Dear board volunteer . . . Please invest in my potential and development.

mardi gras mask5DonorDreams blog is honored to be hosting the May 2013 Nonprofit Blog Carnival. The theme this month is “Dear board volunteer . . .” and the idea is “If you could write an anonymous letter to a nonprofit board about something they do that drives you crazy, what would that letter look like and what suggested solutions would you include?” If you are a blogger and would like more information on how to participate and submit a post for consideration, please click here to learn more.

I wanted to expand the Nonprofit Blog Carnival concept in May. So, I reached out to real non-profit people and asked them to also write an anonymous letter to their board volunteers. These people are executive directors, fundraising professionals, board members, donors, community volunteers, consultants and front line staff. I promised everyone anonymity in exchange for their submissions.

We will celebrate May’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. Up to that fun-filled day, I will publish real anonymous letters every day right here at DonorDreams blog.

I hope you enjoy this real look at real issues that our community deals with on a daily basis.

Here is today’s letter:

Dear Board of Directors,

Thank you for your commitment and dedication to the mission of our non-profit organization. I am very proud of the tremendous strides that we have taken as a board and as an organization in the last three years. As you all know, developing our board into a high functioning and high profile board has been a key objective in our three-year strategic plan. We have worked diligently at achieving that objective by implementing a standing governance committee to focus on the core governance, composition, and performance of our board.

The governance committee has suggested, and you have adopted policies and procedures around assessing the performance of individual board members as well as the board as a whole. These actions have resulted in:

  • 100% board giving for the last three years,
  • the development of an annual special event that raises the necessary revenue to sustain our summer program that was formerly funded solely by federal grant dollars,
  • 100% board member completion of the individual commitments on the Board Commitment Form,
  • a 71% increase in reserve funds, and
  • a 415% increase in giving for our annual campaign.

As they say, what gets measured gets done.

As we reflect on our amazing successes in board development, I can’t help but wonder why the same amount of effort has not been given to developing my capacity as the Executive Director of this organization.

It is difficult for me to comprehend why setting my annual goals, and assessing my performance, is only completed when I harass you enough to do it. Why can’t you ever get a task force together to complete this critical task, and why do you apply a rubber stamp to my recommendations? I am baffled by this because the vast majority of you are successful leaders in your respective business fields, and a number of you have built very successful companies.

I’m certain your road to achievement as a leader has included successfully establishing performance criteria and appraising the performance of your subordinates and employees. Similarly, I’m sure that our goal setting and performance measurement successes as a board have not escaped your attention.

Just imagine what we could accomplish together if you were to form a task force to come along side me in setting my annual objectives and completing a thoughtful performance appraisal and professional development plan. Take a moment to envision the amazing alignment we would have if the full board took sufficient time to review my goals and approve my performance appraisal and professional development plan.

Engaging the full board in this process would certainly take care of any misperceptions that exist about what the Executive Director’s role is vs. the board’s role.

Thank you for being deliberate in creating a high performing, high profile, strategic board of directors. Please consider taking the next step in our organization’s development by spending the necessary time to develop the leadership of the organization. I can promise you that you will not be disappointed with the return on your investment.

ROI Roger

If you have some advice for the author of our anonymous letter, please be respectful and share it in the comment box at the bottom of this post.

Here’s to your health!

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

The Millennials are coming: Non-profits will either evolve or die!

adaptWelcome 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 “Survival Is Not Mandatory,” John talks about our always changing world and workplaces and how we need to evolve in order to remain viable and relevant. His conclusions are simple: 1) Evolve or die and 2) Survival is not mandatory.

