The Sounds of Annual Campaign Planning: Part 4

As most of you already know, I am dedicating all of this week’s blog posts to the 2012 annual campaign planning process, and I’m putting it all to music just for the fun of it. Today’s post focuses on constructing your campaign’s policies.

Cue the music . . . click here for your first musical selection then start reading.¬† ūüôā

First, let me admit that I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to skipping the policy writing part of the annual campaign planning process. For some reason, I always saw this exercise as a harmless corner that could be cut without too much damage being done. For this reason, it is important to address this question first: “Why should you write policies pertaining specifically to your annual campaign?”

When in doubt, I always say “Google It!!!” … so I did and found this great little blurb straight out of a U.S. Department of Agriculture manual:

“Policies give direction to plans. They are a road map [that] management can follow to reach goals and attain objectives. Well written policy facilitates delegation of authority to the lowest feasible level . . . “

Let me use an example to help illustrate the importance of this wonderful little blurb and put it into context for a volunteer-driven fundraising campaign. So, let’s say I am sitting with a donor and just asked her to consider making a pledge of $1,000 to our annual campaign. The donor seems agreeable, but has some questions. I handle the first few questions flawlessly, but then we start getting into territory where I don’t have the slightest idea of what the answer might be (e.g. can the gift be paid for in stock, how much time does the donor have to pay-off their pledge, etc). Uh-oh! Maybe I shouldn’t “close the deal” right now because I need to find some answers to this donors questions.

Volunteers are already super reluctant to participate in face-to-face solicitations. One of their many fears is being unable to answer a donor’s question (or providing inaccurate answers to their questions).

From a staff perspective, written policies are your friend because they keep volunteers from calling you every other time with questions about whether or not something can be done. When your volunteer solicitors are empowered with that kind of knowledge, they are more successful at “closing the gift” and have fewer prospects to follow-up with after the original solicitation call.

Overall, writing campaign policies saves both staff and volunteers time and increases a volunteer’s confidence heading into a solicitation call.

Writing policies does not need to be a difficult or time-consuming part of your annual campaign planning process. I encourage staff and campaign volunteers to sit down and make a list of commonly asked questions. I suspect the following questions might be found on most lists:

  • How often can the non-profit send me a pledge reminder (e.g. how many payments can I slice my pledge into)? Or can you bill me on an irregular schedule of May, August, November and December?
  • By when do I need to have my pledge paid?
  • Do you accept stock as a form of payment? Or can I pay my contribution with a credit card?
  • Do you accept in-kind contributions, too? (e.g. cars, computer equipment, etc)
  • Will you send me an acknowledgement letter that I can give to my accountant for tax purposes? How soon will I get that documentation?
  • Will you share my name and contract information with other companies?
  • Can I make this contribution anonymously?
  • I hate receiving all that junk mail from charities . . . can I opt out of those mailings (e.g. newsletter, etc)?
  • I don’t like public recognition, can you keep my name off of donor honor rolls, newsletter recognition and the website?
  • May I designate my annual campaign contribution to a specific program or to a future building fund?

This list can go on and on and on, which can make this step in the planning process look time-consuming. So, I encourage you to not get carried away. If you haven’t ever written campaign policies, then start small. You can always add written policies in the future.

If you already have written resource development policies as part of your organization’s written resource development plan, then you may not have to re-invent the wheel. However, staff and volunteers should still take a moment to review those policies to ensure there isn’t anything missing from an annual campaign perspective.

If you are a “googling fool” like me, it will be a challenge to find samples if you try searching “annual campaign policies”.¬†I suggest searching on phrases such as: “donor recognition policies” or “fundraising policies”. You’ll have a little more success. Or you can just facilitate an organic exercise and ask questions like the ones I pose above.

The biggest thing to remember is: involve your volunteers in this process. This is NOT a staff-only activity. Don’t forget that these written policies exist to help your volunteer solicitors feel more confident and get “The Question Song” out of their head before/during/after a solicitation call. So, excluding them from this process would be counter-productive.

ALSO … don’t forget that only the board of directors has the ability to bring written policies to life. So, whatever the annual campaign committee decides needs to be reviewed and approved by the board.

Does your organization have written policies that help guide your annual campaign? If so, are you willing to share them with others? How did you develop your policies? How and when do you educate volunteer solicitors on these policies before sending them out to talk to donors?

