Managing vs Leading: a follow-up post

Last week, I wrote a post titled “Managing versus leading at your non-profit organization“. Well, it seems like this is a hot topic for many of you because a day has not gone by without someone saying something to me or emailing me about it. Additionally, my blog analytics reports indicate that this post has been popular. So, I thought I’d take a moment this morning to post a quick follow-up on this topic and share some of what you’ve said to me privately.

Smaller non-profit organizations

The idea of leading versus managing appears to be different for small non-profit organizations. Those of you who work at agencies with budgets under $1 million have emphatically said to me that you wear many different hats throughout the day primarily because your budget is stretched very thin. As a result, many of you have described a typical work day that you believe involves significantly more managing than leading.

When I’ve pressed many of you on the question of how to solve this situation, you’ve all had the same reaction, which is that you need to raise more money and hire more staff.

While I generally agree with you, this solution is simple and possibly unattainable because you’ve described being caught in feedback loop that doesn’t allow for you to find the time to focus on fundraising.

In the interest of being solution-focused this morning, the following are just a few ideas that you may want to chew on:

  1. Identify a funding partner and secure organizational development and capacity building funding to help build a volunteer program, improve your fundraising efforts or strengthen your board.
  2. Identify a strategic alliance with another non-profit organization in your community. This might free you up and allow you to shift more time from managing to leading.
  3. Explore merger and acquisition opportunities. If what you’re saying about bigger non-profit organizations is true (e.g. more resources allows their CEO to spend more time leading), then it makes sense to chew on the idea of how you can become a bigger organization.

Bigger non-profit organizations

The idea of leading versus managing also appears to be different for larger non-profit organizations. Those of you who work at agencies with multi-million dollar budgets have emphatically said to me that you end up focusing more on managing than on leading when the staff underneath you doesn’t perform or do well at executing their jobs.

With a sluggish economy and job market, the solution is obvious . . . find ways to hire more talented people than what you currently have on your staff. While this is a simple solution, it is something with which many of you are struggling. Why? Because we are non-profit professionals and we see this approach as ruthless. You have explained to me that non-profit organizations (specifically social service agencies) are in the business of saving people and not putting them in situations where they need help.

You need to find a way to get over this attitudinal barrier because the job market will not be abundant forever. Now is the time to upgrade your staff. Finding a way to do so in a compassionate way might be one of the most transformational things you do during this decade.

Your leadership toolbox

As many of you have engaged me in this conversation, we’ve found ourselves talking about tools, strategies and approaches that you think help you restore balance between the competing ideas of leading and managing. The following is a brief list of your thoughts:

  1. Board development is important. Leadership isn’t just something that comes from the CEO’s office. A strong board that understands their roles and responsibilities and keeps its nose out of the operational details and focused on big picture strategic issues is more likely to demand the same from you.
  2. Strategic planning is foundational. Many of you have said that it is impossible to lead without a leadership blueprint, and your strategic plan serves that function. The plan is not an “end” strategy, but you’ve said it is a “means to an end” . . . it is a starting point.
  3. Executive coaching provides perspective. While executive coaching still seems to be more prevalent among for-profit CEOs, some of you told me that you’ve engaged the services of an executive coach. It is hard to “see the forest through the trees“. Your executive coach helps you with this issue and brings a sense of accountability and action-focus to your job.
  4. Tools and systems make it easier. The following is a list of tools and systems that many of you referenced: annual performance plans, organizational dashboards, time management tools and practices, trainings, weekly meetings with key staff, etc.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this topic is very large and could take up a month’s worth of blog posts. I also find it curious that so many of you want to have this discussion off-line, which is why I decided to double back and ask you to please reconsider and post your thoughts in the comment box below. How do you know when you are leading compared to managing? What are you doing (what tools or strategies are you using) that enables you to do more leading? We can all learn from each other. It will only take one or two minutes out of your day to post a comment. Please?

Here’s to your health!

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

Saying ‘NO’ to donors and minimizing how often it is done

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, we’re focusing on a post that John titled: “I Disagree. Now What?“. In that post, he describes “the sound of righteous indignation hitting managerial prerogative,” and the lessons learned about when it is right to disobey and when it is not.

