Dani Robbins

Archive for 2016|Yearly archive page

Things Nonprofit Boards of Directors Can Do, But Shouldn’t

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development on December 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Serving on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit is an honor and a privilege as well as a job and a liability.  As with any job, there are things that you cannot do because they’re illegal and things that you should not do because they’re inappropriate and/or unethical.

Here is a list of things Board members shouldn’t do, even though, technically, they can.

Pay Yourselves

I had the privilege of co-facilitating a training recently and no less than five representatives of different agencies stood up and asked us follow up questions when we said Board members shouldn’t get paid.

Here are a few of the questions:

“Can we pay them a stipend?”

“Can we give them a gift card?”

“We really can’t pay them?”

Um…no.

It is not illegal to pay Board members, but it is widely considered to be inappropriate in a charitable institution that is soliciting donations from its community. The one exception is when the (paid) executive director has an ex-officio seat on the Board. Other than that, staff shouldn’t be on the Board and the Board shouldn’t be paid.

You can pay mileage to and from the Board meeting and reimburse expenses when Board members are on agency business. You can, but you really shouldn’t, pay Board members for doing the work of the Board of a community agency.

Assign Work to Staff, other than the CEO

Boards have one employee, the CEO.  Every other employee works for that CEO.  The CEO’s role is to lead the staff, support the Board, manage the day to day operations and serve as the face of the organization in the community. It is the CEO’s role to execute the strategic plan in support of the mission and vision of the organization.

It is hard to sit in a Board committee meeting that is staffed by a senior yet non-executive leader of the agency and not assign work to that staff member. Work often gets assigned in such meetings and it likely there is a process in place for the staff member to go back to the CEO and update her on the results of the meeting. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is the Chair of the committee or of the Board directly assigning work to a staff member, outside of a committee or Board meeting and unbeknownst to the CEO.

When Boards choose to not honor the “one employee” rule, and assign work to staff, it quickly becomes very confusing whose instructions take precedence and whom will be held to account. It also plants a seed that challenges the CEO’s legitimacy.  That seed (of dissent) grows and eventually it becomes difficult for the CEO to maintain his or her position, either because they quit, or challenge the Board’s overstep and are fired.

Hire Staff

Since we’re already here, let’s keep going. The only staff Boards should hire is their CEO. All other staff should be hired by that CEO. There will come a time when you do not have a CEO and also have other positions open. It will seem reasonable to try to hire some of those positions in the interim. Resist!

You don’t know what skills your new CEO will have, so it is unlikely you will be able to hire someone to complement those skills. Unless you have organizational values that you will expect your CEO to honor (which you should also be asking about in the CEO search process), you won’t know which values are important to your new CEO and won’t be able to see if the person you want to hire is a match. It is as likely that whomever you hire will not be a good fit for the team already in place and since you know them but don’t directly work with them, you might not be able to assess that.  You want the CEO to build their own team. That may mean you have to let them.

If you must, hire someone as a temporary with the option to stay at the discretion of the new CEO. That sets the tone for both the new person and the new CEO that the Board understands the difference in roles.

Avoid Fund Raising

Boards are tasked with securing the resources of the organization. I’ve heard consultants say that Board don’t have to fund raise, but it is very rarely true. Fund raising is a group effort, led by the leaders.

The CEO cannot raise money alone. The Development Director cannot raise money alone. Fund raising works best in a culture of philanthropy when both the staff and the Board are working together.

The Board’s role is to set the fund raising goal, financially support the agency themselves, embark on the campaign, open doors, introduce staff, “make the ask” when appropriate, pick up the tab for lunch when possible, and thank the donor.

The staff is responsible for training the Board, coordinating the assignments, preparing the askers with relevant donor information, drafting and supplying whatever written information will be left with the donor, including a letter asking for a specific dollar amount, attending the meetings as necessary and documenting the meeting in the database as well as writing the formal thank you note, and then creating a plan to steward the donor.

Unless you are getting all of your money from program fees, and if you are you may have issues with the public support test, fund raising is one of the five roles of the Board.

Do Business with the Agency you Serve

The law allows Board members to “do business” with the agency they serve if it is at “fair market value.” Do not be fooled. This is a case of the law allowing something that it’s likely public opinion will not support. Just because something is allowed does not make it right. It is an enormous conflict of interest and a quick way to get a spot on the front page of the paper for all the wrong reasons.  If you are on the Board, do not do business with the agency you serve.

