Kissing While Driving for non-profit agencies

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 “Kissing While Driving“. In this post, he uses an Albert Einstein quote to investigate the perils of “multitasking” in the workplace by employees. He puts forward that employees who are running back and forth between various projects are likely only doing an “adequate” job at best for their employer because as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Haste makes waste”. More importantly John concludes:

  • this likely impacts employee engagement and loyalty,
  • can be dangerous for the company whose reputation is based on quality, and
  • is less than satisfying for employees who take pride in their work.

Reading John’s post brought me back to my “frontline” days of non-profit work. I honestly think this blog post is even more applicable to non-profit agencies because of how they behave in “resource deprived” environments. When I was the executive director of my local Boys & Girls Club, I used to laugh when people asked me: “What is your job?”

I used to describe my work as a daily “sprint” through a series of very diverse and challenging situations.

  • 7:00 am — network with donors at Rotary Club
  • 8:30 am — meet with development director about an upcoming special event fundraiser
  • 9:30 am — prepare meeting materials for upcoming Finance Committee meeting
  • 10:00 am — meet with program staff about a recent hiccup that was brought to my attention by a parent or collaborative partner
  • 11:00 am — double-check the bank deposit against the donor database report and check log; go to bank and make the deposit
  • 11:30 am — Troubleshoot a tech problem that an employee was experiencing (and was preventing them from doing their job)
  • Noon — Go to lunch with a donor or board member
  • 1:30 pm — Hop on a conference call for the state alliance
  • 2:30 pm — Last minute prep for the board development committee meeting
  • 3:00 pm  — Attend the board development committee meeting
  • 5:00 pm — Walk through the clubhouse facility to see programs in action and catch staff doing “good things” as well as connect with the mission
  • 5:30 pm — Respond to email and catch up on stuff that washed into my office throughout the day (possibly screening some cover letters and resumes for a job vacancy)
  • 6:00 pm — Pull together some paperwork and process grant receivables
  • 7:00 pm — Prep for the next day, do a little planning, or take advantage of the silence in the office and write a few sections for a grant application or upcoming newsletter
  • 8:00 or 9:00 pm — Go home for some sleep so you can do it all over again tomorrow.

While every day wasn’t always like this, most days were this way. It is the cross that a non-profit executive director must bear when they operate in a resource deprived environment. It is exhausting, and it produces a situation where many mistakes are made. It is a minor miracle anything got done and that any progress was made. In the end, it was one of the top three reasons I chose to leave the frontline and go to work for the national organization.

Hmmmmm . . . yes, I’d say it was a lot like “kissing while driving”. I wasn’t very satisfied. I wasn’t as engaged in the things that were most important to the agency. I made mistakes and felt horrible about making them. I ultimately left for what I thought were greener pastures.

In hindsight, I wonder what I could’ve done differently:

  • invested in a volunteer program to expand human resources
  • engaged board members and donors in seeing and help solving these challenges (rather than celebrating the insanity)
  • adjusted the agency’s strategic plan to focus less on growth and more on deepening the impact

Of these three ideas, the one I think might bring the highest return on investment is the second bullet point that speaks to engaging board members and donors. As I look around at all of my non-profit friends, I see too many of them placating their boards by always saying “YES” rather than walking them through “cause-and-effect” scenarios pertaining to board room decisions (e.g. budget, staffing structure, new programming, etc). I also see many of them telling donors whatever they think they want to hear just to get another signed pledge card.

I have a hard time believing that if board members and donors saw what your day REALLY looked like that they wouldn’t want to jump in and help solve those challenges. Right? And with multiple people focused on solving these challenges, I suspect the odds go up dramatically that either the car gets stopped so the kissing can continue OR the kissing stops so that some work can get done.

In the end, it is your leadership that will solve this problem. Perhaps, it is a new Teachable Point of View that you adopt as the leader. Or maybe it is your embrace of tools like GRPI or RASI. Regardless, it most likely starts and ends with you. So, what are you going to do about it?