John’s post could send me off in a number of different HR directions this morning, but I am in a resource development mood and want to talk about donors — those investors in your mission.

When I read  “I Disagree. Now What?” it got me thinking about all of those times I’ve seen donors throw their dollars around. They want you to develop and launch a new program. They only want their contribution to support certain programs or certain activities.

Thinking back upon those situations reminds me a lot of the boss character in John’s post. This got me wondering: “Is there ever a situation when a non-profit organization can say ‘NO’ to a donor and use their contribution in a manner that is inconsistent with the donor’s wishes?”

To be honest, I can’t think of any situations where you can take someone’s money and disregard their expressed intent. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say ‘NO’ . . . you just need to do it by declining to accept the contribution.

While it is hard to say ‘NO’ to money, especially in today’s philanthropic environment, non-profit organizations need to know when it must happen. If you’re having a hard time thinking of when this might be appropriate, the following are a few examples of when I might do so:

  • When Bernie Madoff calls and wants to write me a big check.
  • When a company whose brand is inconsistent with your non-profit image wants to contribute (e.g. Hooters, local bar, strip clubs, the tobacco industry, etc)
  • When a donor’s wishes are not compatible with your mission.
  • When a donor’s wishes are not compatible with your strategic direction.

In my experience, the first two examples are easily identifiable and actionable for most non-profit organizations. It is the last two examples that are very challenging.

For example, it might make sense for you to accept money to develop a new intergenerational program that brings kids and senior citizens together, but it might not be a strategic priority for your organization. As a matter of fact, it might distract from other more important and pressing strategic initiatives.

Declining a donor’s contribution is really hard and should be done rarely, which is why having the right mindset, approach and tools in your fundraising toolbox is important. John does a really nice job addressing this issue in his post:

  • When John says, “Pick your battles” . . . I read this as: “Don’t over-solicit. Be very thoughtful about when and what you ask your donors to support.”
  • When John says, “Some things I can’t control, but I can influence” . . . I read this as: “Cultivate new prospects and steward existing donors significantly more than you solicit them, and only solicit when it feel right.”
  • When John says, “Craft my argument, with data and facts” . . . I read this as: “Develop an amazing case for support and train fundraising volunteers to use it as the foundation of their solicitation.”
  • When John says, “Make my case in a compelling fashion” . . . I read this as: “Convince donors to support your mission and the agency’s strategic direction. Demonstrate how doing so aligns with their philanthropic wishes and dreams.”
  • When John says, “Take my hits; the pain is temporary” . . . I read this as: “Once in a blue moon, you will have to politely turn down a donation. It will not be the end of the world.”
  • When John says, “Seek to understand even while I strive to be understood” . . . I read this as: “The listening-to-speaking ratio involved in donor interactions needs to significantly favor listening. Doing so will improve the odds of understanding, which in and of itself should minimize the number of times you have to say ‘NO’ to a donor because you are able to align the solicitation with their known interests.”

Non-profit organizations should strive to never be in the position of having to say ‘NO’ to a donor, but they need to be prepared to do so.

Have you ever been in a position of having to say ‘NO’ to a donor? If so, how did you go about doing it without damaging the relationship? What mindsets, approaches and tools are in your fundraising toolbox to ensure that you are rarely in this position? Please use the comment box below to share your answers.

If you are responsible for HR at your organization or are currently at odds with your boss, I encourage you to click over to John’s post titled “I Disagree. Now What?” and read it from that perspective, too.

Here’s to your health!

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

Founding Fathers have the answer for today’s non-profit leadership deficit

It has been said more than once on this blog as well as in many other places on the internet that non-profit organizations are challenged from an executive leadership perspective. Compensation packages are poor. Boards make bad choices. Evaluation is the exception rather than the rule. Succession planning is more talk than anything else. Let’s face it . . . today’s non-profit executive leadership picture is less than rosy.

However, tomorrow’s executive leadership picture is likely going to get much worse according to The Bridgespan Group who recently carried out a study on executive leadership issues focused on non-profits with revenues greater than $250,000. Click here to read a copy of the executive summary.