Please use the comment box below to answer some of these questions. As I always say, we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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 ‚ÄĒ fix this. You‚Äôre 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‚Äôt 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

Beware of vampire staff

There is an invisible line that exists in the board-staff as well as the donor-staff¬†relationship. Unfortunately, it is a blurry line that gets stepped over from time-to-time. Sometimes it is innocent, and other times it is malicious. Today’s blog post focuses on those not-so-innocent times and offers a few suggestions to both board and staff on how to handle these situations.

First let me start by stating the obvious: “The board of directors has ONLY one employee, and that person is the CEO (aka Executive Director) of the organization.” If this truism is not clear to everyone, then please know that trouble lies ahead on your journey, and it is preparing to ambush your organization.

While the CEO is the board’s only employee (and all other staff¬†work for the CEO), there are times that the CEO finds it necessary to create an environment where their employees interact directly with the board. For example, agencies that are lucky enough to employ resource development professionals need to let that person(s) work directly with board volunteers to plan, implement and evaluate the comprehensive resource development plan. It is in situations like this that the “line” I referenced earlier can get trampled.

Here are a few real life examples that I’ve seen in my travels and work with non-profit organizations:

  • The RD professional was friendly with the COO. Unfortunately, the COO¬†wasn’t performing at a high level and was on a corrective action plan and on the verge of termination. The RD professional didn’t agree with their CEO’s management decisions, started actively engaging the board president, and lobbied for the CEO’s termination (and implying that they should be named the CEO instead).
  • An employee who had been receiving poor evaluations for a few years sensed they were on thin ice. In an effort to undercut the CEO, they befriended key board volunteers and constantly chatted with them about non-work related issues (e.g. health problems, family problems, etc). It was obvious this strategy was an attempt to create sympathy and make it next to impossible for the CEO to terminate them without dealing with potential political blow-back from the board.
  • A special events coordinator hadn’t been making goal, and the CEO was starting to turn up the heat. Suddenly, the staff person¬†initiated an extramarital affair with a married board volunteer who carried a lot of weight on the board and in the community. Oh, did I mention the volunteer was also a fairly substantial donor? <<Gulp>> Needless to say, terminating this employee suddenly came with many complications for the CEO.
  • A VP of Development decided they didn’t like the CEO’s management decisions (or the ‘tone’ they took with staff) and decided they would make a better CEO. Not only did they start openly lobbying for the CEO’s termination with the board president (who was a very good personal friend), but they did so with other key board volunteers and even donors.

Here are a few tips that should help when “the line” gets stepped over (and unfortunately it happens more often than you think even if it isn’t in such egregious ways as I’ve highlighted above):

  • Board volunteer tip #1: Don’t let staff (including the CEO) get too close and blur the line between professional and personal. When conversations shift to personal things, be polite and redirect the conversation at your earliest convenience.
  • Board volunteer tip #2: Be very familiar (and review annually) what your agency’s written policies say about how staff should register complaints about your only employee (aka CEO). So, when a staff person crosses that line you can quickly redirect them to that policy and urge them to follow it. Remember — not following written policies can put you in a legal position at a later date if the board finds that it needs to terminate a CEO’s employment.
  • Board volunteer tip #3: Similar to tip #2, make sure your agency has adopted written “Whistleblower policies” (this is above and beyond complaint policies in your employee handbook). Make sure¬†the law is being followed with regards to posting and implementing that policy. Click here to read a really good blog post from Thomas Silk at Blue Avocado on this subject.
  • CEO tip #1: Don’t foolishly give your staff unfettered access to the board of directors. Be smart about it, and supervise the situation like a hawk. Remember — “You reap what you sow”.
  • CEO tip #2: Be proactive and upfront with your staff. Tell them during their orientation as well as periodically throughout their employment that there is a “line” that exists between board-staff and staff-donors. Be gentle yet firm and upfront about what will happen if that line is crossed.
  • CEO tip #3: Don’t be soft on staff who step over this line. Once a staff person violates the trust you have placed in them, it is almost impossible to regain it. Be prepared to terminate those employees who lack boundaries, and be prepared to do it swiftly regardless of the consequences. If they lack boundaries when it comes to this, then they lack boundaries all over the place.¬† Cut your losses quickly!