Are your days as crazy as the one I described above? What tools do you use to tame that beast? Have you ever engaged board members or donors in this discussion? If so, what were the results? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts. Remember to also check out other blog posts on organizational development by John Greco at his blog johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit workers of the world unite?!?!

Let me start by apologizing to all of the non-profit CEOs in Elgin, Illinois. When I was among their ranks many years ago, I remember countless meetings that turned into “bitch sessions”. My fellow CEOs would channel Rodney Dangerfield’s mantra of “no respect” and gripe about how the non-profit sector deserves more attention, more government funding, and more respect from community leaders.

My guilty admission today is that I used to roll my eyes at those meetings. However, my blogger friend Joanne Fritz at wrote the most amazing post the other day titled “Nonprofit Workforce Grew During Recession” and it echoes much of what my non-profit friends were saying years ago, including:

  • The non-profit sector is a large part of the economy; third largest only behind the retail and manufacturing sectors.
  • The non-profit sector accounts for 10 percent of employment in our country.
  • Non-profit employment is concentrated in services that healthy communities demand and need (e.g. healthcare, childcare, education, etc), which can be a great foundation for any case for support.

OK, OK, OK . . . you were right and I was wrong. I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart. With age comes wisdom and knowledge, and I was a young executive director who thought I knew more at the time than I probably did. However, I am older now, and I have a few observations of my own that I think you need to hear.

  • I don’t see many of you treating your employees very well.
  • I don’t see salaries and hourly pay being particularly good. How many of you are paying a “living wage”? Because I see too many paychecks closer to minimum wage.
  • I don’t see very good benefits packages for employees who work on the frontline. Sure senior staff traditionally received great health insurance and retirement benefits. However, I see major gaps once you get outside of the executive suites and into middle management and program staff ranks.
  • I see lots and lots and lots of employee turnover. While finding replacements seems to be an easy task during tough economic times, I remember a day not so long ago when it was difficult.
  • I see cash strapped non-profit organizations who aren’t even budgeting cost of living adjustment wage increases for their staff.
  • Sadly, I see non-profit employees accessing other non-profit social services (e.g. food pantries, utilities assistance, subsidized childcare, etc).

I could go on and on, but it I know that many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

When I see situations like this, my gut always tells me that it isn’t sustainable and a market correction is sure to follow. Again, Joanne Fritz did a great job in her blog post talking about how for-profit companies are starting to step-in to fill the gap. Based upon history, I would guess that for-profit companies will bring more business acumen and more competitive compensation packages with them to this fight. I also suspect that the fight for workers hearts and minds won’t be a fair one and non-profits will likely be at a disadvantage.

However, there is also a second possible development to which non-profit leader should pay attention. History tells us that when employees don’t believe their voice is being heard and their pocketbooks are being squeezed, this provides an opening for unions to step-in and organize the workplace. With union membership dwindling across the country, you know that union organizers are looking everywhere for opportunities.

I come from a union family. I am a union supporter down to my socks. If I were writing a different kind of blog post, I might even argue that non-profits could benefit from a partnership with public employee unions if it was done right. After all, who else in America has a strong enough voice inside the government bureaucracies and legislatures to advocate for on-time payment and processing of government funding and grants?

However, I won’t go there today.

Instead, I encourage all non-profit CEOs to listen to the old ancient Greek expression (and Spiderman’s father, Ben Parker) when they said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Congratulations . . . you were right about your strength in numbers and economic impact. It is now time that you live up to that promise and do the right thing. If you want to maintain your labor market strength and avoid unionization, then I have the following advice for you:

  • Diversify your funding streams and stop relying on government funding as heavily as you currently do. We’re likely heading into an age of government austerity because we have a lot of debt to pay back over the next generation.
  • Invest in resource development systems and personnel. Focus hard on raising money the old fashion way.
  • Work feverishly at making new donor friends, and work even harder to maintain existing donor relationships.
  • As you raise more private sector fundraising dollars, don’t continue to expand programming and grow your mission until you’re really ready to do so. Instead, invest in your current programs, systems and employees because you’re likely under-resourced right now.
  • Invest in collaboration! Strategic alliances around back office operations could be a start. Sharing resources including staff might help. Partnering with for-profits on those things they do better than non-profits could yield interesting results.