What things have you seen Boards do that they shouldn’t?  Any advice to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

Do People Understand What Your Agency Does?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Organizational Development on July 25, 2016 at 7:40 am

I have a theory that the vast majority of Americans think there are three to five nonprofits:  One that works on children’s issues. One that works on whatever medical issue has affected their family. One for animals. One that provided the day care where their kids went to pre-school and maybe, maybe one that offers a thrift store, which I just realized may be what they think the agency does, not what funds what the agency does.

Yes, that is a huge, enormous difference.

I was driving with a friend earlier this week. This is the conversation we had:

Friend:  It’s so weird that there is a Party Center right next to a Goodwill.

Me:  Why?

Friend, who I know for a fact regularly donates to Goodwill:  The Party Center is for people who have money to entertain and Goodwill is for the poor.

Me:  Goodwill doesn’t serve the poor. Goodwill is a workforce development agency that employs people who have Developmental Disabilities. The thrift store is how they fund their work. (Please see Goodwill’s actual mission below.)

Friend:  Are you sure?  I don’t think that’s what people think they do.

He’s not even wrong. If he thinks that, lots of other people think that too. Goodwill is one of the largest and most recognizable names in our field. What does that mean for the millions of smaller, less recognizable agencies? It means we have work to do, and an opportunity!

Sometimes people don’t have any idea what we do. They don’t know! Even our partners sometimes find it hard to keep track of our work. I once had a conversation with a program officer of a foundation that funded us. It went like this:

Hey Dani, I ran into your counterpart last week from the Boy & Girls Clubs of – I don’t even remember where but it was someplace that I knew didn’t have a Club, but did have a Big Brothers Big Sisters. I mentioned your name but he didn’t know you.

Me:  I don’t think we have a Club there. Could it have been Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Program Officer: Oh yeah. Probably.

If a program officer who we’d been working with for years couldn’t easily remember the difference between a Big Brother Big Sisters and a Boy & Girls Clubs, no one else will either.

There was a study fifteen years ago or so (I looked but couldn’t find it so I’m going on memory here) that found that the vast majority of Americans could recognize the largest agencies among us but had no idea what they did. United Way – in almost every workplace – 20% recognition. Boys & Girls Clubs – thousands of Clubs across the country and on military basis around the world with our logo behind home plate at every Major League Baseball game, nope. Red Cross working local, nationally and internationally, not so much.  Goodwill, in almost every community, clearly not.

We have got to tell our stories better. How?

First and foremost, we each have to clarify how we communicate what our organizations do? Not the mission, though that too, but every day. What does your website say you do?  Is it obvious? I’m here to tell you that for people who are coming at it cold, it’s not always. Sometimes I have to go to three or more different pages on an organization’s website to figure out what they do – and I work in this field!  For someone who doesn’t, I’m not even sure how they’d figure it out.

Make it easy. Put your mission, a short summary of your work, and its impact on your home page. While you’re at it, make sure there’s a link to your leadership, including the Board, and a donation button. Then, put up some client’s stories. If you work in a field in which confidentiality issues are paramount, or a small town where it will be easy to identify someone, create a compilation story and put an asterisk to explain why it’s a compilation and not an actual story.

Train your people – Board and staff – to have a three sentence explanation of your work.  They should also know your mission.  I do trainings all over and when I do, I invariably ask about the missions represented in the room; many audience members cannot tell me their agency’s – the ones that sent them to hear me speak- mission.  If they don’t know your mission, they’re not moving your mission forward.  (It’s the same with organizational values, but that’s a different blog post.)

My Club’s mission was “to inspire and enable all young people to achieve their full potential as responsible, productive and caring citizens.” We did that by providing “after school and summer programming for school age, primarily at risk, youth.”  Now the youth development field calls it “out of school time”, which is both better and clearer and also shorter.

My local Goodwill’s mission “Transforming the lives of individuals with disabilities and other barriers through pathways to independence and the power of work.”

Mission, programs and work are not the same thing. Mission is why your organization exists. Programs are how you get to your mission. Work is the sum total of your programs and may also include advocacy and awareness. I’m separating them out here because agencies often do a lot of community awareness around their issue but don’t necessarily include that information in their program list, though they certainly could.

When I ran domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers we did a lot of formal and informational advocacy and awareness, and a lot of training of the police and medical workers, but didn’t count either as a program. That was a long time ago so I’m hopeful that is no longer the case.  It was a missed opportunity for us.  It was also one of the things that I believe greatly increased our impact, which is the demonstrated change of your clients and community because of your work.

It starts at your website but it can’t stop there. Your people should be able to explain your work, your programs and their impact.  If they can’t easily explain the impact, or won’t be able to answer follow up questions from whomever they’re talking with, make sure they have a staff member’s name to give out who can.