So, am I being too harsh? Do you think these vampire staff who prey on a board volunteer’s or donor’s good nature can be rehabilitated? Have you ever witnessed examples of similar situations? If so, how did the situation play out? Was there ever a ‘happy ending’ or does it always end up messy? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Boards Gone Wild

A week or so ago I saw a very bizarre tweet from my local newspaper float through my Twitter feed. The tweet included a link to an article about Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s board of directors and what I’d characterize as a “board revolt”. Suddenly, I felt like one of those people standing in a grocery store check-out line staring at “The Inquirer”¬†and unable to resist taking that ‘rag’ off the newsstand to see if aliens really did help Oprah lose 100-pounds. Have I piqued your curiosity yet? Click here to read the article from Dave Gathman of The Courier News.

It certainly seems like there is a lot going on beneath the surface, but this is what it looks like to this outside observer:

  • Key board volunteers who are also former board presidents and major donors are pissed off about a multitude of things and resigned out of frustration.
  • There is obviously conflict over rising deficits and debt.
  • There seems to be disagreement over the strategic direction of the organization.
  • There appears to be many fingers getting pointed in many directions and the resource development/fundraising department is in someone’s crosshairs.
  • I smell personality conflicts all around the table, especially between the CEO and certain board volunteers.
  • Is it just me or is the current board president kind of stirring the pot when he tells the newspaper that donations and ticket sales have picked up since these people resigned? Perhaps, there was even a schism among volunteers on the board of directors.

WOW!!! This is the stuff that Hollywood movies are made of.¬† OK . . . maybe I’m getting carried away, but it is at least what after-school, made-for-television movies are made of. Right?

I find myself fixated on a number of thoughts and questions such as: What should the CEO do in this situation? How does this board move forward? What do you say to your donors when your dirty laundry spills over into the local newspaper? Who is getting fired?

However, the thing that weighs most on my mind is: “Who are these people who¬†claim to be board volunteers?” I’ve worked with between 50 – 75 different boards across a 13 state region over the last 5-years, and this isn’t a familiar sight to me. More oftentimes than not, I found boards who would rather sustain pain from medieval torture devices rather than engage in discussion and dialog that “might” possibly lead to¬†disagreement.

So, I’d like to thank the Elgin Symphony Orchestra for renewing my faith in board governance. While the outcome might not have been desirable, I believe once again that there are passionate, mission-focused volunteers who serve on non-profit boards.

As for where to go from here, I can’t stop thinking about Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Here are just a few things I might be thinking about if I were in the CEO’s hot seat:

  • Organize a ton of donor focus groups to engage supporters in how they think the organization’s issues could be addressed
  • Develop a donor survey to secure similar input from smaller donors
  • Commission a resource development audit to dissect revenue streams and look critically at all resource development systems
  • Start down a strategic planning road and make sure the planning model you choose is very “organic”and engages ALL stakeholder groups
  • Target other influential community leaders who you’ve always wanted on your board but couldn’t (or didn’t), go talk to them about your planned response, and ask them to get involved

Regardless of the path chosen, they better do something soon or their non-profit board room might start to look something like this Saturday Night Live sketch.

What would you do if you were the CEO? Board president? Was your faith in boards “renewed” as it was in my case? Have you ever been faced with a similar situation? If so, how was your example handled? Please use the comment box to weigh-in with your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Monitor your organization’s heart rate

Last week after my Fitness Boot Camp session, I ran out to Target and bought my first heart rate monitor, which comes in the form of a strap that you fashion around your chest and a wrist watch. I made this purchase because according to my personal trainer I need to intensify my workouts and keep my heart rate in a particular target zone. This, of course, got me wondering. “Do they make heart rate monitors for non-profit organizations?”

While you might think this is a silly question, I urge you to stop and think about it for just one moment:

  • Shouldn’t board volunteers have a tool to monitor the health of their organization?
  • Wouldn’t the annual campaign leadership team appreciate something to track the collective progress of volunteer solicitors?
  • Couldn’t board and staff benefit from a tool that monitors implementation of any number of activities ranging from strategic planning to the health of the agency’s comprehensive resource development program?