Most non-profits are living day-to-day. The pressure that comes with that lifestyle will kill you. Build capacity and invest in people. It is the only way to guarantee your survival.

Do you find yourself in a different employee situation than what I describe in this post? Do you have a different point of view on public employee unions and their possible value as collaborators? How are you positioning yourself from a resource development perspective in this new economic environment? How are you investing in your employees and treating them well? Please scroll down and share your stories, examples and answers to these questions 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

2012 Trends and Predictions: Executive Transition

This week I’m looking back upon 2011 for major trends, and then looking forward to 2012 with an eye towards making a few predictions. Today, we are looking at non-profit executive leadership.

Back on July 22nd, my post at DonorDreams blog was titled “I Quit” and it started off with a look at the Philanthropy Journal’s article titled “Exodus of executive directors expected“. This article cited a study by the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services that reported: 67-percent of non-profit executive directors surveyed said they plan to leave their jobs sometime in the next 5-years.

Ever since writing that blog post, I’ve kept my eyes open for evidence of this trend, and I must admit that I see indicators everywhere pointing to:

2012 will be a year of transition for many non-profit executive directors.

In the fall of 2007, our world changed when the stock market crashed, our banks failed, and our economy sputtered. Most non-profit organizations were operating with a fundraising model (e.g. an annual resource development plan) that worked well for them in their community and within the parameters of our economy. However, when the economy changed, many nonprofit executive directors and fundraising professionals didn’t change their revenue models, and instead they made the decision to “ride out the storm”.

Well, we’re 4-years into this storm and it is becoming clear that the economy isn’t going to snap back to it original shape. “The New Norm” is coming into focus. The Nonprofit Quarterly did a nice job reporting a few weeks ago when they published “Wisconsin Nonprofits in the Economy’s ‘New Normal’“.

So, what does this have anything to do with nonprofit transition and executive leadership? Quite simply this . . . I’ve been watching many of my nonprofit friends “hold their breath” for the last few years waiting for things to snap back to the way they once were. Here is what I’ve specifically seen:

  • adding another event to bridge revenue gaps
  • writing grants and promising deliverables they never would’ve done previously (e.g. resulting in mission creep and money chasing)
  • continuation of plans to rely on government funding streams
  • laying off program staff and trimming budgets to the bone

During the same period of time, I’ve seen boards of directors failing to evaluate their executive directors and sticking their collective heads in the sand hoping things return to normal before the doors need to be shut.

Let’s get real for just a moment . . . when most boards hired their current executive director years ago, they hired based on skill sets and experiences rooted in the old economy. Now that times have changed, new skill sets and experiences are needed if the organization is going to thrive once again. While it is possible some executive directors have been growing right along side of their non-profit organizations and now possess those skills, I’m quite frankly not seeing that.

It is this observation in addition to the fact that I’m hearing more boards grumble about their executive leadership and many more executive director friends of mine complain about their jobs that leads me to conclude that 2012 will likely bring with it an uptick in resignations and terminations.

The final thing I think will drive this trend is the massive amount of talent currently available in the marketplace. In the past, I can’t count the number of times I heard board members say that changing executive leadership was unthinkable because they didn’t believe they could find anyone better for what they were willing and able to pay. This is obviously no long the case. The job market is awash with tons of talent, and strategic thinking boards will use this unique opportunity to snag talent that they otherwise couldn’t find or afford.