We often only get one shot to explain what we do. Take your shot. Tell your story. Move forward your mission.

How have you ensured people understand your organization’s work? What have you done? Any advice to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

The Case for Major Donor Cultivation Plans

In Leadership, Organizational Development, Resource Development on June 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm

The Giving USA 2015 numbers are out! $373.3 billion was given to charities in 2015, up 4% from last year. 80 percent of that money was given by individuals or individuals who recently died by way of their bequests. That percentage hasn’t changed as long as I’ve been paying attention to this statistic. “Individual gifts and bequests, on average, equal slightly more than 80% of the charitable donations given in this country each year. Just less than 20% is given by corporations and foundations.

Do organizations take advantage of that knowledge? Some do better than others.” Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising

If you do not currently have a robust individual giving program, I hope you will consider these statistics and introduce one. A robust giving program includes an intentional plan to develop donors at all levels of giving. Perhaps you are currently doing an annual appeal letter. If so, consider adding in person asks of your top donors and calls to your mid level donors. Perhaps you accept donations but aren’t sure how to solicit them. Perhaps you do not currently have 100% Board giving. Perhaps you have some large donors but aren’t sure how to engage them. If any of these apply to your organization, opportunity is knocking!

Major gifts are defined as the top 10% of gifts to an organization and often include gifts from several if not all Board members. It doesn’t matter if your top 10% give $50 or $50,000. If you are a 501 (c) 3 and would like to increase the charitable gifts you receive, a major donor cultivation plan for each of your major donors and every Board member could help. Please click over to read more about how to move a prospect to a donor and how to steward that donor.

Please also note that it is very hard to raise money in any community without the financial support of 100% of the Board. If you do not currently have 100% Board giving, that is the place to start. It is critical to your success. Board members should be cultivated and stewarded like the donors they are, or should be.

Major gifts (from major donors) are one part of a robust resource development planning process.  Resource Development, as a term, is a bit broader than fund raising as it encompasses fund raising, plus friend raising, plus in-kind gifts and the need for each of us to have ambassadors in the community helping us move forward our missions.

Your resource development plan may include events, grants (government, corporate and foundation – remember the latter two are only 20% of national giving), planned as well individual giving in all its forms, including annual campaigns in the form of letters, calls and in person asks of Major Donors, Board and Staff.

I recommend a plan for each Major Donor. I like plans. They allow us to do the work, rather than think about the work. So, write a plan for each of your major donors that maps out your giving request for the year. You don’t want to go to them five times to ask for different stuff, or if you do, you want them to know you’re coming. This is most easily accomplished by asking for what you want on whatever schedule is most comfortable for them, which is likely to be (but may not be) an ask meeting once annually and periodic stewardship check in meetings or calls throughout the year. Donorcentric is the goal. It may not be what is most comfortable for you. (If it was, we’d all get all our money in January and then focus on other things all year, but alas……)

Putting together a major donor cultivation plan will, of course, require you to know your donors, their family, history of giving to your agency and possibly other agencies if you can find it; what they’re passionate about; and your aspirations for their giving, which should be based on their level of engagement and capacity as well as who the right person is to send to ask. In other words, just because someone can give you $50,000, if they have a history of giving you $100, it’s unlikely they’re going to give you $50,000 – unless you greatly increase their level of engagement. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen because of course it does. It’s the difference between a wish and a plan. Both are useful but the latter is more actionable. Bring people into your community, engage them in your work, involve them on a committee, invite them to volunteer in a program: build your relationships! Build a plan for each of them too. Consider this template:

———————————————————————————

Name:  Dani Robbins

Spouse/partners and children’s name and salient details:  Dani elected not to share this publicly.

Occupation and passions: Consultant with the goal of making nonprofits stronger; passionate about women and kids, the disadvantaged, diversity, inclusion and parity, and all underdogs, everywhere.

Giving History: increasing mid-level donations of $100-200 annually for the past three years; occasional attendance at events; also supports the Boys & Girls Clubs, Local Matters, City Year, Dress for Success, and other social service/social justice agencies.

Recent Touch Points: coffee March 2016, call November 2015, lunch July 2015.

Remainder of 2016 plan to check in: weekly e-blasts, lunch in summer, fall coffee, Thanksgiving card, invitation to Holiday (no ask) VIP party

Communication and ask preferences: Dani prefers to be asked for her gifts once a year and likes quarterly check ins and to receive our mailings.  She also follows us on Twitter, can be counted upon to share our news with her network and is connected to several of our staff and Board on LinkedIn.

2016-2017 Engagement Plan: We are planning to ask Dani to teach one of our team members how to write a grant. We also occasionally call her for advice and may ask if she’d like to serve on a committee.