The bottom line according to this study is:

  • The non-profit sector will need 80,000 new leaders in 2016;
  • Non-profit agencies lack the size and resources to develop its leaders from within;
  • The non-profit sector lacks robust management-education and executive-search capabilities.

By the way, Happy Fourth of July 2012. I decided writing about this subject today because it feels especially appropriate.

I’ve always looked at what the Founding Fathers did in Philadelphia in 1776 as an exercise in organizational development and leadership, and I’m convinced that non-profits can find lots of answers to their challenges just by studying history.

I can mentally picture George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin sitting around after a tough day at Independence Hall working through issues dealing with how to sustain the country in the long-term.

If I were to guess, the idea of having both a federal government and 13 independent sovereign states bound together into one governance system had a lot to do with checks and balances and not trusting big government. However, I also suspect there was some thought given to how separate governance models at the state level would create a training ground and leadership engine for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.

Even if this thought never crossed their minds, it still turns out to be genius!

As you go about celebrating Independence Day 2012, I encourage you to chew on the following questions:

  • Does your non-profit agency have a written succession plan? Is it real orjust something on paper?
  • What does your training and professional development program and budget look like?
  • What leadership opportunities are you providing staff members to help them gain the necessary experience to step-up and lead in the future?
  • Are there places (e.g. structures, committees, groups) inside your organization where people can “cut their teeth” and learn how to be a leader and develop skills?
  • If not, what does the constitutional convention look like for your agency to make those adjustments? Who is sitting around the table?
  • Much like the states interact with one another, are there other non-profits in your community who you can collaborate with around issues of succession and leadership?

Here’s to your health! And have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

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

Do you have “balance” in your non-profit life?

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, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “Catch More Life“. In that post, he talks about work-life balance, values and dreams. I think this is an especially appropriate post for this Friday because we’ve been talking about time management all week-long, which begs the question of work-life balance.

I loved John’s post this week because it came at just the right time in my life. A few weeks ago, I celebrated a huge anniversary — the day I decided to let go and “free fall” in life. It was the end of May 2011, when I left my job at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew that I couldn’t stay on the path that I was on.

After taking the summer to decompress and think things through, I realized that life is too short and decided to cease the moment. I started blogging. I invested time in doing things that made me happy. I opened my own small non-profit consulting practice in October 2011 and resumed what I love doing, which is helping non-profit organizations build capacity.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t do any assessment or evaluation work on my decisions until October 2012, but the anniversary of my departure from Boys & Girls Clubs of America threw me a curveball and I started asking:

  • Was this the right decision?
  • Am I making enough money to sustain the consulting practice?
  • Do I need to go back to work for “The Man”.   😉   (Sorry, Fred)
  • Do I need to change certain things about my consulting practice?

I started feeling the anxiety that comes with assessment and evaluation . . . until I read John’s post.

While I’m still not sure that I’ve made the right decision or if I am on the right path with my new business, I feel better about putting my anxiety away until October. I also feel a little better about the decision I made a year ago because at the core of that decision was exactly what the fisherman in John’s post is trying to do.

I also find myself concerned this morning about the state of the non-profit sector. Philanthropy News Digest reported a few years ago about a study conducted by the Meyer Foundation:

“. . . young nonprofit staff are concerned that challenges such as work-life balance, insufficient lifelong earning potential, a lack of mentorship, and overwhelming fundraising responsibilities may prevent them from becoming nonprofit executives.”

As I look at this report finding and then look at the fisherman in John’s post “Catch More Life,” I find myself nodding my head and thinking that the word “challenges” is an under-statement.

If you are an executive director, you shouldn’t dismiss this phenomenon because it fundamentally threatens the long-term viability of your agency. Perhaps, the best thing you can do is:

  • Sit down with your employees,
  • Figure out what they value in life and offer to help them achieve it while they work at your agency,
  • Help them develop a career and life path, and
  • In the final analysis, appreciate their choices as you figure out how to simultaneously meet your agency’s needs.

