Dani Robbins

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

Not Fund Raising? Not Engaged.

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on January 16, 2013 at 8:11 am

Multiple conversations about the same topic with the leadership of a variety of organizations tend to lead to blog posts.  When that happens, it is usually prompted by a question, though the question is rarely about the actual issue at hand.  The issue that is really the issue at hand is usually behind the issue that is being presented.

For those of you know me, it will come as no surprise to you that I spend a lot of time thinking about the situation behind the situation. (When you make your living telling people what you think, you’d better have thought extensively about whatever they might want to know.)

When it comes to Boards and fund raising (and quite a few other topics as well), the issue behind the issue is often engagement.

The question I am being asked a lot lately is “How can I get my Board to fund raise?“

If your Board is not fund raising the way you want them to, I submit you do not have a fund raising issue; you have an engagement issue and possibly a Board Development issue.

Boards that are engaged, raise money.  Boards that are not, don’t.

What is the emotional energy of the people in the room during a Board meeting?

When I ask this question while facilitating a session, I set up the answer on a scale of 1-4, with one being “I can’t believe I left my office for this” and 4 being “I feel privileged to be in this room.”  Where do your Board members fall?

Mission moments, generative discussions and strategic conversations are engaging.  Upholding the fiduciary responsibilities, while critical for an organization is also, for the most part, disengaging.  It’s boring.  It’s necessary but it’s still boring and boring is disengaging.

Every time I facilitate a planning session with a Board, someone comes up to me and says something to the effect of “That was great!  I’m so happy to be talking about strategy and issues and not about the building” (or the finances, or fill in whatever you are sick of)

We engaged Board members initially by talking to them about our organization’s mission, the impact it makes in our communities and our vision for changing our corner of the world.  They joined our Boards in order to help us do those things – and then we never talked with them ever again about any of it.  Ever.

We talk with Board members about money, what we spent and why we need more of it; we talk with them about fund raising and why they need to do more of it; we talk with them about the problems we’re having and what we need from them to fix it.

We don’t talk with them nearly enough about what they want, about why they joined our Board, and what they hoped to get out of their service.

It is a great opportunity to change the discussion; change the topic; change the impact; change the engagement level.

Call a retreat.  Take a survey.  Add some client stories to the agenda.  Have a Strategic Planning Strategy session and then continue to talk strategy throughout the year. Present a environmental scan and discuss how it will impact your clients, not just your agency, but your clients.  Introduce some generative discussions at a Board meeting.  Here are a few ideas how from my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership:

—  “At the end of discussions give each member 2-3 minutes to write down any thoughts or questions that weren’t expressed.

—  Randomly designate 2-3 trustees to make the powerful counter arguments to initial recommendations.

—  Ask a subset of the Board to assume the perspective of different constituent groups likely to be affected by the decision at hand.”

Find out what people expected when they joined your Board and meet their expectations.   You’ll be glad you did and so will your Board members.  They might become so engaged, they might even start telling people about your agency, and asking people to support it.

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Board Basics

In Non Profit Boards on January 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

The book Governance as Leadership, by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan and Barbara E. Taylor, and the modes of governance contained within, changed the way I look at Board service and the capacity of Boards to move the needle of change in their communities.

Several recent blog posts have been dedicated to discussing how to move governing Boards from focusing primarily on the fiduciary mode toward becoming more strategic and generative.  High functioning Boards manage in all three modes depending on the circumstances and the needs of the organizations, yet fiduciary is and must continue to be the foundation of Board governance.

As a quick reminder, those modes are as follows:

Fiduciary – the board is faithful to its mission, accountable for performance, and compliant with relevant laws and regulations. It exercises its legal responsibilities of oversight and stewardship.

Strategic – the board is responsible for strategic thinking and sets the organization’s priorities and course, and deploys resources accordingly.

Generative – the board’s work entails efforts to make sense of circumstances, to discover patterns and discern problems, and to make meaning of what’s happening.

Boards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization.  That includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan;
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director;
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent,
  • Setting Policy and
  • Raising Money

Most of how that happens is at Board and committee meetings, which is really the point of today’s blog.

The minimum requirements to become a functioning governing Board operating in the fiduciary mode is this:

You must have a quorum at all Board meetings.  The organization’s Code of Regulations (also called by-laws) will dictate the number of Board members required to be in the room to have a quorum; it is usually half or half plus one.  When you do not have a quorum the Board will not legally be able to take action, which in addition to stymieing the organization’s capacity to function, will also be noted in your audit, and in turn will quickly become a concern for your funders.

Minutes must be taken at each meeting of the Board of Directors and approved at the following meeting.  Those minutes should include who was in attendance (distinguish between Board and staff please), the approval of the prior meting minutes and the financial statements as well as any and all votes, including the complete motion that was made and by whom, who seconded and if it was a unanimous vote.  Minutes should also include the name of any Board members who voted no as well as anyone who abstained.  Only Board members can make motions.  Staff can make recommendations but in most cases cannot vote.