2017 Gift Request: We plan to ask Dani for $250 as follows:  $125 as a year-end gift for general operating, $125 to support summer programming.

Who is the right person to ask Dani (regardless of ego, you always send the person who will get a yes):  Dani is very close to our CEO and Board Members Q, N and R. Any two are likely to be well received.

Future engagement opportunities: We may ascertain Dani’s interest in Board service, once our current Board governance person rolls off. She is also a prospect for our capital campaign and possibly for a planned gift.  As she continues as a donor we hope to grow her gift as she grows her practice, possibly to a legacy society level.

————————————————————————————-

This template is one option among many. I made this up. Use mine. Make up your own. There is no right template. There is only right for you.

Whether you’re a seasoned fund raiser or a new Executive Director, creating plans for your donors is a great way to put all the information in one spot, put the plan in the hands of your development staff or volunteers and get to it!

What’s your experience with major donor cultivation plans? Do you have a template you like and can share?  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.

How to Write a Grant

In Leadership, Organizational Development, Resource Development on May 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm

I taught myself how to write grants. At the time, grant writing was a big secret. It seemed like a skill that would be useful so, like many other things that no one seemed willing to teach me, I figured it out. I’d love to tell you that my case was an anomaly but grant writing still seems to be one of those things that our field seems to require people to learn for themselves. I think that’s silly so here goes:

The most important thing to know about grant writing is this: read and follow the directions. If you learn nothing else from this piece, this one simple rule will serve you well. I can’t tell you the number of people I know, myself included, who have had to drop everything and run somewhere at the last minute to get a signature, a document or a letter of support that they (we) could have had three weeks earlier if they (we) had only read the directions.

Directions are included in what’s commonly referred to as an RFP, which stands for Requests for Proposals.  Many grant officers will tell you that we all use the term wrong and in fact, we write proposals and they issue grants. They’re right, but since they have not been successful in changing the lexicon as of yet, we all still call it grant writing.

There are a variety of types of grants available including government, corporate, and foundation. Government grants are almost exclusively field specific. I recommended if you are writing a government grant for the first time, you team up with someone who has done it before, especially if you are also new to the field. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on foundation grants. Corporate grants often follow a similar process.

Grants are awarded for a variety of things- general operating, specific projects, capital and endowment.

General Operating is the least available and the most needed. General operating support is defined as anything you need that supports the operations of your organization. It may also be called unrestricted funding. If you need to match another grant; if you need to pay the utility bill; if you need toilet paper, general operating dollars can be used for all that and more. Plus, it has the added benefit of not having to be tracked. Unrestricted money goes into your general fund, and poof you can spend it on whatever the budget allows. Most of us love general operating grants. If it’s an option, take it.

Project specific grants are most widely available, and are defined as money awarded to support a specific program, project or purchase. These dollars have to be tracked to insure you spent them on what you promised to. This funding may also be called restricted funding.

Capital grants are for a large expense: a new building, roof, van, etc. They are almost as ubiquitous as project grants, sometimes more so since they are usually one time gifts. Capital gifts are also considered restricted funding and must be tracked accordingly.

Endowment grants are the most difficult to find and the hardest to get. They are essentially the transfer of funds into your endowment account, which cannot be spent but does generate dividends in perpetuity.

Grant writing starts long before you sit down to read the directions and write your proposal. It starts with the funding priorities of the granting institution. If their priorities are not aligned with the work your agency does, don’t bother. If their priorities are aligned with your mission, call the program officer and confirm that what you are thinking is something they’d be interested in funding.  If it’s not – and they’ll tell you if it’s not – don’t bother. Life is too short, and you have too much work to do to waste time writing proposals that are never going to be funded.

Assuming you have gotten a go ahead from the program officer and are ready to roll, most grants start with an executive summary.  Just because they want to read it first doesn’t mean you’ll want to write it first. Do this last. Your grant will evolve as your draft it and if you write the summary first you’ll have to keep changing it.  Do yourself a favor and hold this piece until the end. When you do finally write it, hit the highlights of the body of the grant. Do not add anything that isn’t elsewhere.

The first part of the actual grant is usually History or Agency Information. This is where you tell the story of your organization’s origin, its mission and your aspirations. Describes your agency’s qualifications, target population, history, programs, and successes. If you are the only program providing your service in the area, say it.

Next is usually the Problem or Needs Statement. This is not referring to what your agency needs. In fact, unless it is a capacity building grant, no one cares what your agency needs. Your donors do not give to your agency. Your donors give to impact your mission through your agency. They care about the needs in your community. Tell them about that. (This is actually a good thing to remember about all donors.)  Discuss the problem your project will address and for which you are applying for funding. Make sure you tie the program back to the mission of your organization, and include statistics, if possible.