It is this last factor that I believe will likely fuel this potential trend as boards try to realign their people resources and talent with “The New Normal” brought on by a new economic paradigm.

Are you getting tired of your job? Ready to quit? Are you feeling increasing tensions in your board room? How is your non-profit organization re-aligning its resource development model with The New Normal? What skill sets and experiences does a successful executive director and fundraising professional need to thrive and succeed in The New Normal?

Please weigh-in with your thoughts using the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Goldilocks and the three board members: Part 3

On Monday, I posted about boards who fail to review their executive director every year. On Tuesday, I posted about boards that get a little muscular with their executive directors and typically abdicate all of this to one overly aggressive board volunteer. Today, I’d like to finish our discussion by talking about what feels right to me.

First, let me say that I don’t think that there is a perfect process for creating an executive director’s annual performance plan or conducting their year-end evaluation. So, I thought that today’s post could just be a laundry list of things I’ve seen really good boards do and then you should weigh-in using the comment box with things you’ve seen that are particularly awesome. So, here we go . . .

  • The annual performance plan is rooted in the agency’s various written plans (e.g strategic plan, resource development plan, marketing plan, budget, etc)
  • The objectives in the performance plan are very measurable. So, much so that the executive director knows exactly what they need to do in order to move their evaluation score from a “meets expectation” to “exceeds expectation”
  • The executive director writes the draft performance plan, turns it over to a board committee (e.g. Human Resource committee), and after massaging the performance plan they take it to the entire board for input, discussion and approval. This way everyone has touched it and owns it.
  • The performance plan is completed and a final version is the executive director’s hands by the beginning of the year.
  • The HR committee asks the executive director for a mid-year update on how they’re coming along with their performance plan. Any red flags are brought to the entire board’s attention by the committee chair in executive session. The entire board engages in discussions such as: amending the performance plan, increasing oversight of the executive director, creating a corrective action plan, etc.
  • There are 360 degree feedback opportunities from both direct staff reports and the board of directors.
  • The annual performance plan doesn’t just look at “quantitative” success (e.g. fundraising goals achieve, membership targets hit, etc), but it also finds a way to blend into the evaluation “how the executive director” does their job. Do they use scorched earth tactics to get results (which will bite them later down the road) or do they do a nice job using best practices (which might not immediately translate into results but might pay big dividends down the road).
  • The year-end evaluation doesn’t have any surprises because it is based on the exact performance plan handed to the executive director 12-months earlier.
  • Just like the performance plan development process, the year-end evaluation starts with the executive director doing a self-evaluation. The HR committee makes adjustments and seeks input from the entire board.
  • The question of who sits down with the executive director and conveys the evaluation results rarely looks the same from organization to organization. I’ve oftentimes seen the board president do it, but I’ve seen the HR committee chair also do it almost as often. I’ve seen it done in a committee setting (but I must admit that it looked like someone was getting ganged up on). I think the board should recruit anyone they like as long as that person: 1) has a good working relationship with the executive director and 2) has a track record of having successfully done employee evaluations (e.g. they have some HR acumen).
  • The year-end evaluation is always signed by the executive director, and a board volunteer personally witnesses it being deposited into the employee folder.

I have always tried to live my life according to this simple HR rule:

If anyone is surprised throughout this process, then it wasn’t done correctly and there needs to be some serious changes heading into next year.

I am a firm believer that the annual performance plan and year-end evaluation of the executive director is one of the biggest keys to organizational success. If done right, everyone knows far in advance what is expected of them. If done right, there are no surprises and usually very little emotion in the process. If done right, everyone is on the same page and the organization is powered strongly into the future with everyone’s sights set on visionary goals and performance indicators.

So, how does your organization evaluate its executive director? Are there best practices that you think I missed? Please use the comment box below so we can all learn from each other.

I hope you agree that today’s “bowl of porridge” compared to Monday and Tuesday’s posts tasted “just right”.  😉

Here’s to your health!