Sometimes timing is everything. When I read this blog post, I was on the treadmill with my new iPad with Morning Joe on the television in the background. The television talking heads were droning on about marijuana legalization and they flashed the following graphic on the screen:

marijuana legalization

My first reaction was “Huh, it’s interesting that the opinion lines recently crisscrossed.” My second reaction was “Hmmmm, where have I seen another graphic like that?” And within moments, I remembered that the other similar graphic was this one about same-sex marriage:

gay marriage

These two thoughts were colliding in my mind as my feet trudged along on the treadmill, and then my eyes went back to my iPad and John’s blog post about change. My first thought was “What is driving all of this immediate change so quickly?” And my second thought was “I wonder what implications these trends may have for non-profit organizations, fundraising, resource development and philanthropy?”  Almost immediately, I remembered seeing the following chart in a Giving USA Spotlight newsletter:

generations age ranges

It was at this point I realized the meteor has hit our planet, the weather patterns are changing, and change is starting to happen rapidly. The change we’re experiencing in our society is exponential.

If you are scratching your head and find yourself saying “HUH,” then I encourage you to look more carefully at the previous graphic. The oldest members of the Millennial generation are already in their 30s. Combine this with the fact that the Millennial generation is almost as large as the Baby Boomer generation (e.g. 79 million Boomers vs. 75 million Millennials) and then factor in the 51 million GenXers, and you have the recipe for rapid change.

Still not convinced? The consider the fact that every day for the next 19 years it is estimated that 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire EVERY DAY. In 2014, Millennials will make up 26% of the workplace and this number will soar to 36% by 2020.

Let’s face the grim realities here:

  • Every single day there are a number of Silent/Greatest generation and Baby Boomer generation individuals who are dying and retiring.
  • Every single day there are a number of Millennials who reach voting age and enter the workforce.

LOL . . . I am reminded of that famous quotation by Ross Perot speaking to that “giant sucking sound”. In this instance, I don’t think we’re talking about NAFTA. In this example, that giant sucking sound is the vacuum being filled by Millennials.

So, what is the end result? What does all of this mean for non-profit organizations? Fundraising? Philanthropy?

Well, I am not a fortune-teller, but the following thoughts have crossed my mind:

  • The workplace characteristics for non-profit organizations will change quickly.
  • The donor profile will change quickly.
  • The client profile will also change quickly.

I suspect most “best practices” won’t change (e.g. face-to-face solicitation is the most effective way to secure donations), but I can imagine that strategies and tactics need to adapt and evolve. For example . . .

  • We know that once a donor retires their charitable giving habits seem to change. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, I suspect resource development plans need to evolve because at this point in time Boomers make up the bulk of most agencies donor databases. (Did you know that 69% of Boomers donate to charity compared to 33% of Millennials? Source: Center on Philanthropy Panel Study)
  • We know that direct mail is effective with Baby Boomers much more so than it is with Millennials.
  • I suspect that fewer Millennials physically own checkbooks than their Baby Boomer counterparts.
     (I wonder how eBanking impacts traditional charitable giving systems?)
  • We know that Millennials volunteer at higher rates than any other generation.

John ends his post by simply stating “But survival is not mandatory.” This revelation is striking because it causes me to wonder: Which non-profits are going to adapt? Which agencies are going to die? How will those who survive evolve and adapt? When will that process start? When will resource development plans start to reflect these changes? Who will step up and lead on these issues?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, I can appreciate that, but paralysis is the enemy of evolution and adapting.

My best suggestion to those of you who don’t know what to do or how to proceed is commit yourself to learning more. Click here to read a great publication titled “Charitable Giving and the Millennial Generation” from the Giving USA Foundation at The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University. There are a lot of great “AH-HA” moments in this publication. Hopefully, it will get you and your organization pointed in the right direction.

As many of you know, I am a GenXer. As I finish this blog post, I suddenly have a song running through my head and I can’t get it to stop. Upon a little reflection, I now realize that this song is my generation’s anthem and characterizes our lifelong struggle with Baby Boomers and Millennials. Click here if you want to get inside my head and enjoy what I am sure will become my generation’s rally cry.  😉

Please scroll down to the comment box and weigh-in with any thoughts you may have about the questions I posed a few paragraphs ago. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit lessons in a pot of split pea soup

split pea soupAfter last weekend’s Easter celebrations, I had a lot of ham leftovers. So, I decided to do what I normally do . . . I went to the store and bought all of the ingredients for split pea soup. This is what my mom did when I was a kid, and this is what I now do as an adult. Unfortunately, this year’s undertaking went horribly wrong, but the good news is that I walked away with a story that all non-profit organizations will appreciate.