Objectives are asking what you will do to impact this issue. Objectives are specific, measurable and time limited and include who, what (reduce, increase, decrease, maintain), how many and when. For example: If the problem is that teens have nowhere to be and nothing to do in the hours after school this greatly increases their chances of becoming statistics themselves. The objectives might be to reduce the number of teens who commit or become victims of a crime by 20% in the hours directly after school from September 2017 to June 2018.

The Activities are what you will do to meet the objectives. It should include information on clients and staff, be clear, justifiable and reasonable. Explain why you think this activity will accomplish your objective, and provide evidence. For example, “to provide 3 sessions of 6 weeks each of self-esteem building programming for girls ages 12-14. Self-esteem building sessions for teen girls have been proven (cite research) to be impactful on their ability to avoid destructive behaviors and make informed decisions.”

The Evaluation is your agency’s plan for judging if the program you are offering is achieving its intended impact. This section maybe be called Evaluation, Impact or Outcomes. Outcomes are different than outputs. Outcomes describe impact.  Outputs are numbers. The section is where you describe your plan for judging the project’s success. It is objectives met plus activities implemented resulting in change. You may be using pre/post tests, reverse surveys, evaluations and/or an independently verified assessment. Whatever you are using, describe it and explain why it is your measurement tool of choice.

Future funding is the section that is the most difficult for new grant writers because it’s the squishiest. Many of us would like this section to go away. I totally get why this section is important for funders. I just wish we had the sustainability to answer it well. If we did, we probably wouldn’t need to be seeking new money, but since we are… the answer is usually some version of: we will continue to seek funding, possibly introduce a social enterprise, offer one signature event that raises 10% or more of our annual budget, build our coffers and steward donors in an effort to continue to provide the life altering programming that we do until we meet our mission and change our corner of the world. Like I said, squishy.

That usually takes care of the narrative portion of the proposal. Before I move on to the budget portion, I want to offer a plea on behalf of all of the readers of these grants many of whom will not work in your field. They will be Board members or volunteers. Make it easy for them to recommend you for funding. Don’t guilt, don’t use jargon they don’t know and don’t exaggerate. Paint an engaging picture, follow the directions and engage them in your quest for world change!

On to the Budget: other than general operating, most grants require both an agency budget and a project budget. The agency budget should be (have already been) Board approved. The project budget will be the expenses and income related to the project for which you are requesting funding. It should roll up under the agency budget.

Do not seek funding from more than one source for the full cost of the project. (What would you do if you got both?) It is perfectly reasonable to seek funding for part of the project from multiple sources.  If you are, include the other sources of potential funding in the project budget with a note on what is pending and what is awarded. If you have the opportunity to include a budget narrative do so and explain anything that isn’t immediately obvious.

When possible, I encourage you to include a cover letter with your proposal.  Address it to the program officer with whom you spoke or whomever is listed in the instructions. Make sure you spell their name correctly. Explain why you are applying and for how much. Explain how your program ties to their funding priorities. If you are the only program providing your service in the area, say it again. Thank them for their consideration. Have your CEO and/or Board President sign the letter.

Before your mail or upload your grant: Have someone read it and then have someone else read it. Check your math. Check your proposal against the RFP. Check your signatures. Submit the right amount of copies and originals – check those copies. Make a hard copy for the file and an electronic copy for the future.

If your proposal got funded, you will receive a letter or a phone call informing you of your award. I encourage you to write thank you note and continue to keep in touch with the funding institution. I also encourage you to reach out via phone and also in writing if you need a budget modification or if something comes up that is unexpected, both good and bad.

If you didn’t get funded, I encourage you to call the program officer and ask why. They’ll tell you. Try very hard to be gracious when they do.

The first grant I ever wrote was denied. Now I know you know that I taught myself how to write grants so it easily could have been denied because the grant was poorly written.  I’m happy to tell you that was not the case! The program officer told me it was well written. (Hooray!) It was denied because my agency didn’t need the money. (No, I have never had that happen since.) I was serving as a program coordinator of a small agency with the board serving as the executive director.  The agency ran a bingo hall which brought in tons of money. Perhaps the Board didn’t know how grants work when they told me to write this grant and signed off on its submission? It’s a good lesson.

How did you learn how to write grants?  Was your first grant funded?  Any advice to share? 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.