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

Goldilocks and the three board members: Part 2

Yesterday, my post titled “Goldilocks and the three board members” talked about a very cold bowl of porridge that involves non-profit boards who fail to evaluate their executive director every year. In doing so, they set their agency up for failure, liability and <gulp> perhaps even personal liability if the D & O Insurance carrier deems coverage null and void because the board failed to make a “good faith effort” to carry out its fiduciary responsibilities.

Today,  I would like to talk about that VERY HOT bowl of porridge. This, of course, is when a board goes way overboard with the annual performance plan and year-end evaluation.

In this scenario, the board president thinks they “own” the organization and take their leadership position way too seriously. They decide that their time at the helm of the ship will go down in the history books as the “Golden Age” of your non-profit organization. They see the executive director as a “direct report” and use the performance plan and year-end evaluation processes to micro-manage OR change behavior of the person occupying the executive director’s chair OR drive the executive director screaming from the room (so either they or a friend of theirs can take over).

If this seems far-fetched, please trust me when I tell you I’ve seen it happen more often than I care to admit.

It is typically true in my experience that the board member who is being very aggressive usually has some very legitimate issues. However, their aggressive approach makes them look like an egomaniac or a big jerk. Sadly, those issues never get dealt with because the focus becomes personal rather than organizational. As a result, the organization and the clients it serves end up the big loser.

The interesting thing I’ve seen is how the other board members in the room deal with this individual. The group usually tries to “pacify” and give them total authority to do whatever they want with the executive director’s performance plan or year-end review.

This “accommodating move” by the board is meant to shut the instigator up, but it never seems to work out that way.  The annual performance plan and year-end evaluation resemble something straight out of a carnival fun house with those weird mirrors. Annual performance objectives turn out unmeasurable and read something like this:

  • Improve staff morale
  • Be a leader in the community
  • Move all of our accreditation scores up one level

It looks and feels really muscular and accountable, but when you peel the layers of the onion back nothing makes any sense. How do you measure improved staff morale? Is it realistic to focus on all accreditation categories (even the ones you’re already doing well in)? What is a leader and how do you determine that?

Next thing you know everything feels subjective. Feelings get hurt. Emotions run high. And the board volunteers who thought they solved the problem by “brushing off” the loud squeaky wheel in the board room, find themselves in a much worse situation. It always turns into a trust issue between the board and their executive director. However, it sometimes turns into impending legal action involving things like: harassment, hostile work environment, or retaliation.

Trust me when I say the really hot dish of porridge is not the solution. Please tune in tomorrow, and we’ll talk about what a normal situation might look like.

Have you ever been involved in a situation where one board member is really “hot to trot” about the annual performance plan or year-end evaluation for the executive director? Have you ever seen it turn out OK? Do you have any examples of just “horrible” performance plan objectives that just didn’t make sense?

Please share . . . we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Goldilocks and the three board members: Part 1

I suspect we all remember the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears“. This porridge is too hot! This porridge is too cold! This porridge is just right! I’ve recently stumbled upon a very similar version of this story involving non-profit executive directors and board volunteers around the related concepts of annual performance plans and year-end evaluations. For the next three days, I thought it would be fun to look at each of the bowls of porridge and talk about the pros or cons.

Today’s bowl of porridge deals with when board volunteers shirk their fiduciary responsibilities and fail to evaluate their executive director.

I have run into a number of friends recently who confided in me that they haven’t been evaluated. In some cases, they haven’t been evaluated in a number of years. Of course, in many of these cases, it has become an issue because it is a tough time to be at the helm of a non-profit organization. As criticisms increase and board volunteers try to ratchet up accountability, up pops the ugly revelation:

“Ooooops, if things have been getting so bad, why haven’t you felt the need to evaluate me. We might have been able to make some course corrections if you had taken your fiduciary responsibilities seriously before we got to this point.”