I worked on this pot of soup all day long on Monday. Split peas, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, marjoram, and leftover ham from Easter. Boil . . . then simmer . . . then gently heat throughout. Stir, stir, stir some more. Taste, stir, taste, stir . . . you get the idea.

As this process unfolded, I kept retreating to my home office to work on projects for clients. Long story short, I got really wrapped up in something work-related and forgot to stir the soup for an hour-and-a-half. Needless to say, I burned the soup. Here was what I ended up doing between 6:00 pm on Monday night and 11:00 am on Tuesday morning in an attempt to remedy the situation:

  • Call Mom and cry . . . then ask for her expert advice.
  • Transfer soup from burned pot to new pot.
  • Add water.
  • Add more spicing.
  • Add more onion, celery and carrot.
  • Add more peas.
  • Add more ham.
  • Add more spices.
  • Go to Google and search: “I burned my split pea soup.”
  • Read lots of crazy internet content about how to fix a pot of burned split pea soup.
  • Deep breath . . . add a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter to the soup.
  • Cry some more because now I had a pot of burned peanut butter soup.
  • Sleep and dream about burned peanut butter (supposed to be split pea soup)
  • Wake up to attend a meeting at a local coffee shop. Bringing a mug of my burned soup to the meeting and  ask friends to taste it and weigh-in with their opinions.
  • Call Mom and brother fromon my way home from the Tuesday morning meeting to beg for any advice they may have been holding back on.

burned soupLet me stop here and bridge this topic over to our work as non-profit and fundraising professionals.

As I look back upon my time on the front line, I dealt with a ton of burnt pots of split pea soup. Here are just a few examples:

  • Hiring the wrong person to do a job.
  • Recruiting the wrong person to help with a fundraising campaign.
  • Recruiting the wrong person to serve on the board of directors.
  • Asking the wrong board members to serve on the wrong standing committee.
  • Investing way too much time cultivating a prospective donor who had no intention of ever making a contribution.

In each of these business examples, I did the same thing as I did with my pot of soup. I kept sinking more time, energy and resources into fixing a situation that just wasn’t fixable.

In the case of making the wrong hire, it was additional meetings, coaching, corrective action plans, and more corrective action plans.

In the case of the fundraising volunteer, it was additional meetings, taking tasks off their plate and doing it myself, and recruiting a co-chair and other volunteers to supplement the work I originally had counted on them to do.

My partner (and the love of my life) is a corporate sales tax guy. He hangs around accountants all day long, and he is constantly telling me:

“Sunk costs are never a consideration!”

As much as it pains me to say, he is right.

sunk costsAs for my pot of burned pot of split pea soup, my mother and brother convinced me to throw it out and start from scratch on Tuesday morning.

All of those sunk costs kept making the pot of soup bigger and bigger, which is what made throwing three gallons of soup in the trash so difficult. If I had only listened to what my partner is always telling me, there would’ve been a lot less food (and money) going in the garbage.

As it relates to your non-profit organization, it is important to remember that your time is money. This means hiring the right people and recruiting the right volunteers is very important. Failing to do so is the equivalent of making an ever expanding pot of burned split pea soup.

You might as well open your wallet and start burning dollar bills. It is the same thing! And what non-profit organization has enough money laying around to do that?

How do you make sure you are hiring and recruiting the right people? How do you know when to pull the trigger and cut your losses when it comes to volunteers and staff? Please use the comment box below to share stories or best practices because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

State of the Nonprofit Sector: Remainder of 2013

Good morning, DonorDreams blog subscribers. I thought I’d give you a day off from my random non-profit and fundraising thoughts by offering you an awesome guest post by Ashley Halligan. She is a managing editor at Austin-based Software Advice and a very talented freelance features writer. Check out her book project on Facebook:  Enjoy!