I think that there is enormous benefits in developing such a tool, and the good news is that they do exist. While you cannot go online to and purchase a heart rate monitor for your non-profit organization, you can roll up your sleeves and create a DASHBOARD or SCORECARD that will do the same thing.

When consulting with Boys & Girls Clubs in Indiana on annual campaign implementation last year, I worked with a number of those organizations on developing a simple dashboard using Excel to track campaign progress. Typically, there were six to eight graphical indicators on the front page of their dashboard. Each indicator measured one aspect of their campaign that they thought was important enough to track. Here are a few examples of what they tracked:

  • Board solicitation phase – actual vs. goal
  • Community face-to-face solicitation phase – actual vs. goal
  • Targeted mail solicitation phase – actual vs. goal
  • New donor acquisition – actual vs. goal
  • Donor renewal – actual vs. goal
  • LYBUNT renewal – actual vs. goal
  • Individual volunteer solicitor progress – number of pledge cards assigned vs. number of worked & returned cards

Indicator and monitoring tools like dashboards and scorecards allow non-profits to create a sense of accountability and urgency, which are two elements of volunteer engagement that many non-profits find difficult to generate. Additionally, it provides staff and volunteers with a management tool that helps create the necessary performance to avoid failures.

Finally, the good news is that these tools can be used for almost any project/activity. Here are a few links I’ve dug up that might help you develop your own organizational heart rate monitors:

How does your organization monitor its overall health? Annual campaign? Special events or projects? What have you tracked using your monitoring tools? Please use the comment box to share because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Can a non-profit board contract out its management to a for-profit company?

An old childhood friend of mine reached out to me this morning with an interesting question:

“Do you think there is a conflict with a non-profit’s status if they contract with a for-profit company to manage the organization?”

She asked this question because her company is starting to investigate the possibility of offering a service whereby it would get into this line of work. So, I promised that 1) I would do a little research on the subject and 2) pose the question to subscribers of this blog to get your thoughts. While I will share some of my thoughts below, please use the comment box to weigh-in.

As I swirled this question around in my head, I ultimately came to the conclusion that my answer is “I don’t advise it, but IT DEPENDS“.

  • The IRS is very specific about 501(c)(3) organizations needing to focus their efforts on the “greater good”. I can see potential conflicts in a relationship like this because the main focus of a for-profit corporation is “profit;” whereas, the main focus of a non-profit organization is achieving its “mission“. While not necessarily mutually exclusive, I do worry about the potential for conflict when making management decisions. I can see many different kinds of decisions pertaining to managing money and raising funds that could create conflicts of interest.
  • I’ve seen it way too often where non-profit boards develop a feeling of hopelessness and want to abdicate their fiduciary responsibilities to anyone who they think can fix their dysfunction. In situations like this, contracting management of the agency to a for-profit corporation might be a recipe for disaster. In my opinion, partnering with a for-profit organization requires a highly engaged non-profit board of directors who can and will provide more direction and oversight to their for-profit partners than they might otherwise have done for an Executive Director and agency staff.
  • The resource development and fundraising functions of a non-profit organization are complex and not something that makes much sense to many for-profit leaders. Cultivating & stewarding donor relationships as well as raising money isn’t as easy as hosting an event or writing a grant. It is a comprehensive program that requires knowledgable staff and engaged & committed board volunteers. A non-profit board cannot wash its hands of its resource development responsibilities and expect its for-profit partners to make it rain money. I also wonder how many donors might view such a partnership and how that might affect their financial support?
  • Board development is very different for non-profits compared to for-profit corporations. In the non-profit world, there can be no compensation for¬†sitting on a board. Additionally, it appears to me that the process of identification, recruitment, orientation, recognition and annual evaluation has a different feel for non-profits compared to corporate boards. While board development is the responsibility of board volunteers, it typically evolves into a partnership between board and the executive director (with staff providing support and expertise). I can see many conflicts around this governance function when non-profits and for-profits partner around agency management.