The other side of this coin, of course, deals with the executive director’s annual performance plan (e.g. chart of work). In my experience, when executive directors aren’t getting evaluated, they typically don’t have a very well-defined performance plan with measurable metrics. This management tool is developed and handed to the executive director 12-months prior to their review. This way they know exactly what they need to do to succeed and how to proactively affect their year-end evaluation.

Again, in my experience, boards end up passing on the year-end evaluation because they didn’t do a good job of developing a performance plan, and now they don’t feel like there is anything concrete to measure their employee against. So, they end up taking a pass.

And the vicious circle continues until the non-profit organization skids into the ditch and fingers start getting pointed.

While it is easy to throw board members under the bus, I also want to hold my executive director friends accountable, too. Good non-profit professionals know how to support a board and keep them from falling down on the job. I’ve seen many non-profit CEOs pencil draft their own performance plans and year-end reviews and hold their board’s hand through these processes.

All of this also ties into fundraising and resource development. Rest assured that when fingers start getting pointed, donors ask tough questions and judgements get passed. Remember, the executive director is probably the face of your non-profit organization and many of your donors have likely fallen in love with this person.

I’ve seen it too many times. The organization fractures, accusations get made, donors ask tough questions, and everyone comes out looking bad. In the final analysis, public trust gets violated and donors put their checkbooks away until things get cleared up.

There is one cautionary word that I need to toss out there to board members about this very cold bowl of porridge. I know many of you think you don’t have any personal liability that comes with sitting on a non-profit board of directors because your agency purchased Directors and Officers Insurance. However, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that your D & O insurance company will not cover you in an employment related lawsuit if you failed to complete annual performance reviews of your executive director. It is foreseeable that the insurance company will say “there was a lack of a good faith effort” on the part of the board, and then you will be personally on the hook.

So, get off the couch and take that cold bowl of porridge to the microwave oven and warm it up before it is too late! For those of you who might be looking for a resource guide, click here for a great manual from The Enterprise Foundation. Tomorrow, we’re going to look at that next bowl of porridge which is way too hot. So please stay tuned.

Does your board of directors struggle with evaluating its executive director? If so, what strategies are you using to bridge this gap?

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

Here’s to your health!

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

Nothing personal but you’re fired?

With the economy being what it is, I’ve sensed a very strange undercurrent in the non-profit sector recently. Fundraising is challenging for those agencies that have used fear tactics and guilt to raise money. Government dollars are drying up. Boards have been cutting-cutting-cutting and now there is close to nothing left to cut in their agency budgets. In a nutshell, things feel like they’re coming to a head and it feels intensely personal.

In the last 6-months, I’ve personally witnessed/heard about a few different staff-board encounters that has me very concerned:

  • A board president putting their finger in the face of the executive director during a heated discussion over budget cuts involving salaries and benefits.
  • An executive director flat-out yelling at the board (it was described to me as a temper tantrum) during the board meeting because they didn’t think board volunteers were raising enough money and were too focused on cutting-cutting-cutting.
  • A board volunteer yelling at a donor and leveling personal and hurtful accusations.
  • A group of board members coordinating their resignations and then running off to the newspaper to tell their story.
  • A board president secretly plotting to fire their executive director.

I get it . . . tough times lead to tough decisions and these decisions are intensely personal which mean they are riddled with emotion. However, the one thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that we all have FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITIES when we agree to work or volunteer for a non-profit corporation.

This means acting in the best interest of those who our organization’s mission calls us to serve. It means exercising the highest standard of care. It means putting personal interests to the side (which I think also includes setting aside personal agendas).

Exercising your fiduciary responsibilities does not mean engaging in emotional battles all in the “name of mission” with those whom you disagree . This slash-and-burn strategy is dangerous, destroys working relationships, and eats at the very foundations of our organizational. In the end, the people who really get hurt are those that we aim to serve — the client.