Teachable Moments

In Advocacy, Leadership, Resource Development on April 6, 2016 at 9:21 am

This month’s blog carnival is hosted by my friend and colleague Erik Anderson. Its theme: “advice to your younger fund raising self.” As such, and because you know I find most (non-grant related) directions optional, here is both advice I wish someone had given me, and also advice I’d like to give to my students, blog followers and those that I’m privileged to mentor. Please reach out and let me know if any speak to you.

Money is not Dough; It Will Not Raise Itself

If you want to be successful in this field, as either a leader or at any level of a development team, get comfortable asking for things for your organization that you would never request for yourself.

You may be one of those people that other people just give stuff too. I certainly am. Do I want an upgrade on my rental car? “Yes, please.” Would I like an extra scoop of ice cream? “That would be great. Thank you.” If you routinely have people offering you things that you didn’t ask for, or even consider asking for, awesome! This will be a snap!

If you’re not, you will have to cultivate the ability to ask for money and donations to move forward your mission. It’s for the kids, or the dogs, or whom/whatever your agency exists to impact. People who care about your mission will want to be engaged in its success; they may just need the vehicle to get involved. You can offer that entree.

For the CEOs out there: grant writing, event planning and individual giving are different skills sets. You have to know how to do or hire all three. If you go with hire, you will then have to do what the person you hire recommends. Really.

Where to Start is Where You Are

There is no perfect place to start. The first step is just that, one step forward.  Figure out where you want to go. Figure out what it will take to get there.  Plan backwards from your end goal. And start.

Charm is Not Enough, and Neither is Talent

You can be charming for 15 minutes; after that you’d better know something. I love charming people. I also love effective people!  Charm alone is not enough, especially on the development team. Talent alone is not enough for any of our teams. We need both to make our teams work and our organizations successful.

It is not enough to be good, or even great, at your job. You also have to be on the team and moving the organization forward. If you aren’t, I can’t hire you. I can’t train you and you certainly can’t stay.

We are All only as Good as the Stupid Thing we did Yesterday

I’d love to tell you that your life’s work will be a sum total of your accomplishments, but it’s just not true. You can build something great, bring in tons of money and save the day, but if you did something really stupid yesterday, none of those will save you.

Only Write a Policy when you Need One, which will Never be to Avoid a Conversation

I love teachable moments. Tell me a story when something, anything, goes wrong and I’ll ask you the lesson. Teachable moments make us all better and have the added benefit of helping organizations avoid crises. They teach each member of a team to assess every stupid thing that goes wrong, in an effort to not have it repeated.

Crises are where most policies originate. Show me a policy and I can tell you the crisis that created it. Show me a job description and I can sometimes tell you what happened to the person who held that job last. We are all, myself included, much more transparent than we would like to be and when you’re paying attention you can often read what’s not said.

Most polices get written because there wasn’t a policy and that gap either left the agency or its clients open for something bad to happen. That is the perfect time for a new policy!

Having a problem with a staff member? That may be the time for a hard conversation but may not rise to the level of a policy. Never write a policy to avoid having a conversation.

Crisis Management is not Leadership

One my favorite Warren Buffett quotes is “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

It reminds me to be strategic in how I spend my time. There are a lot of leadership lessons that can be taken from this one statement.

Maybe it applies to staff, in which case the message would be to not spend a majority of your time trying to make a bad hire into a good employee. You should try certainly, but at some point, should your efforts prove fruitless, cut your losses, review your process, learn your lessons, and hire better.

Maybe it applies to how you spend your time. Do you spend your day patching leaks or changing vessels? Most leaders I know spend their days patching leaks, and they stare in wonder at those leaders that spend their energy changing vessels.

It’s a paradox. We have to patch the leaks and put out the fires, yet we also have to carve out the time to think strategically…even while the boat is leaking. And it may be leaking. In nonprofit speak that may mean there’s a grant due, a crisis in the program, a problem staff, a disengaged board member, an alienated donor or an angry parent.  Some of those things may very well be happening, and happening simultaneously. There’s also an agency that you are responsible to steward and a mission that you are entrusted to move forward.

Even though it feels like it, You Are Not Alone

You are not alone. For those of us who have spent our lives in social services, it’s a phrase we have each repeated hundreds if not thousands of times. We say it to our clients all the time, but apparently the leaders of our agencies don’t hear the answer for themselves.

The way you feel today, right now, every nonprofit leader feels or has felt. I promise. Every CEO at one time or another has wondered how they’re going to make payroll, keep their job, or keep their sanity. Knowing you’re not alone won’t answer any of those questions but it will remind you that the CEO down the street of that agency you wish yours was as together as, feels the same way sometimes. You just don’t see it.