If you are a board volunteer, you should take a hard look at this report and do a number of things like address it in your organization’s strategic plan and compensation & benefits plan. You should also demand that your executive director model work-life balance and promote it.

If you are a donor, please consider funding capacity building initiatives that help non-profits grow their fundraising muscles, which in turn will bring more resources to throw at this challenge.

The non-profit sector is at-risk and we are our own worst enemies. Is it possible for the fishermen and businessmen from John’s post to co-exist in the non-profit sector?

Do you personally have a work-life balance challenge? How are you addressing it? Does your agency have a balance issue with regards to the organization’s culture? Are you addressing it? If so, how? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-Profit Time Management: The Trick About Delegation

This week’s “Mondays with Marissa” post was titled “Non-Profit Time Management: Scheduling Social Media Updates“. After reading Marissa’s weekly pearl of wisdom, it got me thinking. During tough economic times, donors are asking non-profits to do more with less, which is leading to longer task lists for both executive directors and fundraising professionals. All of this contributes to a lot of stress in the workplace. In honor of Marissa’s awesome blog post, I am dedicating this week’s posts to the idea of looking more carefully at time-saving tips with regards to managing your agency and implementing your resource development program.

Let’s continue this conversation by looking at the difficult art of delegation.

It would be so simple to just say “delegate early and often” if you want to improve productivity at your non-profit organization; however, the truth of the matter is:  it is more complicated than that.

The Heaping Plate effect

Let’s think this through for a moment. Donors are telling non-profits to do more with less. From what I’ve seen in the last four years, non-profit boards did not respond by rolling up their sleeves and investing more time in serious fundraising. Instead, many of the boards I know circled the wagons and tried to “cut-cut-cut” their way out of crisis.

In the final analysis, those non-profit organizations are stretched very thin now, and they’re trying to run their pre-2008 program with a skeleton staff.

So, an executive director or fundraising professional might not be able to delegate their way to increased productivity because everyone’s plate is heaped too full of work.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that delegation can’t be effective; however, it will need to be done with volunteers (e.g. board volunteers, program volunteers, fundraising volunteers).

All hands on deck!

Trust But Verify

When I was an executive director, I learned that delegation is not a magic cure-all that made everything on my task list disappear. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.  🙁

For example, I would delegate a task to staff or volunteers and expect that it would get done on or before the agreed upon deadline. It never failed . . . the task would never get done on time and I usually ended up taking it back (while muttering under my breath something like “if you want it done right, you got to do it yourself“).

I really was wrong. In reality, I just didn’t know how to effectively delegate, and it wasn’t until someone share with me those immortal Ronald Reagan words — “Trust But Verify” — that I start getting better at delegation.

I learned to use my Microsoft Outlook task list to manage BOTH my tasks and the things I delegated. For example, if I delegated a grant compliance report to a staff person, then I would add it to Outlook with a digital reminder to check-in and see how things were going a few weeks before the deadline. I’d do the same thing with volunteers who agreed to do things for the agency.

Since opening my non-profit consulting practice, I’ve started using Basecamp, which is an online project management service to keep track of who is doing what and by when.

Have you used other tools other than Microsoft Outlook to track and manage things you’ve delegated to staff and volunteers? If so, please scroll down and share your best practice in the comment section of this blog. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Cultivation and stewardship: Who’s on first? What’s on second?

Yesterday’s post titled “Time in the office versus time with donors” begged more questions than it answered. Today, we’re going to zoom in on one of those questions and examine it more closely.

Should the executive director be more responsible for relationship building than the development director?

I have always advocated that, regardless of how hard they try, a non-profit executive director cannot abdicate their role as their agency’s chief development officer. Even when an organization is lucky enough to have a fully staffed development department with talented fundraising professionals, the executive directors is ultimately the person who needs to provide vision and direction.

I think Harry Truman said it best when he said, “The buck stops here!”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the executive director needs to be the person out on the street cultivating and stewarding relationships with every prospect and donor.

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this post, I believe it is as simple as taking an inventory of who does what well. While I firmly believe that prospects and donors prefer meeting the executive director and developing a relationship with him/her, there may be situations where the executive director doesn’t possess the requisite relationship building skills to cultivate and steward people to the extent necessary for a successful fundraising program. If this is the case, then the answer becomes simple . . . whoever is the natural “people-person” takes on the lion’s share of cultivation and stewardship.