State of the Nonprofit Sector: Remainder of 2013
By: Ashley Halligan

state ofSix weeks into the new year and last year’s reports are coming to surface helping shape the expectations for the remainder of this year in the nonprofit sector.

With the beginning of President Obama’s second term, a recovering economy, and a fiscal cliff, nonprofits have – well – a lot to discuss and anticipate in 2013.

Several reports have been released in the past month that indicate 2012’s performance and trends, offering insight as to what to expect this year. Among those things are hiring trends, succession planning, adoption of mobile technology, social giving campaigns, and, most predictably, differing opinions on the impact of tax reform and proposals on the missions of nonprofits.

More Hiring & Succession Strategizing

The Improve Group and Nonprofit HR Solutions released a report that showed 44 percent of the nation’s nonprofits planned to create new positions this year. Positions in direct services in fundraising were at the forefront of organizations’ plans to hire.

According to the same study, 70 percent of nonprofits lacked a formal succession plan, though those who had implemented a strategy reported that it brought their organization peace of mind, developed talent, and retained staff. Experts expect focus in this area to become a primary area of focus this year.

Deploying More Technology & Social Giving Campaigns

Another main area experts and reports agree on is the increase of technology deployment in the nonprofit sector. In particular, a Blackbaud report shows that mobile technology will be significant this year with more than two-thirds of surveyed NPOs planning to utilize more mobile tech this year.

Additionally, more and more nonprofit technology companies are emerging giving organizations in this sector far more options, ranging from fully integrated suites to specialized programs for basic needs like fundraising or donor management.

This year a bigger emphasis is expected to be seen on social giving campaigns as well. The 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report says to expect three things:

  1. The monetization of Facebook
  2. More usage of Google+
  3. Increased fundraising efforts through Twitter

Some are Weary of Tax Uncertainties, Others See Promise

Tax promises and concerns, however, are still at the top of mind in the nonprofit sector. Till months pass and charitable giving trends can be analyzed, long-term impacts of the American Taxpayer Relief Act can’t be certain. Some think the act could positively impact giving by $3.3 billion, while others still fear proposed tax ceilings fearing a negative impact of the same amount.

This is a big year for nonprofits. A lot is yet to be determined. What is your take on the state of nonprofits for the remainder of 2013? Feel free to leave your comments below or reach out to us directly.

ashley sig

Through the Looking Glass: When the new CEO and the old CEO collide

alice and the doorA few months ago, I bumped into someone who recently accepted a new executive director position for a non-profit organization. I thought that it would be a neat project to live vicariously through them and try to see non-profit work through their eyes. So, I asked if they wouldn’t mind periodically sharing their challenges and successes with me throughout their first year on the job. In turn, I would translate those conversations into blog posts for DonorDreams subscribers. Fortunately, they agreed to participate in this exercise. I am calling this series “Through the Looking Glass” in honor of Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland. I hope you enjoy it!

I hope to start each one of these posts with a quote from Alice in Wonderland that ties back to the theme of that particular post. Today, I think the conversation between Alice and the talking door at the beginning of Alice’s adventure is most appropriate.

Door: “Why it’s simply impassible!”
Alice: “Why, don’t you mean impossible?”
Door: “No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing’s impossible!”

Sometimes when a new non-profit executive director is hired, there is a transition period between OLD and NEW. It can be the old executive director staying on to help with orientation and training of the new executive director. In other instances, it can be the interim executive director overlapping with the incoming CEO.

When I was a new executive director, the interim executive director stayed on as an employee as a direct report with front line responsibilities. In the instance of our new executive director friend, the former executive director is hanging around for a while. Unfortunately, no one on the board in the beginning defined what this should look like, and there has been some ambiguity around what that employment relationship looks like and when it will end.