It All Comes Down to Values

Every day I have conversations with leaders and every day, at least once, I utter the phrase “it all comes down to values” and it does. If you can tell me what you value, I can tell you in what circumstances you’ll be successful, and in what circumstances you’ll be frustrated.

Where you sit determines where you stand. What you value determines how you lead, where you feel comfortable, where you’ll thrive, and where you’re likely to be the odd one out.

Your values have to match your organization’s values, which have to be reflected in their policies. When the three are not aligned, you will struggle. When they are, you will thrive!

We do not, in fact, all bloom where we’re planted. We bloom where we’re cultivated.

 

Do you have advice for your younger self, or for others in our field? Will you share?  Did you find any of my advice instructive? 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.

 

Creating Board Buy-In

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on March 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

I have found myself uttering this statement more than a few times in the last month: “If you include your team- board or staff- in the direction setting process, they will be more willing and likely to execute the strategies needed to accomplish the goal.” The only way to get buy in on a plan is to create it and the only way to create it is to involve people in the process, and then continue to engage them in the execution.

I know dozens of nonprofit CEOs, maybe hundreds. Each and every one of them gets up every day to do what they believe is best for their organization. Yet, they don’t always build the buy-in to accomplish the goals. Then they get frustrated because the board doesn’t participate. Or the board gets frustrated because they believe their time is not being valued or their input is not being sought. Or the staff gets frustrated because they’re being instructed on what to do without being told why, or sometimes how.

Why is this happening so consistently in our sector? Because many of our leaders have been trained on a premise that is inaccurate. The premise is that it is the CEO’s role to set the strategic direction and everyone else will fall in line. That is just not the case. It may be the case in the for profit field and because our field reflects so much of that field it gets very confusing. In the nonprofit field, one of the 5 roles of the Board is to set the Mission, Vision and Strategic Direction of an agency. That is not a role that can be farmed out to the Executive Director.

Here is some evidence of the faulty premise based on actual statements I have heard people say over the last 10 years, paraphrased and possibly softened or hardened over time and repetition. (I could go back further, but why?)

I Don’t Want to Bother Them

“My board is busy.” “My board is powerful” “They don’t have time for this.” All of which may be true. That is probably what attracted them to you and you to them, but they have the job. They have been appointed to govern your agency. This is governance.

I Don’t Trust Them

“This is my agency; it’s my baby.” “They may choose to go a different direction than the direction I want to go.”

One of the hardest pills to swallow for founders and executives who didn’t come up through our field is this one, very large, point: We are professional nonprofit leaders working for a Board that may not be as well versed in nonprofit law, the issue our agency exists to impact or Board process.

That Board has collectively been appointed to govern our agency. They speak with one voice and with that voice can fire us, the agency’s leader, change the agency’s mission and do whole lot of other things, some of which has the potential to be damaging, and not only to us.

It’s why building and training the board is so important. It’s why professional development for you and your team is so valuable. It’s why setting a strategy that everyone has bought into is critical.

Without each, there is the very real potential for chaos.

Why is my Board not more involved?

“Why don’t the committees meet?” “What are they not helping me raise money?” “I don’t have time have to stop what I’m doing to help them do it.” “Shouldn’t they already know this stuff?”

You’ve heard me say it before: You will be subject to whomever trained your board members before they came to you, which may be no one. If you want your Board to speak with one voice, to understand their role and the expectations of that role, to understand your role, and the responsibilities within each, you will have to train them.

Board work is primarily done by committees. Executive Directors support, which sometimes means encourages the Board to adopt, a committee structure. Once they have, you will then have to support them in fulfilling their expanded role AND- this a big and – go back to doing your job and stop doing theirs. (This is much harder that it sounds!) For more information on how to do that, please click here to see the last point in this post.

Creating Board buy in is the difference between a plan that gets written by you in your office or in a room in which everyone is proud to be. It’s the difference between the final product sitting on a shelf or getting executed. It’s the difference between your agency moving forward or spinning in circles. Build the buy-in. Create the plan. Move your mission forward!

What have you done to build Board buy-in? What are some faulty premises that you’ve seen? 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.

