The key to your non-profit’s success? LEADERSHIP!

leadership3Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Dr. Pepper’s Shadow,” John talks about:

  • how we view leaders,
  • how our leaders’ words and deeds are hugely influential, and
  • how leaders can have an unintended impact on all types of situations.

I know that I’m oversimplifying John post, but everything he says points to how important leadership is to any organization. Like it or leave it . . . I believe it is likely the biggest factor in determining your successes and failures.

I’ve worked with non-profit organizations that have great programs, great mission, great vision, great staff, great systems, great policies and practices and great history, but they find themselves “in the tank” because leadership is lacking. As John talks about in his post, the leaders in my example are casting a “long shadow” and its impact is negative.

I’ve also worked with non-profit organizations that have serious gaps and deficiencies. They lack resources, their technology is bad, their systems and policies are poor or nonexistent. . . and they seem to overcome all of it. In these cases, it is always the leader who makes a huge difference.


I’m also not just talking about a non-profit organization’s executive director. I’m also referencing board leadership.

The reason I am on a leadership kick this morning is because of an online article I read a few weeks ago about J. C. Penney at

Here is the story in a nutshell:

  • J.C. Penney’s hires a new CEO.
  • The new CEO boldly casts a new vision and changes everything!
  • Everyone follows the new CEO. (He has a LONG shadow)
  • The new strategy doesn’t seem to work and a lot of money is lost.
  • The board fires the new CEO and stock prices go up as investor confidence rises.
  • The board hires the previous CEO and stock prices go down.

There is a lot going on with this story, and I suspect John can carve two or three different blog posts out of it. However, I will point to the one obvious thing . . . “LEADERSHIP! Everyone places tremendous importance on this idea and that person casts a long shadow!”


Now there are all sorts of ideas floating around about leadership. Servant leadership, situational leadership, democratic leadership, charismatic leadership, bureaucratic leadership, and the list goes on and on. There are also all different kinds of leaders.

One point of view on leadership that I’ve become enamored with in the last few years comes from organizational psychologist and management consultant, Noel Tichy, who has worked with a number of troubled and successful companies throughout the years. Here is what he has to say about successful organizations and leadership in the introduction of his book, “The Leadership Engine“:

“The answer I have come up with is that winning companies win because they have good leaders who nurture the development of other leaders at all levels of the organization. The ultimate test of success for an organization is not whether it can win today but whether it can keep winning tomorrow and the day after. Therefore, the ultimate test for a leader is not whether he or she makes smart decisions and takes decisive action, but whether he or she teaches others to be leaders and builds an organization that can sustain its success even when he or she is not around. They key ability of winning organizations and winning leaders is creating leaders.”

Uh-oh . . . I may be starting to border on another hot topic and age-old question . . . “Can leadership be taught or are leaders born?” John tackled this question (with regards to a servant leadership paradigm) in his post titled “Born, Not Made“.

I going to stop here and remain at 50,000 feet with my original observations:

  • leadership is important,
  • everyone looks at the leader and they cast a long shadow, and
  • leadership seems to be the great equalizer (and it can make or break your organization).

Does your non-profit organization have great leaders sitting in the CEO and board president’s chairs? How do you know if they are great leaders? Have you ever seen a great organization with bad leadership at the helm? Do you have a “point of view” around leadership like Noel Tichy or John Greco? If so, what is it?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Becoming a non-profit board president

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow nonprofit consultant to blog this week about board development related topics. She also agreed to join the DonorDreams team and contribute a board development post every month. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on I hope you enjoy the genius musings of my friend for the next few days . . .

Congratulations for being named Board President!  You are going to be great!  I am so honored that you turned to me for some suggestions as to your responsibilities. Thank you.

In a nut shell, your job is to:

  • lead the board by inviting participation of board members;
  • guide evaluations of the organization, executive director and the board;
  • facilitate communication among the board and between board and staff;
  • delegate authority;
  • raise funds and support resource development efforts; and,
  • maintain visibility in the community.

That is the big picture of the job. How that translates into actual work is this:

President/Chairs lead meetings by following the meeting agenda, making it critical to have an agenda. When you chair the meeting keep the conversation on point, if it veers off point, call the question, table any motion and/or send the issue back to committee for further discussion.  Do not let the board meeting became a committee meeting, but do encourage all interested parties to attend the next committee meeting to further discuss the issue. This will promote the engagement of those who are passionate about the issue, and continue the engagement of those who are not.

The Board President appoints committee chairs and holds them to account, ensures conflict of interest policies and other policies are upheld by Board members, and supervises and evaluates the Executive in concert with or on behalf of the Board. President’s chair meetings, but do not vote or make motions.  They only vote to break a tie. They do steer the conversation, share their opinions and keep the group on task.

The Board is responsible for governance, which includes mission, vision and strategic planning; hiring, supporting and evaluating the executive director; acting as the fiduciary responsible agent, setting policy and raising money.  Everything else is done in concert with the executive director or by the executive director.

When you become Chair sit down with the executive director and map out your goals for your term. Discuss how you and the Board will be evaluating him/her and by what measurement you will gauge his/her success.  Check in on when the last time the board reviewed the mission and vision of the agency. If it’s been a few years, consider a Board retreat to revisit, revise or recommit. Please also discuss how you like to be contacted and set a plan to meet twice a month to discuss relevant issues, problems, and successes as well as progress toward your goals and/or the strategic plan.  Be prepared to take calls in between should something come up – because something always comes up.

Board President’s have a lot of power. Use that power wisely. If you ask for something, the staff will drop whatever they are doing to get it for you.  I would hope that they will be comfortable enough with your leadership to explain the price of what they are dropping, but it is likely they won’t.  In fact, I recommend you don’t go to the staff at all and instead work through the executive director for whatever information you would like. If it is not feasible to go through the executive director, then please ask via email and cc the Exec. S/he cannot be held accountable for managing a staff that are getting directions from others, and the staff will become confused as to from whom they take direction and who’s direction takes priority.

On behalf of executive directors everywhere, I ask you to please remember that they are the CEO of the company, and not a department head. You are the Chair of the Board, which is responsible for governance.  S/he is the leader of the agency and responsible for everything else.

I encourage you to review Robert’s Rules of Order and follow the entire procedure for votes including asking: All in favor?  Any opposed? Any abstentions?  Don’t leave out the last two.  In addition to alienating whatever Board members wanted to go on record for opposing or abstaining, it will make future challenges more difficult to defend. The following need votes:

  • Any Policy – crisis communication and management, personnel, etc. (Procedures do not need votes. Think of it like the difference between the rule and the law.);
  • Past board meeting Minutes;
  • Financial reports;
  • Agency Annual Budgets;
  • Plans – strategic, board development and/or resource development;
  • Changes to the strategic direction of the organization;
  • The hiring of an Executive Director;
  • Campaigns;
  • Opening, closing or changing the signatures on bank accounts;
  • Changes to the mission or vision; and Board Members and Officers being added, or renewed.

Resignations can be noted in the minutes and do not require votes.

Please also review your agencies by-laws, also called the Code of Regulations. All valid votes require a quorum of Board members to be in the room (or on the phone if your by-laws allow) – usually ½ of the board, but your by-laws may require more, or possibly less.  You can start a meeting without a quorum, but cannot vote until a quorum has been reached.

Lastly, I encourage you to plan your year, structure board meetings to align with strategic goals, and to frequently remind board members of the mission of the agency.

I’ll be here if you need me.  You’re going to be great!