In a nutshell, I am skeptical about any board turning complete and total management control of its non-profit agency’s management¬†over to a for-profit company. However, I can see a non-profit board contracting with a for-profit corporation for specific management services, such as:

  • executive search
  • temporary staffing
  • accounting and payroll
  • marketing
  • market research & feasibility studies
  • facilitating planning processes (e.g. strategic planning, business plans, etc)
  • general consulting work around any number of topics

However, even in these circumstances, I don’t think it is wise for a non-profit board or Executive Director to contract out any back office function in a way that feels like they are “washing their hands” of their responsibilities. Significant oversight is required in these circumstances. If this oversight isn’t possible, then the partnership shouldn’t be consummated. Additionally, these arrangements should be spelled out in a contract (or a letter of agreement) that also clearly identifies potential conflicts of interest and indicates how they will be handled.

The one final thought I cannot get my head around is the idea of “non-profit receivership”. What if a board and staff are so dysfunctional, know it, don’t want to dissolve the agency, but¬†they all agree to quit and give the organization a ‘new start’ . . . can they do so by temporarily (and contractually) putting their agency into a state of receivership with a for-profit organization? I suspect it cannot legally be done without a board of directors in place providing intense direction. I also suspect that receivership might best be done with another non-profit organization playing the role of “receiver”.

What are your thoughts on my friend’s question? I know we have some lawyers who subscribe to this blog . . . and I’d love to hear what they think. I know that my friend and her company will be monitoring this blog for comments to this post for the next day or two. PLEASE JUMP IN WITH YOUR OPINION. I suspect they will have to engage legal counsel to flesh out many of these questions, but your input can help them frame that engagement with their legal counsel.

I will end today’s post by sharing some of the research I found when trying to respond to my friend’s answer:

Here is to your health!      (Sorry for the long post . . . this is a complex topic)

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

Killing sacred cows

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine from down south sent me this message through LinkedIn:

“I would like to get your perspective on how to handle an advisory board that loves their special event (they gave birth to it), it costs $0.95 on each $1.00 raised and takes months of time and effort. “

My first thought here was: “WOW, it only costs 95 cents to raise a dollar with that special event?”

For those of you who are not familiar with Charity Navigator’s “2007¬† Special Events Study,” I strongly urge you to read it. They discovered that the average special event fundraiser (when considering direct and indirect costs) will cost a non-profit agency $1.33 to raise $1.00.

I wonder if the aforementioned 95 cent cost included indirect costs like staff time.

Not included in the study (because it would be impossible to do) is calculating the “opportunity cost” involved with a special event fundraiser. In other words, what other fundraising opportunity did we miss out on because we spent our volunteers’ time doing a special event?¬†How much more money could we have raised (and at what cost) if we asked the same staff and volunteers to run an annual campaign pledge drive instead of that labor intensive gold outting?

Here’s the thing . . . volunteers LOVE special events because it is the least scary form of fundraising. They are out selling tickets and feel comfortable doing so because they’ve rationalized that their friend is getting something of value in exchange for their donation; whereas, no one is getting anything in return for an annual campagn pledge.

According to, a sacred cow is “an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning.” In my opinion, special event fundraising is likely one of the non-profit volunteer’s most sacred cows, and killing sacred cows is hard to do!

If you are determined to kill a sacred cow, then you only have one path to travel . . . it has to be the idea of those people who hold it sacred.

How can that be done? Here are a few ideas:

  • Engage your event volunteers in a post-event¬†evaluation meeting. Share the Charity Navigator study with them. Calculate the event’s TRUE cost (direct + indirect) and share info, too. Ask them how they’d handle the same situation back home at their place of employment if a product or service was losing money.
  • Use your resource development committee, as part of your annual resource development planning process, to look at every revenue stream and its true cost.¬†Engage them in reviewing your agency’s resource development policies. If you don’t already have policies setting ROI standards for events, walk them through that exercise.
  • Pull together a focus group of key donors. Share the Charity Navigator study along with your special event data with them. Ask them for their observations and suggestions. See where the conversation takes you. It might be very interesting! Make sure all of the focus group’s feedback gets shared with the event committee, resource development committee and board of directors.

It is important to remember that special events do serve a good purpose, especially with providing an opportunity to engage new prospective donors. It is never a good idea to just eliminate all events. A few well oiled special event fundraisers (with decent ROI) can serve an important role in your agency’s resource development program.