Here is a some advice that I recognize is easier said than done:

  • Board volunteers: Please remember that staff are people, too. They have families, mortgages, and a personal life just like you. You are charged with making tough decisions around finances, but a little compassion goes a long way and adding more emotion on top of an emotional bonfire only makes matters worse.
  • Non-profit CEOs and staff: Please remember that board volunteers are exactly that — volunteers. You were not hired into a lifetime position. Different situations call for different types of leadership, and this might be a time for a different leadership style at your agency. Don’t take it personal. A little bit of professionalism goes a long way.
  • Board volunteers: Times have changed and the economy we once knew blew up many years ago. There is a “new normal” that we need to get used to. This means changing your non-profit business model. It means rolling up your sleeves, fundraising, and asking people in your social circles to be philanthropic rather than sitting back and watching staff beg for non-existent government dollars. GET INVOLVED!
  • Non-profit CEOs and staff: Fundraising isn’t just a board responsibility. You play a huge role in supporting these efforts. It also isn’t something you can usurp from the board and do by yourself in hopes of making yourself indispensible. You are responsible for engagement of board volunteers. START ENGAGING!

Focusing on collaboration and consensus building is a start. Taking the personalities, egos and emotion out of decision-making is important. Keeping mission-focused is imperative in order to avoid hurting those we care about most — the clients.

What do you do as a staff person or board volunteer to keep emotions from getting too high during these difficult times in the board room? How do you keep perspective? Is it possible to extricate ego and personality from these discussions? How do you keep everyone focused on the client and mission?

This is an unusual blog post for me because it involves emotions and feelings; whereas, I normally write more fact-based stories blended with opinions. However, there are many of you and your non-profit friends going through some very difficult times, which is why taking 1-minute to answer some of these questions using the comment box below is so important. We can all learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

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

Why are non-profits adverse to executive coaching?

The for-profit sector discovered long ago the value of executive coaching. There have been studies that show coaching boosts job performance. There are studies that show coaching increases company profitability. There are still more studies that show coaching increases competitiveness and helps with leadership development and succession planning.

So, why is it that so many non-profit organizations seem to be reluctant to invest in executive coaching for their employees?

My first knee jerk reaction to this is to simply say most non-profit agencies are under-resourced and unable to pay for those kinds of services. However, I think I’ve recently changed my mind after attending a conference as an exhibitor. As with most exhibitor booths, I ran a fish bowl giveaway in an attempt to capture people’s business cards. At the end of the day, I pulled two names and gave away from FREE coaching services. As you can probably guess, I haven’t received a phone call from either individual. So, can the answer be as simple as money?

After spending more time contemplating why non-profit organizations seem to be reluctant to invest in executive coaching, I think I’ve come up with a different answer . . .

Non-profit leaders don’t truly understand the idea of “return on investment” (ROI).

For all the recent talk about ROI in non-profit circles when it comes to measuring outcomes and stewarding donors, this idea originates from the for-profit sector and is a relative newcomer to non-profit circles. So, quoting a study that shows coaching yields a ROI 5- to 7-times the initial investment gets quizzical looks from many non-profit leaders who I know. This response improves only slightly when you’re able to quantify the dollars and sense like Fortune magazine did in this quote:

“Business coaching is attracting America’s top CEOs because, put simply, business coaching works. In fact, when asked for a conservative estimate of monetary payoff from the coaching they got… managers described an average return of more than $100,000, or about six times what the coaching had cost their companies.”

I suspect that executive coaching won’t been seen by board volunteers as a viable performance enhancement tool until we start talking differently about it and point to improved job satisfaction and employee retention.

I also suspect that executive directors won’t start looking at executive coaching for their fundraising professionals until we start pointing to how little time non-profit CEOs seem to have and how that results in minimal time spent coaching resource development professionals.

I don’t know . . . I can be talked off the ledge. Please take a moment and use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Has your agency used executive coaching services? Has it be beneficial? Did you measure ROI? If so, what was the return? If your agency doesn’t use coaching services, what do you suspect the reasoning is?