When I recently checked in to see how our new CEO was doing, they already had a great blog idea. They titled that blog post “What to do when the old CEO won’t cough up info for the new CEO“.

Who would’ve guessed that without an orderly written transition and orientation plan provided by the board of directors that something like this would happen? (yes, sarcasm is intended)

So, I asked our new executive director this simple question: “That is a great blog topic, but what advice would you give new execs?

alice and the door2This is how they responded:

  1. Politely but firmly continue to request the info (first verbally,then  in writing, and finally in writing with a cc to the Board Chair and Vice Chair).
  2. Doing a work around to obtain the info in other ways.
  3. Using empathy and compassion to analyze the reluctance to share information. Then re-framing the request for info as a way of moving the organization forward and helping with transition.
  4. Talking to the Board Chair and Vice Chair.
  5. Asking who else I should be talking to in order to obtain the needed info.  (e.g. maybe the former ED doesn’t have the information at all and doesn’t want me to know this)

This challenge is REAL for this new executive director. It is also a reality for countless others across the county. Here are a few great online articles and resources that I found that might be helpful to non-profit organizations going through or planning on going through executive transition:

I thought it would be more appropriate to end each of these blog posts by opening it up to the DonorDreams readership and asking you what kind of advice you have for this new executive director. Please use the comment section below and provide your best world-class coaching advice. How would you go about engaging the outgoing executive director to get the documents and information they are needed for a seamless transition?

We can all learn from each other and sometimes peer-to-peer coaching is the best kind of coaching. Please take a minute or two out of your busy schedule to help this new executive director. Pay it forward!

Here’s to your health!

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

Have you forgotten year-end evaluations and performance plans during the year-end scramble?

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

It is that time of the year when non-profit leaders set the stage for the next year. This time of the year is always critical and tripping up usually means the next year won’t be a banner one. Here is just a small sampling of what is on the plates of many non-profit executive directors:

  • Budget construction
  • Resource development / revenue planning
  • Program planning
  • Year-end holiday fundraising and stewardship strategies
  • Working with the board development committee to complete year-end board volunteer evaluations
  • Developing annual performance plans for the upcoming year for staff
  • Completing year-end evaluations

Interesting enough, in my experience, it is the last three bullet points that get swept under the rug by so many non-profit organizations.

Today’s blog post is short and sweet because it is the end of the Mayan calendar and I have a few things to do before the world ends. So, please ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you anxious about evaluating your employees?
  2. Have you neglected to put 2013 annual performance plans together for your staff?
  3. Have you let your Board Development / Board Governance Committee off the hook yet again when it comes to year-end board evaluations?

If you answered ‘YES’ to any of these questions, then please “click-through” and read John’s most recent post titled “There Is No Crying In Performance Reviews!

Not only does he “hit the nail on the head,” but I don’t have any personal stories that are better than the ones he shares.

If you didn’t get a chance to read this month’s guest post from Dani Robbins, then you may want to click here and circle back to her thoughts on  year-end evaluations for board volunteers. I urge you to consider what Dani says and compare it to John’s post about employee evaluations. Does John’s organizational development insights and suggestions also ring true when it comes to year-end board member evaluations. If so, what can you do to support your Board Development Committee to have “AUTHENTIC” and “GENERATIVE” conversations with their peers?

Enjoy the last day of civilization as we know it (just kidding) . . . and Here’s to your health!

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

How do you deal with your inner “Non-Profit Possibility Girl”?

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post 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 recent post (a very short but powerful post), John talked about “Possibility Girl” and the paralysis that comes with expectations, especially expectations that are very visible. 

As I read John’s post, a number of non-profit questions formed in my mind:

  • I wonder how many non-profit boards (collectively) feel the same way as Possibility Girl?
  • I wonder how many board volunteers (individually) feel the same way as Possibility Girl?
  • I wonder how many non-profit executive directors feel the same way as Possibility Girl?
  • I wonder how many non-profit fundraising professionals feel the same way as Possibility Girl?
  • I wonder how many donors (individuals as well as organizations like foundations) feel the same way as Possibility Girl?