What advice would you give my dear friend? How do you keep special events from getting out of hand at your agency? How have you killed sacred cows without incurring your volunteers’ wrath? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in on this subject because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Secret board development memo

For the last four days, this blog focused on board development by sharing input from real, live board members thanks to an online survey I randomly sent out to people in my email address book who I know currently serve on a non-profit board. During the week, one volunteer sent me an “internal memo” from their company encouraging their employees to join non-profit boards.

As a non-profit leader, I always wanted to be a “fly on the wall” in the corporate boardroom. So, I found this memo to be an interesting glimpse into what motivates companies that encourage their employees to “sit” on boards. Here is a copy of that memo (note: I’ve changed names to protect the volunteer who forwarded this to me. Please know that this is a very large firm, which is similar to the example written about in Monday’s blog):

One of [Company X’s] strategic goals are to elevate the Firm‚Äôs visibility through leadership in our communities. A key component of this goal is to encourage¬†employees at all levels to become involved with philanthropic and charitable boards. Joining a not-for-profit board:
‚Äʬ†¬† Offers an opportunity to give back to the community in which you live and work
‚Äʬ†¬† Provides networking opportunities with other dedicated community leaders
‚Äʬ†¬† Enhances personal relationships beyond one‚Äôs technical circle of colleagues
‚Äʬ†¬† Develops valuable business management skills
If you think you might be interested in joining a not-for-profit board, you are not alone. Most [Company X] employees are not board members, but there is no stopping those with a little passion, dedication and commitment.
Please join Not-for-profit Partner [John Doe] on Wednesday from 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. in the training room, when he presents “Board Training and Placement”. He will outline everything you need to know to join a not-for-profit board, including:
‚Äʬ†¬† Duties of a board member
‚Äʬ†¬† What to expect as a board member
‚Äʬ†¬† How not-for-profits differ from other organizations
‚Äʬ†¬† How to find an appropriate board to join
The session is open to all, regardless of your position with [Company X]. All you need to bring is the desire to get involved.  If you are interested in attending this session please use the voting button above to confirm your attendance and … if you are already on a board; please join us to share your experiences.
For your convenience a calendar invitation has been attached, just double-click it to add this session to your calendar.

I find this memo very interesting because it helps me see more clearly why some people feel compelled by their employers to “sit” on a non-profit board. It is also interesting to see what perceived benefits companies think they receive through their employees board involvement.

If I were still an executive director, I might memorize the contents of this memo, and vocalize these perceived benefits of board membership during the recruitment process. Of course, I’d probably beat a dead horse when it came to talking about board roles and responsibilities (esp around fundraising).

What does this memo tell you?¬†Was there anything you found interesting in the content? ¬†If you could, how would you change your agency’s board development processes? Do you see a role for donors in the board development process? If so, what does that look like? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts because we can all learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

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

Board volunteers bark back: Part 3 of 3

Monday’s blog post titled “Hey board members: Sit – Lay Down – Roll Over” looked at board members who agree to “sit” on non-profit boards but don’t seem to understand they’ve been asked to “serve” on those boards. For the last two days, I shared some of the feedback that I’ve received from actual board volunteers. While I will share a few last tidbits of feedback today, I plan on sharing an “internal memo” from a very large company to its employees about why it encourages them to sit/serve on non-profit boards. I suspect the memo will be eye-opening for some of you. Stay tuned!

As you know, I sent an online survey to a number of board volunteers a few days ago with questions about board development. The final question I asked board volunteers was an open-ended question: “There is always room for improvement, even in highly functioning non-profit organizations! What are some things you wish your non-profit board would do (or do better) to get highly motivated and engaged individuals sitting around your boardroom table?” Here were some interesting responses:

“I would start by changing the question to ‘serving’ instead of sitting¬†¬† ūüėȬ† Next, is to set the expectation during¬†the recruiting process.¬† I still find that he 80/20 rule applies even when everyone participates.¬† So, the next step is to recruit more and be willing to cut fat at the end of a term.¬† As the quality of participation grows it will spread throughout the board.¬† This is my hope anyway.”

“I think a good bit of it comes from expectations established by leaders on the board. The board members will only work as hard as the leadership team.”

“. . . assign an older board member to mentor new members ( preferably not close friends ), and orient new board¬† members on organization’s day-to-day activities and relationship between national and local organizations.”