Here is to your health!

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

Strategic Planning – If you want Laverne then you need Shirley!

Yesterday, I pitched a strategic planning proposal to a group of board volunteers and their CEO. I thought I rocked it out! I was dressed nice. I had beautiful handouts in color. I was even using newly purchased technology and simultaneously projected my presentation onto the wall for all to see. I felt like a million bucks until it came time to Q & A.

One of the very first questions came from this nice gentleman who seems like a very engaged board volunteer. He essentially asked: “Why should we try to go through strategic planning when the world is so chaotic and changing ever so quickly? What’s the point?”

After answering his question (and I thought I rocked on that, too), he obviously wasn’t convinced. So, I took another stab at answering only to realize that nothing I said would really change his mind.

I really believe in my heart there are two kinds of people in this world — planners and fatalists. Planners think they can affect change in this world through deliberate choices and actions. Fatalists think everything happens for a reason and there isn’t any point in planning for things that are already pre-determined.

If I am correct about the world being populated by these two kinds of people, then it is kind of akin to the Asian philosophy on Yin and Yang.

I am obvious a “planner”. I graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA and MA in Urban Planning. Some of my best work with non-profit organizations (or so I think) has been around strategic planning, resource development planning and board development planning projects.  So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this is what was going through my head during the Q & A exchange yesterday.

After the meeting, I ran off to my local gym to work off some anxiety and work through what just happened. One hour and four miles later, I realized that diversity isn’t just about skin color, age or gender. Diversity is also all about adding different perspectives and personalities into the mix, which includes into our strategic planning projects.

After all, what is Yin without Yang? Or Laverne without Shirley? Or peanut butter without jelly? (OK . . . so I’m hungry and dieting. Cut me some slack. LOL)

The reality is that non-profit organizations (or any company for that matter) cannot exclude fatalists from any of their projects.  Here are just a few random suggestions I thought up while on the track last night:

  • Recommendation #1: Accept the reality and recognize which board volunteers sitting around the table fit into which camp. Keep this in mind when recruiting your committee and ensure there is a balance around the table.
  • Recommendation #2: When it comes to strategic planning, remember that there are many different planning models that can be use. Some models appeal more to planning personalities and some models appeal more to fatalist personalities. Not only should you be conscious about choosing your planning model, but you should also select an external consultant who is capable of using that model. Click here to get a nice overview of a few different strategic planning models from our friends at
  • Recommendation #3: Jim Collins talks about getting “the right people on the bus” in his book “Good to Great,” but remember that you need to also get them in the right seat. Don’t make the mistake of recruiting volunteers based upon who will say ‘YES’ to serving. It is probably very important that the chairperson of your strategic planning committee have the ‘heart of a planner’ and not the soul of a ‘fatalist’. Perhaps, one of the best places for fatalists in the strategic planning process is enlisting their help with assessment, data gathering, and forecasting activities. They might also provide great value when creating indicators as well as monitoring and evaluation tools. Of course, they can participate in all phases of the process, but I suspect they provide greater value in some roles than in others.

The reality is that this topic isn’t just germane to strategic planning. It is relevant to everything in our non-profit work (e.g. annual campaign planning & implementation, board development planning & recruitment, etc). If you’re a non-profit leader, then you need to figure out how to make it work and not cave to your instinct to exclude certain people from the table.

I always say “Planning is an engagement activity”. This is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page and committed to implementation. Try to imagine a room full of ‘planners’ developing the plan, then taking it back to a board room full of ‘fatalists’ and telling them that we all need to implement the plan. Do you really think that works? However, isn’t this what many of us do every day?

How have you maintained diversity on your committees and projects? Do you balance personalities? Do you weave these thoughts into your recruitment strategies? If so, how? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Beware of vampire staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is to your health!

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