As you can see, John got inside my head this morning. LOL

Once I got past these questions, it became very clear to me that the bigger question that needs to be asked is:

What can/should a non-profit executive director do with their board volunteers , staff and donors to help them get beyond this paralyzing ‘Possibility Girl effect’?”

I used to struggle with this question when I was an executive director (not that I had framed it in quite the same way prior to reading John’s blog post). With that disclaimer in mind, I will share with you a few things I think worked for me:

  1. I liked to clearly set expectations well in advance. I used written volunteer job descriptions during the recruitment process, and I used a management by objectives system when it came to staff performance management plans. I really think clarity and transparency “right-size” expectations and put Possibility Girl in perspective.
  2. I tried to celebrate and recognize big and small accomplishments. I really think celebration and recognition shrink the doubts that people have in their heads, and it provides proof that you aren’t “fake” or “bluffing your way through something“. Success breeds success and builds confidence.
  3. I tried to integrate a sense of mission-focus into everything. I think this approach helps because it serves as a reminder that none of this was about me. It is about something bigger. This approach always allowed me to compartmentalize personal feelings, put them in their right place, and focus on the bigger things. It was a crutch that helped me and the groups of people I supported to “push past periodic feelings of inadequacy“.

Enough about me. What about you? How do you personally deal with you inner “Non-Profit Possibility Girl“? How have you helped your board, fundraising committee, and staff deal with her? I would love to hear a few tips from your corner of the non-profit world! We can all learn from each other and Fridays are great days to invest a minute or two in such an activity. Please use the comment box below to share.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit boards ask: To search or not to search?

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 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 have enjoyed the genius musings of my friend for the last next few days . . .

The question comes up anytime someone resigns, and often when someone is forced out as well.  Do we really have to do a search?!?!  It’s usually followed by “we have someone that’s great” or “there’s a Board member that’s interested.”  Wonderful!  Encourage those people to apply and do a search.

Why?  Because it’s the most legitimate way to ascend to leadership.  The absence of a search leaves people, at a minimum, with the perception of impropriety. Even if you are the one they think is great, or you are the Board member who is interested, encourage the search and then apply. Perception is reality and leadership is hard enough without people thinking you didn’t earn the spot.  Why set your new leader — or yourself — up for that?

In the absence of a search, people, at best, become mildly uncomfortable by the thought that there might be something unsavory going on.   At worst, they choose not to follow what they perceive as an illegitimate leader.   Either way, an internal conflict gets created that takes people’s attention away from the work at hand. It is a conflict that could have been easily avoided.  It may also be a violation of your organization’s policies.  Most policies include a requirement and a process for doing a search.  Any lawyer will tell you that once you violate one policy, the remaining policies become more difficult to enforce.

Now is the easiest and least expensive time to post an opening.  In Columbus, Ohio alone, there are a variety of free or low-cost search web opportunities including OANO, the United Way and Craigslist.  Post it on your organization’s website; and if your organization is part of a larger national organization or state or county-wide collaborative, then post the position opening on the group’s web site as well.

You can also create a posting and send it out to all the agencies with whom you partner and ask them to post it.

Finally, if you have a budget, you can pay for an ad, and because of the internet, that ad can be as long as you’d like.  If you’re interested in advertising in the classified section of the local paper, you will still have to pay per word, but even in that case, there is usually a contract with an internet site to post the ad as well.  In your ad, I recommend you request a cover letter as well as a resume.

Before you post the position . . .

  • review what you want in a candidate (both overall and by priority area)
  • determine what salary range you can offer
  • review the current range for such a position in your community
  • consider the job you want the applicant to do and the skill set and experience they will need to be successful (both the minimum requirements and your preferred qualifications)
  • consider the culture of your organization and the values a candidate would have to have to be successful in that culture.

