Dani Robbins

Who Trained Your Board?

In Non Profit Boards on December 13, 2017 at 8:35 pm

The sentence I have repeated the most this month is this “your board will be as good as whomever trained them, which was possibly no one.” I’ve said that nine times, thus far, and it’s only the 13th.

Your Board will only be as good as whomever trained them, which actually may have been no one. The vast majority of Board members I have come across in my 25+ years in this field, including earlier in my career some of my own, have not been formally trained to their role.

Untrained Board members will do what they think is right, which may or may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing, may or may not be aligned with the strategic plan of the agency and may not, in fact, be right.

Whose fault is that? It’s ours. Executive leaders are responsible for ensuring good Board process. Sure, it’s up to actual Board members to follow that process, but it’s our jobs to make sure it’s there to be followed.

We have a horrible history in this field of following the baptism by fire training model. It’s how I was trained. It’s likely how you were trained. It’s a bad model. Here’s the truth:

If you are frustrated that

  • your Board is not doing their job
  • they keep overstepping into your job
  • you keep having to overstep into their job
  • your board president is micromanaging
  • your board is not raising money
  • your board glazes because they do not understand the financials

It may be because they don’t understand what their job is- BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRAINED THEM. If you want your board members to know what their job is, it’s your obligation to train them.

Just so we’re crystal clear, when I say trained, I don’t mean give an orientation on your agency (though props to you if you do that). I don’t mean handing new Board members a packet. Let me say once and for all: there is no such thing as training by Board packet. That’s not training. That’s reading. It’s not nothing, but it’s not enough.

I recommend you offer an actual Board training, annually or more often if you can get away with it, that outlines:

  • Board Role and Responsibilities
  • Duties under the Law
  • An overview of the intent of by-laws (called Code of Regulations in Ohio) and the specifics of yours
  • Officer Roles and the Executive’s Role
  • Committees structure, charts of work, goals and expectations
  • Conflicts of Interests
  • Board Governance Models
  • Basic Rules of Roberts Rules of Order (if that’s the model you follow, and it is for most agencies)
  • Meeting Structure
  • Governance Modes and Generative Governance Techniques

What do you have here? An opportunity! Float the idea. Ask about what your Board is interested.  What would they like to learn?  Make sure you offer options.

Here are some for your and their consideration:

  • Art of the Ask
  • Board Process – agendas setting, committees,  strategy, structure, engagement
  • Basic Board responsibilities- fiduciary and legal
  • Board vs Staff roles
  • Best Practices of Effective Boards
  • Mission relevant information

In the absence of Board training, executives are sometimes, either by choice or by vacuum, put in the position of fulfilling roles that are not their roles to fill. If you are doing their job, they are not. That also means you are not doing your job. Just because it needs to be done does not mean it needs to be done by you. Train your Board to fulfill their role, and then let them. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

It’s almost 2018, and as I mentioned in 8 things to stop doing in 2017, “the work of the Board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, date and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its Chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, make recommendations and offer support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your Board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.”

Executives get a lot done by sheer willpower. Strong executives coupled with strong Boards, can lead our agencies to places no leader can get alone. Together, we can be unstoppable and because of the strength of our nonprofits, our communities can be stronger.

How have you trained your Board?  Board members, how were you trained? How has either improved your agency? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats

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What Could You Accomplish with a Nonprofit Center for Strategy and Capacity?

In Advocacy, Community Strategy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development, Strategic Plans on September 8, 2017 at 10:05 am

I work to make nonprofits stronger; I believe when nonprofits are stronger, communities are stronger. Lately, I’ve been working at the community level, setting theories of change to align the work of agencies, funders and community leaders.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs. The need for charity is mitigated by the advancement of social justice, which I believe is more easily advanced when communities are aligned.

What can we do  – and I do – to  align our communities, advance our sector, and all of our capacity to affect change? I believe too few nonprofit leaders receive the training they need to be successful and too few communities set the strategies they need to impact their goals. Would we be stronger if we aligned funding and social services to community needs?  I think we would.

I’m writing this blog post to ask for your help and your feedback.

I’m considering launching a Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Capacity to advance social justice through capacity building of nonprofits and strategy setting in the communities and sectors they serve.

Would something like this be helpful? Would you use it? If so, I invite you to send this post to the leaders in your community that can make it happen?  Better yet, please invite me into the conversation.

Here’s what I’m thinking I want to lead, start, run, develop, introduce, support or build.

At the agency level:

The quality of a nonprofit is dependent on the training its leaders have received, the knowledge they bring and the information to which they have access. There are too few “go to” places for nonprofit leadership. In the gap, the sector is reliant on degree programs fortified by informal mentors, consultants and on-line learning.

At the community level:

Individual agency’s impact goals are not usually aligned with their partners, nor is the funding that they receive. A coordinated and aligned strategy in different subsectors, could improve the systems, programs and impact, to insure the community’s needs are addressed and the lives of its citizens are improved. In the gap, agency, community and foundation leaders set their own goals, which may or may not be aligned, may or may not be in competition with their partners, and may or may not be set at all.

Solution:

A Nonprofit Center for Strategy and Capacity could fill the gap, work with sub-sectors in a community to set a theory of change, manage a variety of on-line and in person certificate programs and provide training and consulting services. The combination of all will result in a stronger nonprofit sector providing better services to an improved community.

Projected Offerings:

Certificate Programs:

  • Executive Leadership
  • Resource Development
  • Board Governance

Consulting and Training:

  • Board Governance
  • Coaching
  • Organizational Assessments
  • Organizational Development
  • Strategic Planning (at the agency level)

Community Strategy:

  • Theory of Change setting
  • Strategic Planning (at the community level)

I’m thinking of this like an open source program. Sure, now that I’ve put this out there, someone may build such a thing in their community. Good! Like I said above, social justice is more easily advanced when the work of communities are aligned. I’d love you to introduce this idea in your community. Call me if I can help.