Financial statements, including a profit and loss, variance against the budget and a balance statement must be presented, explained and voted upon at each meeting. The Treasurer, when presenting the financials, should review anything that is higher or lower than expected, and explain anything that is not immediately obvious.  Board members should ask questions until they understand and are willing to have their name listed as voting yes in favor of accepting the financial statements as presented.

Committee decisions should be presented by the Chair of the Committee (not by staff, other than occasionally by request of the Chair) and anything that requires a vote should be motioned by that Chair.  As listed in a prior post the following need votes:

  • Any Policy – crisis communication and management, personnel, etc.
  • Past board meeting minutes;
  • Financial reports;
  • Agency Annual Budgets;
  • Plans – strategic, board development and/or resource development;
  • Changes to the strategic direction of the organization;
  • The hiring of an Executive Director;
  • Audits;
  • Campaigns;
  • Opening, closing or changing the signatures on bank accounts;
  • Changes to the mission or vision; and
  • Board Members and Officers being added, or renewed.

Board meetings should also include a report from the Executive Director (also called CEO).  Any recommendations that are made must be motioned by a board member and should then follow the voting path outlined above.

Board Chair’s often make reports as well, yet do not make motions or vote themselves unless there is a tie to break.

The meeting ends with any old or new business.

There are myriad ways to move a Board from a strictly fiduciary Board toward a high functioning Board, but none can happen before a Board masters their fiduciary responsibility.  Fiduciary responsibility is the price of admission to Board leadership, but it can’t end there.  Strategic and generative leadership is what engages Board members and moves the needle for change in our communities.  Isn’t that why we serve?

What’s been your experience?  As always, I welcome your insight and experience.

High Functioning and High Profile?

In Non Profit Boards on January 1, 2013 at 5:45 pm

There are some very high profile and high functioning Boards on which community leaders serve with distinction. There are other high profile yet lower functioning Boards on which people serve because they believe in the mission but the board processes that are in place don’t lend themselves organizational greatness.  It’s hard to tell which is which, and it may even be hard to decide which you want.

High profile Boards where nothing strategic is happening but everything is basically fine may be enough for you. Then again, it may not.

If you are invited to serve on the Board of a respected community organization, the best – and really only – way I know to find out what type of board it is, is to ask lots of questions. Those questions include asking about a typical meeting, about the agenda, topics covered and the quality and quantity discussions; about the CEO and how he or she operates. Is it a yes Board or a working board? Is it a Board whose meetings include generative and strategic discussions or one that solely focuses on its fiduciary responsibilities? Does the organization have a vision of where they’d like to be at some specified point in the future? Are there organizational values? Do they align with your values? Is there a strategic plan? Are there goals the CEO is working toward? What are they and by who were they set?

The answers will tell you a lot!

If a typical meeting has no written agenda, you know going in that conversation is likely to wander off topic. If the meeting is described as primarily votes and committee reports with approvals to follow or the vote being tabled until the discussion at hand is taken up by the committee, with others invited to attend, you know there is a Chair who knows how to run a meeting and who is also running a primarily fiduciary focused Board. If there are robust discussions that challenge the status quo, decisions that move forward the organization’s vision and generative discussions that consider all constituent groups’ positions, you have a Board that is fiduciary, strategic and generative.

Alternatively, if there is very little discussion, you may have a high profile but lower functioning Board. Further evidence of this will be if there are no organizational values, no vision, no strategic plan and if the goals were set by the CEO for the CEO.

The CEO’s goals are usually tied to the Board approved strategic plan. In the absence of a plan, the Board sets the CEOs goals and evaluates the CEO based on the accomplishment of those goals. CEOs that set their own goals without any Board input also tend to set the direction for the Board, both signs of a lower functioning board and also an indication of boundary issues. Other evidence of boundary issues, though on the other side, includes Board meeting topics that are operational in nature.

Boundary issues mean the Board acts on things traditionally done by the CEO and the CEO performs duties traditional completed by the Board. The combination creates a lower functioning Board that, high profile or not, may not meet your Board service goals or its governance responsibilities.

As described in a previous post  The Role of the Board “the Board is responsible for governance, which includes Mission, Vision and Strategic Planning; Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director; acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, setting Policy and Raising Money.”  Boundary creep makes the accomplishment of governance responsibilities challenging, which in turn compromise the achievement of high functioning.

Of course, high functioning and high profile Boards are not the only options. The opposites, low profile and low functioning, are quite prevalent and also easier to spot.

Like anything, it’s important to know what you want out of your Board service before you determine the Board that is right for you to serve. High profile doesn’t necessarily beget high functioning. What’s right for you?

As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer 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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