board to address, cancel the meeting.
At the end of the day, there’s no accounting for crazy
The easiest way to avoid crazy in the board room is to not let crazy on the board. A Board Development plan and a formal process to elect board members will weed out inappropriate board prospects, before they become inappropriate board members.
meeting1Time of Death: 2 hours after we started talking about this
Discussion that seems to be spiraling can be stopped by two of my favorite phrases:

  1. Let’s call the question” which in Board speak means enough talking, let’s vote.
  2. Let’s send this back to committee.” This phrase, when used by the chair, is a declarative statement that the board meeting has devolved into a committee meeting. When used by anyone other than the chair, it is a prompt to the chair that the discussion has gone on too long. In either case, there should be a vote, reflected in minutes, that the motion was be tabled pending the committee’s review and consideration of the issues raised.

What’s the Executive Director’s role?
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.
If a meeting goes off track, Execs can:

  • stall by whispering the potential negative impact to the Chair and hoping they agree;
  • offer to get more information and bring it back to the board at a future meeting; or
  • recommend the motion be sent back to committee prior to being voted upon.

If you have to, board volunteers can object out loud and on the record but be aware that doing so will spend significant political capital. It also may not help, which does not mean you should not do it.
As mentioned in a post titled “Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive,”

“worrying about keeping your job precludes you from doing your job. You have to do what you believe is best, based on your experience, information and training, within the boundaries of your role and the law. We all know that any day could be the day you quit or get fired. That can’t stop you from leading.”

What’s been your experience? Have you seen Board meetings go off track? What has gotten them back on track? As always, I welcome your insight and experience.
dani sig

Formula for a successful non-profit board volunteer

equationIt seems like I’ve been on the road a lot this month, and this allows me to interact with all sorts of talented and amazing non-profit professionals. In fact, just last night I was at dinner with another non-profit consultant who shared with me his “formula” for a successful board volunteer.
Just so you don’t think that I am stealing, I told this person that I planned to share his formula with the world this morning via the DonorDreams blog. Needless to say, I have his blessing.   😉
Here is his secret recipe that he shares in his board development and governance trainings with board volunteers on how to be good at their job:

12 + (3+1) + 3 + 1 + 1 + 70% + 100%

Let me decipher this formula for you:

  • Make 12 thank you (stewardship) calls per year
  • Take three donors on a tour of your facility and also invite a prospective new donor on a tour
  • Make three in-person solicitation calls as part of your agency’s fundraising program (preferably the annual campaign pledge drive, but it can be a major gift solicitation or special event sponsorship call)
  • Spend one hour per year volunteering on the front line in a program (so that you can be credible when talking to others about your agency)
  • Participate in one standing committee or task force of the board
  • Attend at least 70% of board meetings
  • Be an advocate of 100% of the board making a personal financial contribution to the agency

There you go . . . pretty simple. Of course, this is one person’s opinion about what it takes to be a good board volunteer.
In your opinion, is there anything missing? Would you modify this equation? If so, then how would you do it? Do you have an easily digestible equation like this that you like to share with new board prospects? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847