I believe this center, which could be virtual or bricks and mortar, will be stronger with a university or a community foundation affiliation. Do you agree? It’s the only reason I haven’t done it yet myself, though my company certainly does many parts of this work already.

What more can I do? What have you done? What else can our field do? I invite your feedback, insight and ideas. If you think I can help, I’d be honored to be included in the conversation in your community.

Please reach out if you’re thinking:

She should talk to ____.

I want this here!

Can you include ____?

Did you consider _____?

As always, I welcome your insight, your answers and your comments.  A rising tide raises all boats. Still, we could rise faster and have greater impact if our leaders had access to training and the work of our community was aligned.

If the above resonates with you, if you have ideas, comments or questions, please email me at dani@nonprofitevolution.com or use the comment box to share.

Thank you for your consideration and your service!

What Can You and Your Nonprofit Do in These Uncertain Times?

In Advocacy, Leadership on August 18, 2017 at 11:30 am

I have been watching and worrying, wringing my hands, furiously reading and posting articles, vacillating between being terrified and sick to my stomach, and occasionally screaming about the current status of our country’s leadership and the crash course we seem to be on toward becoming all of our worst fears. As that is only so productive for so long, I am electing to make a list of things I can do, and our field can do, to affect change. I invite you to join me.

Give

I can give to a cause I believe is working for justice. I am already a member of the ACLU and both of my local NPR stations (why we have two is a post for another time, and another blogger) After reading How to Make Fun of Nazis  about a town in Germany in which people pledge to donate to social justice for every step made by neo-Nazis, I made a donation to Planned Parenthood.  In fact, I made it in honor of Cecile Richards, their CEO, who is leading the fight to ensure women, and men, have access to reproductive health care in all its forms.  Go Cecile!

Nonprofits, you can promote your work addressing these issues.  You can engage donors to rally around you. You can engage people to fight hatred in all forms. You can protect your clients. You can solicit donations to execute the suggestions listed below, assuming they are aligned with your mission and in concert with your programming and your Board. If not, I encourage you to support your partner agencies in doing so.

Call

I can call my elected officials.  I (personally) have called Senator Portman’s office so often, I’m on a first name basis with some of the staff. (Hi Eric and Kevin!) If you’re going to call, be clear on what you want. Is it impeachment?  Is it that protestors should not be allowed to carry guns? Is it to protect and defend minority groups? Statements are nice but legislative or judicial action is the only way we’re going to ensure our values are upheld. While it’s true that our personal values aren’t all the same, our country’s values are pretty clear; even as we haven’t always or often lived up the them. This is one more opportunity to be who we wish we were.

Nonprofits, if you’re not already doing so, you can send out posts informing people how to engage elected officials. If you want to encourage a specific view point or recommend a letter be used, depending on the topic, you may have to follow different rules based on your IRS status.  If you’re unsure, check your status before you do.  The rules are different for 501 c 3s and a 501 c 4s.  Both can lobby, but 3s can only do so to a point and cannot support candidates. I also recommend you check with your Board before you set down this path.

Join

I can join together with like-minded partners.  I can join a current group; there are many.  Or I can start my own.  One person is just that. Three is a group. Ten is a coalition. 100 is movement. We can stand together to fight hatred and promote peace.

Nonprofits, we are all stronger together. If there’s a collation you can build or join with your partner agencies to promote an agenda of peace, I encourage you to consider it.  Ten agencies standing together to promote their city as a sanctuary city sends a strong message.  Ten agencies partnering to train people to protect their neighbors does as well.  Again, bring your Board along with you.

Protest

I can, live and in person, go to a protest and put my life and my body on the line to stand up for my beliefs.  It is my right and my choice. Yours, too. The only way to be heard sometimes is to also be seen.

Nonprofits, many of our strongest and oldest agencies were birthed in protest.  You can bus people to marches. You can train them on the law and their rights. You can ensure your clients have a political voice and know how to use it. You can also take out an ad in the local paper, write an op-ed piece or post a letter on your website.

Speak Up and Speak Out

Speak out not only to the elected officials or on your computer, but to your family, friends, and neighbors when they say something disrespectful, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or just plain stupid, wrong or ignorant. Silence is acquiescence. There are no sidelines and, no (!) both sides do not have equal validity. There’s right and there’s wrong.  Where do you stand?

Nonprofits, you can train people on how to do this.  It’s hard and sometimes it’s dangerous. You can give people tools.

Vote, Support a Candidate or Run for Office

I can vote, as I have done and will continue to do. I can support, financially and with my time, candidates that I believe in.  I can also run for office.  So, can you.

Nonprofits can and are training people on how to run, register to vote and support others.  We can encourage them. We can support them. We can teach them how to raise money, file the paperwork and campaign.  Many of you are already doing it.  The rest of us can promote your work.

Heal

We have never healed the wounds of our history. We have never reconciled the hell of slavery.  The history of women as chattel. The cost Native Americans paid. The scars of internment. The vestiges of WWII on its survivors and the families of those who weren’t as lucky. Our past is haunting us. We have some hard questions to face and some difficult conversation to have. Let’s have them. Let’s talk.

If all we have are words and war, I’d prefer words.

Nonprofits, we are already poised to hold these conversations.  We can set ground rules, start the dialogue and begin the healing process.

What I can’t do, you can’t do and we can’t do is nothing.  Our silence will not protect us.

What more can I do?  What have you done?  What else can our field do? I welcome your insight, your answers and your comments, with the understanding that hate will (still) not be perpetuated here.

 

 

 

 

 

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