“Consistency.¬† We have a board development plan (as well as other plans), but do not operate with it consistently.¬†¬† That is why I answered “no” to question #1.¬†¬† I think our board has great ideas; we just have issues with follow-through/up.”

“First things first, we have to keep the current board members engaged and motivated!¬† This is always an issue.¬† Depending on how your organization is run, you have to shop for board members that have a personal tie to you.¬† I have served as the President of our board with the Boys and Girls Club.¬† When I was little [childhood member], I was at the Boys Club everyday!¬† That’s¬†what keeps me going.¬† In summary, you have to find people who either have a tie to the organization or have a passion for similar organizations.¬† You can’t simply bring in people who are nice!”

“Involved them in committees.¬† If they don’t participate in committees, ask them how they can contribute.¬† If they don’t, they should be removed from the board.”

“We brought on consultants to work with the executive committee.¬† We worked closely with our national organization.”

I think these board volunteers have a number of great suggestions. I especially liked the last one about bringing on a consultant; however, I suspect that you can probably see through my bias. LOL

Please use the comment box below to share what you’re doing at your agency. Are you firing volunteers? Assigning mentors to new members? Using committees to engage existing board members as well as prospective future board volunteers? Are you doing a better job with prospecting and recruiting? We can all learn from each other! I hope you enjoyed the last few days of hearing directly from board volunteers.

Here is to your health!

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

Board volunteers bark back: Part 2 of 3

Monday’s blog post titled “Hey board members: Sit – Lay Down – Roll Over” looked at board members who agree to “sit” on non-profit boards but don’t seem to understand they’ve been asked to “serve” on those boards. Yesterday, I shared some of the feedback that I’ve received from actual board volunteers. My plan is to share more of that feedback with you today and again tomorrow.

As you know, I sent an online survey to a number of board volunteers. The fourth question I asked board volunteers was an open-ended question: “How would you answer the question posed in the Facebook message from my non-profit friend? As a reminder, her question was ‘What can we do to help shift that mentality – to help professionals and individuals with the means to give that it is a SERVICE to the greater good, not just a spot to occupy around a conference room table?'”¬† Here were some interesting responses:

“Make it clear to prospective board members that they will be expected to do more than attend meetings…tell them specifically what service they will be expected to render.”

“Provide board members with reminders and updates regarding what their time and efforts have accomplished.¬† (i.e. what impact their service has had on the organization).¬†¬† Focus board meetings on completing service and not merely approving what the director or CEO has done in the organization.”

“You give board members assignments with deadlines.¬† This makes them responsible to the ’cause’.”

“Be very specific about expectations before confirming a new board member and then make sure orientation¬†is pointed about what is required of board members.¬†¬† Having a board “retreat” to re-engage board members would be a great way to remind everyone of their commitment.”

“From a non-profit perspective, demonstrating the impact that the non-profit has on the community is probably the best way to shift that mentality.¬† The real key is to shift the mentality of the mentor/supervisor of the professional, so that they look at the service opportunity from a different perspective.¬† Attorneys typically bill by the hour, so we are very conscious of time and the opportunity cost when we are not working on billable matters.”

“At every monthly meeting we began by reading aloud the agency’s mission statement and then individually we reported what we did that month to achieve our board goals (attended subcommittee meetings, went on a fundraising call, meet with staff, etc.)¬† We only took a couple of minutes each to briefly stated what we have done.”

I find it so interesting that our board volunteers point to the prospect identification, recruitment and orientation activities associated with board development as a way to facilitate a paradigm shift, but no one talks about annual year-end board volunteer evaluations. I suspect that many non-profit organizations take time to write technically proficient board development plans, include evaluation procedures and tools, and then ignore (or dramatically underutilize) the evaluation portion of the plan.

Attention non-profit professionals! If you want to change the mentality on your board from “sitting” to “serving,” I strongly recommend employing your board volunteer evaluation tools. While it is not your role to personally do the evaluating, you¬†must provide support to your board development volunteers and coach them through this annual process.

Please use the comment box below and weigh-in with your thoughts on the feedback provided by some of our board volunteers in today’s blog. Do you find annual board volunteer evaluations to be difficult at your agency? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with your fellow readers? A few of the survey respondents suggested that “accountability” needs to be added to a board’s culture . . . how do you accomplish that at your agency especially when many board members are likely your best donors? We can learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

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