It really can be that simple. Right?

How do you know if someone is a natural relationship builder? Here are a few things I lused to ook for when I interviewed fundraising professionals:

  • If their network is big, then there is a good likelihood that they are good at building relationships.
  • Do they keep in contact with their network? If so, then they are most likely someone who intuitively knows how to maintain relationships.
  • Have they ever “taken advantage of” someone and violated their trust? Trust is a foundational issue in building relationships, and it is something good fundraising professionals know how to navigate.
  • I always like to learn more about what is being talked about between a relationship builder and the person with whom they are trying to build a relationship. Why? Because good relationship builders are inquisitive and take an interest in the prospect or donor.

Again . . . while I personally prefer that the executive director takes on this role, it doesn’t always work that way and the fundraising professional might need to become the primary cultivation and stewardship person for the agency. It might also become something where certain board volunteers need to help step-in and help. Regardless, the executive director cannot abdicate this role completely and must find places where they are comfortable meeting prospects and donors.

In these circumstances, it is important to clarify roles and responsibilities and the executive director needs to take the initiative in doing this. Off the top of my head, the following are a few tools that can and should be used to achieve clarity:

  • written annual performance plan
  • weekly contact reports
  • written comprehensive resource development plan
  • weekly in-person checkpoint meetings
  • written cultivation & stewardship plan
  • Moves Management program

Doing an inventory of skill sets and assigning and managing roles and responsibilities for cultivation and stewardship activities will keep your agency from sounding like Abbott and Costello in their famous Who’s on First? comedy sketch. It will also likely help you answer the difficult question posed in yesterday’s blog post about how much time needs to be spent outside of the office compared to behind your desk.

Who is the person primarily responsible for cultivating prospects in your agency? Who stewards your donors? What tools and strategies are used to maintain clarity? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Time in the office versus time with donors

When I was an executive director, I always struggled with the question of how much time should a fundraising professional spend behind their desk?  In fact, it drove me crazy. My personal opinion has always been that resource development is all about relationship building, and it is hard to build or grow a relationship from behind a desk. My assumption was that the less I saw the development director in the office, the more effective they were at growing relationships with donors and implementing the organization’s resource development program.

After many years of reflecting upon these beliefs, I now wonder how wrong I might have been.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I still believe with all my heart that resource development is all about relationships, but I now have questions such as:

  • Should the executive director be more responsible for relationship building than the development director?
  • Should the development director be more responsible for the “technical” stuff involved in implementing the annual resource development plan (e.g. writing, organizing, planning, etc)?
  • If it is a “shared responsibility” (which is what I suspect many of you will conclude), then how much time behind the desk versus out of the office is the right balance for both the executive director and the development director?
  • How do you measure relationship building and the success of such activities?

If you are an executive director who likes to chain their fundraising professionals to a chair in the office, then you need to get over that instinct. You are most likely killing your resource development program unless your plan is highly focused on grant writing.  I think Marc Pitman does a great job of speaking to this issue and provides a free weekly call report tool for your use in his blog post titled “Are fundraising professionals stupid?

My best suggestion for both executive directors and fundraising professionals is to read Marc’s blog post, download his weekly call report template, and start using them. I might even go as far as suggesting that copies of these reports get attached to the executive director’s monthly report that gets turned in to the board of directors (possibly included in the board packet).

You’ve probably heard the old expression:

What gets measured gets done.

I believe that Marc’s weekly call reports speak to this point. If you want to motivate yourself and your resource development staff to get out of the office, then start measuring it.

I posed a number of different questions in this blog post and haven’t even come close to providing as many answers. I thought I’d ask the readers of this blog to first weigh-in with what you think the answers are. Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your opinions or how your organization addresses such questions. There are no wrong answers. In the next few days, I will spin-off a few more posts on related subjects.

Here’s to your health!