If you are seeking resource development staff, consider if you want an event planner, a grant writer or an individual giving / major gifts person.  If you are seeking an executive director, consider if you want someone to grow your organization, maintain it or turn it around.  Each is a different skill set, and even if the applicant has previous experience in the role, then it may not be relevant to the needs at hand.

Prioritize the skills you seek.  Write your interview and reference questions to reflect the needs at hand, by priority area.  An Executive Director may be proficient at resource development, board development, operations, community profile building, marketing, financial acumen, and more.  They may or may not be a subject matter expert.  They may have prior experience at a similar agency.  What are the top 5 priorities in order of importance to your organization?  Develop three questions under each priority area and one or two questions, each, for everything else.

Inquire as to what applicants have done as opposed to what they would do.  There are lots of things we would all like to do in a perfect world, but what we have done is a much better gauge of what we will do in the future.  Plus, you can confirm it during the reference check.

Once you begin receiving resumes, filter applicants by their ability to follow your instructions to include a cover letter and resume, their writing ability (if writing is a piece of the job), and if they meet your minimum or preferred qualifications.Education and relevant experience are the price of admission to an interview.  After that, good judgment and fit are the most important criteria for me.

In addition to the standard questions confirming relevant experience and preferred education, I also recommend including values-based questions:

  • How does the candidate respond to mistakes s/he made and mistakes made by others?
  • Within what amount do they return phone calls/emails?
  • How has s/he handled it when s/he disagreed with a supervisor?
  • Do they generally get work in early or at the last-minute?

You will learn a lot about the judgment of your applicants, and their ability to fit onto your team during the interview process.  Good leader can do a lot to groom and guide a mentee, but improving someone’s judgment or changing their values are not usually among them.

Create a measurement tool to rate applicant’s answers by section.  Interviewing should not solely be about feel.  While it’s true that you should always trust your gut, you should also always have a process to assess candidates.  I recommend prioritizing the skill sets you seek and use a 1-3 scale for each answer that allows you to tally up answers by priority area.  This process will allow you to compare applicants against your criteria by area and overall.  I recommend a minimum of two interviews, with a background check being conducted in between, and a reference check of your top candidates being conducted after the final interview.

When you call the finalist to make an offer, include information about salary and benefits.  When you finish speaking, wait for them to accept. Know before you make the call if you have the authority to negotiate salary and if so, how high.  Be prepared to answer benefits questions.  Once they accept, discuss start date and a plan to announce your new hire to your organization’s constituents. Congratulations!

Hiring is one of the most critical factors to the success or failure of your organization.  It takes time, as does almost everything worth doing.  A search will inspire the board, the staff, and the community’s confidence in your leader and your confidence in their success. It is one of the most important roles and responsibilities of your non-profit board.

Seinfeld, silver medals, and your employees

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

Today, I am focusing on a post that John wrote a post inspired by a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up comedy piece about winning silver medals at the Olympics. He talks about a research study that shows that Olympic athletes who win a silver medal are significantly less happy than bronze medalists. John, of course, goes on to talk about expectations and performance in the workplace.

John’s post got me thinking about many of the jobs that I’ve held in various non-profit organizations.

While I loved all of those job and experiences, the general memories that stick with me are:

  • Good is good enough
  • Don’t worry about cutting that corner
  • It is understandable that the outcomes and impact data aren’t what we hoped because we’re making do with less

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I am a results-focused person who constantly strives for the gold. So, it might come as a surprise to you that in spite of all the glowing performance reviews I always felt like the silver medalist.

Now I already know that some of you are rolling your eyes and chalk my observation up to unrealistic expectations on my part. While some of that might be true, please stick with me because I think it is more than just that.

Dan Pallotta speaks to this issue a little bit in his new book “Uncharitable“. He points to the lack of resources in the non-profit sector and highlights what he believes is ineffectiveness in many instances and failure in others. For example . . .