Easy Fixes for Vexing Board Problems

In Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on January 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Board problems are serious and most require significant planning and development, but a few don’t. In fact, some solutions are so easy they can baked in to every organization’s calendar or process. For the not so easy fixes, I encourage you to read 3 not so easy Steps to Improved Board Engagement. Engagement and process are two sides of a coin, one feeds the other and you need both. For this side of our coin, please consider the following easy fix recommendations:

  1. Set a Standard Board Meeting

Standard Board meetings are defined as meetings that are held the same day and time every month. In other words, you are saying “our Board meets on the 4th Thursday at 4pm or the 10th of every month at 8am. It allows your Board members to put dates on their calendar in perpetuity, which allows them to schedule things around it and creates one more chance they will attend. Not having a standard Board meeting does exactly the opposite. It’s a roll of the dice as to when you board members will be available. Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst part of it. The worst part is we’re leaving the setting of the board meeting to chance. Maybe the Board Chair will set one. Maybe the Exec will remind them. Maybe there will be a meeting. Maybe your board members will be available. Then again, maybe not.

Board meetings are the ONLY way that governance decisions get made. Set a standard meeting and make sure that the decisions you need to get made do, in fact, get made.

2. List Board members and Officer terms on your Board list

Every agency I know has a current Board list. Every agency I know does not have a current Board member term list. Some do. Many don’t. Do you?

Adding the terms under each Board member’s name on your Board list is the easiest and most consistent way I know to make sure that Board members get re-elected or replaced and that everyone is clear as to when each should happen.

Double that for Officers. Sometimes, our Board Chairs are amazing and everyone wishes they could serve forever. Sometimes, we can’t believe they got elected in the first place and our executives are praying they can keep their positions until the Chair is replaced. Most often, we live in middle.

It is imperative that Officers and individual board members are renewed or replaced as per your by-laws, which in Ohio are called Code of Regulations. Most by-laws list Officer terms as one year terms, renewable once and individual board member’s terms as three years, sometimes renewable once, sometime renewable indefinitely. What do your by-laws say?  Is that what you’re doing?

  1. Have and Use an Agenda for Board Meetings

All Board meetings should have an agenda. That agenda should be written by the Board Chair, or written by the Executive and approved by the Board Chair then sent out, in advance, to all board members along with a packet of information that will inform whatever there is to discuss and vote upon. Agendas should include every topic up for discussion and, at a minimum, a vote on last month’s minutes and the most recent financial statement and whatever other business is before the Board.

I recommend any agenda item that will need a vote be in bold. That way everyone is clear what votes will be taken, and what they need to prepare.  The goal is that each board member can make an informed vote.

  1. Take Good Minutes

Good minutes include the time the meeting was called to order, each and every vote taken, which Board members are and are not at the meeting, and a list of staff and guests, by name. When you are taking minutes, it is much easier to follow, or write directly on, the agenda so you always know which discussion and which votes align with which agenda item. Minutes should note each item, include a brief summary of the discussion, as necessary, and most importantly, list all votes, including the name of who motioned, who seconded the motion, if the vote was unanimous and if not, who abstained or dissented, also by name. This requires the Chair to ask all three questions. As my co-trainer and Bailey Cavalieri attorney extraordinaire David Martin says “the Board speaks though its minutes.” What are yours saying?

  1. Follow the Election Process laid out in your By-laws

I have seen a range of by-laws in my career. Many are good; some are horrible. Even the horrible ones list some type of election process for Board members, which is usually at the Annual Meeting. You should be following whatever that process is, and if your current by-laws are not meeting your needs, please consider Revising your By-laws.

Many agencies elect board members all year long, and if that works for you, cool. It tends to take more time, but that’s okay. If you need new Board members, absolutely add them to your Board as they are identified, vetted and available. Once you have gotten to a reasonable number of Board members, stop. Start adding Board members once a year. It’s easier to make sure they all get oriented, assigned to a committee, and when the time comes, renewed or replaced. It’s also much easier to track.

Double that for Officers. Unless an Officer needs to be replaced mid-year, Officers should be elected or re-elected at the annual meeting.

Finally, don’t forget to renew your current Board members who would like to stay and whom your committee has recommended do stay for another term. (Yes, both.)  Board members, as per the organization’s by-laws, may serve until they are replaced, which only works if that language in in your by-laws.  If it’s not, who you think is a seated board member may not actually be seated board member. Even if that language is included, it’s cleaner and easier to re-elect the Board members you want to continue to serve.  When you don’t, it creates questions:  Did you forget?  Did you want that board member to stay?  Is your Board honoring its responsibility of self- perpetuation?

Each Annual Meeting should include, at a minimum, three slates for consideration: new Board members, renewing Board members and Officers. Alternatively, should you wish, you can vote on each person individually.

By-laws outline how your organization is governed. They are critical to your organization’s success.

Board service is hard, but it shouldn’t be frustrating. As I stated at the beginning, there are a lot of things you can do to improve Board process, and enhance Board Development and with it Board engagement. The above are the easiest places to start.

What easy fixes do you have for vexing board problems? What would add to my list? 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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