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

Class of 2012 should inspire all non-profit professionals: Part 3 of 3

On Tuesday, we started a three-part series about educational opportunities for non-profit professionals. The first post looked closely at North Park University and their Master of Nonprofit Administration program (M.N.A.). The second post in the series investigated the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and everything they offer. Today, we’re zooming out and taking a wider view.

Lots of institutions

I invested the first two days of this blog series talking about two non-profit studies programs I think are really excellent. However, there are many different options available to those of you wishing to secure a certificate or degree in something related to the non-profit sector. The following is just a short list of other centers and institutes found in the United States:

Don’t make a rash choice. Follow the advice that you received from your high school guidance counselor: “Do your homework and thoroughly investigate these programs to find the right fit for you.”

Lots of options

I like to joke with friends and colleagues that I went to the non-profit school of hard knocks to get my degree, but I’m really just being a joker when I say things like that. In reality, I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received both my BA of Urban Planning and Masters of Urban Planning.

Now some of you are probably wondering what urban planning has anything to do with the non-profit sector. I think Shannon Bond does a great job answering this question in her article titled “A Guide to Nonprofit-Focused Graduate Degree Programs” when she said:

“Is there a program out there for you? You may be surprised at the variety of nonprofit-focused degree programs that exist. Here are descriptions of a few . . . MUP: A Masters of Urban Planning degree focuses on city revitalization, empowerment of impoverished areas, and environmental concerns. Graduates typically secure jobs in such organizations as the UN, USAID, the World Bank, local and state housing agencies and nonprofit organizations that assist the homeless.”

Shannon highlights a number of other graduate degree options including: Masters of Business Administration, Masters of Public Administration, Masters of Public Policy, and a Masters of Social Work. I encourage those of you who are seeking non-profit degrees and certifications to look at all of your options. Click here and start with Shannon’s article.

Of course, going to school nowadays has gotten really expensive. If you can’t afford to enroll in an institution of higher learning, I suggest looking more closely at some of the certificate programs that we talked about in the first and second parts of this blog series.

If neither a certicate or degree are in your future, you can always do it the old fashion way and get some “on the job experience”. The non-profit sector is always looking for good men and women regardless of their level of education.

Did you graduate from a higher education institution with a non-profit related degree? If so, please share more about your alma mater. If not, please share a non-profit  experience from your past that you can honestly say helped shape who you are today. We can learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Strike three . . . You’re OUT! Because you swung for the non-profit fences.

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, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “My Last At Bat“. In that post, he talks about his last Little League game as a child. As a baseball fan, I immediately fell in love with this blog post. As a fan of the non-profit sector and organizational development, my mind has been spinning for almost a week about how many different ways John’s post applies to non-profit agencies.

I don’t want to give anything away (you really need to go read his post for yourself), but the story is about how John approached his last Little League game with an understanding of what he was “good at doing” and tried to play within his capabilities. His friend took a very different approach and got very different results.

Looking back over the last 15 years, I’ve seen this dynamic play out in many different ways. Here are a few examples:

  • A non-profit board needs to fill an executive director vacancy. Rather than looking at competencies, skill sets and past experiences, the search committee gets WOWed by a charming big personality. Or they hire the internal candidate who has been a great front line program staffer, but doesn’t have any past experience with fundraising, board development, or financial management.
  • An executive director needs to hire a development director to provide thoughtful leadership and direction to the agency’s comprehensive resource development program. Rather than identifying what competencies, skill sets and past experiences are necessary for this person to excel and succeed, they interview a hodgepodge of fundraising people including direct mail professionals, grant writers, special event coordinators, and marketing people. Again, they end up hiring a special event person and ask them to do something that they don’t have a track record of doing.
  • The board development committee needs to recruit a new class of board volunteers. Rather than complete a gap analysis to determine what skill sets and experiences incoming board volunteers need in order to help move the agency forward, the committee puts together a list of “friends” who they know will likely say YES if asked. In the end, the wrong people are sitting around the table. They are all well-intentioned, but the boardroom feels dysfunctional and engagement is lacking.

Why do so many of us in the non-profit sector ask people to do things that are outside of their immediate capabilities?

I know that you can hit a single, but I need you to hit a home run today!