  • With so many non-profits focused on raising money for cancer and AIDS research, why hasn’t it been cured?
  • With so many church food pantries and non-profit food banks, why is child hunger on the rise?
  • With so many after-school programs for kids, why are academic achievement test scores still so low?

Non-profit sector employees are a special breed. Most studies that I’ve read show that these individuals are more motivated by “mission” than by a paycheck. They want to save the world and they are passionate about what you are trying to do.

So, when we tell these people that “good is good enough” or “cutting corners is acceptable and understandable,” aren’t we contributing to our own demise and helping them feel like silver medalists?

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you put an expense line in your agency budget for party supplies to make everyone feel like a gold medalist. Of course, I do hope that you’re demonstrating your appreciation for what those people do for you from time to time.

What I am suggesting is that your agency will benefit greatly if you start rightsizing your expectations. While talking about your organization’s mission and vision is important, I encourage you to put it in the context of today.

For example, talk about working towards the elimination of hunger with the focus being on helping one more more kid put food in her belly today.

Perhaps, we can reduce employee turnover AND donor turnover if we adjust our expectations, place our outcomes and impact data in the right context, and stop telling our employees that “good is good enough”.

Do you know how many of your employees feel like silver medalists? If you do, then please share with us how you know. What do you do to make your employees feel like winners rather than a runner-up. Do you know your employee turnover rate or door loyalty numbers off the top of your head? Do you share those metrics with your board and set goals against those benchmarks?

Please scroll down and 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

If I had a hammer . . .

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

Recently, John wrote two related posts titled “Rabbit Chase” and “Maslow’s Hammer“. These posts spoke to the ideas of organizational culture and effective processes. Additionally, they featured one of my favorite quotations of all-time from Abraham Maslow:

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

As John’s posts typically do, they get my mind racing about how his organizational development principles apply to my non-profit experiences. Sometimes, they even set me off in an unpredictable direction as is the case today.

Three non-profit executive director friends of mine are all involved in some kind of job search process:

  • One friend is unemployed and jumping into an executive director search process.
  • A second friend is filling a vacancy and hiring a CFO.
  • My third friend received approval from the board to create a development director position and is hiring a fundraising professional with major gifts experience.

So, you’re probably wondering what in the heck do these three things have to do with Maslow’s quotation about hammers and nails or John Greco’s posts about organizational culture and effective processes?

Well, it dawned on me that when non-profit organizations go into “hiring mode” and open an employment search, they are essentially adding tools to their organizational toolbox. Carrying this analogy to its logical conclusion . . . The obvious challenge for those organizations who have a toolbox full of hammers is to not add another hammer. Right?

Having formerly run a non-profit agency, I look back over all of the search processes that I ran, and I now wonder how many times I started out the search by assessing my organizational toolbox to figure out what type of person would best fill the gap.

You might be thinking that a when you have a vacancy — like my friend who is hiring a replacement CFO — you are by definition filling a gap, but I encourage you to rethink your position by reading John’s post “Rabbit Chase“. You will clearly see in that example that all three actors in that post — the FBI, CIA, and NYPD — do the same thing (e.g. law enforcement), but they all have a different approach.

Won’t that be the same thing my friend experiences during his CFO search? All of his final candidates will know finance, but they will all come with different backgrounds and experiences. They will also all have different approaches.

I think we can also take this organizational development principle beyond the confines of executive search and apply it to board development and how you approach your organization’s board development process.

I’ve seen a number of non-profit boards that had too many hammers on it. I can tell you that it always results in a very flat executive director! LOL

Think about it for a second.

How do you maintain a diversified organizational toolbox from a staff or board perspective? What tools do you use? How do you develop your interview guides with this organizational development principle in mind? Does your board development process utilize a board composition matrix?

Our organizations are stretched too thin for us to continue re-inventing the wheel. So, why not share your approaches and tools with each other in the comment box? We can all learn from each other.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get the idea of hammers out of my head this Friday morning. So, I thought I’d end today’s post with this classic song from Peter, Paul and Mary:


Here’s to your health!

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