The silly thing is that stringing together a few singles puts a few runs on the scoreboard in the same way that hitting a home run will do. Translated into “non-profit speak” . . . asking people (employees and volunteers) to do what they do well will advance your cause as much or more than asking them to do something that they haven’t done before.

Here are just a few suggestions to get our conversation going:

  • Don’t ask a volunteer who hasn’t done any fundraising to join your board.
  • Don’t hire an executive director who hasn’t been an executive director before.
  • Don’t ask a volunteer solicitor to ask a donor for a significant contribution unless they’ve also given significantly.
  • Don’t hire a special event person to write grants unless they’ve been successful at doing it somewhere else.

I am sure that some of you are bristling at these suggestions and have good examples of when you might want to do one of these things. Please know that these suggestions are not meant to be “absolutes”. However, if you plan on asking someone to do something that they don’t have much experience doing, then you must adjust your expectations. You need to expect failure at first. You need to view it as a “project” and invest in training and professional development, accordingly.

Do you ask your employees and volunteers to “play within their abilities”? Or are you someone who is always encouraging them to hit home runs for your agency? How do you guarantee that you’re hiring and recruiting the right people for the right jobs? What would you add to the list I started a few paragraphs ago around Do’s and Don’ts? How have you managed your employees’ and volunteers’ disappointment when they fail to hit the home run that you asked them to hit?

If you haven’t done so yet, please go read John Greco’s post “My Last At Bat“. When you’re done, circle back to this post and share your comments, thoughts and answers to some of the questions I’ve posed using the comment box below.  Let’s learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Should Development Directors be allowed in the boardroom?

A resource development colleague called me a few weeks ago. They were upset and pissed off after a recent board meeting, and they just wanted to vent their anger. As a good friend who was just asked to lend a shoulder to cry upon, I shut-up and listened. I didn’t offer any advice because it wasn’t asked for; however, the situation that was shared with me has been burning on my mind for weeks. It is such a serious issue that I thought I’d share it here and open it up for discussion.

In a nutshell, here are the facts that color this story:

  • The development director is a fixture in the boardroom and gives a “development report” at every meeting.
  • After delivering their report, a board member asked a question about what the development department might look like in the future.
  • While the development director had talked with the executive director about this issue in passing on a few occasions, neither of them had formally engaged on this subject in a meaningful way.
  • The answer caught the executive director off guard a little bit, and they jumped into the conversation with a “sharp tongue”. This response felt demeaning to the development director, and they felt “put in their place” in front of the board of directors.
  • In the days following the board meeting, the development director was verbally reprimanded and given what HR people would describe as a “verbal warning”.

I am very sympathetic to my resource development friend. It feels like the response was harsh; however, as a former executive director, I hated surprises in the boardroom, and I was a bit sensitive to how my employees interacted and engaged with board members.

All of this aside, I wonder what is the appropriate role for resource development professionals inside the boardroom. Is there one? Should the boardroom just be a place for an agency’s chief executive officer and the board of directors?

I am sure there are a number of you ready to share your thoughts about how important it is for fundraising professionals to have access to board volunteers and how strong relationships with volunteers are the key to a strong resource development program.

While I will be the first to agree with you, I keep wondering why does that need to occur in the boardroom?

Don’t resource development directors “have access” at resource development committee meetings? Special event planning meetings? Over a cup of coffee or lunch?

Isn’t the boardroom a sacred place where board members and their sole employee — the executive director — get to have frank conversations about the agency and its strategic direction?

There are so many other tangent conversations I could bring into this blog post such as:

  • What role should an executive director play in the agency’s resource development program when there are fundraising professionals on the payroll?
  • What should the communication protocol be for agency employees who report to the executive director and need access to board members?
  • Should development professionals guard against sharing their opinions with board members when the executive director hasn’t been fully brought into the conversation? If so, how? If not, why not?

However, I want to stop the conversation just short of those topics and just focus on the boardroom question. What staff are allowed in your agency’s boardroom? What function do they serve? What protocols are in place to ensure situations like the one I just shared with you don’t happen?

Here’s to your health!

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